Video Game Review: Batman: Arkham Knight (PlayStation 4)

*I played the PlayStation 4 version. The game is also available on Xbox One and Windows.

Playing this was long overdue.

This is one of my favorite video game series of the last ten years and it is the best video game series to star a comic book hero. Also, it stars the coolest hero.

Out of all the Arkham games this is probably the best one overall. I think I liked Arkham City a bit more but this one had so much content and new elements added to it that it really takes the cake from a narrative and technical standpoint.

I guess the biggest addition to this chapter in the series is that it is the first game where you can drive the Batmobile. And you don’t just get to drive it, you get to do battle with it. There are a lot of parts in the game where you have to go into vehicular combat and there are different styles, as well. There are side missions that play out like straight up car chases and then there are other missions where you go into “battle mode” and you are essentially a tank in a firefight with other tanks and aerial drones. It’s actually pretty incredible stuff and this element never got old.

The only Batmobile stuff I didn’t like was the racetrack sequences, which are worked into the Riddler side missions. I don’t play Batman games to race cars, I play them to save Gotham City from scum and villainy. They also work the Batmobile into the equation where you have to solve some of the Riddler’s puzzles. I love the Riddler, I just liked his side missions the least because of these bits.

I liked the new Arkham Knight character, even though it became fairly obvious who he was and that he wasn’t actually a new character but just a new twist on a known character. I also like that changes to his character were instrumental in Deathstroke coming into the game. But sadly, you don’t get to exchange fisticuffs with him. But that leads me to one other minor problem with the game.

There are no real boss battles. Well, there are big boss battle feeling moments like when you take on the Arkham Knight’s tank or when you reach the big crescendo in the Mr. Freeze side missions but you never actually fight any of the major villains with your fists except for Killer Croc.

Still, I do like how the big battles go down in the game. I just wish that I got to have more intimate physical encounters.

And man, there are a ton of villains. And even though the Joker is dead, he is very much a big presence in the game but I don’t want to reveal how, as that will spoil the story. But Mark Hamill, as the Joker, probably has as much dialogue in the game as Batman.

I liked that Scarecrow was the biggest villain in the game, as he’s a character that gets shafted in favor of the better known villains in Batman lore. Plus, the version of Scarecrow used in this game series is my favorite version of the character to date.

Ultimately, this is the best game in the series overall and thus, I’d say it is the best superhero video game that I have ever played. It brings the story full circle and is a nice conclusion to Rocksteady’s Batman franchise.

But really, I hope that this isn’t the actual end. I’d love to see a Nightwing, Red Hood or Batgirl game spun off from this series.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: The three previous Batman: Arkham games.

Video Game Review: Castlevania (NES)

Every kid in the ‘8os played Castlevania. Well, if they didn’t, they missed out on one of the greatest experiences of their generation. Sure, it wasn’t as massive as Super Mario Bros. or The Legend of Zelda but it is just as much a classic and has had a similar level of staying power, as sequels are still made and it even has an anime show on Netflix that is currently running.

The game sort of takes the Universal Monsters and throws them into a 2D side scrolling adventure of badass proportions. The big boss is Dracula but you also face Frankenstein’s monster, a hunchback, a mummy, several gillmen, as well as other classic monsters that weren’t in the Universal Monsters canon like the Grim Reaper and Medusa. There are also zombies, giant wolves, giant bats and dismembered Medusa heads that fly at you. There are deadly traps, pits and water that is instant death. The game throws a lot at you and pulls no punches.

Seriously, this really pulls no punches. The game is hard as hell. And maybe the difficulty level is it’s only real negative. It isn’t an unbeatable game, as I have conquered it. But man, it is an incredible challenge that takes hours upon hours of mastery before one can actually beat it. But that was what the best old school NES games were about: mastery.

Another slight negative is the mechanics. Sometimes the jumping is wonky and it’s easy to get overzealous and screw up. Also, the stairs can be a total pain in the ass but eventually you’ll get it.

Castlevania is one of the best games of its era. It had to be to create a franchise as strong as it did. It is a true product of the ’80s and a real blast for old school horror fans.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: The other NES Castlevania games: Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest and Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, also PlayStation’s epic sequel Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

Video Game Review: Spider-Man (Sega Genesis)

Also known as: Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin

Review:

Spider-Man, the 1991 game, is what pushed me towards getting a Sega Genesis over a Super Nintendo for Christmas when I was in 7th grade. I was reading Spider-Man comics daily, at the time. Who can blame me though, as the artists during that era were Todd McFarlane and Erik Larsen? To say that I was a massive fan is a massive understatement.

When I finally got my tiny mitts on this game, I was not disappointed and playing it became an obsession because it was super fun but it was also really hard. But it wasn’t unbeatable hard. It was the kind of hard that you had to work at to overcome. Eventually, I beat the game and when I did, I felt a sense of real accomplishment that I hadn’t felt since the original Legend of Zelda.

For 1991, the graphics were sick, the gameplay was incredible and the mechanics were really cool, as I had been relegated to simpler 8-bit titles before this.

The game also featured a good group of classic Spider-Man villains and Venom, who was still actually new at the time. The villain lineup was almost like a Sinister Six lineup. You had Doctor Octopus, the Lizard, Electro and the Sandman with Hobgoblin and Venom replacing some of the traditional Sinister Six members (Kraven, the Green Goblin, Mysterio and the Vulture were rotated in and out in the comics). You also had the big boss of the game, Wilson Fisk himself, the Kingpin.

Some of the boss battles were easy, some were hard but each one required a different strategy, almost like what would become more common place in video games of the future. You didn’t just try and jump on some character’s head a bunch of times or throw a fireball, you had to figure out each battle like a puzzle. However, even figuring things out didn’t guarantee victory, as you needed to also rely on timing and your skill.

I replayed through Spider-Man recently and even though I got to the end and got my ass kicked by the Kingpin, it was still a lot of fun.

I know that a plethora of Genesis titles are considered classics ahead of this. However, this was why I chose the Genesis platform and it continues to be my favorite game put out for that console.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: Other old school Spider-Man games: Maximum Carnage, the original Gameboy game and the two games released on the original PlayStation.

Video Game Review: Fallout: New Vegas (PlayStation 3)

*Written in 2015.

Fallout 4 is finally out. I haven’t played it yet. But I did want to talk about the previous console Fallout installments before getting to the new game.

Fallout: New Vegas was the unnumbered sequel to Fallout 3. But as has become the trend, direct sequels aren’t usually numbered anymore, at least until the next console or generation of games. While this usually leads to confusion over what the chronology of games is in certain series, Fallout has only done this once. It certainly isn’t anywhere near as confusing as the clusterfuck that is the Assassin’s Creed series.

This game came out exactly two years after Fallout 3 and it plays exactly the same. It is an amazing game and pretty close to the masterpiece level of its predecessor but there just isn’t enough new stuff to set it apart and the story is less interesting. Also, the Wasteland seems more vast but the geography makes it more diverse. But even with that environmental diversity, it just feels like it is retreading the same formula.

The exchange of metropolitan D.C. for Las Vegas isn’t that exciting either. Sure, Vegas has a totally different vibe but it is much smaller than D.C. was and the casinos don’t serve much purpose, as they are simply aimless mazes with no real function other than a few plot points.

There are new creatures added to the mix of this game, as it is in a different region of the United States. However, most of them are more annoying than exciting when engaged. The damn mutant wasps are just a nuisance. I’d rather smash giant scorpions and blast on radioactive crab people and mutant bears.

Had this come out before Fallout 3, it would probably have been heralded as one of the best games of all-time but it came out after and just didn’t live up to the Fallout 3 experience.

I also had issues getting the DLC content to work. I played through one of them but there was a glitch preventing me from accessing the second and third ones, which is never fun after you pay for them. No patch seemed to fix the problem and that just adds to the other technical issues I faced with this game. I’d often times get stuck in the ground or a rock surface, the game would freeze, it would lag or I’d lose companions and never be able to find them again.

Even with all the negative points I’m making, this is still a thoroughly enjoyable game. It just isn’t as great as Fallout 3 but perfection is hard to replicate, even when you’ve created the formula already.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Fallout 3 and Fallout 4.

Video Game Review: Fallout 3 (PlayStation 3)

*Written in 2015.

Fallout 4 is finally out. I haven’t played it yet. But I did want to talk about the previous console Fallout installments before getting to the new game.

Fallout 3 was a masterpiece. It is also my favorite game of the series up to that generation.

The world was vast. In fact, it was the most vast world I had ever played in, up to that time. The graphics were solid, the game play was incredible and the story was pretty good. The game also introduced me to the magical world of DLC content and produced some of the best DLC content of all-time.

The reason I like this game better than its follow up, Fallout: New Vegas, is because it just seemed grittier, more dangerous and a lot more interesting. It also took place in Washington D.C. You could walk through the Capitol Building, the museums, access the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. The final battle of the game took place around the Jefferson Memorial. There was also a massive aircraft carrier that was converted into a city.

The game also featured D.C.’s subway systems and sewer, which were full of ghouls (essentially radioactive zombies) and other terrors. The city streets were overrun by raiders (savage human gangs) and super mutants (giant hulking beasts with heavy armor and big guns). The Wasteland, the area outside of the city, was a vast desert with all kinds of danger and monsters.

Fallout 3 came chock full of side quests that made the game pretty much endless. You could play this thing for well over 100 hours and still find new things to do. It never got boring, it never got stale and I still fire it up on a regular basis and storm the wasteland looking for action.

This game was the precursor to what Skyrim became. It took a formula successful from the Elder Scrolls series and repackaged it in a more modern setting. It was nothing like Fallout and Fallout 2 before it and it benefited from the change.

The VATS combat system was unique and a cool new way to experience a fight in a video game.

The greatest thing of all, were the humongous super mutants called “Behemoths”. Battling one of those is one of the greatest experience you can have in a video game. It was like one man versus King Kong. But a sick, twisted, yellow, hairless King Kong.

Hunting Deathclaws in caverns was also a huge thrill. It was more frightening than most horror games and this isn’t really a standard horror game. It is a post-apocalyptic action game with a lot of scary threats that will make your survival a real challenge.

Fallout 3 is pretty close to a perfect game. There really isn’t much that one could do to improve upon it with the technology and capabilities of its time. Well, except for the bugginess and lag that I experienced on the PS3 version. My friends who played this on Xbox said that it ran smoothly, all the time.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: Fallout: New Vegas and Fallout 4.

Video Game Review: Red Dead Redemption (PlayStation 3)

*Written in 2015.

As I have been watching through a lot of spaghetti westerns lately, I have felt the urge to revisit Red Dead Redemption.

This game may be almost six years old but I still play it for an afternoon every few months. In fact, out of the PS3/Xbox 360 era, it is the game I have played the most after Bethesda’s titles. It is also one of the top five video game experiences I have ever had, playing through it the first time.

Rockstar, most known for their Grand Theft Auto series of games, took that same formula and applied it to the Old West. Now this isn’t their first attempt, as they did it a few years earlier with Red Dead Revolver. Redemption however, exists on a completely different level and far exceeds Revolver and the Grand Theft Auto games.

The game mechanics and controls are phenomenal. Everything is perfectly fine-tuned and once you get the hang of it, you are an Old West badass ready to fight scum and villainy with an unrelenting intensity.

The map is massive, the locations are fantastic and there are a ton of missions that are unique and exciting. You pretty much get to do everything you would ever want to do as a cowboy.

The only downside, is that after the main story is over, there isn’t much to do other than ride your horse around and cause trouble. As I played through the story, I played it as a hero on the right side of the law. After the ending and after I became a new character with nothing really to do, I became a total bastard.

The game’s soundtrack is also one of the best ever produced. The music is as vast and exciting as the game itself and certain points in the plot trigger some amazing tunes as you ride off into a new act of the game.

There are few games that are absolute perfection, this is one of those games. Although, it would be nice to have a bit more to do after the end, like hunt down bounties or create a gang to wreak havoc. I also wish more buildings in the wilderness were accessible.

But then there is also the Undead Nightmare add-on, which was a fun experience, all on its own. Because who doesn’t want to take a great world like the one created for Red Dead Redemption and then fill it with zombie hordes?

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Not much really, as it is truly a game that is one its own level and exists in its own space. But there are films that this borrows from such as the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns and some of Clint Eastwood’s ’60s and ’70s westerns: Hang ‘Em High, High Plains Drifter and The Outlaw Josey Wales specifically come to mind.

Video Game Review: BioShock Infinite (PlayStation 3)

*I played the PlayStation 3 version. The game is also available on Xbox 360, Windows and OS X.

*Written in 2014.

Almost all of what I have read and heard about BioShock Infinite has been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, by many it was considered hands down the game of the year in 2013. It was said to be a sequel that exceeded the greatness of the previous titles within its own franchise. People raved about the story, the graphics, the game play. All the hype and hoopla had me thinking that this was a very rare piece of perfection just waiting for me to pick it up and be enchanted by its very existence. Well… I f’n hated it.

I don’t know where to begin other than to say that this game was a mixture of two things, tedious chaos and excruciating boredom. Let me explain.

In regards to it being tedious chaos, when it wasn’t boring, it was just a redundant exercise in blasting waves upon waves of almost seemingly endless enemies. Some battles felt like they went on for days and frankly, I had to wonder what percentage of the town’s population in the game were armed officers of the law, as the in-game ratio of citizens to people shooting at you was about 10,000-to-1. And if they weren’t baddies on one side, they were baddies on the other side, as their was a revolution going on in the game. Differentiating between big brother fascists and revolutionary fascists was pointless and annoying. I just shot everyone, even the chick I was supposed to be protecting because she always happened to get in my way. I guess it is good that bullets seemingly just go through her like magic.

The truth is, this tedious bullshit also got boring. It was as if I was just doing the same bullshit over and over again and ultimately, I kept checking walkthroughs online. Not because I needed help but because I wanted to see how much longer I had to play this goddamned game.

The excruciating boredom came from the fact that often times, like the first two hours of the game, you are just walking around checking out the city. Also, there are just way too many items and things you can pick up throughout the game that you spend about two-thirds of your time searching desks and picking locks to discover more rooms with desks. I like treasure hunts but this just takes that shit too damn far.

As far as the story goes, people have talked it up like it is some amazing tale with a fantastic and mind-blowing ending. These people must spend most of their time taking drugs, drinking shit beer and ingesting monosodium glutamate. It wasn’t even engaging enough to make me want to finish the game. The twist at the end was bullshit and I really didn’t give a crap. The way it ties to the previous BioShock games just seemed like a weak cop out.

This game really just magnified everything that I hate about modern first-person shooters. And I loved the first two BioShock games. The level of sucktitude that this game exudes is painful to me. Well, at least from the rumors I hear, the next game will go back underwater. This Cloud City bullshit is for the birds… literally.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: BioShock and BioShock 2 but they are infinitely better, pun intended.