The Last of Us Remastered

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I hope this is the real cover because ELLIE WITH A SNIPER RIFLE!

Without getting wrapped up in the debate about video game companies cashing in on HD reboots on popular video game series, I did want to come clean (and also brag) about pre-ordering the Remaster for our Ps4, and also the amazing deal I got at Gamestop.

For those of you who don’t know, Gamestop is offering a trade-in deal that is too good to pass on. If you already own the PS3 version of this game, you can trade it in towards the Remaster, and get HALF off. That’s $25 for upgraded 1080p, 60 FPS graphics, all the DLC, and the ability to change some of your control mapping. I’m pretty excited to play a shooter with the superior trigger buttons on the PS4 controller. If you want to cash in on this opportunity through Gamestop, you only have until August 2 to do so.

Sunday Gamestop was also offering 50% extra trade-in value for games. I decided to trade in Mario Kart Wii, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and Star Ocean: The Last Hope (I don’t think Square-Enix could pay me to play that game again). Collectively, I received over $50 store credit for only three games that I’ll never play again. I had enough moola to pay off TLOU Remaster and I also put $26 down on Bayonetta 2, which is really the only fall release I can’t wait until after Christmas to play.

I’m very excited for PS4 owners who never had a PS3 to experience TLOU. And for those of us who have already played it, I’m excited to experience it with some friends who weren’t fortunate enough to get their hands on it the first time around. I also never got the DLC, so I’ll probably do that first. We already know this is a great game, but if you’re still skeptical… It received over TWO HUNDRED (Count them: 2-0-0!!) Game of the Year awards. So yeah… it’s better than great. And I can’t wait to experience it in sharper, shinier detail.

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Mass Effect Revelation

MER Cover

Remember this guy?

 I enjoy playing video games. I also enjoy reading and writing in my spare time. So why is it I’ve never read a novel based on a video game until now?

There are a couple of reasons. I’ve heard many of them are poorly written. Hopefully not like, 50 Shades of Grey bad writing, but with lots of grammatical issues and sometimes the events actually conflict with the story established in the video games they’re supposed to be aligned with. And until now, none of the video games I’ve been passionate about had books I could purchase to read. In English, anyway. I’d even get Xenogears: Perfect Works if it was in English.

While browsing online, I discovered there was not one, but 3 novels set in the Mass Effect universe. All of which are written by Drew Karpyshyn, lead writer for the video games. He’s also written other geek-centric novels too, and is apparently a New York Times bestselling author.

Mass Effect: Revelations is a prequel to the very first Mass Effect game. Throughout the trilogy, you learn that Anderson had “previous encounters” with Saren, but of course the games never explain what that meant. In Mass Effect 2 you briefly meet Kahleen Sanders, and Anderson does hint at having feelings for her in the games, but again, none of their background is fleshed out. The Revelations novel reveals (hardy har) the circumstances under which Anderson meets Saren, Sanders, and the conditions under which he was a Spectre candidate and why he wasn’t selected.

The not-so-spoiler ending of the novel shows how Saren evolved into the rogue Spectre who we all know as the final boss fight in Mass Effect 1.

When writing the novel, Karpyshyn made the assumption that readers like myself were reading this book because we, you know, played the game. Therefore, the novel is much smoother, easier reading than a typical science fiction or fantasy novel that has to dedicate a ton of pages to world building. We already know the world, so the author is able to cut right to the chase and focus on telling the story. It makes the book easy to pick up and read for 10 minutes at a time, or put down for a week and not forget what is going on. I didn’t need to spend time reading 100-200 pages describing a world when I already know what it looks like and how it functions.

With that being said, there’s a lot of supplemental background information and tidbits describing humanity venturing into the galactic community and other alien species that either weren’t described in the games or I didn’t bother reading in the codex. I absorb information better when it is presented to me through the lens of a story, not when it reads like an Encyclopedia. Plus, when playing a video game, I want to play, not read.

 I didn’t find the book poorly written, but there were some editing oversights. And even though the introduced characters mainly fit overused niches and I was able to guess how many of them were going to be shot in the face by Spectre Saren or Anderson before they met their ends, I still enjoyed the book. I primarily enjoyed watching Anderson react to situations before the games, actually seeing some batarian characters, and picturing Saren acting like a “normal” Spectre.

I think any fans of the game series will appreciate this book, as it explains events leading up to the first Mass Effect. Even if you don’t like to read, I promise, it is an easy and quick book to get through: plenty of action scenes, not a lot of boring exposition. The book was certainly worth the teeny sum I paid for it. I’ve also already purchased the next novel, Mass Effect Ascension. Be prepared for an onslaught of Mass Effect posts!

The Walking Dead Game: Season 2 Episode 4: Amid the Ruins

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 I’ll admit… Kenny wields that crossbar like a boss.

Finally, the next installment in The Walking Dead video game has arrived! Narrative-driven games are a favorite of mine; and as painful as it is to wait two months to delve back into this zombie apocalypse, the suspense certainly makes me all the more anxious to drop whatever game I’m playing to finish the latest episode.

This time around, Clementine and company escape Crazy Carver’s commune only to be faced with Rebecca birthing a baby with no food, water, clean linens, or shelter. Thus, a bulk of this short episode is spent scavenging for supplies and finding shelter safe from the walkers. As you should know, performing the mundane tasks in the beginning of the episode serves to lure the player into a false sense of security for when the, um, severed zombie parts hit the fan?

While it is getting to the point where I can anticipate when I’m going to be given big decisions, and what I select doesn’t seem to greatly affect the narrative, I still can’t help but feel anticipation when deciding how to react in certain situations. Especially when it is choosing between two other characters that I really like. I have no issue offending Kenny, who was a complete JERK to my Lee, but I like Luke and Jane. I’ve even warmed up to Rebecca, despite how mean she was to Clementine in the first couple episodes of this season. I’m also on edge around Bonnie… I like to make her feel guilty for deceiving us still. Sorry, but giving Clementine a tacky jacket doesn’t make up for putting us in that situation in the first place.

You’re also NOT going to believe who they kill off in this episode!

Want to know? Dying to know? Then download it and play it! You’ll finish the chapter within 2 hours. It feels like the episodes are getting shorter and shorter… I hope the next one is about an hour longer. And that it comes soon, because you won’t believe the cliffhanger at the end, either!

Mass Effect 3

Again, I’m not sure who this scowling man is.

Well, it’s time. The bittersweet moment where I come to this blog to post some of my thoughts about a game I’ve recently completed. Except this isn’t just any game. This is the conclusion to the critically-acclaimed sci-fi trilogy released by Bioware; a company that I’ve come to really respect after playing the Mass Effects and Dragon Age: Origins. I’m having a hard time collecting my thoughts for this entry, despite the fact that we went camping for a week after I binged on ME3 until I saw the end credits roll. I was determined to finish it before being unplugged for a week. I sacrificed a lot of sleep, which I NEVER do after having a baby and sticking to a strict workout regimen. Basically, this was a big deal for me.

What I’m saying is, I became a bit obsessed.

After seeing the credits roll, a familiar sort of depression sank in. The journey was over. I saved the galaxy from the Reapers. The characters I fell in love with were nestling into the closure that Bioware and my FemShep brought to them, and didn’t need my input any longer. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I’ve only felt this way after completing two other games that currently top my Top 10 list: Final Fantasy X and Xenosaga Episode III. After finishing these games, I just sort of existed in a lull for a week or so, taking my sweet time transitioning back to reality, unable to divorce my mind from the amazing experiences these games offered. Thankfully, I had a camping trip with friends and family to keep me occupied this time.

Okay, I promise I’m done gushing now. I find my posts more interesting to read when I’ve got a mile-long list of complaints to vent out. While Mass Effect 3 is now one of my favorite games EVER, that doesn’t mean it is perfect. There are a few things I’d like to address that really irked me.

1.) YOU DON’T GET A KROGAN IN YOUR SQUAD. Seriously, when did ANY fans say they thought having Wrex and Grunt as squad members was a sucky idea and they’d rather have more boring humans in their group? If they exist, send me their addresses so I can hunt them down because I found this to be completely inexcusable. I love my meatshield krogans. Something tells me Bioware heard fan complaints, because in The Citadel DLC they let you have Wrex if you don’t get him killed beforehand.

2.) Controls suck less, but they still suck. My main gripe is using X for running (and taking cover, and the wannabe parkour jumping). This makes your right thumb occupied with sprinting so you can’t use it to move the camera around and search for loot. Loot is a big deal to me.

3.) ALL THE DLC. And the $$$. Sure, I will never drop a penny on extra multiplayer map packs. But I downloaded and paid money for FOUR different DLC bundles, priced at at least $9.99 a piece. This game is two years old, for crying out loud, you’d think they’d be cheaper. While the DLC is technically optional, I suppose, I can’t imagine my ME3 experience without it. From Ashes gives an extra party member with important background information and Leviathan discloses more important historical facts about the Reapers (As in: where the hell did they come from?). Omega, which I’m in the middle of playing now, may not be mandatory for garnering helpful information, but it should have been included in the game because when you see Aria in The Citadel she tells you about the mission! Little did I know, I had to PAY extra to actually help her with her pet project. And, The Citadel, while being completely optional, is something no Mass Effect fan will want to miss. It is the writers letting loose and letting the characters just have fun. I laughed a lot. And, of course, there’s Extended Cut (The infamous backpedaling). Which is free… but still. Getting DLCed to death has become a major gripe of mine in the last few years… and I just majorly supported it with ME3.

4.) Multiplayer in a single player campaign. Single player for two installments. Huge hit game series. Hmm, let’s incorporate multiplayer missions that directly affect how well the galaxy can defend itself against the Reapers and make that affect end game events! Great idea! … NOT.

Now that I’ve got those off of my chest, I have to say, Mass Effect 3 was phenomenal. I said I’d stop gushing, but I need to say this: While the Xenosaga trilogy blew me away with its character development, story, and universe, I think the Mass Effect trilogy might top it for me. When playing video game series, as a gamer you’re always nervous when you pick up the next installment. Are my favorite character still here? Did they screw up the battle system? Is this one going to suck compared to the last one? I will defend Xenosaga until the day I die, but I can’t really stand up for Episode II. The second entry stripped all fun out of the battle system and they lost a lot of fans trying to fix something that wasn’t broken. If I weren’t so obsessed with the characters and driven to see the events unfold (and didn’t have a strategy guide), I would have given up. And maybe nowadays I’d quit in exasperation. While Episode III redeemed the series for me, I think they’d already lost too many fans. But in the case of Mass Effect, each game is better than the last. Sure, I was disappointed with some of the character interactions in ME2, but other than that each game vastly improved upon the last. After playing Mass Effect 2 I wondered how it could get any better. 

Oh, did it get better.

Character leveling and skill upgrades remain largely unchanged. They did add mini skill trees for each ability so you can see the progress and choose between two options in the later tiers.

ME3 Skill Tree

                   This should give you a general idea.

 Not a huge difference, but I liked seeing the advancement and choosing options for 3 tiers instead of only the final tier like in ME2.

After the significant overhaul (though I think “removal” would be more accurate) of the equipment menus in ME2, they sort of backtracked a little bit. Not in a bad way, but to give the player at least some sense of customization that was missing from the middle game. You can change Shepard’s equipment but still can’t change the squad mates. Sorry, but deciding which purple helmet you want Tali to wear or whether Liara looks better in black or white doesn’t count. But weapon modifications are back! Each weapon has two mods you can add to it. These mods are either purchased from stores or picked up while exploring. And trust me, there’s basically no inventory management to worry about.

Speaking of stores... Does anyone buy these ship models?

Speaking of stores… Does anyone really spend their hard earned credits on ship models?

Another improvement that I didn’t think could get any better is the way they handled scanning planets for resources. There is no more element mining for upgrades! Big cheer from this gamer! Instead, you scan items and wreckage for war assets, intel, fuel, or credits. Once you start scanning in a cluster or galaxy, you’re given a percentage so you know when you can move on. This streamlining comes with a price: scanning alerts Reapers. If you scan, they’ll come after you, and give you an automatic game over if you let them catch up to the Normandy. I wasn’t crazy about this new feature. Especially since I waited to do 90% of my planet scanning at the same time. It got tedious and frustrating. I felt like I was wasting time darting in and out of a galaxy to rush and pick up something or do some scanning before the Reapers caught me. If you’ve alerted them, they won’t go away until you move on and do something else first! I was irritable after half an hour of playing cat and mouse.

Unsurprisingly, my main praise goes to Bioware for their ability to write great characters and stories. Each of the main characters you’ve known since the beginning have pretty satisfying character arcs and interactions. You’ll get to visit their homeworlds on the premise of uniting their race to your Reaper Killing cause, but along the way they’ll grow and make you love them even more. Unless you don’t have enough Reputation, then things will go south. Since I forgot to mention this earlier: Do side quests ASAP! 

Now I’m going to take a low jab at Ubisoft: In case you haven’t heard, they’ve been under a lot of flack recently because they claimed they “Don’t have the resources,” (Loosely interpreted as “Can’t be bothered”) to incorporate female models in the next installment of their annual cash cow, Assassin’s Creed. Well. All I can say is that I find it interesting Bioware could, and successfully gave characters the option to be a female in a vast story that expands 3 games with hundreds of interactions with NPCs. Many of which are tailored by the sex you selected when creating Shepard. As per the cover art, it’s assumed you’ll be the brooding man with the close shave. Not only did Bioware give you the option, they also created unique situations and dialogue for FemShep. In the third game, they took it up a notch by drawing very specific attention to it. One of the more subtle, but most satisfying moments, in ME3 were the conversations with a certain female Krogan. If you’re a female, she not only confides in you, but also expresses admiration at the great responsibility humanity has placed on a female. It tickled my fancy to not just be given a different character model (that Ubosift can’t be bothered with) but to also change dialogue and outfit the experience so that it didn’t feel at all like I was playing a subpar role. Never, in the entire trilogy, did I find the conversation nuances inappropriate or with that “This is definitely meant for a male” vibe.

I do have some story complaints, but they seem to just whimper in the shadows of Mass Effect 3’s generally great presentation. I knew about the ending’s big controversy, so I barreled towards it with anticipation. After experiencing my ending, taking advantage of Youtube to watch the others (there’s 4 altogether depending on what your ultimate decision is) and then speaking with a friend who got the original crappy ending… I can say I’m glad I got the Extended Cut. It actually, you know, explains the aftermath of your choice. I can honestly say I liked the ending(s)… Mine, at least, was bittersweet, with enough disclosure to satisfy me but some open ends to let me interpret a couple of things as I see fit. With all this hubbub about a Mass Effect 4, I’m sort of confused. The four endings have vastly different implications about the future of the universe. It’d have to be either a prequel or be an alternate universe/spiritual successor sort of deal. Which I’d be okay with, I just don’t want them to mess with my Shepard and my story.

I know I’m obsessed with this game because even though I already watched the credits roll, I’ve gone back and decided to wrap up some side quests I didn’t complete and play through the Omega DLC which I got kind of late. My gaming time is crunched thanks to adulthood, so I don’t usually do anything extra with games… Especially after I beat them. As of right now, Mass Effect 3 has killed other video games for me. I truly have no desire to play anything else yet.

In closing, here is a picture of my newest video game girl crush and one true love to my FemShep: Liara T’Soni. She’s intelligent, blue, and has a nice rack. What more could a human ask for? Oh I know, how about a lover that could literally mindf*ck you? Sold!

Liara