Monday, 30 December 2013

Feature: The Year in Review - 2013

As the year comes to a close, looking back at everything that happened, I'm slackjawed.  I'm having a hard time thinking of a more momentous year in gaming.  It has been just such a wild ride, I’m torn between relief at having made it through in one piece and anxiety that all of this is mere prelude for an even more incredible year.  So, without further ado and in no particular order, the highlights of 2013 (at least as far as I go):

LucasArts Shuts Down
This isn’t like the closures of 38 Studios or Troika.  This is akin to Pontiac or Oldsmobile going away.  For years, LucasArts was the premier game development studio.  Despite being started by George Lucas and kept as an adjunct of Lucasfilm, LucasArts made a lot of original games that had nothing to do with Star Wars, even after Lucas’ decade long moratorium expired.  But with the acquisition of Lucasfilm by Disney, LucasArts became expendable and was quickly shut down despite having two new Star Wars games in the pipe.  In related news, Disney inked an agreement with EA to produce new Star Wars games for the next decade.  The shadow of the Dark Side has fallen over us.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Review: Memoria (PC)

For an old school gamer, point-and-click adventure games are remembered with a great deal of fondness. The LucasArts back catalog is held up reverently, along with the Myst and Journeyman Project series, as examples of a simpler and more elegant time in gaming. Where twitch reflexes were blessedly not required to enjoy the game. It was like going to see live theatre: cultured, artistic, cerebral. While the genre has been badly under-represented the last several years, it's not dead. Daedelic Entertainment decided to put out a classic style adventure game, set in their Dark Eye universe, and did a solid job. It's easy to see where Memoria comes from, but it suffers from the same problem about where to go that many classic adventure games experience.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Review: Skylanders Swap Force (PS4)

It was last August that I had first played Skylanders. I was at the Call of Duty Multiplayer Reveal Event and on the last day of the event I received an invite to see the Playstation 4 version in action. The portal, the multiple characters and the colour, brought out of the little kid inside me. How had I not heard of Skylanders sooner?

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Editorial: A Special Note

As we quickly close out 2013, I hope each and every one of you reading this has a chance to spend some time with family and friends this time of year. And maybe even play a game or two...

I extend a "Merry Christmas!" to you even if you're not really into the holiday scene and I wish you nothing but the best for 2014!

I'll admit the preceding isn't quite as poetic or stirring as what the Queen's speech writers come up with but it's a genuine sentiment. I raise a glass -- it's half-full at this point and the world is a little blurry -- and toast your success and that any challenges that come your way in 2014 make you a better person!

Aaron Simmer
Co-Founder and Head Writer, The Armchair Empire

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Review: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)

The Zelda franchise may not sell as well as Mario games do, but that's partly because the games are directed at a more hardcore audience. Where Mario is accessible and enjoyable to all ages, Zelda games are more intense (and arguably more violent) and require a different kind of attention. With the Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Nintendo is trying to attract a more well-rounded audience that skews to a younger crowd on the 3DS. In doing so, they have made a game that appeals to those familiar with the franchise and those just stepping in for the first time.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Review: Metro: Last Light Season Pass (PC)

The Season Pass for Metro: Last Light has come out and it's an interesting little mix of stuff.
Rather than putting out large new chunks of story, 4A Games decided to go with smaller side stories
from the perspective of different characters and even different factions. Along with that, they've also thrown in some light sandbox play in the form of the Developer Pack and an endless wave mode in the Tower Pack.

The elements that made Metro: Last Light so enjoyable originally are still in effect here.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Review: Y's: Memories of Celceta (PS Vita)

 Y's: Memories of Celceta

The Y's franchise never really got the traction in North America that it should have, which is really a shame for RPG fans like myself (who couldn't find a copy of the original games for decades). As a result, the fourth game in the franchise never was officially released in North America until now – and it's been updated to match modern sensibilities.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Review: Rainbow Moon (PS Vita)

Rainbow Moon is a PlayStation Store download title that first came out for the PlayStation 3 back in July of 2012 and is now available for the Vita.

The combat system uses a top down isometric-view battle area, akin to Final Fantasy Tactics. In an ideal world, the battles are a balancing act of using both position and well placed battle strategies to maximize your inflicted damage and protect your team. Typically though, the battles are an enemy dog pile where you try and keep your team afloat with judicious amounts of healing items.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Review: Charlie Murder (XBLA)

charlie murder
Many a rocker has been accused of bartering his soul to the devil, or some variation of evil entity, for attaining rock stardom. Charlie Murder doesn't sell his soul to become the rock legend he is now, but jealousy has fuelled a rival death metal band, Gore Quaffer, to trade theirs in order to get the power to destroy Charlie and his bandmates. That's the heavy-metal backdrop that drives the brawler hybrid (mostly brawler, a good portion roleplaying game) Charlie Murder for Xbox Live Arcade, the new title from Ska Studios, makers of the excellent Dishwasher brawler series.

While there's a lot to like about Charlie Murder, including good multiplayer and that infusion of RPG character building, it lacks the charisma of both Dishwasher titles and doesn't quite capture the brawler soul either of those two games did.

Review: Mario Party: Island Tour (3DS)

For the first time ever, Nintendo has brought the popular Mario Party franchise to the portable 3DS. If you liked the games in the past, you are likely going to feel right at home here.

The main quest feels a bit like an interactive Monopoly game where four players compete against each other to be the first to reach the end. There are seven differently themed boards that players will explore, rolling a set of virtual dice and competing in a variety of mini-game challenges. Winning the challenges (or at least ranking high) will net you some additional items such as the ability to switch positions with other players on the board or sending them back several places on their next turn.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Review: Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition (PC)

You had to know that this one was coming.

Beamdog and Overhaul Games have released Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition for the PC.  It's a little surprising that it actually got done, given some of the legal wrangling that happened after the first one came out.  But it's all smiles and rainbows now between Beamdog, Atari, and BioWare.  Except for those of us who actually play the game.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Review: Battlefield 4 (PC)

Diagram 1
Battlefield 4 is really difficult to peg with a numerical score because it's a constantly moving target. The game leaps up and down radically over time, which is something the series has suffered from since the start.

Upon its release, Battlefield 4's multiplayer -- the main draw for the series -- featured server instability, inexplicable crashes and lock-ups, bizarre sound issues, and very short stretches of fun. The early going sparked a rant from this writer about how anyone could possibly review Battlefield 4 (at launch) with any honesty because, although it wasn't unplayable, it was close enough that any writer should have had second thoughts about slapping a score on the game and calling it a day.

In my experience, even the single-player campaign featured a plethora of random lock-ups until a few weeks had passed since the launch. Since the single-player campaign is so inconsequential and acts as a training ground for multiplayer -- glimpses of the gadgets, the scope of the conflict, etc. -- the last time it crashed out was the last time I spent any time with it. As much as the campaign is a cool graphical showcase the story is limp with almost no charm and characters I couldn't care less about.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Review: Call of Duty: Ghosts (PS4)

When the Xbox 360 and PlayStation released back in 2005 and 2006 there was one series that was present at both launches. That series was Call of Duty: Call of Duty 2 for 360 and Call of Duty 3 for PlayStation 3.

With this generation of consoles launching seven or eight years later, the situation is no different. Call of Duty: Ghosts is available as a launch title for both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. It's become an industry norm that launch titles available to a respective platform are usually mediocre at best. Ghosts is one of the better games available at launch, but at the same time, the series is starting to feel a bit stale.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Review: Pacific Rim - The Video Game (XBLA)

Many games based on a movie – simply made to try and take advantage of a movie's popularity – turn out rather predictable: bad-to-mediocre in quality, nothing more than a ill-conceived money grab, trying to gain some additional revenue out of the intellectual property. That's exactly the case with Pacific Rim on XBLA, a fighting title that takes its inspiration from the summer blockbuster.

While the movie did OK critically and in ticket sales, the videogame is a complete travesty that perpetuates the awfulness of many movie-based licensed titles. Even if this were a free-to-play title, Pacific Rim wouldn't have an excuse for its poor quality and total lack of enjoyment. And it has no shame in posing as a F2P game, with nearly every imaginable upgrade in weaponry and other elements available to purchase.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Review: Jewel Master: Cradle of Egypt 2 3D (3DS)

Puzzle games that are addictive tend to get copied a lot. Such is the case of Tetris, and later another less-known (but also Russian developed) game called Shariki. Shariki was the original inspiration for what would eventually become Bejewelled, and  thus an entire generation of what is collectively known as "match three" games was born.

Jewel Master: Cradle of Egypt 2 is another game in the Jewel Master series, of which over a quarter million games have been sold. Built upon the basics of a match-three game it does add some extra elements in to make things a little more exciting.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Review: Knack (PS4)

While anticipating the launch of the PS4 I couldn't help but look forward to Knack. Amidst the usual offerings of racing, sports, and shooters that typically litter the landscape during a system launch I was happy to see the return of something more in line with my kind of game: the platform action-adventure. The genre seems to be a bit of a dying breed but it is still my favourite. When the PS3 launched, there really wasn't a title that fit this category with Genji: Days of the Blade being the closest. On the Xbox 360 we had Kameo: Elements of Power.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Review: Madden 25 (PS4/Xbox One)

1989 saw the official end of the Cold War and is also marked as the year that the World Wide Web was conceived. It is also the first year that John Madden Football hit the pavement in a big way (technically the first release was in 1988, but don't tell anyone). The game was available on MS-DOS machines (PC's), the Commodore 64, and the Amiga. If you are not sure what those platforms even are, you need to do your gaming homework.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Review: Batman: Arkham Origins (360)

Batman: Arkham Origins is a prequel, which focuses on the early years of Bruce Wayne being Batman and provides an initial point of contact with his future arch-nemesis Joker.

The story is centralized around a Christmas plot by Black Mask to kill Batman by offering a bounty of $50 million. Needless to say, the assassins start coming out of the woodwork: Deathstroke, Deadshot, Bane, Killer Croc, Firefly, Shiva, Copperhead, and Electrocutioner all make appearances to try and stop the Dark Knight. Your job is to remind everyone that you're the G**DAMMNED BATMAN!