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Game of Thrones: Episode One "Iron from Ice" Review - Xbox One
by: Alan M. Wasserman - 12/11/14
Ever want to be on the receiving end of the ice cold gaze of Queen Regent Cersei Lannister? How about going toe to toe with bastard born psychopath Ramsey Snow? How about trading quips with the cerebral and troublemaking Tyrion Lannister? Telltale Games latest installment into narrative driven games allows you to do just that.
Iron from Ice starts during the now infamous Red Wedding. During the festivities House Forrester is attacked by the double crossing (that’s a pun for the ages for Game of Thrones fans) Freys at the Twins, where most of the participants at the party are holistically slaughtered while drunk and unaware. You start the game as Gared Tuttle a squire to Lord Ironwood who fights as a Bannerman to the King in the North Rob Stark. True to a chapter in J. R. R. Martin’s books or an episode of HBO show; things go from good to bad to horrible in the matter of a few minutes. You are immediately thrust into action where the first choice you have to make is to warn Lord Forrester of the impending attack or help his first born son and heir to safety.
The game presses on just like the books or show by integrating several key characters into the narrative. After starting as Gared, you play as Lord Forrester’s third son and fourth child Ethan who at a tender young age is now the ruler of the Forrester family. The game then shifts to his older sister Mira who is working as handmaiden to Margaery Tyrell in Kings Landing. The first episode of the game alternates the narrative of these three characters and the events surrounding House Forrester after the Red Wedding.
Like all Telltale Games the choices you make determines the story you experience. Choose to defy Cersei and you can find yourself in serious trouble with House Lannister. Stand up to Ramsey Snow and end up a flayed man next to a campfire in the middle of the Iron Wood. The game distills down the agonizing options into two or three equally valid choices. Sometimes they are timed and your answer or lack of answer can influence how other characters respond to you. Other choices are given to you with no time limit. Making the choice that much harder.
The voice acting, character facial capture, and feel of the game make it feel like you are in control of an episode of the show. It’s amazing that Telltale was able to get the actual actors and actresses that play these deep, easily recognizable characters into the game. Telltale’s The Walking Dead game had shout outs to the TV cast; Game of Thrones has the actual characters in the game!! The jibs and jabs between Cersei and Tyrion feel a little stiff and not as natural as they do on TV, but the experience of being in front of the Iron Throne listening to them go back and forth is almost mind blowing.
The graphics and animation are slightly better than the last gen titles The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us. But TellTale Games focus on the story and the choices you make and how they impact your story over the course of multiple episodes and I hope seasons, and I can tell you these choices, as small as they seem at the outset, are going to make for huge plot swings in the later chapters. The animation and art almost takes a back seat.
I cannot wait until the next chapter comes out! This game gets 10 out 10 and I may play it again to see if I change the choices I make how different the game feels at the end. Excellent narrative, good mix of some action sequence and Peter Freaking Dinklage!!! Valar Morghulis! A review code was provided for this story.
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Shadow of Mordor Review - Xbox One
by: Alan Wasserman - 10/20/14
Shadow of Mordor was nominated and won a ton of awards at E3 this year. After playing it for 12+ hours I can tell you that every one of those accolades is deserved. The game was created by Warner Bros.; the same house that brought the Batman Arkham games to life, from the get go you can feel the influence of those games in Mordor’s free flow combat system. The ability to chain attacks together with finishers and takedowns should feel very familiar to veterans of the Batman game. The leveling system is pretty robust; you can level up your character and each of the weapons he uses. While the amount of weapons you can use is limited to a long sword, a bow, and a broken sword .Talion uses as a dagger for executions and silent takedowns, the range of what you can do with them is pretty impressive.
The hero of the story, Talion, is a half wraith/half human anti-hero. After watching his family gets ritually slaughtered at the hands of an Agent of Mordor, Talion is “reborn” as death has rejected him. During this process he is linked to a wraith who shares a similar path and story to his own. Together they launch their plan for revenge so they both can rest at peace and join their families in the afterlife. The interactions between Talion and the wraith are pretty entertaining. The wraith is a central historic figure in the Tolkien universe and plays sort of the moral center of the story, while Talion plays the brute who likes to use force of will and arms to get his way. The creators of the game have taken pieces and parts from Tolkien’s less popular works (like Unfinished Tales, the Silmarillion, etc) and included them in the game to make it accurate and deep without messing with the core story from Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit.
The unique thing about the game is the Nemesis system. Each area of Mordor (there are 2 in the game) has five War Chief Uruks who are super powerful. Each War Chief has 1-2 body guards made up of the lower level Uruk and Orc captains. There are fifteen Orc Captains. When you start out you don’t know who any of the captains or war chiefs are. You have to interrogate lower level orcs or find Intel to uncover who they are and what their strengths and weaknesses are, what or who they are afraid of or what enrages them. The captains hang out in areas called strongholds and sometimes while you are on your way to a mission point or to get a collectible you stumble upon 1 or 2 (I’ve had as many as 3) captains in one area and a huge fight ensues. I literally have been so swarmed by orcs and Uruks that the whole screen is full of them and button mashing ensues to get Talion jumping back and forth chaining together attack to clear out the fodder to take down the Captain.
When you kill a captain you are granted a rune that you can attach to one of your three weapons that enhances it in certain ways. It can increase the amount of damage you do while mounted, or give you chance to regain life on an execution etc. The strength of the rune depends on how he was defeated. Taking advantages of his weaknesses and fears will grant you a higher level rune. Captains are not immediately replaced, but once you are defeated the Nemesis system then goes into action. The Uruk that killed you gets promoted to Captain, then about ½ of the open captain slots are filled by other unknown Uruks or those captains who were present at your defeat are majorly promoted to elite captains.
The purpose of the Nemesis system is that my game should be slightly different than anyone else’s. The Orcs that defeat me in combat will not be the same as the ones that get you. As mentioned each of the captains have a specific weakness, one that I love to exploit is that some of them can be killed with a single headshot. The bow in the game fires pretty far and its awesome and hilarious to shoot a captain from 200ft or more away, follow the arrow as it kills them and the watching all the orcs in the area run away like cockroaches with the light turned on.
For completionists the game has a ton of collectibles and things do to do outside of the main story line. You can roam the lands of Mordor and find hidden artifacts that provide backstory to the world and the characters you encounter throughout the game. Furthermore there are elven inscriptions called Ithildin, collecting each one completes a doorway similar to the one seen in Lord of Rings that leads to Moria. Each area, flora, fauna, and person you discover unlocks more lore about the world of Lord of the Rings giving it a robust and deep backstory that you can explore at your leisure.
The games achievements are pretty straightforward. Some are related to story missions, others to collecting items or completing side quests. They pop with fair regularity so you’re each session you feel like you are moving toward full completion.
I rate games based on how much I enjoy them and how challenging they are. But I also take into account how eager I am to dive back into the game after I have been away. This game has me completely engrossed and each time I turn off the counsel to go to bed I think about when I’ll get to turn it back on again.I give this game 9.5 out of 10.
SPACECOM Review - PC
by: Benjamin and Joshua Goldfarb - 10/02/14
SPACECOM is a real-time strategy game in which you serve as a starfleet commander; navigating various planetary systems with the goal of outsmarting other commanders. Through a series of battles, sieges, and invasions you aim to gain total space dominance. And while SPACECOM’s gameplay mechanics might leave you a bit frustrated at times, it makes up for your skyrocketing blood pressure by offering a minimalistic art style, deeply meditative soundtrack, and a multiplayer mode to settle all of your real life disputes in.
One of the most interest piquing features of SPACECOM are the minimalistic visuals. This game will not bog down your processor with high detail shadowing. Everything is depicted as a simple geometric shape, almost as if you were watching the ships on a radar screen. This gives the player a strong feeling of actually “commanding” the ships, which paired with the entrancing, ambient soundtrack, allows players to really immerse themselves in the action. While the game interface and layout was visually and aurally excellent, we did encounter some annoying game mechanics during our playthrough. For instance, we found ourselves right-clicking far more often than should have been necessary. This was due to multiple essential commands such as unit movement and map controls being mapped to right-click. This meant that a simple misclick when trying to shift the map could inadvertently send your fleet in the wrong direction. What really made this mechanic annoying was the fact that, once assigned, reversing your movement was incredibly difficult, nigh impossible, leaving you with no choice but to watch the action unfold.
After practicing our tactics and learning strategy in single player, we decided to test our skills against one another in the multiplayer mode. This game mode ultimately proved to be our favorite. There is something innately exhilarating about pitting your strategies against your friends and trying to outsmart one another in real time combat, and that’s exactly what SPACECOM delivers. Whether you are a casual gamer or a dedicated fan of RTS games, SPACECOM’s variable game speed settings allow players of all skill levels to command a fleet and taste victory.
There were a few flaws, what with the control difficulties and some confusing gameplay mechanics. However, we have to give it to the game developers at 11 Bit Studios, SPACECOM won us over with the simple and clean design, relaxing soundtrack, and intensely fun multiplayer. Overall, SPACECOM has a few nitpicky problems, but is a solid strategy game and a joy to play! We give SPACECOM 7.5 out of 10. A review code was provided for this story.
Alien Creeps TD Review - iOS
by: Alan Wasserman - 09/09/14
Alien Creeps TD is a free to download tower defense game that takes place in a time where you become the last defense against the alien invasion. Your mission is to keep the aliens from finally taking over the rest of the world. At your disposal are numerous towers including machine guns and laser turrets. You are also given a hero at the start of the game a Rambo type named Flak who comes wielding a huge machine gun/grenade launcher. Some of the more unique units at your disposal are the ability to call in reinforcements where a drop ship drops off infantry men to a location of your choice and the ability to call in an airstrike which if timed right can wipe out a cluster of enemy units. The most devastating unit though is the Tesla Tower. Usable a finite number of times per mission you can target a group of enemies and wipe them out almost instantaneously. You can continue to use it once all your charges are used up but you’ll need gems and gem’s like most mobile games these days requires real money. You can gain gems in other ways throughout game play but they come in small batches are not easy to achieve.
The game is wonderfully animated; the boards are full of detail including burning oil barrels, flags blowing in the breeze and signal lights flashing. The enemy units are all very unique and are easy to identify once you play the game for a few minutes. Starting with lowly grunts and moving to more terrifying units like Orb Weavers, Hornets and Juggernauts each unit is more and more difficult to kill and does more and more damage to your troops and Hero. All the characters, both villains and heroes alike, are drawn in a caricature style over emphasizing things like large bodies or heads with small arms, legs or other appendages. It makes for a comical take on the impending alien invasion.
As you complete each stage you can unlock upgrades to your units, buy new units and if you wish you may pay extra money unlock new heroes including Roxie the obligatory fiery red head commando in a tight red tank top that wields unnaturally large pistols. For a little more money you can unlock Skybolt who is a Predator styled alien that flies above the board killing from a distance with his rail gun. Heroes can be trained and leveled up as they continue to kill bad guys, so they can become a great asset that can either play clean up and take out units the squeak by your towers; or to put up front to thin the heard before they get to the towers. For me both strategies worked pretty well.
Game play is pretty straight forward for a game like this; kill all the aliens before you run out of life or run out of time so there is not much innovative here. The speed of the game however is a little surprising. I was able to complete the first few boards pretty easily and pretty quickly, (within an hour or so) but that is where the game stalled. Once I made it to the 4th board the game quickly got unbalanced. Even after I used all the coins I saved from finishing the previous board and upgrading the towers as much as I could the sheer amount of enemies that come in over the course 10 waves overwhelmed my meager forces pretty quick. Even using most of the gems you are given at the start of the game to fire the Tesla cannon 3-4 times past the allotted amount I was barely able to squeak by the board.
Additionally you can link your game to your Facebook account and your friends who play the game can send you reinforcements and airstrikes which is pretty nice. You can also unlock achievements by killing a required number of aliens, leveling up your hero to certain level thresholds, etc. These achievements give you a nominal coin reward to help buy upgrades and things.
If you like games like Toy Soldiers, Tiny Defense and even in some ways games like Clash of Clans you’ll love this game. The tongue in cheek humor keeps it light as does the animation. The pay for play aspect you can’t get away from these days, though some games do it better than others. Alien Creeps sets the prices pretty fair for a bundle of coins or bag of gems. The Heroes are affordable if you are committed to the game at $2.99 for Roxie and $8.99 for Skybolt. The game rates for me at 8 out of 10. Enjoyable and fun, each level is replay able three times for maximum challenge and cash rewards. It will reward experienced tower defense players with challenging game play but it allows enough runway for more novice players to learn it, enjoy it, and get hooked.