Review: Tale of ALLTYNEX Trilogy

As I type this, I’m downloading the Final Fantasy XIV 4.0 patch and awaiting the release of that game’s new expansion. It’s during downtime like this that I tend to dig through my library and pull out something that can be played start-to-finish in a reasonable amount of time. In keeping with my current theme of games from the late-90’s era, I came across a trilogy of arcade-style schmups (shoot-em-ups) called The Tale of ALLTYNEX. This trilogy consists of three games: ALLTYNEX Second, RefleX and KAMUI. I’ve had these titles sitting in my Steam library for some time, but I’ve never paid them much attention. If I remember right, I got them as part of an indie Japanese game bundle several years ago. Last weekend, I found myself with a desire to step away from all the deep and complicated RPGS that tend to consume the majority of my game playing, and jump into some old school, bullet-hell arcade action. So I installed these games and went in completely blind.

Unless you’re really into the Japanese indie scene, you’ve probably never heard of these games. So, let’s take a moment to bring ourselves up to speed. This trilogy contains a set of games created by Japanese developer Siter Skain. This collection was actually made possible via a project on Kickstarter. It contains the following titles:

ALLTYNEX Second – This game is a semi-modern remake of the Japanese 1996 arcade classic ALLTYNEX.

RefleX – A 2008 remake, this time of an indie freeware game called Reflection from 1997.

KAMUI – A 1999 Japanese PC game, based on classic shoot-em-up arcade titles.

Originally, each of these games were separate entities with each successive game being largely inspired by the one that came before it. Now, they have been compiled and somewhat re-imagined as a loose trilogy. Oddly enough, due to the various remakes, the newest games are actually the oldest chronologically.

As mentioned above, the first game lore-wise in the trilogy is ALLTNYEX Second.  Essentially, you play as the pilot of a “superfighter” starship.  In this title, mankind’s  orbital defensive supercomputer, ALLTYNEX suddenly goes rogue and uses its control over all of all of Earth’s military hardware to wage war on humanity. As a result, the human race is forced to flee the planet and regroup on the far reaches of the solar system. In a last-ditch effort to reclaim the planet, a team of  “superfighters” are dispatched to destroy ALLTYNEX.

This game is very well done. It feels just like one of those old quarter-pumper arcade machines, and thanks to moderns graphics, it makes the genre look better than ever.  It embodies the classic Starfighter schmup gameplay: swarms of enemies, rapid fire, bullets everywhere.  The player can choose between their regular blasters or a special shield that both protects your starship as well as damages enemies.  The gameplay is intense and not particularly easy – but few bullet hells are. The nearly unlimited continues make the game accessible for even a casual player. From start to finish the game can be completed in under an hour by an experienced player.

Next up is RefleX. This game is very similar to the others. It’s an overheard bullet hell/schmup. But unlike the other entries, you don’t have multiple lives. If your ship is destroyed, it’s game over. Luckily, the starship here is protected by a reflective shield. Enemy bolts will bounce off the shield and back towards the sender. This provides a whole new level of strategy to the game.

RefleX actually has quite an in-depth backstory, but to find all the juicy details you will have to dig through the manual. (The Steam version does have a PDF manual).  Essentially, you are a member of a resistance group that is rallying against an overbearing government. What’s unclear, at least to me, is how this ties in with the first game… has humanity retaken Earth and now bad guys are running the show? Despite several similarities, it just isn’t made very clear.

Finally, we have the third game in the trilogy, KAMUI. Despite being the last game in the series, this title is the one that shows it’s age the most. Which, considering the other two are remakes, I guess that’s to be expected.

This is the game that actually manages to tie the other two titles together. It features story elements from both ALLTYNEX and RefleX and presents a final battle between the resistance and a new militarized version of the ALLTYNEX AI.

Despite being the most dated of the three, I think KAMUI is my favorite of the trilogy simply because it reminds me the most of those old arcade-style shoot-em-ups that consumed so many hours of my youth. Which, is odd in itself considering KAMUI was a PC title.

Difficulty: Hard–  Most schmups and bullet hell games are infamous for their high degree of difficulty. These games are no different. Unless you’re one of those machine-like professional gamers or some kind of savant, you’re going to die a lot. Luckily, the games are pretty forgiving in that you are granted nearly unlimited continue credits. So, in reality, as long as you are persistent you can manage to complete the games regardless of overall skill. This still doesn’t change the fact that the game itself is difficult in it’s own right.

Story: As a whole, the storyline shared between these games is surprisingly rich. This is true despite it being largely absent from the games themselves. Schmups are not typically known for being rich is lore and storyline, so for this type of game any real attempt to provide one is welcome

Originality: Back in the 90’s games like these were a dime a dozen. These days, they have become a bit a niche category. Despite being based on a tested and tired model, the games in the ALLTYNEX Trilogy manage to stand out in their own little ways. For example, the ricochet shield from RefleX is a pretty unique feature. Little things like these keep the games feeling semi-fresh in a pool of stagnant copy-cat titles.

Soundtrack: One of the high points of all three of these games are the fantastic soundtracks. All these of titles come complete with a groovy, high-energy techno-like score. The music is catchy and appropriate. It does a fantastic job of keeping your blood pumping for the split-second twitch action that games like these require.

Fun: I can imagine that many people would find games like these to be frustrating and overly difficult. But that is something that fans of bullet hell games have come to expect and love. So you’re either going to enjoy this type of game or you’re not. For people like me, I don’t really consider myself to be a fan of these types of games, per se. But I do enjoy them for the nostalgia factor. And, I can appreciate them for what they are.

Graphics:  Being a trilogy of games from different eras, the graphics are a mixed bag.  Kamui and RefleX, are both still stuck in the 16-bit era. While ALLTYNEX Second has a much more modern, polished look. 

Playcontrol:  Even though these games support keyboard controls, take my advice and plug in either an Xbox or Playstation game pad. Games like these were made for controllers. Personally, I found a trusty old Xbox 360 controller to be perfect to all three games, with no real issues.

Downloadable Content:  None

Mature Content: Sci-Fi violence.

Value:  Each of these games is available separately on Steam for $8, or together in a bundle for $20. If you’re a fan of this genre, the $20 pricetag may be well worth it. But, these games are on sale frequently so a bargain shopper can usually snag them on a deal.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Even though I don’t really consider myself a fan of the shoot-em-up genre, I found a lot of enjoyment in these three games. It was really a nice break our of the norm for me. Everything from the fast-paced action, to the visuals, to the soundtrack really scratched an itch I had been having for some retro arcade action. My biggest complaint about the collection is that the original versions of ALLTYNEX and RefleX were not included.

Available on: PC (Steam)

DLC Review: Baldur’s Gate (Siege of Dragonspear)

A few months ago, I posted a review of the PC classic Baldur’s Gate. If you haven’t seen it, you can find it here. I owned the original game back in the old days, but for my review I dove into the new Enhanced Edition.  Baldur’s Gate was so popular that it spawned a sequel. This has also recently been given the “enhanced” treatment and I plan on playing and reviewing it soon. But that’s not what I’m going to talk about today, instead I’m going to look at a special DLC add-on to the original Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition; Siege of Dragonspear.

You see, there’s a bit of gap between Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II. Siege of Dragonspear was designed to fill that gap and bridge both games together. Dragonspear picks up right where the first game left off. It is very much integrated into the main scenario. Not as well as the official “Tales of the Sword Coast” expansion – meaning it’s not built into the main game itself. Instead, you start the Dragonspear scenario as an option from the main menu. But I suppose there were some limits to what the Beamdog Studios team was able to do when it came to the original game.

The storyline here builds on the aftermath of the original game. As the city of Baldur’s Gate recovers from the events of the first scenario, a new potential threat emerges in the form of a religious fanatic who is marching her armies towards the border. Her full intentions are unclear, but her actions have been deemed hostile and the hero of Baldur’s Gate is sent to investigate and resolve the issue. – For fans of the legacy games, I will tell you that this scenario makes perfectly clear EXACTLY what happens between BG and BGII.  Dragonspear ends immediately before the beginning of the Baldur’s Gate II.  So If you’ve always wondered just what occurred between the two original games, this DLC has your answers.

All in all, the storyline found in Siege of Dragonspear is nothing short of wonderful. It’s classic D&D at it’s best. The dungeons and puzzles are all perfect. Several classic D&D monsters can be found tucked away in the new game world, and for an old grognard like me, stumbling across them brought a big smile to my face. However, despite scoring big points in nostalgia, Siege of Dragonspear is not without its faults.

My biggest issue with this DLC is that it’s absolutely riddled with bugs. There are UI issues, sound issues, the game has a tendency to crash if there are too many characters on the screen at one time (and in some areas of the game, there are A LOT of on-screen characters). Oftentimes, Dragonspear has the feel of a fan-made mod and not that of an official release. Even with all it’s problems, I find it hard to complain too loudly. Beamdog Studios did a pretty decent job of borrowing elements from both Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II to help build the perfect tie-in.

Bugs aside, my only other gripe with the game has to be the price. Siege of Dragonspear is marketed as an add-on chapter for Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition. Yet, they are charging a premium price of $20. I suppose considering the amount of content found in this DLC that’s a fair price, but considering everything, it still feels a little too steep for me.  Even with the new areas and characters that this chapter adds to the game, I feel like a $10 or even a $15 price tag would be a bit better.

Overall Impression:  A solid, but buggy add-on scenario for Baldur’s Gate.  True to the original game. A must have for hardcore D&D and Baldur’s Gate fans.

Value: A little on the pricey side. But, it is nearly a full game’s worth of content. You’ll have to be the judge here.

Tech: My Tech Picks (Late 2016)

It’s been close to a year since my  original “Tech Picks” post in January. And a lot has changed for me when it comes to technology use. So, if you’re curious to see where I stand now on various ecosystems and my personal preferences on technology, this might interest you.

Computer Platform:  Windows PC – As expected from a PC gamer, I’m still using Windows as my platform of choice. Although, I have to express my frustration with Microsoft. Windows is a solid and stable option, but they’ve really made some bone-headed moves over the last year that leaves me questioning the road ahead. I’ve been both a PC and a Mac owner, and I can tell you without hesitation, the only thing keeping me on the PC platform is upgrade-ability and the level of customization that a PC provides.

OS: Windows 10 ( 64 bit Version 1607) – Since my last Tech Picks post, Windows 10 has received a refresh. The most current version is now “Windows 10 Anniversary edition”. Overall, this update is pretty solid. But it is not without it’s faults. While I have not been directly affected, this update broke a large number of USB devices for many users. Most notably web cams, Kindle, and other multimedia hardware. At the time of this writing, this issue has been not been resolved. Also a number of cumulative updates have caused havoc for many users. It seems like MS’s quality control has left a lot to be desired.

Hardware: Since my last post I’ve left most everything the same with the exception of a hard drive upgrade. In attempt to resolve some bottleneck issues, I updated my main drive to a hybrid SSD/Mechanical hard disk. I have been very impressed with the results. Everything else has stayed the same.

CPU: Intel i7 950 @ 3.07ghz

Mainboard: GA-X58-USB3

Physical RAM:  12gbs

Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 960

Sound: SoundBlaster Z

Storage:  Main: Seagate 2TB Hybrid SATA    Secondary:  Hitachi 1Tb   External:  Seagate USB 320gb

External Media:  DVD RW & Memory Card reader

Power: 750watt

Mobile: Android  – Motorola NEXUS 6 (Android Nougat 7.0) – Yes. I finally jumped ship on the Windows Mobile platform. The writing had been on the wall for some time and I rode it out for as long as I could. But once I saw developers actually leaving, not just “not developing”, I knew the end was near. It seems I was right, as now even Microsoft has all but abandoned their mobile platform. So, I was forced with making a decision between Apple and Google. Now, I’ve owned iPhones before and I think they are great. I have no problems whatsoever with the iOS platform. But, As I’ve mentioned on this site before, I’m very much an “ecosystem” type of guy. I prefer to use like-services. And, being a former Microsoft/Windows user, I decided it would be best to go Android. More specifically, a NEXUS device. NEXUS phones are basic stock-Android devices. They feature the Android OS in it’s purest form, plus, they are very easy to unlock and modify. Originally, my plan was to wipe the factory OS and install CyanogenMOD (a custom ROM). This would allow me to have all the benefits of an Android phone, but I could center it around Cortana and the other Microsoft apps that I enjoy. However, I found myself surprisingly impressed with the stock Android experience. Google’s services really shocked me with how well they all work together when centered on a single device. I will elaborate more on this in other areas of this post, but the way things are going now, I’ve very much become a Google convert. In fact, I’m looking forward to the new Pixel phones that were recently announced.

Tablet: Microsoft Surface No change here. My personal needs for a tablet are very limited. I mainly only use a tablet for reading comic books and doing some light searching while in the living room. Despite now using an Android phone, I see no offerings in the tablet area that tempt me to make a switch to Android. For my purposes, the original Windows RT surface is perfect.

e-Reader: Kindle Paperwhite – No change here.  The Kindle Paperwhite is an elegant and universal option that serves my needs perfectly. Yes, there are newer Kindle options available. But the Paperwhite remains my go to device.

Virtual Digital Assistant: Google – My switch to Android complicated this a bit. Previously, I was using Cortana exclusively on both my PC and my Phone. The service synced flawlessly and I actually found using a virtual assistant useful. Today, I am using “Ok Google” on my phone when I feel the need to dictate things by voice. But since there’s no Google Assistant on PC, that’s as far as it goes. Yes, I can install Cortana on my Android, but the experience is not nearly as seamless as it was on a Windows Phone device. Cortana is still active on my PC, but with all honesty – she’s not doing much.

Web Browser: Chrome– Despite a slew of improvements made to Edge in the Win 10 Anniversary Update, the browser still pales in comparison to nearly any other. I have set aside Firefox for Chrome, as I’m using Chrome on my phone, As a result, things like bookmarks and prior search results all integrate between my devices. I find this extremely convenient. Plus, Chrome is very well supported and polished.

Search: Google – More Google migration here. As a result of my Android defection, I also find myself using Google again for searches instead of Bing. I still feel like Bing is fine engine and in some ways, superior to Google in terms of design and aesthetics. But when it comes to raw functionality, both search engines seem to be on par with each other. Having Google search integrated so tightly with my phone certainly influenced my switch.

Email and Calendar: Google/Gmail – Another victim resulting from migrating away from Windows Phone. Gmail and Google Calendar integrate so wonderfully with the Google Now launcher that comes with the NEXUS, that they have managed to sway me away from Outlook. For the record, I still hail Microsoft’s spam controls over Google’s overall, but I keep a tight lid on my email address and as a result, do not general have a spam problem.

Office Suite: Microsoft Office 2016 Nothing beats it. As far a desktop application suite, Microsoft office is the best.

Cloud Storage: OneDrive and Google Drive – As a Windows and Office user, I’ve found OneDrive to be a very convenient online storage solution. It integrates well into both Windows and Office 2016. OneDrive works great with Android and other platforms as well. These days, I use OneDrive mainly for PC Back ups, and I use Google Drive for photos and general storage. But, both are within arm’s reach at any time.

PC Gaming Services: Steam No change. For PC games, I’m pretty much a Steam only guy. The only time I buy anything on GoG or other platforms is when it’s not available on Steam.

Music Management:  MusicBee – No change here either. I have a large digital music library, all tagged and sorted. To manage such a huge collection, I need the help of software. MusicBee is my music manager for the desktop. It integrates with my phone and makes it easy to transfer files to Google Play Music on my device.  Side note: I have recently found myself subscribing to Google Play Music as well. At $10 a month, with the perk of YouTube Red (ad free YouTube), it’s been quite an enjoyable experience. I still keep and maintain a local MP3 collection, but I enjoy the vast stream-able library that Google Play Music offers.

Wearables: Fitbit Charge HR–  I have moved away from the Microsoft Band and joined my wife as a Fitbit user. I was excited with the look and concept that the band promised, but over time I found it to be lackluster and not very practical. The Band itself was large and bulky and seemed more trouble that it was worth. Apparently, I wasn’t alone. Just last week Microsoft announced they were killing off the device.  My job offers an annual discount for Fitbit purchases, so I sold my Band 2 and took advantage. I’m still not a very heavy user of wearable tech, but aside from losing a few nifty features such as text reply and application support, the Fitbit is serving me well for the time being. I do expect in the future to explore some other wearable options, but for now, I’m content.

Home Gaming Consoles:  Currently at our house we own the following: Wii U, PlayStation 3 (First Gen), PlayStation 4, Xbox 360   (there’s a spare Wii in the closet).

Mobile Gaming: Both my children and I have a Nintendo 3DS. I also have an old PSP collecting dust.

Review: Baldur’s Gate (Enhanced Edition)

baldursgateenhancededition_cover

Getting back to my late 90’s game reviews, I step away from the PS and N64 consoles for a moment to talk about a classic PC title. Baldur’s Gate is almost universally regarded as one of the greatest western RPGs of all time. Originally released in 1998, Baldur’s Gate is a birds-eye-view role playing game based on Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition rules. The game takes place in the ever popular Forgotten Realms campaign setting and takes on the mammoth task of incorporating as many aspect of the D&D ruleset as possible and applying them to a real-time video game setting.

The original Baldur’s Gate proved to be extremely popular with fans. A year after it’s release, an expansion, Tales of the Sword Coast was made available. This add-on integrates seamlessly into the main game, adding new areas to explore, quests and storyline. The legacy left behind by Baldur’s Gate was so great that it was inevitable that someone would one day want to resurrect it. This occurred in 2012 when Beamdog Studios announced Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition.

I owned both the original game and the Tales of the Sword Coast expansion, but admittedly never completed them. Recently, I saw the Enhanced Edition on sale and decided there was no better time to revisit this classic.

20160917185041_1

For the record, let me state that for the most part – the Enhanced Edition is a faithful remake of the original Baldur’s Gate. It features the original story, original score and voice acting, but many of the textures and graphics are replaced or highly modernized.  One thing I noticed right away, is that the original opening video has been replaced with hand-painted still images. I’m not sure why the new developers chose to do this. Granted, the original video is very dated by today’s standards. But why replace it with still images and not a new video? Regardless, the new into movie is fitting and  admittedly beautiful. Plus, it doesn’t detract from the experience at all in my opinion. Also important to mention; the new version includes both the original game and its expansion, out of the box. It also features a new arena-based add-on called The Black Pits. (More on this later). As far as additional content, the remake adds a handful of new playable NPCs and a few additional quests that provide backstories to these characters.

In Baldur’s Gate, the player creates a hero from scratch. Character creation follows standard AD&D 2nd edition rules.  Players can choose to create a character of any of the following races:  Human, Elf, Half-Elf. Gnome, Halfling, Dwarf, and Half-Orc. (The Half-Orc is a new addition to the original game). The following classes are available to players: Fighter, Paladin, Ranger, Cleric, Druid, Monk, Mage, Illusionist, Sorcerer, Thief, Bard, and Shaman. These classes can be specialized even further using “class kits”. (Barbarian, Wild Mage, etc). Just like in real D&D2E, players also have the option to dual-class and multiclass.

The game story revolves around your custom character. In a nutshell, you are the foster child of a wise sage named Gorion. The two of you live in a quiet sanctuary of Candlekeep, a place best known as a center of learning and home to one of the best libraries in the realm. One day, a frantic Gorion requests you to pack your belongs and purchase supplies for an impromptu journey. The game begins here, amidst the confusion of his sudden request. As you make your way through town, you encounter more than one nefarious character that seem to be hell-bent on seeing you dead. Eventually, as the game presses on, Gorion meets a terrible fate that leaves you alone in the wilderness, confused, and with little go on besides a handful of cryptic clues and request from Gorion to meet some trusted friends at a nearby tavern. You are hunted and alone, with no real explanation.

From this point forward, the entire game is open-ended and you can do as you please. You can elect to follow the path you were set on, or you can explore as you see fit. Throughout your journey, you will encounter characters that wish to join you on your quest. Each have their own motives and values. As you travel together, your actions will either enhance the bond you have with your companions or drive them away.

20160904160825_1

Baldur’s Gate is played from a birds-eye-view. You click on objects or points of interest to interact with them. To move, you click on the characters you wish to advance, then click on their destination and they will walk to it. Clicking on individual character portraits provides with some additional options. For example, let’s say you click on a door to open it, only to find the door is locked. Well, if you have a thief in your party, you can click on that character to bring up a list of skills, then click on Pick Locks, finally you can click on the door again to apply that skill. The same is true for combat. During the melee action, you can choose individual actions for each character. This includes simple physical attacks, using items, casting spells, etc.

All of this may seem like a lot to take in, and to be honest, the game is very daunting at first. My first experience with Baldur’s Gate was back in ’98 when it was first released. At the time, I was admittedly overwhelmed. I suppose I played about a quarter of the way through it before shelving it. Now, playing through the Enhanced Edition many  years later, I find that had I stuck with just a bit longer, it would have started to fall into place. A little patience and a quick read through the manual help tremendously. Plus, the new edition of the game also comes with a tutorial mode. (Which I highly recommend for new players).

Interestingly enough, there is a multiplayer option. But in reality, it is rarely used. In multiplayer, one person is the host. This means they control the lead character. Any additional players control party-member characters. The sheer length of the game makes it difficult for this type of multiplayer to be viable option.

Finally, I want to mention the additional scenarios. Included for free with the Enhanced Edition is a short, arena-combat prologue to the game called The Black Pits. This scenario is aimed a veterans to the game and features a party of characters that fight battle after battle in a gladiator-type setting. With each victory they earn riches that can be used in-between fights to purchase new armor and weapons. Each battles get progressively more difficult. The final few battles require some serious preparation and commitment. In truth, this whole add-on seems to serve as nothing more than an introduction for one the new NPCs add to the Enhanced Edition. But it is included free, so no complaints there.

This new version of the game does also offer a brand new paid-DLC scenario called Siege of Dragonspear. This chapter serves as a bridge between the events of Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II. However, due to the sheer size of this expansion – I have decided to review it separately.

20160917163921_1

Difficulty: Variable–  Baldur’s Gate features a number of options when it comes to difficulty.  Easy, Normal, Core Rules, Hard, and Insane. The Enhanced Edition also adds options for “Story Mode” and Legacy of Bhaal”. The latter options making you either invincible or cranking up the difficulty to a point that makes the game nearly impossible.  (I gloat in being able to claim I completed the game on Bhaal difficulty…   not that I’m bragging or anything.)

Story: As one might expect with a Dungeons & Dragons title, the storyline is everything here. The game features a massive, rich main storyline. Not to mention it is peppered with a number of sideplots and quests. All of these are very well done.

Originality: Baldur’s Gate was a breath of life into what was a fading genre in the late 90s. It was fresh and new upon it’s original release. Now, with the new edition, it still manages to feel new by taking an old classic, polishing it up and releasing it into a sea of games that began to grow stagnant with unoriginal ideas. It’s the new black, as they say.

Soundtrack: The music in the game is well done. It has a classic western RPG feel to it. Sadly, there’s not much diversity in it. The voice acting is also a mixed bag. Some of the characters are very well done, while others just sound silly and out of place. The voice acting for the new characters added to the game also don’t seem to fit in well with the original cast. Also worthy of mentioning, this game suffers a bit from when I call Repetitive Sound Syndrome. Simply giving orders to your character usually results in some type of feedback statement. Usually it’s one of three, and you get tired of hearing them really quick. Thankfully, there is a setting that allows you to control the frequency at which you hear these. Finally, this game seems to have an issue with volume management. Often times during the game, NPC will be speaking only to be drowned out by a swelling background score. Adjusting individual volume levels did not seem to help alleviate the problem.

Fun: If you’re a fan of CRPGS and/or Dungeons & Dragons, you’re going to have a blast with this game. However, many players many simply not have the patience for the old-school style found here.

Graphics: At time it was released, Baldur’s Gate was top of the line. Today, even though a lot of work was put into modernizing the Enhanced Edition it looks quite dated. Yes, the new textures are beautiful, but the character sprites suffer a bit.

Playcontrol: Here we come to my biggest gripe. While most point-and-click games are pretty simple to control, Baldur’s Gate suffers from terrible AI. It is not uncommon for NPCs to get stuck on terrain, walk the wrong way, etc. I also frequently struggled with being unable to enter buildings due to all of my characters crowding around the entry way. Also, the new edition  of the game is not without it’s share of bugs that can interfere with your progress.

Downloadable Content: YES – A paid DLC Scenario called Siege of Dragonspear is available for purchase. This is a completely new original adventure available for the Enhanced Edition only. This currently sells for $20, so it’s a little on the steep side, but it claims to provide about 30 hours of content. So, that’s not really a bad price. I plan to make a separate review of it in the coming days.

–      ***UPDATE: Review here:  Siege of Dragonspear

Mature Content: Fantasy Violence, Mature Themes

Value:  This game currently sells for $20. Considering the amount of content packed into the title, it’s a steal at that price.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition is a must-have for fans of the fantasy genre. It’s a classic game packed with tons of content. Even with some of the glitches and faults of the remake, the redeeming qualities of the game outshine any faults it might have. For some of the reasons outlined above, I can’t claim to give it a perfect score, but it comes damn close.

Available on: PC (Steam and GOG)

Review: No Man’s Sky

81f1tckk51L._AC_SL1500_

When I first saw No Man’s Sky presented at E3 in 2015, I was enthralled. The developer showcased the title as a space exploration game, one that took place in a universe of nearly endless proportions. Over eighteen-Quintilian planets, all randomly generated. The planets were literally “planet-sized”, teeming with undocumented life. The first player to discover a particular planet could name it, and their name would forever be recorded as the “founder” of said world.  I mean, it was a concept unlike any other.  As a child, I was fascinated with deep space. The idea of an infinite universe filled with potential tugged at me then, as it still does now.  When the promise of No Man’s Sky was sold to the gaming world, I knew this was going to be a day one purchase for me.

So, here we are. No Man’s Sky has finally been released. And as I promised on the RetroSensei Podcast last year, I stopped everything and dedicated all my free time to playing it. I explored it, I learned its secrets, I experimented with it, and I ended up returning empty handed.  Allow me to explain…

First, let’s discuss what No Man’s Sky is supposed to be. As mentioned above, the game was sold to players as a deep-space exploration experience. The game is played through the eyes of an unnamed space traveler who wakes up on an alien world. As the traveler, you find yourself next to a broken spaceship. Not far from the ship is a strange artifact of alien origin. As you inspect the artifact, a strange voice invades your brain – you are given the option to follow the voice’s instructions and meet your destiny or ignore it and make your own way in the universe. Regardless of which path you may choose, you must first scour the planet for the resources needed to fix your ship and ensure your survival.

Cp1SjOmWIAAqxVF

Each player starting No Man’s Sky begins on a planet all their own. Your starting world is a world unseen by any other player. All planets, moons, and systems in the game are given randomly generated names, but as the founder of that world, you have the right to rename it if you wish. This is also true for the flora and fauna or special points of interest that you discover. The name you select, as well as the details of your discovery will be uploaded to the game’s server to be shared with anyone else who may eventually stumble across your world. At least…. that’s what the game promises. In truth, players have discovered that  (at time of this writing), discovery details are wiped after two weeks*… *** UPDATE- This is confirmed to be the result of a server error and not by design***

Anyways, back to the game itself. The first goal of the game is to harvest the materials needed to fix and upgrade your ship. This is done by seeking out ore or other raw elements and collecting them using a handheld multi-tool. While doing this, you will also quickly realize that aside from repair materials, you will need to collect resources to keep up your life support systems and even fuel for the multi-tool itself.  This quickly becomes a problem due the small amount of inventory space you start the game with. Luckily, as you proceed throughout No Man’s Sky, you will find frequent, albeit expensive, opportunities to upgrade your inventory slots. No Man’s Sky is very much a resource/survival game.

As you explore your starting world, you will likely encounter alien animals. Most are docile, but some are hostile. You will also eventually encounter “sentinels”. These are robotic probes that seem to appear whenever you seem to harvest materials in large number. If you’re greedy and continue to reap the land of its resources, these sentinels wills attack.

Once you’ve repaired your ship, you can use it to either travel around your starting planet with ease, or use it escape the atmosphere and head into space. Once you reach space, you’re likely to discover a few more planets and also a space station.  No you’re into the meat of the game.

Cp1RByrXEAELcmm

Every solar system in No Man’s Sky features a Space Station. So you’ll encounter these often. Here, you will find at least one alien lifeform. (There are four intelligent races in the game). At first, communication with these creatures will be difficult. But as you continue to travel from world to world, and system to system, you will uncover artifacts and computer terminals that will teach you bits of their language. Learning to communicate is important because many of the conversations or puzzles you will encounter in the game will often reward you with a prize, assuming you understand enough of the language to make the right decisions.

My starting world was rocky and barren. There wasn’t much to look at so I was anxious to move on and see what might await me on a new world. The next planet was different, but after spending an hour or so exploring it. I found that on the whole, it was really not much better. In fact, that might be the biggest problem with No Man’s Sky. Aside from the view, all the planets in game feature the same few points of interest: trading posts, communication towers, ruins/monoliths, and science stations. The purpose of these locations is either to learn new alien words, obtain blueprints for new technology, or buy and sell resources.  Occasionally, you may also encounter a shipwreck. But these are fairly rare. On top of that, nine out of ten times the wrecked ship is no better than your current one.

Spaceflight is even less exciting than planet exploration. It serves mainly as a path between worlds. Yes, you can mine minerals from asteroids and occasionally, you’ll encounter a fleet of ships in orbit around a world. But if you linger too long in open space you’re likely to become a target for pirates and combat is space is rather cumbersome, to be honest.

14067862_1769583416642644_6512931380426361066_o

The “goal” in No Man’s Sky is travel to the center of galaxy. To do so, you will need to craft a warp drive for your ship. (Players who pre-ordered the game actually receive a special ship that can warp from the start). However, you’ll soon find that warping through space is not really that efficient. Even with a fully upgraded drive, it will take hundreds upon hundreds of jumps to reach the center. Each jump requiring you to harvest and craft fuel. You can also take advantage of black-holes. These are supposedly short-cuts towards the center but they cause massive damage to your ship.  Now, I don’t usually post spoilers in my reviews, but I’m going to make an exception here. Reaching the center of the galaxy is not all it’s cracked up to be. Simply doing so treats you to a long and unskippable cutscene that sheds no light whatsoever onto the purpose or storyline of the game, and then essentially starts the game over again from the beginning. That’s right. The screen flashes and you wake up again on a new world, but this time in a different galaxy.

If you actually followed the game’s “storyline” and collected a number of special items through your travels, the ending is given is a tad bit more interesting, but the end result remains the same.

You’ll notice that as I summarized the game, I didn’t mention any interactions with other players. No Man’s Sky was described as being a multi-player experience, and even the box contains a notice of online play. But, in reality, you will never encounter another player. The game developer would have you believe that this is simply due to the large-scale size of the universe. But in truth, that is not the case. Two players were indeed able to organize a rendezvous in No Man’s Sky only to discover that the game clients do not talk to each other. You cannot encounter other players. Aside from seeing names people have given worlds and other discoveries, there simply is no multiplayer in No Man’s Sky whatsoever.

Now, it’s obvious that I’m quite unhappy that No Man’s Sky is not the really the experience promised to me by developers. I know that sometimes a player’s expectation will not line up with the end experience in a game. But No Man’s Sky is a unique case in that the developers outright lied and fabricated facts about the game. Setting these unfulfilled expectations aside and looking at the game itself, how is No Man’s Sky? Well, that’s a bit tricky. Initially, the game was crashy upon release and did indeed have a number of annoying bugs and glitches. But to be fair, a large number of these were swiftly fixed and corrected in a series of patches.  So, as I write this, both the PS4 and the PC version of game are pretty much stable. The game itself is gorgeous. The graphics are well done and at times breathtaking. The game actually does manage to capture a sense of wonder and mystique. The vast scale of the game was not oversold, it’s nearly endless. But sadly, most of what you will find is not always all that interesting. It’s different planets with the same contents. Over and over and over and over. The grind does exist, but for some reason I kept feeling the pull to play more and check out that one undiscovered world, because… maybe something interesting would be there. Even if it never was.

To me, if you approach No Man’s Sky with the mindset that it is an open-ended experiment, or a piece of art (and make no mistake, it is that), you will likely not be disappointed. This game is essentially a large sandbox, but one with very strict rules. However, if you come to the game expecting deep gameplay or a satisfying story, you will likely be disappointed.

In many ways, I imagine being a lost spacefaring traveler would actually be very much like the experience provided No Man’s Sky. A silent, lonely journey from one world to the next, in hopes that eventually you will find something that  gives your journey meaning. Only to know in the back of your mind that the only thing that waits for you out there is the vast nothingness, the likes of which you have already encountered.

 CqR35g-UAAQw4Zy

Difficulty: Easy –  No Man’s Sky is not a punishing game. If your character perishes, you will respawn at the point in which your game was last saved. You can find and locate your grave and restore any inventory that was lost. Most of the danger in this game exists in open space, courtesy of pirates. But occasionally, you will encounter a planet where the sentinels are hostile and attack on sight. These encounters can be deadly, fast. But as I mentioned, there’s no real penalty. No Man’s Sky is a fairly relaxing and stress free.

Story: The backstory of the game is minimal. It revolves around something called “The Atlas”, which is essentially a phantom alien consciousness. By following the path of the Atlas, the player can be ensured they will eventually obtain everything needed to reach the center of the galaxy, thus serving the will of the Atlas itself. – This scenario is actually quite well done, but it goes over the heads of most players. Essentially, the player is slave to an unseen force, one who’s intentions are not made clear. There’s hope of an ultimate end, but one that never seems to come.  – As I said in the review itself. No Man’s Sky is ultimately an experimental piece of playable art.

Originality: Love it or hate it, No Man’s Sky is certainly original. There’s never been a game where every piece of a shared universe is proceduraly generated. The game itself and the very concept of it is uncharted territory.

Soundtrack: The game soundtrack is fitting and perfect. From spacey ambient music while exploring the alien landscape, to pulse thumping beats when being attacked by sentinels. There’s no top-ten hits to be found here, but the score and overall game sound effects serve their purpose well.

Fun: In the beginning the game is interesting and entertaining. But sadly, it gets old pretty fast. What starts out seeming to be a universe filled with endless possibilities quickly fades into the realization that it is really nothing more than endless, re-skinned, repetitiveness.

Graphics: If No Man’s Sky is anything, it is pretty. Even the barren lifeless planets that you encounter more often than not, are well rendered and breathtaking to look at. The game largely has the overall look of an Issac Asmiov book cover. Which I found to be interesting and refreshing.

Playcontrol: The default controls are efficient, but a bit clunky at first. Thankfully, they can be remapped but in reality it doesn’t help much. For the most part, the stiff controls are not big issue, but on the uncommon occasion when combat occurs, it can often be difficult to navigate.

Downloadable Content: Free DLC Planned – Hello Games has promised free DLC that will “expand and change that scope of the game”. What this means exactly, is still anyone’s guess. If later content does in fact change the game in a big way, be assured I will update this review with those details.

***   Foundation Update Review

Mature Content: None

Value:  This game currently sells for a top-tier price of $60. In my opinion, this is too much for what you get. It won’t be long before this title is on sale. I cannot recommend a purchase at a $60 pricetag.  Knowing what you’re getting into, I’d feel more comfortable at or around $20.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – No Man’s Sky is interesting. It’s not currently the game we were promised. But it’s not really as bad as some report indicate. If you like sci-fi, outer space and the thrill of the unknown, then you might like like No Man’s Sky. If you like peaceful, cerebral, open world games then you might like No Man’s Sky. But, if you’re goal-oriented, want an epic sci-fi storyline or exciting interactions with other players, you might want to sit this one out.

Available on: PS4 and PC (Steam)

Review: Fallout 2

2911-fallout-2-windows-front-cover

Having recently completed the original Fallout, I decided to plow right along into the next entry in the series. I enjoyed the first game so much, I was excited to see just what the sequel had in store. While I was not disappointed, I still ultimately found Fallout to be a better game in my personal opinion. Let’s find out why…

The sequel, Fallout 2, was released shortly after the original game. For the most part, the two titles are very similar in many ways. Fallout 2 seems to run on the same engine as the original. Both the gameplay and graphics is nearly identical. So if you have any experience with the original title, there is nearly no learning curve for Fallout 2.

This game takes place several generations after the original title. In this game, you play as a descendant of the original “vault dweller”. Your character is a member of a tribal-type village that was founded by the hero of the original game. Due to extreme drought and famine, the people of your village are suffering. You have been tasked with venturing out into the world in search of a legendary artifact called the Garden of Eden Creation Kit, a device said to contain the power to grow crops in even the most barren conditions. With this quest in mind, you take your first step into the dangerous world outside your village.

10

As mentioned earlier, nearly all game-play aspects of Fallout 2 are identical to the original title, albeit with some minor refinements. This time around there are some new traits and perks as your character levels up, but the core game play mechanics are the same. Despite the similarity, there’s still plenty of challenge to be found here even for seasoned players. For example, at least from my observation, the NPC AI seems to be sharper. In this game, characters seemed quicker to go hostile if you approached them while your weapon was out. While this was also an issue some of the time in Fallout 1, it seems much more consistent in this title.

Compared to the original Fallout, Fallout 2 is a much more deserving of a Mature rating. The first game certainly had it’s share of violence and strong language, but Fallout 2 cranks both of these up significantly. On top of that, the game also features plenty of sexual themes. In fact, prostitution and using sexuality as a tool is now a legitimate game play tactic.

Content-wise, Fallout 2 expands on the mythology presented in the original game quite well. There’s plenty of new lore to dive into for players willing to seek it out as well as a number of nods to both places and characters from the original. This game is significantly longer as well. The number of optional quests and things to explore are plentiful.

FO2_Tandi

Also important to note: like the first Fallout, players are going to want to be sure to either purchase the Steam version or resort to unofficial patches to ensure that the title plays well on modern systems.

All in all, Fallout 2 is a very well-rounded sequel. I found the game to be quite enjoyable, but perhaps not quite different enough from the original to make it as memorable. That’s my personal opinion. But, I know that many people consider Fallout 2 to be the better of the two. So, this might be a case of play it yourself and decide.

0120

Difficulty: Medium –  Again, if you never played old school CRPGS, there may be a bit of a learning curve here. But, players familiar with the original Fallout will have a much easier time. In my opinion, this game seems to be just a tad harder than Fallout, but still tends to fall into that “medium” difficulty category.

Story: Taking place 80 years after the first game, Fallout 2 keeps with the lore and setting introduced in the original. The storyline here is engaging and very well done.

Originality: Fallout 2 is essentially a carbon copy of the original in many ways, but considering it is a direct sequel, this is largely forgivable. Most changes found here are tweaks and enhancements.

Soundtrack: Most of the in-game score is ambient and mood-setting. Which I found to be appropriate for this kind of title.  Again, the voice acting is top notch.

Fun: Fallout 2 is an excellent title and is a lot of fun. Players who enjoyed the original, or who like CRPGS in general will find a lot to like with this title.

Graphics: Even though this is an older title, the graphics still look pretty good. Modern players will want to seek out HD resolution patches to make the game perform well on current-day systems. Just like Fallout, this title was released during a time of crude graphics integrated with CD-quality video. Some of the NPC interactions looks much better than the rest of the game, giving the title a mixed bag sort of feel graphically. Graphically, this game is nearly identical to Fallout 1.

Playcontrol: The controls for this game will feel foreign and awkward to someone who doesn’t take the time to read the game manual. That being said, once you get the hang of things it tends to be quite smooth overall. My biggest complaints with the game have to do with mouse pointer accuracy and viewing angles. I’m looking forward to seeing how some of these issues are dealt with in future entries in the series. I noticed no real improvement with this from the original Fallout

Downloadable Content: Unofficial mods and patches

Mature Content: Violence, gore, strong language and sexual themes.

Value:  This game can usually be found today for $10 and under. Considering amount  how replayable it is and the content packed into the game, this is a steal and well worth the price. Many hours of fun for a low price.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Fallout 2 is a good sequel to a classic game. While not as groundbreaking as the original, this is still a title that deserves a place in any PC gamer’s library. Highly recommended.

Available on: Steam

Other Reviews In This Series:

Fallout   –    Fallout 2  –    Fallout 3  –   Fallout: New Vegas  –   Fallout 4

Fallout Tactics   — Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel

Review: Fallout

41359-fallout-windows-front-cover

It is with great honor that I can finally declare myself free of one of the gravest sins a “PC Gamer” can commit. That sin is: never playing Fallout. The Fallout series is heralded as a favorite among gamers. But somehow, the original title, and thus the series as a whole, slipped under my radar. Since I’m currently undergoing a play-through of games from late 90’s to early 2000’s, this made for a great opportunity to finally see what all the hype was about.

Fallout was originally released in 1997, a time of transition in the PC gaming industry. First person shooters were on the rise and slowly beginning to dominate the PC gaming landscape, but a few gems like Diablo and Fallout still managed to make a name for themselves by being completely original.

At it’s core, Fallout if an RPG. Not the “JRPG” style game that one normally associates with the phrase these days, but rather it is a Role Playing Game the hearkens back to a genre that is nearly all but extinct.  In many ways, the mechanics of this game reminded me a lot of another classic RPG title from my youth called Realms of Arkania. For example, combat takes place on a grid. Each action that occurs during combat costs “Action Points”, be that moving forward a step, drawing a weapon, etc. Once your action points are used up, your turn is over and it’s time for your opponent or another character to move. This may sound tedious, but it’s actually very clever and can progress at a pretty fast rate once you get the hang of things. But before we talk too much about mechanics, let’s look at the story behind the game itself.

02

The world of Fallout is essentially Earth in an alternate future. Imagine if you will, that sometime after World War II technology continued to innovate at a rapid pace, but pop culture did not. Then, imagine a worst-case nuclear war scenario actually occurred. Most of human civilization was destroyed, but a small number of people managed to survive by hiding themselves away in deep underground “Vaults”. Some of them still remain hidden from the world outside, while others have ventured out and adapted to the wild lands outside. This is the scenario in which Fallout takes place.

You play a “Vault Dweller” from Vault 13 who is tasked with venturing into the outside world in order to find a “Water Chip” needed to ensure that water supply for your vault can continue production without interruption. During your adventure you quickly learn of the harsh realty that is life outside the vault.

Now keep in mind, I started this game with absolutely no idea what to expect. I make it a habit not to read up too much on games before I play them because I enjoy the element of surprise. As a result, I found myself very confused and somewhat overwhelmed with the UI and game controls. Being an older game, Fallout does not do any hand holding when it comes to actually playing the game. To learn the basics, you actually have to read the manual. If you purchased the game digitally, a PDF copy of the manual is usually provided to you. This is true for Steam. So word to the wise, if you are playing this game for the first time, READ THE MANUAL.

Getting back to the mechanics, the game itself reminds me a great deal of pen and paper RPGS. Fallout features a system called SPECIAL, which essentially represents the core stats of your character. There’s also a large number of numerical skills and traits and other aspects that can all be customized throughout the course of the game. For example, if your plan is to try to avoid conflict whenever possible, you may want to level up your Speech skill over some of the other combat skills. The game can be conquered in a number of ways. How you decide to approach various situations can have a huge impact on how the storyline of the game will pan out.

04

As I mentioned earlier, I was very taken aback at first by the sheer complexity of the game. I think I’ve become accustomed to a lot of hand holding and the generic familiarity that most games tend to provide these days, that I forgot what it was like to dive into something “original”. But after reading the instructions and spending a little time getting my feet wet, I found myself going along at full steam and having a really wonderful time. I’m really curious to see how some of the more modern games in this series stick to the core gameplay of this title and how they deviate.

I don’t usually enjoy post-nuclear type scenarios, either on film, in literature, or in games. But Fallout manages to do a fantastic job of keeping the scenario fresh and interesting. I was pleasantly surprised by this title. It somehow managed to feel both familiar and fresh at the same time. Which is quite impressive considering the game is now nearly twenty years old.

One final note, if you’re playing this game on modern hardware, I do recommend going with the Steam version of the game. This version is update to date with the official patches and also includes the developer approved HD resolution patch. (There are also unofficial patches out there as well the correct even more confirmed bugs and remove some in-game censorship.)

05

Difficulty: Medium –  If you never played old school PC RPGS, there can be quite a bit of a learning curve here. But, completing the main scenario of the game is not particularly difficult once you understand how Fallout works. There are a number of ways to go about things also. So if one approach doesn’t work for you, there’s usually other options as well. The ability to save the game at anytime and having multiple save slots helps a bunch as well.

Story: When it comes to lore and storytelling, this game is filled to the brim with it. And it all very fleshed out as well. This game is all about story, and it’s fantastic.

Originality: At the time this game was released it was simply ground breaking. Sure, the core RPG mechanics are very similar to what you might find at a GENCON, but being able to capture that feel and put it on the PC screen so perfectly is feat in itself. Despite being an older game, Fallout still managed to feel fresh and new to me upon my first play.

Soundtrack: Most of the in-game score is ambient and mood-setting. Which I found to be appropriate for this kind of title. The real winner here is in the voice acting. The character actors in this game are simply amazing. This is hollywood-grade voice work! Superb.

Fun: As I said before, I was pleasantly surprised with this title. I played through the game in almost 30 hours my first time over the span of about 4 days. It flew by. After that, I loaded up some of the unofficial patches and explored some of the non-canon content in what was nearly another 20 hours.  I had a blast both times.

Graphics: This is an older game, and it shows. The pixelated graphics certainly giveaway the age of the title. But despite that, it still manages to look pretty darn good thanks to the HD resolution support the Steam and some unofficial patches provide. Fallout was released during that awkward time of crude graphics integrated with CD-quality video. Some of the NPC interactions looks much better than the rest of the game, giving the title a mixed bag sort of feel graphically. 

Playcontrol: The controls for this game will feel foreign and awkward to someone who doesn’t take the time to read the game manual. That being said, once you get the hang of things it tends to be quite smooth overall. My biggest complaints with the game have to do with mouse pointer accuracy and viewing angles. I’m looking forward to seeing how some of these issues are dealt with in future entries in the series.

Downloadable Content: Unofficial mods and patches

Mature Content: Violence, gore and strong language.

Value:  This game can usually be found today for $10 and under. Considering amount  how replayable it is and the content packed into the game, this is a steal and well worth the price.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Fallout is without a top notch game that worthy of its legendary reputation. I can’t believe I missed this game the first time around. I’m now a fan.

Available on: Steam

Other Reviews In This Series:

Fallout   –    Fallout 2  –    Fallout 3  –   Fallout: New Vegas  –   Fallout 4

Fallout Tactics   — Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel

Review: Punch Club

punch_club_logo_big_x2

Sometimes it’s good to take a break from the normal and veer off on a tangent. So… I’m going to take a moment to review a game that’s occupied my time when I’ve not been grinding through Final Fantasy titles…  Punch Club.

Punch Club is a short, retro-sim boxing-tycoon style game. It originally landed on my radar due to it’s throwback-style graphics, but after spending just a little time with it, I was hooked on it’s unique blend of humor and overall gameplay.

394310_screenshots_2016-01-25_00001

Punch Club is a game where you play as an up and coming boxer. As a child, your father was mysteriously murdered and you’ve made it your goal to uncover the identity of the killer – how so? By working hard, and kicking ass. As the game progresses, the storyline can branch in a few different directions, but the ultimate goal is always to climb the ranks in the boxing underworld with the intention of ultimately uncovering those behind the death of your father.

The game itself is chock full of hilarious 80’s & 90’s pop culture references. These range from video game to action movie references. Everything from the game’s retro 16-bit look, to it’s chiptune soundtrack are pumped with a health dose of nostalgia.

As far as gameplay goes, it’s pretty basic. Your character has three main stats that he can improve to unlock new moves and abilities. These are improved by training (working out). The only problem is, your character gets hungry and tired. So, you do have to stop working long enough to eat and sleep. Of course, eating requires food… which requires money. So… you have to work as well. All of this cuts in to your training time. So the whole game is really a big balancing act. Work enough to earn money to eat – so that you have the energy to train – so that you can win fights. All the while, the in-game calendar ticks by. If you don’t workout frequently enough, you slowly grow weaker.

394310_screenshots_20160310222950_1

So what we really have here is a stat-based time-management game of sorts, with a very entertaining storyline. To be honest, there’s A LOT of grind to be found in this game, and it’s far from perfect. But the entertaining storyline motivated me enough to keep my attention. I just wish there was a way to speed up the clock during some of these monotonous activities. Being able skip through repetitive workouts would be a godsend.

The game itself is fairly inexpensive. Currently, it’s available on Steam for under $7.00. A new “expansion” was just released that adds a few new story-based activities to the main game. Plus, the development community seems pretty active and the game itself is patched frequently.

Punch Club is not the type of game I usually play, but it was unique enough to grab my attention and good enough to keep it for the long haul.

394310_screenshots_20160311115901_1

Difficulty: Average –  This game can be a little tough to master at first. Patience is the key. There’s quite a bit of grind involved in this game, but it’s not as bad now as it was when it was first released. Upon completion of the game, you unlock Hardcore Mode – this ramps up the difficulty considerably.

Story: The story in the game is comical and filled with purposeful cliche’s. It’s not meant to be taken seriously. With that in mind, it’s quite good and very entertaining.

Originality: Punch Club takes a lot of ideas that have been seen before and rolls them into one really fun and unique title. It’s the presentation that makes this game feel new and original.

Soundtrack: The soundtrack in this game consists of old retro-era chiptunes and they are wonderful. The music in the game is catchy and very well done.

Fun: This game is very grindy. That can be a turn off to a lot of people, so be warned. But despite this one complaint, I found the game to be quite enjoyable overall.

Graphics: This title has a 16-bit look and feel. This is done purposefully, and can even be enhanced by enabling a simulated “tube television” effect. There’s certainly nothing new and groundbreaking here when it comes to graphics. But, considering the intentions behind the game, it works very well.

Playcontrol: This game can be played entirely with a mouse on the PC (touchscreen for the mobile version), no issues whatsoever with playcontrol.

Downloadable Content: YES – Free periodic updates. So far, one update “The Dark Fist” has been released. This added a new playable side quest to the main scenario. Note: this update requires you to start a new game to experience the content.

Mature Content: Minor language, crime and violence.

Value:  This game has a lot packed into for the <$10.00 pricetag it now carries. Well worth it.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – This game is a refreshing option in a market that often takes itself too seriously. Punch Club is unapologetic entertainment, pure and simple. I recommend this game to anyone who enjoys retro gaming, pop-culture, or just looking for something new.

Available on: Steam, iOS and Android.

Tech: My Tech Picks (Early 2016)

Since my recent posts about tech and operating systems, I thought it might be fun to elaborate on my personal tech choices. So, for those who might be curious, as of January 2016, this is what I use:

Computer Platform:  Windows PC – Even though I have nothing but great things to say about Apple hardware. I find their prices to be a bit hard to swallow. Yes, I’ve purchased and owned Apple hardware. But considering the cash you have to shell out vs the limit upgradability, I’ve decided to stick with custom built PCs for the foreseeable future.

OS: Windows 10 ( 64 bit Version 1511) – At the time of this writing, Windows 10 is the latest offering from Microsoft. Despite what you may read in certain online media, Windows 10 is not filled with NSA/Microsoft spyware. The OS does not record your actions or phone home to some secret location far in the mountains of Washington state. Yes, there is telemetry and data dumps for crash reports, but all of these things can be easily disabled during and after installation. Other settings such as predicative text and search archival are also optionally enabled for use with the Cortana virtual assistant. Don’t like it, turn it off. — As far as stability and modern options, this is the version of Windows to use.

Hardware: My PC is a custom built Frankenstein of both cutting edge and legacy tech. I prefer and use Intel processors, with Nvidia graphics cards. The biggest thing holding me back are my old school mechanical hard disks. I am hoping to upgrade to a solid state or hybrid drive in the near future. My current rig is as follows:

CPU: Intel i7 950 @ 3.07ghz

Mainboard: GA-X58-USB3

Physical RAM:  12gbs

Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 960

Sound: SoundBlaster Z

Storage:  Main: Hitachi 1TB  SATA    Secondary:  Hitachi 500gb   External:  Seagate USB 320gb

External Media:  DVD RW & Memory Card reader

Power: 750watt

Mobile: Windows Phone – Nokia Lumia Icon (929) with Windows 10 (1511) – This has been my phone for quite a while. In my opinion, despite being an older phone, it features some of the best hardware available today. This phone boasts a 2.2 GHZ quad-core CPU with a 20 megapixel back camera, and a 1.2 front camera. It features 32gbs of storage and wireless charging. It’s not a “phablet” (which I like) it’s display is 5″. Being a Verizon device, this runs on 4g LTE.  – As I said, the hardware is great but the phone suffers from the poor software support that Windows Mobile devices receive. The OS runs well, but at this time Windows 10 is still buggy on this device. (The Factory image for the Lumia Icon is still Windows 8.1 – which runs flawlessly), but regardless which OS you use, the app gap is real.

Tablet: Microsoft Surface My personal needs for a tablet are very limited. I mainly only use a tablet for reading comic books and doing some light searching while in the living room. Maybe occasionally a little bit of Netflix. For these purposes, the original Windows RT surface is perfect. The dimensions of this tablet vs a standard iPad are better suited for comic reading. Plus the old Surface is much cheaper.  Would I like a Surface Pro 3? Sure… but for now, this suits my needs fine.

e-Reader: Kindle Paperwhite – I like to read. I always have. I love the touch and even the smell of books. So for a long time I resisted the “eBook revolution”. I knew I didn’t want to read a novel on a glaring white LCD. So once I decided to take the plunge into eBooks, I knew that the eInk Kindles would be the best option for me. Amazon features the biggest digital library out there. Nook and other competitors can’t compete. This Christmas, my wife got me a new backlit Paperwhite to replace my old 4th gen Kindle. I bought a nice leather case for it. Now it even feels like a book in my hand. I love my Paperwhite. I can read in the dark without having to stare at an eyeburning screen. The soft light of the Paperwhite is perfect for me.

Virtual Digital Assistant: Cortana – I never thought I’d find myself actually using this type of technology. But once I got the hang of it, it really simplified things for me. I’ve tried and used all three of the big options, Siri, Ok Google, and Cortana and for me, Cortana is the winner with Siri at a close second. Of course, these technologies are all software driven so that could change at any time. But to date, I’ve found Cortana to be the easiest to use and “she” provides me with the most relevant search results. Be it web search or local directions, 9 out of 10 times, she delivers right what I’m looking for.

Web Browser: Firefox – Ever since the release of Internet Explorer 4, I’ve been a fan of Microsoft browsers (until recent years). In fact, if there was an Internet Explorer 12, I’d probably be using it now. But sadly, Microsoft has left IE out to die while they developed their new Edge browser. The only problem is… Edge sucks. At least right now it does. Sure it is fast and renders pages beautifully, but it’s not-feature complete. I can’t tweak it the way I want to. I can’t block ads without editing the hosts file on my PC. And with IE unable to keep up with modern web standards I find myself using Firefox. Firefox offers me everything I need to tweak and customize my web experience the way I like it. The only problem is over the years, Firefox has become somewhat sluggish and bloated. It’s not near as snappy as it used to be. Hopefully, Edge will receive the love and attention it deserves in the future and I can make a switch. I really like the Cortana integration in Edge, but it’s simply not usable for me currently.

Search: Bing – Yes, I’m one of the weirdos who actually uses Bing. Initially, I only used it for images searches. I found a while back that for whatever reason, Bing image search tended to bring me more relevant results than Google. Then when MS rolled out their Bing Rewards to try to snag more users, I entertained the idea for a few weeks and used it while racking up reward points. By time it was over, I was surprised to find it to be just a good as Google. Plus, the layout and design on the page was much more appealing to me than Google. It just sort of ended up being my go-to search provider. Plus, every month of so I can cash in my points for a giftcard, or Xbox Live points, which is nice.

Email and Calendar: Outlook – I’ve been a Hotmail user since back when people still knew why it was called “Hotmail” (HTML — duh), back before Microsoft acquired the company. Sure, I’ve used regular POP mailboxes, and even Apple and Google’s mail products, but I’ve always come back home to Hotmail, Passport, Live, Outlook…. whatever Microsoft is calling it these days. Their spam technologies and privacy policy are some of the best in the business. Plus, it integrates wonderfully into Windows and most other platforms actually.

Office Suite: Microsoft Office 2016 Sure, there’s plenty of competitors these days. iWork, Google Docs, Libra/Open Office – but none of them have the ease of use and compatibility that MS Office does. To me, it’s a must have.  – These days, the easiest way to get Office is through the Office 365 program. This is a monthly subscription service that grants personal users a license to install office on up to five computers. Always up to date, latest version.

Cloud Storage: OneDrive – As a Windows and Office user, I’ve found OneDrive to be a very convenient online storage solution. It integrates well into both Windows and Office 2016. It works with my phone. As a result of using both Windows Phone and Office, I have a ton of free storage. But the pricing for additional storage is more than reasonable and competitive with others such as Google and iCloud.

PC Gaming Services: Steam For PC games, I’m pretty much a Steam only guy. The only time I buy anything on GoG or other platforms is when it’s not available on Steam. In my opinion, Steam has won the day and they are slowly expanding their reach from the office to the living room.

Music Management:  MusicBee – I have a large digital music library, all tagged and sorted. To manage such a huge collection, I need the help of software. For years I used iTunes, but over time, I became very dissatisfied with it. As much as I’d like to use Microsoft’s new music app Groove (it integrates with my phone), it’s just too feature incomplete for me to consider at this time. Luckily, a few years ago I found a wonderful desktop app called MusicBee. I can’t recommend this software enough. It has the look and feel of iTunes, without all the bloat. Plus, it’s lightning fast! Edit your mp3 tags right from the software and search for album art from a number of sources. It’s absolutely wonderful.

Wearables: Microsoft Band 2 –  I’m not really big on wearable tech, but after seeing my wife really enjoying her Fitbit, I decided to take the plunge. After a lot of research I found that the Microsoft Band really seemed to get me the biggest bang for my buck. It features all of the fitness sensors that one might need: Heartrate monitor, pedometer, GPS, barometer, UV sensor. It’s water resistant and also works as a smart-watch. It syncs with my phone so I can read and respond to texts right from the band. I’m still new with this stuff, so I’m learning. But I may actually make a post about this device soon.

Home Gaming Consoles:  Currently at our house we own the following: Wii U, PlayStation 3 (First Gen), PlayStation 4, Xbox 360   (there’s a spare Wii in the closet).

Mobile Gaming: Both my children and I have a Nintendo 3DS. I also have an old PSP collecting dust.

 

 

Going All In: My experiences with the Microsoft/Apple Ecosystems (Part 2)

apple_logo_mask__1440x1440_by_shrakner

My decision to jump from PC to Mac, wasn’t made on a whim. I had been growing increasingly frustrated with Microsoft’s apparent lack of vision. None of what they were doing was making any sense to me. Let me be clear, I am more than a PC user. I’m a licensed technician. I can design and build a personal computer from scratch. While I don’t write software, it didn’t take a developer to realize that Microsoft had no real strategy for the future at the time. For me, Vista was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  I used it for a few months, and I even found myself defending it against detractors who refused to switch from Windows XP. But more and more each day, I found myself being limited by it. Looking back, I can admit that Vista was a bit of a necessary evil. It was the epitome of Microsoft’s post-dominance “growing pains”.

For some time, I had been a user of Apple iPods and their corresponding iTunes software. Over the span of a few years, I had converted my entire CD library (Over 600 discs) to high-quality digital audio. I used iTunes to manage my library. I’m a very particular sort of guy. Some would say I am a perfectionist. I like my entire library tagged, with quality album art, etc. iTunes allowed me to do this in ways that Windows Media Player or other mp3 players never could. So, I was already a user of Apple software and services to a degree. Plus, I had always been intrigued by the beauty of Apple’s operating system OS X. At this point, the only thing keeping me on the PC platform was gaming. I knew that if I purchased an iMac, I would never be able to upgrade and service it the same way I could with a PC. Putting in the latest graphics card was simply not an option. That type of upgrade would require the purchase of a new, better iMac. Which again, would have the same limitation. All that aside, Apple’s operating system couldn’t run the majority of games I owned any ways. That’s when news of Apple’s next operating system (OS X Leopard) hit the web. Leopard would feature something called “Boot Camp”. This was essentially a boot loader that would allow you to install and run Windows on your Mac. So gamers could now simply boot over to Windows whenever they wanted to game. Despite the upgrade conundrum, this revelation, along with my Windows frustrations convinced me to make the switch.

When I first brought my iMac home, I knew that I was in for a learning curve. A lot of things worked the same, yes. But there was just as many things about OS X that worked differently. Not to mention, I had to find Mac-equivalents for all my software applications. Those first few days I did feel a bit lost. On more than one occasion I told myself that I had made a very expensive mistake. But then, things started to click. And it wasn’t long before I began to feel at home with OS X. In fact, I realized that I did indeed find it much easier, and even more pleasant to use than Windows. After the span of about four months, I was a full Mac convert. I used their built-in Safari web browser, their own iWork office applications, I even switched from my Gmail account to Apple’s Mac.com email.

What happened next, cemented that even further. Apple released the iPhone.  Now, I didn’t jump on the first generation iPhone, because I found the cost to prohibitive. Plus, I had a year contracting remaining on my silly Verizon flip-phone. But once the iPhone 3G was released, I was in line like the rest of the idiots waiting for my shiny new gadget. The iPhone 3G was a fantastic device. There had never been anything like it. It was like this missing puzzle piece that I didn’t even know I needed. I found myself completely emerged in this new “ecosystem” that Apple had invented. Everything about my Mac and iPhone worked together. Both the software and services. It was seamless and I was happy.

I was a happy Mac user for a little more than three years. But then the gaming bug bit and it bit hard. Square Enix had just released the beta of Final Fantasy XIV and I HAD to play this game. Until now, I had been an avid Final Fantasy XI player. And when switching from PC to Mac, I simply began playing the Xbox 360 version of the game. Sadly, the console version of XIV was not going to be available for sometime and it was obvious from trying to play the beta on the iMac that if I wanted to play this game, I’d need to find another option.

I began looking at buying a new Mac. But the model with the specs I needed to play the game would cost me around $3,000.00. Building a PC with nearly the EXACT same hardware would only run me about $1,100.00.  The temptation to leave behind this wonderful world of Apple began to pull at me. Microsoft had recovered from the black cloud of Vista, and their new OS, Windows 7 was receiving rave reviews. I found myself in a unique position. Having used both platforms extensively, I could clearly see both the merits and disadvantages of both. I found that I actually liked BOTH. Now I had to make a choice, which side would I choose now? Mac or PC?

To be continued….