Category Archives: Xbox One

FIFA 14 Review – Xbox One

I just love soccer. I played for a good part of my life and have watched it religiously. I still have a large library of games on VHS and DVD including USA’s only win over Brazil. I have MLS, National Team, Futsal, beach soccer, and old Major Indoor Soccer League games. It’s a beautiful game in all its forms. Now in mid-life, I have been relegated from being a player to the sidelines either photographing or coaching whenever I can. So when I get the itch, soccer games on PC or console have been a great distraction.

Over the years, EA’s FIFA series has been my favorite. At first simply because it was the only game available at the local game store, yet even despite some minor competition from Konami, EA has evolved to the point where FIFA is one of its highest selling games every year, and tech developed for FIFA is being used in other franchises like NHL, Madden and other games. They have learned how to make the money flow.

Not much has changed in this next-gen port of FIFA 14.  EA’s micro-transaction cash cow is still trying to pick your wallet clean and the menu system is still that same tile system similar to Windows 8. I hate Windows 8 with the heat of a supernova, so I wasn’t happy with the new UI at first, but it actually works better than previous years.  The quirky Kinect touch interface has been abandoned in favor of voice commands that are much more reliable and can actually enhance and immerse you in the gameplay.  You won’t believe how fast and intuitive it is to call out substitutions using players’ names, change formations, or choosing various tactics, mentalities, or even camera angles.

The gameplay engine on the Xbox One (and PS4) is entirely new, built from the ground up for this new generation of console, yet only the most studious of FIFA fans will spot the superficial improvements to the game engine.   The visual enhancements are more instantly apparent with much better stadium detail, a more lively and diverse set of spectators in the stands and cameramen on the sidelines.  Even the grass texture has been improved, which might be responsible for some quirky shadows that seem to float off the surface of the field.

Of course the biggest improvement that Ignite brings to the game is the increased number of dynamic animations.   Last-gen versions of FIFA had a fairly limited library of moves that were recycle for a variety of situations, which means things started looking repetitive even when you were doing different plays.  This new engine offers unprecedented variety when it comes to having the players come into contact with the ball and each other.  It doesn’t really affect the gameplay as much as simply providing a much more realistic visual experience.  Some of the subtle movements like a foot roll during a steal can only be appreciated when viewed in slow-motion.  Sadly, the actual character models still look a bit like their last-gen counterparts with dead-eyes and flat, simple textures.

The biggest change for actual gameplay would be in the area of player AI and actual self-awareness; something you’ll quickly realize after your third or fourth failed attempt to slide tackle.   Slide tackles have been the default way to regain possession of the ball, but now that the opposing team is actually aware of not only themselves but you and your crude tactics, they will easily hurdle your incoming charge.  Admittedly, this makes the game a bit more challenging, but in a more realistic way, so you can’t really fault the game for evolving.  FIFA 14 delivers hundreds of new skills and behaviors, including side volleys, first-time screamers, off-balance shots, touch passes, and panic turns when defenders are beaten and for the first time ever, multiple players can contest a ball in the air simultaneously. Ignite is going to eventually make you a better player.

It was also refreshing to see that the ball physics got a serious upgrade to the point where it now seems to exist outside of a player animation sequence.  Before, the ball always seemed to have that invisible tether to the player in control, but now it seems that you are always fighting for possession of the ball rather than having it merely switch sides.

FIFA has 33 leagues, 600 clubs, 47 national teams and over 16,000 players and their stats (many with facial maps and mo-cap). PES has 81 national teams and around 150 clubs – sort of. Most of the teams are pseudonyms like “Man Blue” for Manchester City. That is just staggering.   EA has groups of ‘scouts’ who pour over the FIFA data sets before being published. Those data sets are updated frequently as players are transferred or other changed occur and are available as free downloads in-game.

Also FIFA 14 has their online Creation Centre web app to allow users to fill in the gaps. You can create players, teams or tournaments for anyone to download. Users have created an incredible wealth of teams over the past several years so any of the few teams or leagues that are not licensed in FIFA are available for download. Anything from the Canadian national team to fantasy teams like the Cleveland Force Best XI are available. Historical teams are my favorite to put up against more recent teams just to see how it may have happened – especially old EPL teams featuring Beckham or Cantona.

The Career mode lets you manage or lace up the boots and play out a long career. This year instead of working my way up in England’s FA, I decided to try out playing in Major League Soccer. It’s a different animal – though this season EA decided to make the divisions accurate instead of using a single table like previous years. It was almost as if to say ‘hey, MLS, having a single table like everyone else in the world would be a good thing.’ But they’d probably expect a promotion/relegation system next.

Both management and player career modes are a real joy to play and add even more value to FIFA 14. Simple improvements like having the ability to request to be subbed out of a game are now in FIFA 14 and those little things are what make it special. Previous years I seemed to write more about the limits in sports games, but this year FIFA 14 really rises above most complaints. The great thing about career player or be-a-pro mode is the unique opportunity to teach kids the game. In a tangible way kids (and parents) can learn about offside and the benefits of playing your position. All of these skills translate to online play and even on the real pitch in local leagues.

As with NHL 14, EA has chosen to stick with their commentary teams from the past few years of FIFA and it has given them a large library of recorded names and situations to utilize. The commentary is impressive – even while playing with MLS teams. Martin Tyler and Alan Smith with an alternate duo of Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend are some of the best in the sport and add a new level of realism that Pro Evo just can’t touch. The EA audio team has really captured the game beyond anything we’ve heard before on any console. Tyler even commented that goalies Marcus Hahnemann (Seattle) and Jon Busch (San Jose) may be retiring after this season which has been rumored all year.

Skill games have been completely updated to have even more fun and challenging skill development. Some new variations on last year’s games are included with quite a few more to help develop passing, shooting and goalkeeping skills. It’s surprising how much these games actually do help your normal gameplay especially online against real opponents.

Online modes are continuing to be more engrained in all EA Sports games. FIFA is no exception. It is surprisingly fun to compete online in Ultimate Team or other online activities. But just be aware that at any point you don’t have an internet connection, a significant number of modes will be crippled or completely unusable such as Ultimate Team.

FIFA Ultimate Team is again the big addiction (and money drain) for most players. It uses a trading card interface to let you build a club with multiple teams. All 16,000 licensed players are ranked in bronze, silver or gold monikers and you can buy (with real money) packs of digital cards with various players and skill enhancements.

FIFA 14 Ultimate Team (FUT) has been revamped a little bit this season. Most notably are the chemistry connections between players have been altered. The team formation isn’t such a huge factor anymore and now it’s more about the roles of the player. So now you can get cards with chemistry styles for attackers such as “sniper”, “finisher”, “deadeye”, “marksman”, or “hawk” which upgrades specific offensive attributes like shooting, dribbling, heading or passing. In the end this is probably a better system than last year but getting the right combination of players to make a good team isn’t as easy as it once was. But it is incredibly addictive. Especially when you go up against others online and see how their team chemistry makes their weaker team beat your higher rated team. Thus the money begins to flow.

EA really pulls at all the strings by also having a robust auction system (similar to eBay) in-game that allows you to bid on specific players, consumables (contracts, healing cards etc.), coaches, and club items (logos, uniforms, stadiums, and balls). You earn coins by playing games and improving your skills. You can also sell items. The easiest way to build a team with good chemistry is to target players of the same nationality, league and/or team. While the Wayne Rooney’s of the world are incredibly expensive, you can find the rare deal on Van Persie or other highly rated players occasionally poaching a bid at the last second. EA hits all the major internet addition points with FIFA 14 and will do so again next year because they made it fun and we keep coming back for more.

EA has also updated the EA Football Club iOS companion app for iPhone and iPad. It allows you to manage your club while you are on the road. Everything from buying packs of cards to transfers (auctions) and squad lineups are at your fingertips in this free app. It’s a great little bonus to keep you occupied during lunch breaks at work. Unfortunately the FIFA 14 iOS game is completely separate from consoles so you can’t transfer games or FUT teams between devices. Though it also has Ultimate Team and many of the console features, it’s still a completely separate experience.

FIFA 14 is nearly a perfect sports game experience on Xbox One. The only clear failing in FIFA 14 is the complete lack of women’s teams. Given the Women’s World Cup will be in Canada in 2015 one would expect EA Sports Canada to be working on this long overdue feature for FIFA 15. Even if it’s just a few women’s national teams, it is just time. The addition of women players in Creation Centre would open the gates for a wealth of user created teams from past college, club and national teams. After all, there really isn’t much more EA can do to make FIFA better. They might as well give the users the tools to make something even more special.

While small and mostly superficial, there is no denying that the improvements to FIFA 14 on the Xbox One help make an already great game even better.  Improved stadiums, crowds, and presentation elements help immerse you in this multi-cultural sport while a larger library of dynamic animations help keeps things looking fresh and much more realistic.  Improved AI will deliver more challenging gameplay and force even the most seasoned of players to up their game, and for those who already invested in FIFA 14 on their Xbox 360, EA is providing an easy and affordable upgrade path for not only the main game, but all of your season and Ultimate Team data.

FIFA 14 is one of those rare sports games that has something for every soccer fan, from quick skill games to full league simulations; and all of them with fully licensed leagues and teams.  FIFA 14 is still one of the only franchise games where I actually felt like I got my money’s worth and didn’t really mind putting down a few more bucks for additional Ultimate Team items. It doesn’t get better than this for any soccer fan. FIFA 14 on the Xbox One is the best, most complete sports game you can currently play on this new generation of consoles.

Screenshot Gallery

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Call of Duty: Ghosts Review – Xbox One

 

Back for my fourth and final review of Call of Duty: Ghosts, this time we are checking out the Xbox One release, possibly the most anticipated version of all the platforms, new and old, yet sadly the most lacking.  While decisively better looking than last gen versions, the Xbox One fails to compete with either the PC or the PlayStation 4 when it comes to overall presentation and the Infinity Ward’s promise of 1080p/60fps gameplay.  I’m not sure if this was due to limitations within the Xbox One hardware specs or if Activision rushed the game out to meet Microsoft’s system release; which in hindsight also seems to have been rushed.

Call of Duty: Ghosts is a new direction for the series that abandons historical war scenarios as well as the Modern Warfare canon of stories and characters. Infinity Ward is heading up this latest project that includes a gripping story mode and enough new online content (now and in the future with the Season Pass content) to keep couch commandos playing until next November.

Eight years ago Call of Duty 2 marked the debut of a new generation of console when it released as a launch title for the Xbox 360.   Infinity Ward is once again banking on an entirely new generation of console to help celebrate their most ambitious game in the franchise to date, and with versions of the game spanning last-gen, this-gen, and PC, it’s been quite the challenge to find all the subtleties when trying to compare and rank these Call of Duty: Ghosts.

Given the fact that the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are pretty much glorified PC’s, it was no surprise that the graphics on both new consoles have a lot in common with the PC, but there are also some glaring issues specific to the Xbox One.  In order to keep their promise of 60fps gameplay, the Xbox One version of Ghosts is only rendering at 720p and then being upscaled to 1080p.  This seems to be happening in many of the Xbox One launch titles, and during the upscale process the system is applying some sort of sharpening filter to assist with the post-process anti-aliasing.  Translation – the game is already jaggy from the upscaling and the sharpening process only accentuates the effect as well as producing an overall grain to the image.  Ironically, the game looks considerably better if you change your Xbox One to output a native 720p signal, thus elimination the upscaling effect.

The new Xbox One controller will take a bit of getting used to, especially if you’re like me and have been using an Xbox 360 gamepad for both console and PC gaming for the past seven years.  I’m still not quite used to the floppy analog sticks and their weak return-to-center.   I tried putting on my new Kontrol  Freek stick extenders, which has always helped with my precision aiming, but the sticks just don’t feel right.  I guess I have seven years of thumb muscle memory to overcome.

There is a companion app that you can download for your iOS device that will enhance your online games by allowing you to queue up new weapon loadouts and view level maps in a second screen mode without having to pause your game.   You also get a nice 3D model of your soldier as well as real-time stats, friends’ updates and clan notifications.  Many of the features can even be accessed when you aren’t playing the game, but just want to check in with the community.

While most people are into Call of Duty for its online multiplayer I always head to the story first because if anybody can tell an explosive wartime drama its Infinity Ward. Their latest opus kicks off in the immediate present with a recounting of a legendary group of warriors known as the Ghosts. The opening cutscene, along with all of the other between-mission videos are presented in this stylish grayscale animation that is simply gorgeous. As the opening narration ends we realize that the story is being told by Elias, a seasoned veteran out on a hike with his two sons, Logan and Hesh. As they start to head home tremors start to rock the hillside. What at first appears to be an ordinary California earthquake is actually an attack on our country from an orbital weapons platform.

The scene quickly changes to 15 minutes prior and we find ourselves in one of the most visually striking levels in the game; in orbit working on the space station near the Odin weapons system. Yes, the game takes necessary liberties with inertia and such, but the effect is still jaw dropping and not unlike the movie Gravity. The station is quickly occupied by hostile Federation forces, and they program Odin to launch a series of kinetic rods at key targets decimating the United States.

With the exception of one flashback episode where you play as Elias, most of the game centers around you and your brother and your faithful and extremely talented dog, Riley taking the lead roles in the resistance movement to keep the Federation from dominating the USA ten years in the future. Riley is arguably one of the most touted new additions to Ghosts, and also one of the most talked about by fans, but not to steal any of his canine thunder or detract from his contribution to the few levels in which he appears, Riley is more of a novelty than anything else. I would compare him to a quadcopter drone; albeit one that can rip a man’s throat out. I had my fun issuing the occasional “attack” order and even playing as Riley in those few instances where I got to sync with his high-tech doggie gear, but ultimately, I felt Riley was underutilized. Why wasn’t he sniffing out bombs or fetching me better weapons from fallen enemies like in Dead to Rights. I have to admit that I was a bit nervous throwing that first grenade since the first time we see Riley he is playing fetch with a tennis ball.

As expected, the story is a massive non-stop rollercoaster ride of action set pieces and dramatic moments that will leave you physically and emotionally exhausted; especially if you try to marathon the 8-10 hour campaign in a single session. You’ll be fighting in space, under the ocean, on land, in the jungle, in the snow, and even in the air as you dangle from a skyscraper or take control of an attack chopper to provide cover for your ground forces, and then start swapping back and forth between the two. There are 18 pieces of intel called Rorke Files; glowing green laptops, and while none of these are particularly well-hidden you will need to keep your head on a swivel to find them all. These files can be accessed from the main menu after you find them. Call of Duty: Ghosts offers the usual selection of difficulty options, and as before the Recruit and Normal modes are disposably easy, while Hardened offers a decent challenge and Veteran will test your FPS mettle and reward you with an achievement if you can complete the campaign on its hardest mode.

Zombies are out and aliens are the new hotness in Ghosts. Extinction mode is an additive and challenging game designed for 4-player co-op but can be tackled alone – just don’t plan on getting too far. The game operates under the premise that aliens arrived on the planet around the same time as the Odin strike and now there are all these hives sprouting up. It’s your job to drill into these hives and destroy them, but naturally, once you start drilling these dog-like lizard creatures start attacking in waves. You need to defend (and possibly repair) the drill until the hive is destroyed and then move on to the next. It’s basically one big survival game to see how long you can last and how high a score you can post on the leaderboards. Naturally, you’ll earn cash for kills and for completing bonus objectives during the waves and you can spend that cash on better weapons, more ammo, and even portable gun turrets. Extinction puts a heavy emphasis on tactical teamwork by having players choose from various starting loadouts like Assault or Medic then supporting each other as you try to cleanse the map of the alien infestation.

Multiplayer is the meat and potatoes of Call of Duty, but Ghosts dares to change up the menu with some new entrees and side dishes. Character customization has been greatly enhanced and now allows for female players along with a host of other customization options, most of which must be unlocked. Squads is the new buzzword and this new feature allows you to test the online waters before diving into the full online experience with friends and bots. You start by picking a character. One is open at the start and nine others can be purchased using squad points (SP). New squad members range in cost and initial appearance, and the more expensive they are the more perks, better weapons, and weapon mods come with their initial loadout. Each character levels up separately, but your earned SP can be used to enhance any character in your roster by purchasing new perks, weapons, and attachments. Squad Points are a bit slow to come by, so I can see it taking hundreds of hours to earn enough to unlock everything Ghosts has to offer, but you should be able to fully deck out a single character in 30-40 hours of play. While you can only have one “active” squad member for online play at any given time, you can assign non-active squad members to be used in bot matches against another human player and their squad-bots.

Ghosts returns the online experience to something a bit more reserved and “normal” with tweaked kill streaks like Sat Coms instead of UAVs. If you work as a team and setup multiple Sat Coms in multiple locations they provide better results and are harder for the enemy to wipe out. Oracles provide temporary awareness of enemy locations in the first-person view and not just the map, and you can even earn your very own attack dog, which will alert you to the enemy, attack the enemy, and even avenge your death.

Online modes like Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Kill Confirmed are back but some modes are missing and some have been mixed up a bit for this latest installment. Search and Destroy is now Search and Rescue, which I find encourages a lot more teamwork. Yes, you still only have one life, but if your team picks up your dog tag before the enemy does you can spawn back into the game. Infected is basically a last man standing game that pits a team of survivors with shotguns against a slowly growing number of zombies as each human dies. Hunted is a variation of TDM where everybody starts with pistols and fights as weapon crates are dropped into the area with better guns. Grind expands upon the Kill Confirmed mode by actually making you deposit your dog tags at designated locations to lock in the score. Blitz is a variation of CTF that merely requires you to reach the enemy base to score. There is no flag to retrieve or carry back, so it’s not very challenging or fun. And then you have Cranked; a crazy variation of TDM where each time you kill someone you get a 30-second speed boost, but if you fail to kill somebody else within those 30 seconds you explode.

Even weeks after launch there are still a few multiplayer issues; mostly in the areas of poor spawning and camping; the latter being more a fault of the lame attitude of gamers than the designers, but I guess we rely on Infinity Ward to police the campers. Team Deathmatch is the worst. A minute after the game starts everyone seems to have found their “spot” and woe to anyone who dares walk around. It’s very discouraging to newcomers who are just trying to learn the maps, which is why I recommend Squad play. The levels are massive this time around, which is both a blessing and a curse. 95% of the time you will never see the person who killed you because of all the various paths and flanking positions in these complex maps with multi-level buildings and vertical terrain that offer unprecedented cover. Ironically, for as many people complaining about the multiplayer issues in the various forums, there are a hundred times more just playing and enjoying the game as is, knowing full well it always takes weeks, perhaps months, to fine tune the online experience.

As always, the PCM surround audio presentation is outstanding and envelops you in the war. You play as Logan, the typical mute protagonist, but your brother Hesh is voiced by Brandon Routh (Superman Returns) and he has plenty to say. Some of the voice acting is better than others and the script relies on a lot of clichéd and overly dramatic moments and set pieces, but it all works and is what it is. Gun effects are exaggerated and nowhere near as realistic as those in the Battlefield games, but nothing about Ghosts is really striving for realism. The soundtrack is also exceptional, complementing the action when necessary but sticking mostly to the story points. The final credit song from Eminem was horrible and out of place with the rest of the game.

Call of Duty: Ghosts is sure to polarize a new generation of gamers as it goes up against not only its own controversial history, but tackles EA’s Battlefield 4 in the launch of not one but two new consoles. Ghosts is not without its faults but trying something new isn’t one of them. Gamers continuously cry for something new then complain when they get it. Infinity Ward has delivered a compelling single-player campaign that I couldn’t put down (and this was my third time playing), a delightfully addictive Extinction mode that I continue to enjoy on each new system, and some of the best eSports-quality run and gun military combat you can play online that will only get better over time.

If you already enlisted in a last gen copy of Call of Duty: Ghosts then it’s time to report to the PX for that $10 upgrade, but if you are coming into this game fresh then you may want to consider options like the PC or even PS4, as those two systems clearly outperform the Xbox One.   The upscaling just creates this unsightly “haze” over the entire experience, and the lower resolution will actually affect the draw distance and your ability to spot and reliably target enemies in both single and multiplayer modes.

No Call of Duty fan should miss out on Ghosts, but the Xbox One isn’t necessarily the best system to be playing it on.  I dare say, you’ll have a smoother and more enjoyable experience with a much larger online community sticking with the Xbox 360. What little polish the Xbox One offers in textures and details are swallowed up by the side-effects of trying to match the performance of a seven-year old console.  Too much, too soon, or simply rushed to retail; we may never know, but when you factor in the visually disappointing release of Call of Duty: Ghosts and the all but completely broken release of Battlefield 4 (so broken we aren’t even reviewing it) for the Xbox One, the console wars are off to a shaky start and clearly, FPS games won’t be the deciding factor in this launch battle.

Screenshot Gallery

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LocoCycle Review – Xbox One

LocoCycle is quickly making a name for itself as the most despised game of the Xbox One launch lineup.  Twisted Pixel Games is known for their “unique” concepts, but playing as a sentient combat motorcycle for 5-7 hours of repetitive button mashing and reflex-testing QTE’s might be considered a little last-gen for this next-gen hardware.  Alarms started sounding as soon as the game opens up with a rather lengthy and poorly acted live-action cutscene (the curse of death in 90’s video games), but I could never really tell if the acting was intentionally bad or just a byproduct of a low-budget production.    They obviously spent some money on talent with actors like Robert Patrick, Freddy Rodriguez, Lisa Foiles, and Tom Savini, and those two custom motorcycle builds had to cost a pretty penny.

The premise is as shallow as the gameplay.  It seems a big weapons manufacturer has developed two combat-ready motorcycles – think KITT without the accent.  We have I.R.I.S. and S.P.I.K.E.; the former a sleek and sexy crotch-rocket with TRON-like lighting and the latter, a rough and ready chopper with chains and razorback spine.  I.R.I.S. gets zapped by a bolt of lightning and much like Johnny 5, is now alive, assuming you call a corrupted AI “alive”.  She is taken to Pablo, a stereotypical Spanish-speaking mechanic, for an overhaul.  After checking out a biker mag and seeing a commercial for an upcoming biker rally in Indiana, I.R.I.S. now has only one mission…get to Scottsburg, Indiana.

That is all the setup you get for the next several hours of non-stop chaos and mayhem.  Poor Pablo has gotten his pant leg stuck in I.R.I.S. so she is literally dragging him from Mexico to Indiana.  The designers casually overlook the fact she would be dragging a fleshless skeleton before the end of the first stage, but any hints at realism were long ago forgotten in the pitch room at Twisted Pixel.  For as absurd the premise and mindlessly repetitive the gameplay, I still couldn’t help but fall in love with LocoCycle; even it if was only a weekend romance.

When you think of a combat motorcycle you think of guns and rockets and I.R.I.S. certainly has those, but most of her combat abilities are in her upgradable list of melee attacks – YES, melee attacks.   I.R.I.S. can leap off the asphalt and hold her own with Jet Li as she flips, kicks, and otherwise bashes her enemies into pulp.  Her unique design and twin set of rear tires act as legs and attacking merely requires you to mash the X button and occasionally watch for a yellow target that indicates an incoming attack, at which point you tap the A button to counter then resume your X bashing.   It’s a watered down version of the Batman combat engine, and it’s not that challenging to score triple-digit combos time and time again even before upgrading, which means you spend a lot of your drive time hovering in the air bouncing from one enemy to the next as traffic flows beneath you.

You can mix up the combat a bit when you factor in Pablo.  When he’s not being dragged at 200mph screaming in Spanish that I.R.I.S. continually mistranslates due to faulty circuitry she can throw him like a boomerang with the Y button.  Later, as you upgrade this ability he can bounce between up to five targets before returning.  And then you have the actually shooting parts of the game; easily the worst part since I.R.I.S. has some of the worst driving controls since Pole Position.   Her steering is way too twitchy so you end up bouncing off side rails or other cars.   Thankfully, a bumper upgrade will negate any collision damage, and your guns can be upgraded to widen the spread negating accuracy issues.  Once you get the rockets near the end of the game it is simply fire and forget.

LocoCycle is constantly mixing up the gameplay variety with waves of melee combat, shooting, endless QTE’s that involve buttons and stick movements, and even throwing in a dash of water craft combat and aerial bombing runs on a fleet of Navy ships.  I.R.I.S. can do it all, and when she isn’t kicking corrupt corporate butt she makes all sorts of great pop-culture references, recites movie quotes, and pines for the biker rally in Scottsburg, IN, which is only 145 miles from our office by the way.   I might have to check this out.

But the simple fact is that if you love dumb humor and dumb fun – and apparently people do; they just released Anchorman 2 – then you are going to love LocoCycle.  I always wanted to see the next live-action movie between each chapter, and even though the combat was mindlessly repetitive I was always trying to best my previous combo record.  There is also a modestly complex tech tree that lets you customize I.R.I.S. along the way with new abilities unlocking at each chapter, but you can pretty much max out the tree in a single game, so it’s not about choosing your skills as much as choosing the order of your skills.

The presentation is all over the place.  The movies look like they were shot with consumer level cameras and the game’s graphics barely begin to tap the power of the Xbox One.   This could (and probably should) have been released on last-gen systems, but I still enjoyed it for the six hours it kept me mindlessly distracted from my other AAA launch titles.    The chapters change up the scenery going from south of the border to the southwest deserts, the bridge linking the Florida Keys, the Midwest, and even a final aerial boss fight over the city of Chicago.  The animations are fast and fluid with fun Matrix-style slow-motion moments.  I love the variety of cameras and game types, and the dialogue was hilarious.  Spanish-speaking gamers are going to have a much better time since they will be able to understand everything Pablo is saying.  Yes, they do have subtitles but you can never take your eyes off the gameplay long enough to read them.

LocoCycle is a goof; perhaps an intentional poke at the game industry or gamers saying, “You’ve just bought the most powerful console on the market.  Now play this crappy game on it.”  Well, the joke’s on them because I actually enjoyed this “crappy game”.  Truth be told, my review code was provided by Microsoft, so LocoCycle might be easier to swallow when my $20 is still safe in my wallet.  Personally, I would never pay more than $10-12 to play this, so you can always wait and hope for a sale or just watch all the amusing clip videos on Xbox Live.

And for those interested, the Rebel Yell biker rally in Scottsburg, IN is in September.  See you there.

Screenshot Gallery

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Max: The Curse of Brotherhood Review – Xbox One

 

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is now out for the Xbox One and what a surprise this game turned out to be.   I vaguely recall seeing this title during Microsoft’s Xbox One press event at E3 this year and then just as quickly forgot about it.   Well, shame on me because Press Play’s new action-adventure game is not only one of the best platforming games I have ever played; it is also my pick for Best Xbox One Game of 2013.

The game opens with a short CG cutscene that looks just as good as anything you’d see for movies or TV – something along the lines of Jimmy Neutron.   It is here we meet Max, a young boy not unlike Jimmy Neutron with a touch of Bart Simpson, Willie Beamish, and even Andy from Heart of Darkness.  Like many boys, Max has an annoying younger brother, Felix, who he accidentally banishes to another world when he reads a magic spell off the Internet.   Realizing his mistake Max jumps into the vortex and sets off on a grand adventure to rescue his brother and quite possibly save an entire world.

The Curse of Brotherhood is a next-gen follow-up to the 2010 game, Max and the Magic Marker, but having never played that title this was a totally fresh experience for me.  I was left speechless by the stunning visual design, the colors, the textures, the smooth framerate, and the dynamic perpetual zooming of the camera that was always putting a fresh 3D perspective on traditional 2D gameplay.   And I was constantly on the edge of my seat with the thrilling and imaginative gameplay that seamlessly blends traditional run and jump platforming with some creative puzzle-solving that really had me thinking.

The first level starts off much like any standard platformer with running, jumping, climbing, and the occasion swinging rope or vine.  It is also on this level that you will meet a giant ogre-like creature that will prove to be your nemesis throughout much of the upcoming adventure.  After a visit to a crazy old lady’s treehouse you will be able to wield the power of your new magic marker; only this marker has real magic, and that is where the genius of the game design starts to shine.

As you advance through the various chapters of Max: The Curse of Brotherhood your marker will be imbued with various powers of creation.   At first this is as simple as summoning rocky columns to erupt and rise from the ground, but later you can summon branches, vines, water plumes, and even fireballs.  The game introduces each new ability in a seamless fashion then expands upon the potential of that ability with increasingly challenging puzzles, and as your marker gains new powers, the puzzles will rise to the challenge, often demanding you to mix and match your powers of creation.

The control scheme is a bit awkward at first, but you do get used to it.  To use the marker you simply hold down RT and a ghostly pen appears on the screen that you can steer to any nearby hotspot; orange for earth, green for branches, yellow for vines, blue for water, and purple for fire.  You then hold down A and move the stick to draw in real-time, controlling the angle of the branch, the flow of the water, the direction of the fireball, or even the swing of a vine (very important in some puzzles).   The height of a column or length of a branch or vine is determined by the amount of ink in your marker (unique to each spawn point) and indicated with a shrinking circle as you draw.  You can also summon the marker and tap X to crumble an earth column, cut off a branch or vine or stop or redirect a water plume.

It all sounds fairly basic, but the way the designers have woven these concepts into the gameplay and environments is nothing short of awe-inspiring, especially when you realize the unique relationship the elements share.  Branches can be set on fire then cut off and moved around for a new fire source.  Vines can be connected to branches for horizontal rope climbs or cut off at the source but still connected to the branch for a new swing point.  Water plumes can shoot you or other objects to distant ledges or used to turn lava creatures into rock.   The game even mixes up the use of these abilities by presenting some in pure puzzle form and others as critical action points in exciting chase sequences where the game will go into slow-motion giving you precious seconds to spot the marker and point and draw the object required to stay alive.

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood has a look that will appeal to kids but make no mistake; this game can be challenging and will certainly delight older kids and even adults.  Some of the puzzles stumped me for a moment but most have logical resolutions once you realize how all the various marker abilities function within the limitations of each puzzle.  But no matter how small, large, or difficult the puzzle, each time I solved one I had that same endorphin rush I felt when playing games like Portal 2 or Trine 2.

The presentation is clearly next-gen quality, achieving PC quality status with rich vibrant colors, lush detailed textures, smooth animation and great camera angles that show off these amazing environments.  Each chapter has a unique visual theme that often shares an elemental identity with the latest power of your marker such as earth, water, or fire.  Lighting is particularly impressive, especially in one underground level that is mostly pitch black where you can use your marker as a “flashlight” and the mushrooms and lichen will realistically absorb this light and continue to glow when it’s time to return control back to Max.   The sound design is equally as impressive with ambient level noises, realistic sound effects, exciting music, and suitable voice acting given the material.

Collectors have not been forgotten, and there are 75 evil eyestalks hidden around the land that Max needs to find and destroy.  While these are almost always visible on the screen if you look hard enough, they usually require additional puzzle-solving and a slight detour to reach.  And there is also a Tree of Life medallion that has been shattered into 18 shards.  These are much harder to find than the eyes, but thorough gamers should have no trouble finding all of them without consulting the web.  The game has a fantastic summary screen that lists the eyes (in the order they appear) and the medallion shard indicator for each chapter, and if you do need to replay a level to find a missing item you only need play as far as that item since all collectibles are registered as you find them and not when you complete the level.

Platform adventures are the foundation of console gaming, and I had numerous fond flashbacks of playing Pitfall on my Atari 2600 back in 1982.  We’ve come a long way in 30 years, and even though I loved every minute I spent playing Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, I am sure this is only a hint of what is to come for the Xbox One.   I can’t think of a better launch window title that exemplifies this new system or the future potential of gaming as we move into a new generation of interactive entertainment.

Screenshot Gallery

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