God of War PS4 Review

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God of War put Sony’s Santa Monica Studio on the map during the PlayStation 2 days. While their PlayStation 3 output wasn’t a barn burner like Naughty Dog’s Uncharted and The Last of Us titles, they were still a force to be reckoned with. I loved God of War III but felt God of War: Ascension was superfluous at best. It’s been 5 years their last big title and was very curious how they were going to make their mark on the PlayStation 4.

When I first laid eyes on this reinvented God of War, I didn’t know what to make of it. On one hand, it looks like they threw out everything but Kratos, the name, and reinvented with modern sensibilities. On the other hand, they threw out all the memorable and distinctly amazing qualities of the old games as well – primarily the scale and gravitas. I was very curious how this game would turn out and I was going to find out on day one.

God of War was a long game. I don’t know my hour count but I played it on a regular basis for over a month. My total playtime was inflated due to my decision to play on Hard difficulty but despite that wrinkle, there’s a lot of game here. I’m sure a significant percentage of that game is spent traversing via row boat but since they weaved in fun little Norse mythology related stories during these moments, I still felt it was worthwhile content. Even though they built in the ability to interrupt and resume boat stories, I still took the time to just sit in my boat and listen to Mimir’s tales.

We’ve heard intentions for Kratos to move from his Greek stomping grounds for what seemed like ages now. The idea of Kratos moving into the Norse realms seemed absurd to me. How were they going to justify pitting this angry Spartan against Odin and his ilk? Apparently the answer was: Kratos just wanted to get away. Portraying this world where different mythologies occupied different regions of the world made a lot of sense — it’s how it is in the real world, why wouldn’t it be like that in God of War’s version of Earth?

I loved how Kratos was ashamed of his past life in Sparta. He slew numerous Gods, Titans, and mortals alike during his quest to take down Zeus. Moving to Midgaard and starting a new family was the last thing I expected Kratos to do but here we are. He has moved on from avenging Calliope to raising Atreus. Kratos was learning to become a father in function and not just in name. While we saw Kratos interact with Calliope in God of War: Chains of Olympus, the relationship was never explored like this.

I loved seeing Kratos and Atreus’ relationship develop. They weren’t complete strangers in the beginning of the tale, but Kratos did not know much about his son. He knew of the basics (like the audience), but we got to know Atreus and his relationship with his mother and Norse mythology throughout the course of the journey. Watching Atreus grow angry, petulant, brave, cocky, and confident was captivating. When a game manages to evoke frustration towards a boy whom I grew to trust and rely on, there’s nothing to say but: kudos.

God of War showed an aged Kratos but an evolving one as well. He didn’t become a great father by the time the credits rolled. However, his relationship with his son did improve, albeit at an accelerated pace. Atreus learned a lot about himself and his father throughout the course of their journey to scatter his late mother’s ashes. He handled it in a believable manner but I felt he processed it in an unconvincing timeline.

Kratos and I also learned a lot about Norse mythology via Atreus and our traveling companion, Mimir. I enjoyed Mimir’s presence and found the game increasingly more engaging after he “stepped” onto the stage. Brok and Sindri were very helpful and added levity to many of the game’s proceedings but they didn’t give the context and flavor that I needed. I wanted to know more about the Aesir, the Valkyries, the Giants, and the realms that Kratos and Atreus found themselves in. Mimir filled the role I wanted and then some.

Mimir was not only helpful narratively, he also served as the literal eyes behind Kratos’ back. The unwritten rule in many third person over the shoulder games like this is to not attack the player from the behind. God of War didn’t care for those conventions and routinely strikes at Kratos from his blind spot. On screen indicators, and shouts from Atreus and Mimir give me a sense of where dangers are coming from. In theory this should be enough but when I’m in the thick of carving undead with Kratos’ magical axes, a single warning sign may not be enough. This was especially true early on.

I’ve played my fair share of From Software’s Bloodborne, so I’ve been conditioned to expect a certain pace for melee combat. I struggled with the combat for the first three hours or so. I died a lot. Some of it had to do with the fact that I played on hard difficulty but a lot of it was the relatively foreign nature of the combat. But once I got the hang of it, began upgrading equipment, and unlocking new abilities, the game clicked. I still died but it wasn’t’ a struggle like early on. There was only one battle where I struggled mightily and it was optional.

God of War reshaped my expectations for long running and successful modern franchises. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End made strides to evolve their character narratively but it didn’t make a drastic in gameplay. We need more games like this; the Breath of the Wilds and Metroid: Primes of the world. I’m happy to see developers of these franchises toss out the playbook and re-evaluate everything when it feels right. I don’t expect next God of War title to reinvent the wheel again but they should feel welcomed to do so the next time the franchise hits a rut. The pay offs can be tremendous.

Verdict:
I love it

LTTP: Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare Campaign Review (PS4)

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I gave Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty titles a couple of chances after the studio’s implosion in 2010. The single player campaigns in Modern Warfare 3 and Ghosts failed to garner any lasting impression but Infinity Ward’s output continues to intrigue me. Although I initially passed on Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare for its lacking multiplayer, the glowing impressions from its single player kept reborn Infinity Ward’s third game in the back of my mind. So a year and a deep discount later, I finally saw what the fuss was about. Infinite Warfare is one of the best Call of Duty campaigns – I might go as far as to say it’s Infinity Ward’s best work since Modern Warfare.

The tale told in Infinite Warfare was a tale as old as the USMC we know today – but now it’s told in space. It’s not going to surprise anyone to discover Martian born colonists are upset at Terrans. Faithful fans of the series should not be shocked to see playable protagonists and regular NPCs perish. The shock comes from how these Call of Duty studios build up to those moments and for the first time in a long time, I felt Infinite Warfare put in an effort to earn its fatal moments. They invested more time giving side characters screen time and roles throughout the game. I started to realize the crew around me were sticking around for more than a few missions which gave their inevitable demise some weight. I knew the good guys were going to win, I wasn’t surprised by Reyes’ sacrifice, but I wasn’t sure how it was all going to go down.

They put Mass Effect in my Call of Duty. I loved the ability to choose my next mission and explore the little bit of the ship available. I could progress from story mission to story mission but I wouldn’t be getting the added perks/upgrades from completing side missions. I also wouldn’t be taking down all the most wanted SDF “scum” laid out on the whiteboard in Reyes’ quarters.

The actual moment to moment game found in Infinite Warfare is well worn territory. I still find it entertaining in spurts and the gadgets and twists added in this release add enough of a wrinkle to differentiate itself from its brethren in the franchise. Pretenders have come and gone but nobody does bombastic campaigns like the Call of Duty franchise.

I did find this campaign a lot more terrifying than other games primarily because of the setting. Space is terrifying. Being sucked out into the darkness of space is unsettling enough but seeing countless others and Reyes himself struggle with retaining oxygen within their spacesuits was enough of a reminder that space is frighteningly dangerous. I found the moment when they decided to breach and clear the bridge of an SDF carrier to be especially cruel. I may have been playing as the “good guys” but these people are ruthless.

I really appreciated the time they took to transition between different facets of a mission. The take off and landing sequence bookending each dogfight was a grounding touch that I enjoyed despite the fact that it was easy. Details like this brought me into their universe and any game that spends time balancing ridiculous action with the mundane deserves praise in my books.

I also have to give a nod to their use of guest stars. While I didn’t find it as captivating as Spacey’s performance in Advanced Warfare, I did find Kit Harrington’s performance to be solid. I even thought the inclusion of Lewis Hamilton in a minor bit role cute. Colin McGregor slotted in his minor role surprisingly well. In fact, I think his was the most natural – perhaps it’s due to the fact that these games tend to feature a lot of roles for angry Caucasians.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare gave me a glimpse at a very plausible future for humans. Old stories and conflicts will undoubtedly repeat themselves once humans stretch out across our solar system and beyond. While I would like to imagine a Mass Effect or Star Trek styled future, the reality is that we’ll likely still be firing bullets at one another in vacuum of space. But unlike Infinite Warfare, I doubt reality will be anywhere as pretty as Infinity Ward envisioned though.

 

Verdict:
I liked it

Ratings Guide

Yakuza 6 Review

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How does one top Yakuza 0? My favorite game of 2017 was easily the best entry in the series. So what can Sega do to top that game? How will they cap off the story of Kiryu Kazuma? 

Overhauling the engine sounded like a good idea on paper. Introducing a physics basic combat system should allow for fights to play out more dynamically. New graphical bells and whistles should result in a prettier Kamurocho as well. The end product wasn’t as rosy as I envisioned though. Coming from 60 FPS of Yakuza 0 to the 30 FPS of Yakuza 6 took a bit of time to adjust. What good were dynamic brawls if the controls were less responsive? The visuals received a huge upgrade resulting in a game that didn’t look like a high resolution PlayStation 3 game but it was tainted by horrible aliasing. I would gladly sacrifice all the modern niceties of the Dragon Engine for 60 FPS and a clean image. The lighting, materials, and textures were quite remarkable but the jagged edges crawling across the screen during conversations and cutscenes were very distracting. 

Image clarity issues aside, I found the move to eliminate any sort of loading within Kamurocho or Hiroshima was a long awaited technological advancement for the series. I always liked how dense Kamurocho was and not having to see a loading screen while entering/exiting buildings or combat transformed the little district into one seamless space for shenanigans. I’m particularly fond of the upset restauranteurs who refuse to do business with Kazuma after he smashes into through the windows during a brawl. 

The move to a more physics based brawling system gave way to gems like this but it also sucked out most (if not all) the combat’s challenge. The running dropkick can bulldoze over half-a-dozen enemies like they were clustered dominoes. Heat actions were noticeably less abundant and toned down which genuinely bummed me out coming from Yakuza 0’s wince inducing bangers. But perhaps it’s a fitting departure for an aging Kiryu Kazuma; maybe he’s feeling too old for this crap.

Much of what I loved from Yakuza 0 is present in Yakuza 6 but it’s now viewed through the eyes of a 48 year old grandfather. I didn’t play Yakuza 5 but I was just as surprised as everyone else when I discovered she was Haruto’s mother. Baby Haruto was at the center of attention in this organized crime story and because Kiryu Kazuma’s the loving grandfather, he gets sucked right back into the thick of it. It was a solid tale of fatherhood in various forms but it was also a ridiculous one — just like every other title in this series.

Yakuza games always imparted life lessons and advice laced with wackiness but I felt Yakuza 6’s side stories lacked the wackiness seen in Yakuza 0. Kazuma was older,wiser, and a tad subdued and I felt Yakuza 6’s side stories reflected that this go around.

The big side commitments asked Kazuma to spend his time managing a small time gang to drive out another gang filled with Japanese wrestlers, manage a local baseball team, or make friends at a local Hiroshima bar. I completed the gang management but only dabbled sparingly in the other two. I just wasn’t drawn to these activities like I was with the slot racers and other activities from Yakuza 0. I would have liked to spend more time making friends at the Hiroshima bar but I got around to it too late and the inertia of the main story thread pushed me to just wrap it all up.

I would also like to take a second and give Sega props for including games like Virtua Fighter 5 and Puyo Puyo. I finally found games that I wanted to play in the Sega arcades. Titles like Outrun, Space Harrier, and Fantasy Zone were interesting retro game artifacts but I never had much affinity to them. I am wondering if Sega will be releasing these inclusions as standalone releases on modern consoles. I know a PlayStation 4 release of Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown would make some folks really happy.

If this indeed is Kazuma Kiryu’s final chapter in the Yakuza series, I think Sega did right by their man. It wasn’t perfect by any means but it was a solid effort considering the circumstances. I would have liked to have seen the technology handled better but I really cannot fault them for toning down the outlandish nature of the stories for an aging Kiryu Kazuma. Don’t misunderstand, there’s a sizeable chunk of crazy here — they just paled in comparison to Yakuza 0’s and is metered out by a lot more wisdom. It was always going to be tough to follow Yakuza 0 but I’m ultimately glad Sega dragged us all forward with the series. There’s nothing sadder than watching an aging star relying on past glories. 

Verdict:
I liked it

Ratings Guide

Persona 5 PS4 Review

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There was a tremendous improvement between Persona 4 and 3. And while I found Persona 4 to be fantastic, I had no idea it would become a breakthrough hit like it did. Its numerous spinoffs were evidence of its popularity – they even made a god damn fighting game! However,Persona 4’s success made me incredibly skeptical of Persona 5. How would Atlus top Persona 4? How much would Persona 4’s runaway success influence them? The last thing I wanted to see was a Chie knock off.

It was quickly apparent Persona 5’s cast differentiated themselves very well. Ryuji Sakamoto was a convincing dumbass that I actively wanted to slap silly. Ann Takamaki had an embarrassing outfit in the Metaverse but was offset by her kindness and determination for doing the right thing. Morgana was less outrageous than Persona 4’s Teddie and served as the Director of Sleeping for the player. I could go on with the rest of the cast but the key takeaway was how much of the cast had quirks, faults, and qualities that gave them a sense of dimension that I did not see in Persona 4’s cast.

The interactions with adults seemed generally pleasant and “normal” in Persona 4. This made it incredibly baffling to witness Persona 5’s awkward and unusual dialog exchanges. It was immediately apparent during the opening moments in the interrogation room and continued well into Sojiro’s introduction. The weird interactions would persist till the very end. It’s easy to attribute such oddities to questionable localization but, at the same time, I found it ended up somehow working for Persona 5’s theme of mistrust and misunderstandings with adults. Most interactions among the students and teammates seemed fine but with the adults? It can’t be helped, I guess.

I appreciated the amount of effort poured into realizing each target’s Palace. It was a step up from the retextured random dungeons from previous games; I appreciated the fact that each one had a thematically relevant gimmick. Castle infiltration, bank and casino heists didn’t exhibit many mechanical differences but it was better than running through hallways hoping to find the next staircase down. They could have trimmed the padding down a bit for the latter Palaces but in the end though. 

It seemed like the developers weren’t too keen on completely ditching the mindless and wayward dungeons of the past. Mementos was there for me to drill down and revisit from time to time. Thankfully side quests and gated progress gave me just enough reason to visit Mementos and a reason to leave. It was the epitome of mindless.

The combat received its share of additions and tricks in an effort to break monotony but it ultimately boiled down to exploiting enemy weaknesses and knocking them over for “All-out Attacks”. It’s still very much a turn based battle system and I had my fair share of Game Overs due to negligent play. It’s not brain dead easy but it brushes awfully close to it in spots. I don’t know how to make the battles more engaging but tossing out each elemental attack in search of a weakness was not a complicated strategy. The final bout leaned towards the more complex side of things and I wished there were more bouts like that throughout the game. Also, can they finally step away from the idea of the game ending when the protagonist gets incapacitated? Other people can resurrect as well.

As the Persona series makes its way onto the big stage, it was only fitting to see the game’s locale transition towards a metropolitan city like Tokyo. Persona is in the big times now and nowhere was it more evident than on the subway map; Shinjuku, Shibuya and other districts were now available for exploration. They had their share of shops, theaters, and activities to partake it in. Unfortunately I felt they were severely underutilized in the Social Link interactions.

I didn’t discover any mind blowing information by interacting with my teammates – they merely reinforced and elaborated on what I already knew. Time spent with Confidants yielded more flavorful stories that gave me more insight to the different citizens of Tokyo. I approached each one armed with a lot of intrigue. Unfortunately, they ended up with a side quest into Mementos. A few stories justified the use of the Phantom Thieves to change hearts and get the individuals out of sticky situations but others seemed like dangerous overkill. I understood the need to take down a con artist taking advantage of poor and uneducated people but should the Phantom Thieves be dealing with a controller mother What happened to just talking it out?

Recognition and online fame became a staple theme throughout the game. Not long after the formation of the Phantom Thieves, a fan site popped that tracked the group’s popularity. A voting poll showed how the people of Tokyo saw the Phantom Thieves. As more and more targets were taken down, the site’s meter would rise. Comments flashed by below the meter, giving some pretty convincing “internet comments”. They surfaced this data on transition/loading screens. They reinforced the idea of public opinion and popularity through the use of ambient chatter when we’re out on the streets and subway. TV stations regularly reflected the latest happenings of the Phantom Thieves. And if that wasn’t enough, they dedicated a screen to show off text bubbles of the public’s thoughts and opinions on all sorts of topics including the Phantom Thieves. I chose to downplay the need for recognition through my dialog choices but it’s difficult to ignore that when Ryuiji wants to leverage his Phantom Thief fame to pick up girls. By the end of the game, the entire group were seeking recognition in order to save themselves and everyone in Japan.

I just couldn’t empathize with their desire for online recognition but I appreciated Atlus for trying to tackle this phenomenon. Seeing Ryuji, Ann, Futaba, and gang get visibly upset that strangers were not recognizing their efforts for good was perplexing. It wasn’t like their real selves were being assaulted and yet they were consistently bummed out by the unsavory comments. I didn’t have time to worry about the relationship between our hero personas and the public, I had Social Links to maximize.

As I progressed, I wanted to maximize the time spent on Social Links development and minimize the time I spent in dungeons. By maximizing sneak attacks, swapping teammates in and out of combat, and tactful play, I tend to wrap up a palace with over a week to spare. This meant I would be spending a lot of time thumbing through Social Link or activity dialog boxes. It was then that I realized how much padding there was within each Social Link. I want each interaction to build upon the character’s story and not just a brief scene in a ramen shop. I would have also appreciated more hotspot options and scenes that took place within the major districts. Tokyo is a big city but it looked like everyone only enjoyed a handful of hotspots across this big city. I would have liked to compete with Ryuji at the batting cages or play some arcade games with Futaba.

The music and style of Persona 5 was undoubtedly stellar. I love the soundtrack to bits. Many tracks make repeat appearances throughout the game and I continued to jam to them all despite hours of exposure. Even the overly stylized menus never lost their charm. It’s not the most technically proficient title but running at a faultless 60 FPS with these stylish visuals makes for a very pleasant impression. I could have done with fewer loading screens though. (Likely a remnant from its legacy as a PS3 title as well.)

It’s always bittersweet to reach the end of the of a long game like Persona 5. Hanging out with the Phantom Thieves was a regular ritual for weeks and now it’s all over. I didn’t find the twist and final chapters of the game to be particularly wowing like Persona 4’s but I was left satisfied. I will gladly relive the good times through the game’s soundtrack though. I I wouldn’t say this game was a giant leap forward like Persona 4 but they expounded on the modern Persona formula in appreciable ways. If they were a bit more mindful of the excess and addressed some of the weaker aspects of the game for future installments, there’s a bright future for Persona.

Verdict:
I love it

Ratings Guide

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