Yakuza 0 Review

Yakuza 0 Review

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Yakuza 0 was the definitive Yakuza experience. It had everything I loved about the series and then some. The cultural touches, the wackiness and the over-the-top violence was all there with a fresh coat of current generation paint. I took a six year hiatus after finish Yakuza 4. I still loved the series but I always felt it was losing a bit of its identity the further it marched forward in the timeline. Yakuza, to me, was and will always be a late 80s to early 90s series. This prequel was right up my alley then.

Tackling a prequel isn’t easy. How can you tack on a meaningful story when you already know the major outcomes? How can you introduce characters that were never referenced before? It turns out there’s a lot to mine and flesh out in the Yakuza series because this was one hell of a drama.

Kiryu Kazama, Goro Majima, Akira Nishikiyama and many others would go onto become bigger players in subsequent games but they all got their start somewhere. There was a time when Nishikiyama and Kiryu were oath brothers and actually loved one another. Kiryu was just an up and coming yakuza member doing small time jobs like debt collections. Nishikiyama was still aspiring for bigger and better things and Goro Majima wasn’t as wacky as he eventually became yet.

The game has its gripping crime drama but it also shares the story of Japan in the late 1980s. Side stories offered insight into various areas including the temperature of the people and taxes, the weird nature of telephone clubs, the influx of big money, and some citizen’s love of American culture. Of course, they are side stories and thus you can ignore the bulk of it but they add a lot of flavor and texture to what makes this franchise great. It’s not unusual to find myself racing slot cars for hours and then find myself running away from murderous yakuza types.

Coming from Yakuza 4 and its four characters down to just two in Yakuza 0 may seem like a downgrade at first glance but I found the focus on two of the series’ mainstays gave the story strong direction. Four characters also offered four different playstyles giving each character slightly different spins on how to dish out brutal punishment. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that they shoved four playstyles into Kiryu and Goro giving a total of eight distinct playstyles to toy around with. They’re all viable options for the random throwdowns on the mean streets of Tokyo or Osaka but every so often, it behooved me to switch to a specific style — especially important against the likes of Mr. Shakedown.

Mr. Shakedown? Giant men who roam the streets of Tokyo or Osaka looking for Kiryu or Goro to beat up and steal money from. I wish these giants could be seen shaking down other NPCs. These men were the game’s trickiest opponents. They had the most health and hit the hardest. I eventually discovered It was primarily a test of patience. If I was too bold or too greedy, I was in a world of hurt but since money was so easy to come by, losing to Mr. Shakedown wasn’t the end of the world.

I love the ridiculous side content of this game. They varied in size and scope but they all fed into the atmosphere of the game. Some of it taught life lessons that wouldn’t be out of place in a Saturday morning cartoon. Others were long drawn out games within a game where I’m managing a hostess club or real estate development firm. A lot of it though, were genuinely funny.

I was introduced to host and hostess clubs through this series. I gleaned more and more nuggets of Japanese culture in subsequent games but it’s been a while since I learned something significant. In Yakuza 0, I was introduced to telephone clubs and the precarious dating situations that they present. Some of it is still relevant today and online dating scene.

Yakuza 0 is at its best when it’s imparting knowledge, makes me laugh, fills me with suspense, and entertains me with hard hitting action and drama. This prequel fills in the back story of many of the series characters and lays the groundwork for things to come. At the same time, they’ve opened up the idea of getting into the story of Shintaro Kazama and Masaru Sera and how they built their legacies. I also feel they ended Yakuza 0 with one of the sweetest endings in games let alone the series.

It’s been days since I wrapped up Yakuza 0. It took me a lot longer than I it would but that was because I was delving deeper and deeper into what this game had to offer. I still have a lot of side stories to complete but Nier: Automata was calling and I had to go. However, there were moments when I considered revisiting Kamurocho. I should wait though: the Yakuza: Kiwami is just around the corner.

Verdict:
I loved it

Ratings Guide

Inside PS4 Review

Inside PS4 Review

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Playdead’s Limbo aesthetic was borrowed and reappropriated many times over since its 2010 release. Now, six years later, the studio who gave us one of most memorable Xbox Live! Arcade titles is back with its next title, Inside.

It’s tough to live up to expectations and in many ways, Inside does not. Playdead didn’t fashion a new look for other developers to draw inspiration from โ€“ they built upon what they established already. They didn’t make reinvigorate the indie development scene and make it cool to make 2D platformers again โ€“ it’s well worn territory in 2016. Coming to Inside (and its relatively high price tag) looking to be wowed again would have been a mistake.

Inside was exactly what I expected from Playdead. If Limbo was their Super Mario Galaxy then Inside is their Super Mario Galaxy 2. They refined their craft and made another beautiful puzzle platformer.

Limbo shocked me with its surprise impaling and sudden decapitations. I often had no idea that things would go awry in Playdead’s last game. Inside, on the other hand, was a more methodical game where hazards are telegraphed with more obvious means. Deaths are still horrific displays and a few them did come without warning but they were fewer and thus more impactful when one does occur.

Someone shone a brighter light at Playdead’s diorama showing a bit more color and detail in their worlds. I appreciated how expressive the animation of all their actors were but I loved the little details and naunces of the backgrounds. Like Limbo, there was no dialog or overt storytelling. Any story was gleaned off actions and details on screen.

Once again, a small boy is the star of this of show. I guided him through environmental puzzles and away from ferocious dogs and adults who did not hesitate to strangle or drown him. The puzzles weren’t particularly difficult โ€“ in fact, I found myself overthinking a few of them resulting me stumping myself. There weren’t many signposts or obvious points of interaction but since it was such a sparse world, it was easy for me to pick out interactable items.

My only complaint against the puzzles was the fact that I was left wanting more. Playdead saved the best for the final third of the game and in some ways, I felt they were just getting started

If Limbo was known for its aesthetic and spider leg pulling, Inside will be remembered for its shift in gear. This singular moment seemingly unhinged the audio and visual restraints placed by Playdead and the game just barreled towards the credits.

I had questions after reaching the end of Inside. What exactly happened in the end there? Was there a secret ending? Of course there was. I didn’t go back to unlock it nor did I go on YouTube to watch it though. I was satisfied reading the discussions and proposals made by people smarter than myself. I kept asking myself what was happening while I was playing the game and in the end, I was satisfied asking questions along the way. The answers really didn’t matter, it was all about the journey.

Verdict:
I liked it

Ratings Guide

The Last Guardian Review

The Last Guardian Review

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I never owned a dog or a cat but I’ve spent enough time with them to recognize that The Last Guardian asks for the same mentality that pet ownership requires. I gave into the idea of Trico, the giant bird-cat-dog creature, being a living breathing artificial intelligence that required repetition and patience to command. To expect an obedient animal to follow my every whim with both speed and accuracy would be a mistake. Trico can be frustratingly unresponsive or annoyingly imprecise with his actions. The fact that the game required environmental puzzle solving coupled with Trico’s finicky behaviour could have lead to situations where I was either doubting myself, Trico’s abilities or the game’s design. Thankfully, my gut instincts and years of recognizing video game design cues helped me maintain a steady pace throughout.  
 
But first, let me address the game’s technical issues on standard PlayStation 4 consoles; I wouldn’t have played The Last Guardian if I didn’t own a PlayStation 4 Pro. It’s incredibly silly that PlayStation 4 Pro is required to play the game at 1080p and 30 FPS but if you want to avoid dips down to the 20 FPS or lower, you have no choice.  
 
Not having to fight technological shortcomings was a godsend but the controls left me with the perpetual feeling of teetering on the edge. My actions landed more often than not and there were safeguards preventing me from simply running off a cliff but I wasn’t sure if all of it was intentional. Having the player flop about and react to different momentum shifts in a realistic manner was very obviously intentional but could the same be said about having controls be slightly imprecise? I never died because of the controls but I was never entirely comfortable with them either.  
 
Outside of early voiceovers laying out the capabilities and interactions between the boy and Trico, there was little in the way of highlighting what to do next. Trico would eventually position himself and hint towards the right direction and often that was enough to get the gears in my mind moving. Unfortunately, it took a bit of time to reach those points and thus, whenever I was stuck, I was wandering aimlessly for 5-10 minutes trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do next.
 
Once I did figure out correct path to take, Trico’s stubbornness (or slow reaction to my commands, if you’re cynical) required me to repeat commands a handful of times to get him moving accordingly. Thankfully there was usually a single correct path to go down and I wasn’t accidentally sending Trico toward our doom. I’ve had a couple of situations where I sent Trico harmlessly backwards though.
 
The game’s frequent checkpoints and fast loading minimized the impact of unfortunate deaths. I’ve misjudged jumps but I’ve also met my demise due to Trico inadvertently knocking me off a platform. I found the latter humorous and was glad it was possible. I was happy to know that I had to account for the giant creature’s presence to ensure my own safety.  
 
I grew to care for Trico. I spent time pulling out spears and wiping off the blood from his feathers. I don’t believe there was built-in incentive to do either but I just wanted my giant cat-bird-dog thing looking its best. I needed to pet him in order to calm him down after battles but I wanted to groom and tend to his wounds. There were several occasions where I needed to find barrels of food to feed him but I wanted to find extras so his horns would be restored to glory. Eventually, I picked up on many of Trico’s nuances and tendencies. Through story beats, I learned he was afraid of giant eyes. While over time, I organically learned he actually slumped into a distracted state when left alone which required cajoling to get him moving again.  
 
Everyone feared a sad ending for The Last Guardian when they first laid eyes on Trico with many predicting the giant beast’s death in the end. Little did we know that the most trying ordeal we would be facing was the possibility of the game being cancelled and not seeing the light of day. The Last Guardian has and it asks a lot from the player including buying hardware to get an acceptable level of performance to patiently repeating orders to an A.I. But if you enjoyed Ico and The Shadow of the Colossus and approach this game with a high degree of patience, I think you will love Fumito Ueda’s third instalment. I enjoyed my time with it and loved every triumphant moment the beast and I overcame. 

Verdict:
I love it

Ratings Guide

TitanFall 2 PS4 Review

TitanFall 2 PS4 Review

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Respawn Entertainment somehow squeezed together Super Mario, Super Meat Boy, Mecha and the sweet sweet feel of their first person shooters into one brilliant package. I was all but ready to write TitanFall 2 off after the less than stellar Tech Test; it wasn’t terrible but its incomplete state muddied the message Respawn were trying to convey. Movement felt off and the time spent in the Titans was far too infrequent. I wasn’t too keen on the Bounty Mode either. The brilliant Gauntlet was included but as a wall running novice, I failed to appreciate its nuances and potential. By the end of the second week of testing, I was left wondering if Respawn had lost the plot. I knew there was a campaign but with little to no word about its quality, I was struggling to find reasons to purchase the game at full price. 

As the release date approached and reviews began to roll out, positive word began peculating across gaming outlets and forums. I saw games like Portal 2 and Super Mario were associated with the the campaign. The multiplayer also received similar praise by the community at large with many claiming Respawn listened to the feedback and made necessary changes. After hearing so much positive buzz, I couldn’t ignore it and decided to pick it up on day one.

I started with the multiplayer which was indeed a superior experience compared to the earlier Tech Test. Framerate was much improved (but not perfect on the standard PS4) and the feel of the wall running was less mushy than before. I was also introduced to Attrition — team deathmatch with A.I fodder — for the first time and began to understand why people enjoy this mode so much. Straight forward team deathmatch with Titans would have felt empty without the A.I. They acted like fodder and a source of “food” for my Titan meter but towards the end of a match, they posed a threat to real player Pilots and Titans alike with the tougher Reaper class A.I roaming the battlefield. 

There are 50 levels of progress to go through and it took me about 25 – 30 or so before I came to grips with what TitanFall 2 was actually about. Call of Duty: Black Ops III and Overwatch (by way of Lucio) had wall running but they failed to properly train me to the intricacies and possibilities of jump jets, slide dashing and wallrunning. Black Ops III featured wall running and the maps reflected that. They had spots clearly marked for wallrunning but it didn’t feel like it was baked into the DNA of the maps. TitanFall 2’s maps were larger in both horizontal and vertical sense. Successful movement maneuvers enabled Pilots to traverse the majority of a map quickly and get to spots that just weren’t considered as possible in other games. In many ways the maps felt like Battlefield style maps where just about every roof, ledge and building was accessible within a set boundary; I wasn’t repelled off surfaces by invisible boundaries.

Gun unlocks, scorestreaks and perk analogs were to be expected in a game by the makers of Modern Warfare. What was unexpected, however, was the manner in which I unlocked said multiplayer staples. The Merit point system replaced XP points giving fixed rewards for completing simple objectives during a match such as inserting a battery into a friendly Titan or killing a couple of Pilots. They’re such simple objectives that I didn’t bother to review them prior to each match and just played the game. Winning obviously netted  anadditional Merit point but losing while successfully escaping during the Epilogue sequence also netted one. This system rewarded me for playing the game the way it was meant to be played and, as silly as it may sound, I have to credit Respawn for it. Other systems put players through tedious grinds for progress which dulled their appeal to me, TitanFall 2’s did the exact opposite. 

The way TitanFall 2 managed clans was innovative and encouraged group play. Being able to swap between multiple clan networks, create a party and open up to all clan members within a couple of button prompts is fantastic. It was only held back by the inability to join parties in progress and the instability of said parties. The number of times where one party member is left out in the cold while the rest of us successfully join a match is a growing concern. 

The single player campaign was a first for the franchise and while it was easy to picture a Call of Duty styled campaign filled with set pieces and explosions, it would be a disservice to a studio that has a knack for shaking things up. TitanFall 2’s campaign featured many one-off ideas and concepts packed into a six hour adventure. Nothing was particularly outrageous or mind bending if you’ve played Portal 2 or Super Mario Galaxy before but in the context of a first person shooter featuring talking mechs? It was refreshing. The story was predictable but the progression of levels was anything but — I never knew what to expect next.

The Super Meat Boy comparison stemmed from my time with the Gauntlet. Like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare’s obstacle course, TitanFall 2’s Gauntlet was put in place to test the player’s skill and recommend a difficulty setting. It’s easy to fumble through it and choose my own difficulty setting but challenging for the “…Becomes the Master” Trophy gave me a newfound appreciation for the TitanFall 2’s mechanics and design. Placing in the top 3 was tough and I didn’t think I had the patience to shave off those seconds required to place. Thankfully super quick restarts and responsive controls kept me coming back and after about 2.5 hours across 3 sessions of play, I cobbled together this narrow victory. I have a lot of work to do if I wanted to challenge for the world record though.

It’s been quite sometime since I’ve played a game that was genuinely enjoyable from top to bottom. I would either love the multiplayer but find the single player campaign a let down. Or I would enjoy the campaign but absolutely zero interest with the multiplayer. Respawn Entertainment nailed the entire package and they should be commended for it. My favorite shooter campaign is still Doom but when the only reason I played the multiplayer was for Trophies alone, that speaks volumes about it. It also says a lot that every time I boot up the game, I find myself wondering if I should hit multiplayer or revisit single player (for Trophies but still). There may be meaty campaigns (Doom) or more engrossing multiplayer experiences (Overwatch) out there but there’s only one game that features strong efforts on both fronts and that’s TitanFall 2.

Verdict:
I love it

Ratings Guide

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