Monthly Archives: December 2013

A Very Slender Christmas

S

Collect the presents before Slender Claus gets ya!

PC Release: 2012

By Ian Coppock

Of course I’m going to defile Christmas. You didn’t think I was going to let an opportunity that big just pass me by, did you. MUAHAHAHAHA!

____________________

The Slender Man Christmas Special is actually a bonus map on the Slenderman’s Shadow pack created by Dark Pathogen Studios. The goal of each map is identical to the original Slender: The Eight Pages. Ironic, because these guys claim that their game is totally original.

Anyway, your goal is clear; collect all eight presents before the Danny Omen version of Santa Claus, whom I will call Slender Claus (see what I did there?) hunts you down and kills you. With gameplay pretty much identical to that of The Eight Pages, no less! You have one flashlight. No weapons. You can run, but Slender Claus will always know where you are. In order to beat Slender Claus, you need to be fast, and for the love of Christ, don’t look behind you

Chortle.

Chortle.

This map would be in somewhat poor taste if the developers didn’t allow for some fun. The environment you’re plopped into is a maze of giant Christmas presents, surrounded by a blanket of snow.

Each present is a building, and each building may or may not contain one of the eight presents you need to beat the game. To add to the festivity, cheerful Christmas music plays in the background, and Slender Claus lets out a belly laugh every time he’s near. Which he will reach. Near you. Yay.

HO HO HOLY SHIT!!!

HO HO HOLY SHIT!!!

There’s no story beyond getting the eight presents; it’s the same Slender Man dance we all know and love. Get the items before the creepy dude, in this case Santa, catches you and kills you. You evade him by never looking behind you, a difficult task given that you know he’s there, yet cannot confirm your suspicions lest he emerge from the dark and murder you. The delicious tension that makes all Slender games glorious is no less present here, though it’s played down somewhat with the festive theme. That’s okay.

My first attempt at this map was ass. I thought I could trick Slender Claus by ducking into the buildings and making sharp turns around each corner, but all that did was earn me a pair of soiled trousers when I rounded a corner and fell into Slender Claus’ beard. Next, I tried wandering between each building in the snow, but as you get more presents, Slender Claus gets faster.

Do not let Slender Claus hug you. Hugs mean death in this world.

Do not let Slender Claus hug you. Hugs mean death in this world.

I actually have yet to beat this map. I’ve been trying it a few times today and will probably get back to it… a few months from now. The only thing more depressing than playing a Slender Man game on Christmas is… I don’t even know. Even I’m not that cynical.

If your appetite for terror wasn’t sated by The Eight Pages or The Arrival, Slenderman’s Shadow is available for $4.99. This map is included along with a dozen or so other locales in which you need to search for eight objects. Locations include a haunted mansion, an old prison, an abandoned carnival, and other dark areas where the Slender Man may lurk. Be on your guard!

S1

Slenderman’s Shadow is spooky, but it’s completely derivative of Slender.

I just want to say thanks a ton for a great year of reviews. It all started with Belltow3r Gaming back in January, and now I have all this. You guys’ readership is what motivates me to continue reviewing games, just as much if not more than the games themselves. I thank you for your awesomeness.

____________________

You can buy Slenderman’s Shadow here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed – Ultimate Sith Edition

S

Explore the untold story of Darth Vader’s secret apprentice.

PC Release: November 3, 2009

By Ian Coppock

I don’t know what to make of the Star Wars franchise these days. It seems to be floating in a state of limbo, between the acquisition of Lucasfilm by Disney and the plethora of new film, television and games we can expect to see in 2014. My feelings on this are many, and conflicting. On one hand, I’m overjoyed that George Lucas is being kept as far away from Star Wars as possible, after those god-awful prequels. But, giving it to Disney? Hmm. It’s also no big secret that the last few years of Star Wars video games have been shit, so to boost your spirits, I decided to sift through the feces and find the least crappy Star Wars game of recent years. Let’s go!

____________________

The Force Unleashed is its own premise; wield ridiculously overcharged Force powers in a game world of impressive destructive potential. The story starts off just after Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, when the Jedi have been wiped out and Emperor Palpatine has ascended to power.

Darth Vader, on a mission to destroy the last of the Jedi, does just that in the game’s prologue. He leads a massive imperial fleet to the Wookie homeworld of Kashyyyk, all in pursuit of one last Jedi.

Yes, you get to play as Darth Vader in the game's beginning. It's actually pretty kickass.

You get to play as Darth Vader in the game’s beginning. It’s pretty kickass.

As expected, Vader delivers this rogue Jedi a thorough ass-beating, and discovers that he has a tiny son, strong in the Force. Vader kidnaps the boy and secrets him away from everyone, to raise him as his own apprentice.

S1

Vader’s apprentice is a primordial engine of destruction.

Years on, the apprentice, codenamed Starkiller, has become Darth Vader’s ultimate secret weapon, hunting down and killing Vader’s enemies. Because the Sith code forbids more than two Sith at any time, Starkiller is also hidden from Palpatine, Vader’s unsuspecting master. Vader bears a great deal of anger for essentially being duped into killing his wife and donning that uncomfortable life support suit, and sends Starkiller off on Jedi-hunting missions to prepare him for the day when they can murder the Emperor together.

As Starkiller, you have an impressive repertoire of Force powers and lightsaber moves at your disposal. The game does a good job of making you feel like a badass from the get-go, yet increasing your power substantially as the game goes on. His Force tricks aren’t anything like the movies, though; Starkiller can unleash hurricane-force blasts of energy, fry entire battalions of foes with lightning, and even throw his lightsaber like a boomerang.

As Starkiller, you are lightning Jesus on speed.

As Starkiller, you are lightning Jesus on speed.

As a tool of the dark side, your mission is to hunt down and kill the Jedi who escaped the wrath of the Empire. Starkiller visits a handful of neato worlds and locations in pursuit of his goal. Most times, each of his Jedi targets have raised up their own cadre of baddies for you to fight against, making the game more complicated than a series of lightsaber duels. Starkiller’s missions also bring him into conflict with the Empire, forcing him to kill legions of stormtroopers.

As for the character itself, well, I’m torn once again. Starkiller is not the vehicle of pure hatred and anguish one would expect from being raised by someone like Darth Vader. He’s emo, definitely, but not full dark side. The character is curt, impatient, but not impolite, forming friendships with his servitors instead of treating them like… well… servitors. He’s definitely more angry and ferocious in-game, where you must navigate giant, gorgeous environments to reach your targets and escape before anyone notices.

Starkiller packs plenty of rage in battle but he's surprisingly gentle in cutscenes. Perhaps a bit too much, for an angry Sith warrior.

Starkiller packs plenty of rage in battle but he’s surprisingly gentle in cutscenes. Perhaps a bit too much, for an angry Sith warrior.

The supporting cast of characters includes Juno Eclipse, Starkiller’s cold, capable pilot, and PROXY, a darkly humorous war droid that serves as Starkiller’s lightsaber trainer, and who has vowed to kill him when he least expects it.

This weird trio sets off to do Vader’s bidding, off the grid and in the shadows.

Obvious love interest much?

Obvious love interest much?

The gameplay in The Force Unleashed comprises traveling on strange, hostile worlds, fighting through legions of enemies and then killing your target in an ultimate lightsaber duel. While a repetitive game design feature in and of itself, the variety of levels and enemies was great enough to keep my interest held for the entire game. Starkiller travels from space stations to mushroom forests to massive worldwide junkyards, all the while battling hordes of stormtroopers, droids, alien warriors and other threats.

Though the gameplay and arrangements of enemies get repetitive, this game’s diversity lies primarily in your options for dealing with them. Starkiller can sweep enemies away with a big push, fry them to death with Force lightning, or simply cut everyone to ribbons with his lightsaber. The proliferation of moves and combos can generate starkly different playstyles. My brother Grayson, who is something of a Force Unleashed afficionado, utilizes a refined style of dodging, lightsaber throws and pushing, whereas I, with far less patience, just cut shit.

CAN YOU FEEL THE KINK

CAN YOU FEEL THE KINK

Enemies in the game world are more intelligent than your standard baddies, but far less than LucasArts promised. While they do have an impressive sense of self-preservation, dodging your moves and even running away when injured, they still make the same ol’ reliable AI mistakes we all know and love, like sprinting into walls and off of cliffs. As you might imagine, this makes the game very exploitable.

Most of the game’s levels end with a boss fight, and most of those are lightsaber duels. To the game’s credit, these are epic; the two foes face off in an arena-like setting, and you’ll have to dance with some serious shit if you want to make it out of the tougher fights alive. One Jedi, a rather insane one, will summon giant Force-powered droids to pummel you to death, while another can turn invisible and stab you from behind when you least expect it. So level up.

The lightsaber battles are fun but they sometimes pack quick-time events, which, while cinematically cool, leave you sitting quietly while the game does badassery without you.

The lightsaber battles are fun but they sometimes pack quick-time events, which, while cinematically cool, leave you sitting quietly while the game does badassery without you.

There is quite a bit more to Starkiller’s journey than killing Jedi. I can’t spoil, but the game does, as promised, do a pretty good job of linking the two trilogies together. This game is also the origin story of the Rebel Alliance seen in the original movies, believe it or not, and it’s compelling fare. More so than most other critics seemed to believe. Maybe my Star Wars expectations were watered down by Hayden Christensen’s so-called “acting”, but I think this game is good. Very good. Certainly the best game LucasArts produced in its twilight years. The characters evolve, the context changes, and there are a couple of shocking plot twists that drive the ante up further.

From what I understand, the biggest sticking point critics had with this game was that Starkiller couldn’t block enough laser bolts with his lightsaber. Fortunately, there’s this magical menu called “upgrades” where you can (gasp) make Starkiller block more laser bolts! Knock yourself out, son!

Starkiller evolves along with his journey, in ways you might not expect.

Starkiller evolves along with his journey, in ways you might not expect.

The game’s level design is decent, though short of excellent. Environments are either blandly straightforward or packed with so many twists and empty hallways that you’ll lose all hope of getting where you need to go.

The game is, though, very pretty, and so did a good job of mitigating my frustration with the level design. Every planet and area you visit, from the half-built Cloud City to the mushroom jungles of Felucia, packs impressive color and detail. Your eyes will not get bored, I can wager you that.

Despite its desolation, or perhaps because of it, the junkyard planet of Raxus Prime was my favorite place to visit.

Despite its desolation, or perhaps because of it, the junkyard planet of Raxus Prime was my favorite place to visit.

The game does get lazy with giving you new places to visit. More than once I found myself visiting the same planet after [SPOILER REDACTED] and while the circumstances may have changed, the basic level and area had not. I don’t expect everything to be completely different but this game only has nine levels.

Overall, Star Wars fans and destructo-maniacs could do a lot worse than The Force Unleashed. I play this game every couple years or so and still enjoy it about as much. It has a good story; not spectacular, but worth your time, and it ties together the two sets of movies well. I’m not sure where the future of Star Wars games lies, but I do know that this game was a pretty epic swan song for LucasArts. The Steam version of the game contains a few bonus levels extending Starkiller’s hunt for the Jedi. They’re not great, but they’re there, and they amp up his dark force powers even more.

S2

Oooh, what is this???

Now; having said that this game is reasonably fun and has a better story than I’d expected, I have to temper my praise with a few strong provisos. The PC port of this game is less than stellar. It’s locked at 30 frames per second, and I had it crash on me more than once. Whoever ported this thing also did an absolute shit job at binding the keys, and you cannot change the bindings. It takes some getting used to, so I’d recommend a gamepad if you have one.

The legacy of The Force Unleashed has also been tarnished by its sequel, The Force Unleashed II. Released in the fall of 2010, The Force Unleashed II is one of the worst games LucasArts has ever made. The game could be completed in about four hours and felt desperately unfinished throughout the production. It contained a dopey, embryonic plot that was as gratuitous as it was brief. The game looked beautiful in its day, but its formulaic gameplay and critically short length left visuals its sole redeeming quality.

D3

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II is a terrible game. Avoid it at all costs.

Luckily, this is not a world where original games are judged by their sequels, or one where gamepads are not an option for PC gamers. Fans who enjoy Star Wars narratives, hack’n’slash gameplay, and overcharged Force powers are in for a treat with The Force Unleashed. It’s on sale frequently, and everyone should taste the staying power of LucasArts’ last good game.

____________________

You can buy Star Wars: The Force Unleashed – Ultimate Sith Edition here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

The Walking Dead

W

Care for a little girl in a harsh, unforgiving zombie apocalypse.

PC Release: April 24, 2012

By Ian Coppock

The newest generation of consoles has sunken nearly all my hopes for this industry, but it also taught me something new: the formula of modern game design. Step one: release a half-completed, half-assed game for 60 bucks. Step two: release the rest of the game in $20 chunks, and if you’re EA, start doing so before the game is even out. Step three: shoot yourself in the foot, or get an Xbox One or PlayStation 4. Either method counts for the same end in my book.

It really amazes me how people can hail this new generation of consoles as the crack of a gaming dawn. More like asscrack. None of either console’s exclusives have managed to break 80% on Metacritic, and the actual artifacts are far less impressive. Quick-time events, repetitive COD ripoff gameplay, and… just… ENDLESS sequels. Apparently this industry has run out of solid ideas, because it’s chosen to fall back onto either half-assed new IPs or the fifth and sixth installments in series long past their primes. I can safely say that Ryse and Dead Rising 3 were about as exciting as watching paint dry, and Killzone: ShadowFall for the PlayStation 4 is rather underwhelming compared to its more story-driven predecessors. Never mind that at least half of these consoles’ catalogs have been pushed to next summer to deal with Xbox LIVE and PSN network issues, taking any PC launches with them. Thanks for that, Microsoft and Sony.

To sum up, I needed an outlet for about a month’s worth of frustration and now we’re going to (non)-sequitur into The Walking Dead!

____________________

With more than a few of my Facebook friends positively gushing over the TV show of the same name, I decided it’d be a good time to break my own ground in this discussion with a review of the epic, episodic video game from Telltale Games. Both of these media are drawn from the graphic novel by Robert Kirkman, though while the TV series is a loose adaptation, the game is an original story based purely on the (in my opinion, superior) graphic novel material.

You are Lee Everett, a history professor on his way to jail for shooting his wife’s extramarital lover. The cop car he’s in takes a tumble, and Lee wakes up in a neighborhood infested with zombies.

OHSHITOHSHITOHSHITOHSHITOHSHIT

OHSHITOHSHITOHSHITOHSHITOHSHIT

Shortly after infiltrating a suburb, Lee finds a little girl named Clementine, orphaned by the disaster. It’s your job to guide Lee and Clementine through this nightmare, making tough decisions and fighting some serious shit in order to make it out alive.

The game is split into five episodes, which is different from console DLC because they were actually released AFTER the first episode made it out. Lee’s story evolves and darkens during the course of those episodes. Each of this game’s two-three hour installments is riddled with enemies both living and dead, as well as challenging puzzles and moral dilemmas.

This game is some mean fare. It's invigorating and compelling as hell, but a lot of it might leave a sour taste for a while. The good kind though. Yay.

This game is some mean fare. It’s invigorating and compelling as hell, but a lot of it might leave a sour taste for a while. The good kind though. Yay.

Let’s revisit that “choices” term I’ve been using so lovey dovey much. A lot of the video games out there claim that the choices you make do matter, but 99% of the time, these choices only result in one of two possible endings, or a slightly different cutscene. The Walking Dead attains Mass Effect-levels of possibilities, and the episodes do take drastic turns depending on what you do.

As with Mass Effect, Lee converses with other characters and you get to pick the tone of his personality, ranging from paragon to hardass. The personality you pick will rub off on Clementine and certain characters in your survivor’s group. The conundrums in this game are difficult not because of their cerebral intake but because of their purely painful moral dilemmas; my favorite puzzle was one in which Lee must split four pieces of food between ten hungry people, and then deal with the consequences of who he does and doesn’t pick over the rest of the story. The episodes pick up all plot points from each other for a continuous, tightly woven narrative.

You can't make friends without making a few enemies, especially in a zombie survival situation.

You can’t make friends without making a few enemies, especially in a zombie survival situation.

The game is navigated in an adventure-style format. You can switch between environmental scenes, interact with objects and explore your surroundings. Combat is kept at a minimum, but who needs it? The story’s twists and character development are a welcome replacement for endless, though sometimes fun, zombie grinds.

The dialogue and the voice acting in this game are a match made in heaven. Each character brings their round of quirks to the table. Lee welcomes into his group, among other characters, a trigger-happy news reporter, a gruff Air Force veteran, a meek Air Force recruit (wait a sec, um) a tomboyish ninja, a happy bum, and a comic book store dude. Such a variety of personalities and interactions makes for intriguing fare. You’ll also (briefly) meet a few characters from the comics themselves, including Glen, a major character, and Lily Caul, one of the Governor’s soldiers.

Aside from survival, the main goal of the game is to look out for Clementine, the sweetest little girl forced to grow up quickly in a harsh new world.

Aside from survival, the main goal of the game is to look out for Clementine, the sweetest little girl forced to grow up quickly in a harsh new world.

This game’s drawing upon inspiration from the comics doesn’t stop at story. The game’s artwork is a beautiful, thick-lined 3D rendition of a graphic novel style. A few realists out there might be put off by the cartoonish visuals, but I stopped caring as I got more invested in the story. The visuals pack their own artistic wallop and are surprisingly fitting for a zombie apocalypse story.

Being a zombie game, and a Walking Dead property of any kind, this game is violent and dark. Both very, very much so. Gamers who pass this off as a childish adventure series do so at their own peril, because this title packs more gore than any mainstream “horror” title and even some indie horror games. It presents harsh themes of survivalist morals and is unrepentant in its use of profanity and raw emotion.

It’s awesome, in other words.

If this picture doesn't move you in some way, you have no soul.

If this picture doesn’t move you in some way, you have no soul.

The Walking Dead is available in downloadable installments for five bucks a pop, or the entire five-episode game on disc or download for $25. I got mine through Steam, my Lord Protector in the shitstorm that is current-generation gaming (I just can’t shut up tonight, bear with me). Naysayers will claim that the game’s lack of direct action makes it boring, but it’s anything but. It’s certainly better than that half-assed Darryl Dixon spinoff that came out this spring. So buy it. OR I’LL HUNT YOU DOWN AND EAT YOUR FLESH.

____________________

You can buy The Walking Dead here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.