Thursday, July 11, 2019

Devil May Cry 5 (PS4): A B ranked combo

My mom knows practically nothing about video games. Usually when she buys me games she sticks to lists that I've made. But on occasion she'll take a shot in the dark and take a chance on something that looked interesting to her. This is how I discovered Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain. A game I initially thought was stupid but ended up being an incredibly solid Legend of Zelda style of adventure that I flippin' loved.

She hit on it again in the PS2 era, when the first of this franchise came out. At the time I had only vaguely heard of it, but it featured a commercial of a dude sleepwalking and pulling a sword off his wall before cutting his room to ribbons. The game was a smash success and after multiple iterations and almost 6 years of disappearance this series finally comes back in.....

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Five years after the events of Devil May Cry 4, we start off in medias res with longtime Devil May Cry protagonist Dante squaring off against a new demon in a massive tower and he is accompanied by a 90's Trent Reznor looking dude who goes by the name of V. The fight is not going well and just as he's about to be finished, Nero from Devil May Cry 4 makes his appearance to try to stop this new evil as well.

The battle does not go as well as he hoped. We flash back to the events that started this: Nero has started his own branch of Devil May Cry demon hunting with girlfriend Kyrie, and his engineer friend Nico. He is ambushed by a man in ragged clothes who cuts off his devil arm and teleports away using the Yamato sword.

Days later we see V enter Dante's Devil May Cry office to hire his crew to slay a returning demon called Urizen. He has planted a demonic tree in Red Grave City called Quiphoth that is basically ripping the blood from the denizens to produce fruit that the demon is collecting. This brings us to where we started the game, and we pick up the action a month from then.

Bringing the Edgelord since 1998

Leave it to Devil May Cry to keep things simple *cough*. So it's interesting to see that this installment of the game goes back to the established canon of the story as opposed to the rebooted version of the game. I guess because the backlash against it? I dunno, I thought it was fine. And honestly it was so early in the DMC timeline that it really could have served as a prequel without disrupting the established canon of the previous games. In any case, were are now back to the front end of the current timeline.

So Capcom has realized lately that if they just modernize the wheel, instead of reinvent it, fans will fall back into step. So what we have in DMC5 is a basically a celebration of the previous iterations with some splashes of new thrown in. The controls of the game stay fundamentally the same to every iteration you have come to know with this series with your light attack, heavy attack, pistols, jump dodge, aim control scheme.  But they do sightly differ depending on the character that you use.

There is some challenge in this one, but this is not the hardest DMC I've ever played.

When playing as Nero, you will find that the control scheme hearkens back to how they did in DMC4 where you have your series of sword and gun moves, but you have a dedicated button to using your arm. You don't have the Devil Arm in this one so instead you will use an interchangeable set of robot arms with various abilities. In addition to that, Nero's Sword, the Red Queen, has the ability to be rev'd up for additional fire damage.

Dante is DMC classic mode, or more accurately Dante is DMC3 mode. While swords are guns are his mainstay, Dante is able to switch between the 4 fighting styles he was able to use before in Trickster, Gunslinger, Swordmaster, and Royalguard. In addition to having these and the multiple weapons he can use, Dante still has access to the Devil Trigger which is what allows him to go full demon mode for high intensity damage and combos for a limited time.

Dante is easily the most versatile of the cast, and using him is like slipping into a well broken in pair of shoes. 

V is the newbie of the group and because of story line context he is significantly weaker than the other two, so he fights with a more ranged summoning style. Sure, you can get in range and swing your staff, but you will pretty much get iced. Instead, V can summon various types of familiars depending on your button inputs that range from a lithe and nimble panther, to a large hulking golem. Once an enemy is weak enough V can dish out a finishing blow with his cane to shatter an enemy. This is the only way to finish them. V also has his own variant of the Devil Trigger as well.

Combat once again is graded depending on how well you combo your abilities together while avoiding damage and affects your total score per fight, which I believe does result in some payoff of red orbs to unlock more abilities as well. So depending on your favored play style you will find a character that you fit into a groove with and score well, and one that you will not. In my case I managed to rank very high with V and always had shit ranks with Nero.

To Nero's credit, a lot of the Arms do give him a number of different abilities to use,
It just would have been nice to switch on the fly to really get the full potential of them.

Stages are broken down in a a somewhat hybrid mechanic of how they used to be in DMC4 and the DmC: Reboot. Each stage generally you flip to what character is going to be the focus and then you basically play through a predetermined path. I would almost venture to say that it is arcadey of sorts because it doesn't feel like there is a whole lot of room for exploration. There is the occasional secret here an there but not a whole lot of freedom to explore your surroundings it felt like. It's infinitely better than the narrow path/open void skyboxes from the reboot, but ultimately its not difficult to find out where you are going.

There apparently is also some strange online mechanic to the game as well. When you play certain chapters of the game apparently there are other events that take place with the other characters at this same time. During these chapters and online player actually takes control of the other character and then at the end of the level you are asked to grade their helpfulness. I am going to be 100% honest I have no idea if I ever actually saw another player. I can think of one level where I was playing as V where I had a Nero running around, but I had no idea if it was an AI or a Player. So whenever I got a prompt I just gave them a good rating. They weren't impeding me, so that seems like enough.

Motorcycle that turns into twin maces? Sure, why not. 

Music in this one was solid, although if at this point a little samey for the series. It's opening theme of "Devil Trigger" was pretty good, but then the game immediately shifts to the that mix of Hard Rock/Industrial you have combat moments and droning demonic ambiance for the exploration moments. Its pretty standard DMC fanfare. So far none of the OSTs have really captures that stellar magic of the first game, but its still pretty good. I'd throw it on in the background while I'm working.

Nico, is a fucking bizarre character. She annoys the hell out of me, and I kind of love her? She basically functions as your portable store for upgrades, saving, and getting Nero new robot arms to use. She's a wild child, but she talks with this nasally stuffiness that I'm not quite sure is supposed to be an nerdy accent or an inflection. She's a goofball, she's foul mouthed, and fearless. I think what makes me love her is compared to her concept art, they actually toned her down to be less sexually designed. She still is, but her looks seem more natural and realistic compared to the picturesque Lady and Trish, which honestly makes her look more appealing.

She's a ridiculous goof, and annoying as all hell. But I'll be damned if their isn't something charming about her.

My biggest complaint with this installment is the same one I had with the DmC: Reboot: The level design sucks. Sorry, ok yeah big demon castle and sprawling gooey walls and scary looking caves are fine and all. But does nobody remember that the first DMC game was kinda like Resident Evil? After the start of the story you would be dropped into a giant castle that you had to explore, fight, and find keys to advance. What has since happened is Final Fantasy 13 syndrome, where the level design feels more or less like a series of straight lines taking you from encounter to encounter. The exploration was part of the game, and I don't know why its shifted away from it.

I hate the Red Queen. One of the most fun aspects of this series is that combat is supposed to be fast, fluid, and exciting. With Dante and V this more or less holds true because you can constantly keep up the pace. But not with Nero, no you have halt your combo to try to get the timing of revving his stupid sword properly to get the best damage out of your combo. I was never able to properly figure it out, and you cant cycle through his robot arms either which is exceptionally annoying. You just have to use them in the order in which you placed them, so you can't adjust them situationally as the fight requires. I do not know why they thought this was a good idea.

Once you get into to a rhythm with the controls, combat is fun regardless of who you are playing with.
Just don't try to rev your stupid sword.

I'm going to spoil a bit of a story bit here so skip this paragraph if you want, but what the fuck was the point of putting Trish and Lady in the game? I'll tell you: To make the pretty girls naked. That's it. You never get to play as either of them, they a pretty much immediately taken out of the equation at the start of the story, and they essentially serve no purpose to advance to the plot. It's frustrating because these two characters are supposed to be sawed off demon hunters themselves. But no, they are relegated to being damsels in distress.

This is the only time I'd be happy for a DLC update because a "Ladies Night mode" would have been awesome since they fight so inherently different than the boys do. But no, Capcom has said they have closed the book on this one so there will be no coming DLC packs for DMC5. They literally put in these two bad ass characters in there to be damsels and stripped naked. Good job, very 2019.

Complaints aside, if not a little ridiculous the story does ultimately come together with a reasonably satisfying ending sequence that feels bad ass to play, if not for leaving open some pretty big plot holes in the conclusion I won't get into for those who having played it. But after hearing it, and then looking it up to learn there is not really a canonical answer for half of it was certainly surprising that they went that way with the story. It's not bad, but it does leave me with some questions I now can't get answered.

I found it very easy to S rank with V, because his bags of tricks lets you stay away from the close combat. 

Bruce Green of FunHaus has a great joke saying that this game was "designed to be cool in 2000". And that probably is one of the most fair opinions I've heard of the game because it certainly does feel like it would be right more at home a generation ago. Despite all my complaints about the game its still an incredibly solid play. I ripped through it and had my fun with it, but ultimately once I finished the game I was done with it. When my only rewards are harder difficulty or arbitrary points, the replability falters. Just another one of the pile of one and done's.

Devil May Cry V came out in march of this year and is already being sold for 20 bucks off of the standard 60 dollar retail. It's a solid play but its not a world beater. It feels like its trying to chase its linage as so many franchised games do. When it comes to spectacle fighters my heart lies with games like Bayonetta, but Devil May Cry V  is more of a return to form than previous iterations, and you could buy worse games for 40 bucks. It gets a lukewarm recommendation.

Seriously, Trish is has a massive ass sword and Lady a bazooka.
But sure, don't let us play as them. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (PS4): No they don't, they die over and over and over and over and.......

Alright, so by this point we've all heard me jerk off the Souls franchise raw. I'm an unabashed fan of the series. But it wasn't until well into I realized some of the other games From Software produced. Mainly while shooting a let's play, I realized that these are also the makers of Tenchu, a game series I never personally played. 

But when I saw the trailers and gameplay for this one during E3 last year, Tenchu's heavy hand could sure be felt in the gameplay. But it also definietly feels like the Souls series that I love could be felt here too. But everything moved so fast, there was stealth. This was going to be a whole different beast than I was ready for. But it didn't stop me. I speak of course, of.....


In a fictionalized 16th century Sengoku period in Japan, a battle between the Ashina Empire was in the midst of the bloody coup for control. During the aftermath of a devastating conflict, an old shinobi by the name of Owl comes across a ragged looking orphan. The child shows no fear, grabbing the blade of Owl's sword, goading his death. Owl however sees a fire in this youth, adopts him, trains him as a shinobi and names him Wolf.

Two decades pass and Wolf becomes a shinobi, and personal servant to a young noble boy called Kuro. The Ashina clan is falling, and current leader of the Ashina army seeks to create an immortal army using Kuro's power. Wolf attempts to help Kuro escape, but he is cut down by Genichrio Ashina and loses his arm. Kuro is captured again.

But due to Kuro's power, the "Dragon's Heritage", Wolf survives the wounds and has been found and treated a former shinobi and sculptor. The sculptor replaces Wolf's wounded arm with a shinobi prosthetic, which allows him to use various ninja tools right from his arm. New abilities in tow, Wolf heads back to Ashina castle to save Kuro.

Those of you who are familiar with the "Souls" will note a pretty distinct difference right off the bat that Wolf is an actual character. He's not a customizable ninja, he has a designed face and voice. He actually interacts with other NPCs and actually has a definable backstory. And while at the onset the overarching goal is unclear, he does have character motivation. This is more than any Dark Souls or Bloodborne character has ever had.

And while at its surface it looks like this is going to be a harder version of a Tenchu game, make no mistake about it, this is a Souls game through and through. The combat will feel familiar, the map exploration is vast, experience can be lost at death. But there are a lot of new elements that drastically change the experience as well, so like always there is going to be an adjustment period where you have to unlearn what you know from previous Souls titles.

So let's get right into the meat and potatoes: The combat. The first thing you'll need to brace for is that like the nimble shinobi, this game moves at a breakneck pace. Faster even than how Bloodborne moved, which is impressive because that game was not slow. Much like you will remember the game uses the right shoulder buttons for you primary sword attacks and your Prosthetic. Your left trigger, which once was used for shield and parrying is now used from your grappling hook which allows you to fly around the map as well as be used in certain combat situations.

In these situations, getting the drop is ideal.

But it's not just a matter of fast combat either. Sekiro expects you to approach things more skillfully as well. Enemies are incredibly focused and sharp, so if you just try to hack and slash through the game you are going to lose your other arm. The big crux of the combat this time is 90% of the battle hinges on the Posture system. Essentially you and your target have a glowing bar that increases as you deal/take damage, block blows, and most importantly, deflect enemy attacks. Your posture recharges more quickly dependent on health, so sometimes it's wise to back up and hold your guard before you dive in for another round.

If you or your target have your posture maxed out, you are left vulnerable for a kill shot. If an enemy takes one of this it completely kills them outright regardless of their remaining health or in your case and wipe out a large amount of yours. While dealing damage is one way to do it, the main way to really send off an enemies posture is to time your blocks just before impact to deflect their blow and knock off a large amount of their posture.  If they have lower health, it will take longer or make them unable to regain their posture.

So yeah, if that sounds like the parrying system from Dark Souls? That's because that's exactly what it fucking is, and man do I hate the parry system. I have never been good at timing the parry properly so I knew I was in for a rough ride. And boy was I, but I'll get into that later.

If you time your deflections right, enemies can be dropped quickly.

What the Sekiro does not explain well enough though, and this is a massive oversight from where I stand, is that even if you don't time your parry's correctly, you are still able to block blows with relative success. You don't get the larger posture benefits from it as well as taking a big posture hit yourself and it's possible to lose health from that as well, but it's certainly better than just eating a number of slashes and wiping a fight almost immediately.

In addition to the main combat, enemies have some special telegraphed attacks that can't be blocked or parried by normal means. For example, some enemies use a sweeping slash that can't be blocked at all, but this can be jumped over (holy shit the game as a jump button!) and an aerial stomp that counters it. Some enemies have a grab move that must be dodged to avoid damage. Some enemies have a thrust move that a special counter is required to fight against. These moves are signified by a tone and flashing Japanese character, but good luck making out which one it's supposed to be telling you in the heat of the moment. It's usually much better to get a feel for their motion or pay attention the enemy. A spear user's wind up will probably indicate if a thrust or sweep is coming, and big guys grab. Not rocket science.

Sometimes even when you make the right move, it's the wrong move.

Or, you can say to hell with combat and try to go about stealth kills. With thew new faster movement and significant upward mobility thanks the jump and grappling claw, there is a lot of opportunity to sneak and fly around your environment and trying to land a number of unnoticed kills. In some areas, this is going to be mandatory because of the nature of the parry based combat, it is highly discouraged to try to fight multiple enemies at once. You will want to pick off as many baddies as you can to progress with all your health in tact. Even better, some bosses and minibosses are also susceptible to stealth kills which knocks off a full bar of their health which can make some fights significantly easier.

There are some changes to the death mechanics and penalties. First and probably most importantly goes along with the game's NáméSáké: Shadows Die Twice. Thanks to Kuro's Dragon's heritage. when you are first slain, you are able to basically lay prone for a few moments for enemies to leave your body, and resurrect yourself with some minimal health. Usually this allows you land at least one more stealth kill before enemies are alerted again or allows you to bail out and get some distance. As you gain kills you will restore your ability to revive again and with some items you might be able to give yourself more than one revival.

But should you die again, there all penalties. First, in true souls fashion you take an experience hit. Leveling up in this game is used specifically for unlocking new abilities and techniques, and so long as you "bank" a full XP bar you won't lose it upon death. But if you die twice before you tick over to a fresh bar, half of that experience is lost. There are also shops along your game where you can you buy various tools and items. These just money, and like XP if you die you are losing half of that too.

Landing that stealth kill is so important because it literally cuts a minibosses' health in half.

With the experience loss being mitigated some and only losing money which is not a critical element for progression, you might be fooled into thinking that dying is not as impactful as it is in previous From Software games. You would be wrong. If you get killed too many times, the NPCs of the surrounding area get affected by an illness called the Dragon's Rot. This basically causes them to start hacking blood and dying. I am not sure if this is something that can permanently kill some NPCs, but it absolutely can halt the ability to do side quest progressions. It can be cured and thankfully I never seemed to die enough where I couldn't cure it again. I managed to finish the game with cure to spare.

The other big chance to combat is instead of learning spells or having differing weapon types to use, you have a set of skill trees you can put your experience towards new abilities and items. So while you only ever get the one sword to use throughout the game, you have a different special techniqes you can equip to change the play style a bit. Sadly you can only ever equip one at a time but if one doesn't work it's nice to know you can change it to approach fights differently.

After that it's pretty Soulsy through and through. You a single recovery item that gets more uses as you play and be refilled at checkpoints. You have totems acting as bonfires for checkpoints and recovery. You get a series of different tools for the shinobi prosthetic that have limited disposable uses, essentially becoming your spells in the game, and so on. Like I said above: while it might initially feel like a Tenchu game, it's really a Souls game.

Surprisingly, Sekiro didn't go the Nioh route as there are surprisingly few monsters in the game.
Perhaps to disconnect with the Souls series, but I would have liked more fantasy creatures to fight.

This game has an exceptional soundtrack. It is properly scored to a somber samurai film affair: quiet and harrowing when exploring area's, but increasing in tempo and tension when getting into battle and boss scenarios. I am a sucker for traditional Japanese instruments though so I might have a somewhat biased opinion, but damn does it set for a exciting one on one duel.

From Software looks like they payed a bit more attention to detail on the character models on this one. I'll be the first to admit that most of the characters from their other games have very poorly designed faces, mainly because most of they are meant to be covered in armor 90% of the time. But now we have cutscenes and conversations with an actual character, so it's nice to see that make things a bit more visually appealing for it.

There is no online mechanic this time around, which is both a blessing and curse for me. On the downside I am no long able to engage in jolly cooperation, which means any boss that I have to fight through in this game I have to fight through on my own skill and my own skill alone. But on the plus and more importantly, I don't have any random Darkmoon or Belfry assholes dropping into my game as I am frantically searching for a checkpoint with no health left desperate to not lose my progress and experience.

I struggled more with this fucking prick more than any actual boss in the game.

As per usual, the game features a NG+ with harder and more damaging enemies, but because the crux of the combat requires deflecting damage instead of tanking it, they feel a lot less intimidating. Especially if you start up right after you finish the game because you will be in the zone and prepared for it. There are also I believe 4 different endings to the game so there is a bit of replay value to the game as well.

Once I got into a groove, there was not much I didn't like about the game, but what I didn't was almost a deal breaker for me. Every game these companies put out always have a barrier to entry where you need to relearn the mechanics of the new game. But holy shit Sekiro could afford to dial it back a little bit to hook you. This game is bloodthirsty from the word go. Like I said above the deflect mechanic could have been better explained to let me know that blocking was still a viable thing to do to get the gist of the combat.

This lead to me coming up to the first actual mini-boss after the tutorial level and I basically slammed to a halt like running face first into a brick wall. One, I didn't have the timing down on my parries, so I would give up on them which would cause me to take big chunks of damage. Two, it said I'd need to lower his health lower his posture more but everything I attacked with would get blocked. So I played too defensively because I was afraid to parry and block, and couldn't seem to score any damage.  Three, it doesn't let you know that running and counter-striking is viable to at least whittle their posture down.

Long Boy Snek dun fack around.

What ended up happening is I would be successful in stealthing to where I could take out one of his life bars, but then I would be totally stuck because I had no clue how I could approach the battle. You can't just Dark Souls walk behind them and slash them down. And had I known blocking was viable, I would have learned that the deflect is pretty generous actually. The game says not to mash it, but if you do you still get a pretty wide window to block so while I might not have perfectly time deflects I would at least not be getting cut to ribbons in every exchange.

And I would argue that a LOT of these minibosses are actually harder than some of the actual bosses. There was one particular shard of glass in my urethra on a snowy cliff that I could not get the attack rhythm down and his attacks could yank me back in for big damage. It wasn't until I started running around the battlefield goading him to attack so I could score a few quick counterattacks before the lighbulb started to go on and I could chip his health down to where I could get braver to push his posture. It wasn't long after that I realized how generous the block actually is that everything clicked that allowed me to really start to go toe to toe with some bosses and actually feel bad ass doing it.

But all of this means NOTHING compared to some of the camera fuckery that this game stick you with, and this was easily my most massive complaint at the start of the game that nagged me all the way to the end. Combat in this game is FAST, so similarly the camera also needs to move fast to try to keep up. So the last thing I need is to get stuck on an invisible rock against a wall and have the camera zoom so far up my fucking ass that I can't see my character or what is directly on either side of me. Manually having to spin the camera in these scenarios force me to give up precious milliseconds I don't fuck'n have when I have 3 loincloth wearing drunkards bearing down on me.

While not the cause of death in this clip, this is a great example of how much the camera can fuck your vision mid fight.

As mentioned above, you only get the one weapon aside of your sub prosthetic. And while the techniques do provide a little change to the playability, you can only use one at a time and that really limits the customization. Dark Souls, Nioh, even Bloodborne had a small offering of weapons that changed the core combat enough to make it feel different. There are plenty of ninja weapons that could have been used here so it is a little disappointing that they limited down to one weapon. It fits from a story perspective but for a gameplay mechanic it's a bummer.

I won't lie, after the first few hours I was pretty much ready to throw this game in the trash. A challenge is one thing and I'm certainly not of the mindset that a game has to have an easy mode. But if you are going to make your game this difficult, the challenge should be in things I have rules for. Not for camera bullshit that is incidental. This could have been fixed if some smaller environment pieces could be glided around instead of locking as a barrier.

But ultimately, everything did eventually click and I fell right back into that  Soulsian groove that always feels so good. Fighting the final boss of the game took me 8 hours to do. There was swearing, there was screaming, there was resigned resignation, but when I had that golden run where I just put the boots to him and got that final credits sequence? No better feeling. It's why I still keep coming back to these games no matter how much they punish me. The payoff always feels like payoff.

Once you are in the zone, crossing swords with the baddest of the bad is always tense and exciting.

Look, I will be the first to tell you that Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is not a game for everybody. Hell it's entirely possible that Sekiro might not even be for people who are fans of the other games from this company. This is easily one of their most difficult and most punishing games to date. But now that I've gotten over the humps that made me hate it, there was a lot to love in this game. I've had to put it down for a minute, but I already feel the urge to go back to it. A game of the year contender in my book, but I wouldn't blame you for skipping this one if you get frustrated by hard games.

That four monkey chasing boss can fuck right the hell off.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Kingdom Hearts 3 (PS4): Too Little Too Late

Anticipation is a dangerous concept. In a small or short dose, it can lead to excitement. Say for example the new Avengers: EndGame coming out. I only started noticing trailers for it when it was about a month from release. It's not a long wait and it's leaving me excited for what is to come.  But when you anticipate something too long, you start to have expectations. Expectations can be difficult to meet. Sometimes it grows to the point where you expect too much, see for example the ill fated Duke Nukem Forever. Almost a decade went by without its release, and by the time we got it was so utterly pedestrian it was doomed to flop.

So that's kind of where we find ourselves here. Sure, this franchise has had a number of spin off installments with canon storyline throughout the years, but the second numbered installment of this game came out in 2005, which makes it OVER 10 years since we finally got our next numbered edition of this game. It's a long time to wait, and naturally people are expecting a lot. It's a whole lot of weight and pressure to deliver now. Is it even possible? I speak of course, of......


Look, I am not equipped with the necessary 4 doctorates to give you the full rundown the of the Kingdom Hearts lore because it's so impossibly convoluted. If you want a good rundown, watch Barry Kramer's 30 minute "Good Enough Summary of Kingdom Hearts." It's hilarious and pretty much covers what you need to know going into this one. 

We start off picking up from the events of Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance. A battle with Organization XIII is on the horizon and the forces of light need to gather their 7 warriors. Sora is depowered so he is on Olympus with Donald and Goofy to gain his strength back and visit more Disney worlds to regain "the power of waking" which is key to becoming a true keyblade master.

Riku and Micky are off searching the realm of darkness to try to find Aqua, the keyblade master trapped and lost there after the events of Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep. Kairi and Lea are off training to learn how to use their new keyblades so they can help in the coming battles. All of these stories look to converge in one final battle between light and darkness for the control of the χ-blade and Kingdom Hearts.

That is about as succinct as I can possibly make of the Kingdom Hearts storyline going into this game. Like I said, its story is incredibly convoluted and complex for no reason. Half of the reason is because literally all of the villains in this game talk in riddles instead of just providing answers. I am probably going to be pretty spoiler heavy in this review so I apologize in advance, but I am getting ahead of myself here. 

So Kingdom Hearts III is a curiously mixed hack-n-slash action adventure with RPG elements and flight sim rail shooting. There are a mutlitude of different game features that appear in the game, but I'm going to try to stick to the core ones. It uses the same action oriented menu system you might remember from the older titles, specifically Kingdom Hearts I & II (or maybe you don't remember, it's been a decade). You have a core set of abilities to use, mainly Attack, Magic, Item, and Link with the occasionally prompting for situational abilities. 

The menu requires a bit of practice to do fluidly, but they do provide the ability to quickly turn the face buttons into a hotkeys for specific abilities, so I couldn't add my heal to that X button fast enough. The rest selected were core elements that specific enemies would be weak to. The Link system is more or less your ability to summon various helpers to remove Donald and Goofy from the fray to bring in more merchandising opportunities (characters).

To the game's credit: when the combat starts to click for you it's a dream to fly around and lay waste to enemies

The core thing to remember about this combat system is three things: One, know where the attack and jump buttons are. Two, you are able to lock on to enemies. And three, Press triangle when it tells you to. There is a bit more nuance to the games system than this, but if you are able to do these three things then ultimately the game should be a breeze to play.

It's actually somewhat hard to really describe all the mechanics that take place in this game, because it uses a lot of elements from the various game engines that are used throughout this franchises history. Almost to a pretty clever design really, because it actually plays into the lore. These certain characters trained to fight a certain way, so they have their specific mechanics to use when you use those characters. I do appreciate that blending of mechanics and lore. That being said, to a new player? This will probably feel very overwhelming.

I will say that the various number of keyblades you get do offer a bit of freedom of combat style.

Now, up until about a half a year before its release I had only played Kingdom Hearts I & II and maybe a few hours of Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 days. I knew if I just tried to dive into 3 was going to feel left behind, so I powered through the entirety of both PS4 collections prior to the release. Honestly I think this impaired my review because by the time I was ready to play 3 I was pretty KH'd out. I had a play a few other games to wash the palette.

It sticks to the pretty core Kingdom Hearts formula: Soda, Dobald, and Goomby drop into a new Disney world where they meet the primary character of that franchise, the Heartless/ Unversed/Hollows show up and you fight them off, wander the world, listen to a bad guy speak in riddles to an idiot who barely understands what is happening, fight a boss, and unlock/restore that world, move to next world to repeat. This is pretty much exactly how every world in this game plays out.

I honestly didn't even know Ariel was in the game. You have so many attacks to use.

In the original Kingdom Hearts this was interesting because with each world you went to, you met various Disney and Final Fantasy characters, but they were dressing to the world Kingdom Hearts was creating. They were part of the story, and reacted accordingly to the events happening around them. This is how good crossover is done (See: Dragon Quest: Heroes). In Kingdom Hearts II however, despite having more lore to work with the borrowed characters became less integral to the story and basically recanted what famous scenes were popular in the movie they came from. This I didn't like so much because I've already seen these movies. I wanted them to be involved in Kingdom Hearts story, not watch the movie I already watched again with them occasionally mentioning something KH related.. 

Well, Kingdom Hearts III continues that tradition to an even worse degree. Now don't get me wrong, none of the actual Disney properties have any actual bearing on the core plot and haven't even in the first one, but at least they tried to make it feel like everyone was included. III is probably the worst example of literally just watching some scenes from the respective movies, and occasionally mention the heartless or kingdom hearts. However, I feel that this is noticeable to the degree you've seen the source material.

There was a chance for interesting story here. It was almost immediately forgotten.

I'll give you an example: I have never seen Tangled. I know loosely what it's based on, but know virtually nothing outside of that. These characters were new to me, and I really didn't know how the story shook out, so as I went through the respective scenes with no frame of reference I found it to be enjoyable, engaging and interesting. It might have been my favorite chapter in the game.

But then we have the Pirates of the Caribbean chapter. Literally the entirety of this story is just fragments of Pirates: At Worlds End. It basically jumps around major scenes of the film with them reacting that they met Sora before in the second game, and you recreate the big whirlpool scene for the last boss segment. It was fun as hell to play, but probably the 2nd weakest chapter of the game. 

The worst chapter of the game goes to Frozen which quite literally is scenes from the movie with the Kingdom Hearts cast literally standing off to the side not engaging with the cast. There is an exposition dump over one scene from the movie, and they go through the entirety of "Let it Go" with the occasional reaction shot from the cast. It was completely pointless. MatPat has a theory that the original idea for this chapter was severely cut down, which would explain a lot. 

In researching this, I found that yes, Tangled was essentially a recreation as well.
But it felt like it had more freedom than Frozen did to play around with the story. 

That being said, when the game actually focuses on its own story and characters, that's when Kingdom Hearts III is at its most interesting. There were a lot of loose threads in this series that this game needed to tie up after a near decade of spinoffs, but I have to say that does an admirable job of doing so in a reasonably satisfying manner. This is probably something I wouldn't have been able to appreciate if I haven't powered through the whole series to have context for everything that is happening.

Credit to where it's due on this front, but its soundtrack is exceptional from its original tracks to arrangements to the assorted Disney sources. Yoko Shimomura has composed all of the major installments and contributed to many of the spin-offs and rightfully so. Her work and the vocal tracks from singer-songwriter Hikaru Utada are a major reason these games feel so magical as you play through them. I have always appreciated a solid classical score to my games, and Utada's vocal tracks always give me chills. "Sanctuary" is one of my favorites. The music of this game carries a lot of emotional weight in my opinion.

I appreciate that the character design has been slightly modernized for the current console generation and this works for the storytelling of the games as well. It's been almost a decade since we played Kingdom Hearts II so it seems only right that our cast has aged somewhat accordingly. But I will say that is sort of loses a little bit of its cartoonish charm in doing so. With everyone having a cartoony and anime appearance, having a realistic model included doesn't make people blend in together as well as previous games I thought.

While I can't say if the game has a lot of replay value, I will say that depending on your level of dedication to completion you will certainly get a significant amount of time out of this one. If you were just to power though the main story missions and keep your side questing to a minimal degree, that alone will still take up roughly 30 hours of time to get through. Not bad for a non-RPG. But if you throw in collectibles, hidden fights, the secret boss, and mini game completion this amount of time doubles at least. Take on trying to play it on a harder difficulty (which I should have) and you could invest a serious amount of time to this one.

I did find it incredibly frustrating that so many bosses could fly. It made for too much waiting during segments.

If the rest of this review wasn't an indication, I obviously have a handful of complaints on this one. First thing I really noticed is that this one felt too easy. I played it on normal but a coworker of mine recommended that I don't. He was correct. Thanks to the inclusion of all the mechanics of the previous games, combat is snap because the game is literally throwing special attacks at you, many of which you are complete invulnerable during.  With the exception of some early bosses that literally just fly out of range and make you wait for them come down, practically every fight in the game is trivial if you are using you specials.

Many of these moves are also one of the biggest detriments to the game's visual and sound design. Outside of the returning special moves, the team also has a series of abilities where you basically summon out famous Disney rides like the Teacups, Splash Mountain, the Carousel, etc. The attraction attacks are covered with blinking lights are constantly splashing particle effects and waves of light out. It has its own theme and each attack has their own sound effects and character reactions. It's almost a total sensory overload. By late game I wasn't even using it because I was having more fun comboing with my keyblade, and only used them when I wanted clear out groups quickly.

Sadly THIS is actually one of the spectacle-lite ones.

All of the Final Fantasy characters have been removed in this one. There was an incredibly strong focus on the Pixar sect of Disney represented in this game, the only animated film represented here was Hercules and that's a rehash from another game. So ONCE AGAIN, Robin Hood gets the snub and doesn't appear in Kingdom Hearts. Come on! He actually fights with a bow, and I don't think any of the the Jungle Book characters are represented in any of the series and they were in three different franchises. No TailSpin chapter? You know who I would have liked to team up with? Darkwing Duck. THAT should have been a chapter in this game. SHIT, WHAT ABOUT THE GARGOYLES??? Oh my god, I have to get off this train of thought.

Out of all my complaints about the story, I would have to say that my biggest one is probably that we have to control Sora. Having gone through the whole series now, practically every character to come out of this franchise (with maybe the exception of Kairi) has more depth and is more interesting to follow. Sora is just kind of a dummy who pretty much just relies on his feelings for motivation, but he rarely understands what is happening around him. Aqua is more interesting, Roxas is more interesting, Axel is more interesting. For making this seem like an ensemble piece, they did very little to let you use all the other characters which is a shame and a missed opportunity.

While I'm at it, there was literally no point to having Axel and Kairi in the game for as little as they contribute to it. You get two cutscenes of the two of them in between training sessions of them talking to each other, to kind of bridge a number of the loose ends. But spoiler, by game end they provide pretty much no assistance in the final battle and one of them gets captured immediately. If the presence of one of them wasn't required to tie up a loose end, they could have not been a part of the game and it probably wouldn't have been impacted in any meaningful way.

Oops. I've just spoiled about 90% of what these two characters do in this game. 

Now, you would think with the psychotic ranting I've gone on in this review that I'd be ready to slap a big old "do not recommend" on this one. But I can't say that's necessarily true. For all that I complained about at its core the game is solidly built and if I had played it on a more challenging difficulty I would have absolutely enjoyed it more. With the two left shoulder buttons providing hotkeys, combat was fast paced, fluid, and fun to do. Which is impressive for a technically menu based game.

Boss characters were large and interesting, once you get your appropriate skills up it's fun to fly around the battle field and take them down, and it does leave a satisfied feeling of completion when you do so. Considering this stigma boss fights have become in modern gaming, I applaud any game that chooses to include them.

I really do recommend upping the difficulty. You get so many super attacks the game gets insanely easy by the end.

I have to appreciate some of the self aware commentary that Kingdom Hearts III provided. They have some in-jokes poking fun of the ridiculous number of spin-offs and stupid naming convention this series uses. There is a stupidly over the top CG battle sequence that turns out to be a fake game trailer that basically pokes fun at SquareEnix's whole marketing strategy for game releases. Honestly it was pretty awesome to watch, really. Axel specifically indirectly breaks the 4th wall a few times about how fucking complicated this story is and that there are too many characters. Makes me wish he had a bigger role.

As I said above, the ending of this game was incredibly satisfying. That's always been Square Enix's bread and butter, making great cinematics that feel good to watch. I hated the majority of Final Fantasy 13 but I'll be damned if I didn't love that ending. Seeing that ending cinematic made it feel like the slog through all the entries of this series was worth it.

And while I was disappointed this isn't going to be the final installment of this series, I will say that the end game teasers absolutely have me excited for 2 reasons. One, it looks like it's going to include a property that was used in Dream Drop Distance and one of my favorite DS games ever, AND it looks like we might be having a hard disconnect from Disney as much of that story finally got closed out. I've always said that if this series could have been fine if didn't have any Disney and Final Fantasy crossover, and it looks like it might actually be going that route if we get a KH4.

It looks like a game I'd rather be playing now, honestly...

It's hard to say if I give this game a recommendation or not. Kingdom Hearts 3 is an offering to the patient fan base who have been waiting a decade for it. People who are fans of this series have already bought and played it long before this review came out. People new to the series are going to feel incredibly lost and put out because they are essentially 13 games behind the curve. It is a game that is not for them.

So I guess my bottom line is this: Is the game functional and playable? Yeah, very well done on that front. Did I enjoy my time with it? Sure, I might be a bit KH'd out at this point but I am glad to finally put a cap on this one. Was it worth the wait? Absolutely not. The prematurely announced the game, and then took an excessive number of years to actually get the product up. People built up too many expectations to the point of them being unable to be met. There was no way it could possibly deliver to peoples hopes at this point.

It's not a world beater, its not innovative, it just does just enough to be a palatable experience, but after 10 years of waiting that just doesn't feel like enough. Kingdom Hearts 3, in my eyes, is average at best. If they are going to follow this one up (and they are), then they gotta get it out within the next 4-5 years at most. Buy with caution.

Seriously, Robin Hood is the best.
I can't believe he's never been in these.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Hitman: Definitive Edition {2016} (PS4): Cold Blooded.

I've always had a mild affinity to the stealth genre as a whole. As I've stated more than once on this very blog, I feel like the Assassin's Creed series started off on the right foot to scratch that itch, but ultimately got bogged down by it's own story and cinematics that I never really got to feel like an Assassin stalking my prey. 

Now, I was familiar with this series from seeing my old boss at Gamestop play it more than once. It looked cool, but tricky as hell. I was never very good at these games so I never really dove all that deep into them. It wasn't until SquareEnix picked up the property and gave it a new glossy sheen, put in a hand holding mechanic, and pretty good story and suddenly I found myself to be a fan. After watching Funhaus play the new installment a bit, the stealth itch was begging for a scratch.


The prologue to Hitman serves as prequel to the introduction to the series as a whole. Shortly after Agent 47 escapes his initial handlers in the start of Hitman: Codename 47 he is brought into the International Contract Association (ICA) to undergo initiation to work for them as a hired assassin. It is here Agent 47 first meets and befriends his long time handler, Diana Burnwood.

47 makes child's play of the tests laid before him, and with a sketchy untraceable background it makes the head of the ICA Erik Soders very uncomfortable. So to force 47's failure, his final mission was meant to be a recreation of an impossibly done bit of historical espionage. 47 again completes his task and begrudgingly brought officially into the ICA with Burnwood as his official handler.  We see a montage of 47's greatest hits (ba dum tss) throughout the Hitman franchise before we catch up with him in 2019 for the first level of this installment. 

So despite the Hitman franchise having a continued narrative, this is probably one of the few games that I honestly couldn't care less about a the story when I pick up to play it. It's not to say that the story is bad, or poorly told. But if you come to play Hitman then you really aren't here for the narrative. You are here to find your target and figure out how you can kill them without being noticed or without leaving a shred of evidence behind you.

I will say that compared to the game before this one, Hitman: Absolution the story feels less important for progress. The characters in Absolution were definitely a major focal point, where in Hitman we get some framing cutscene between quests but the story tends to be brief before dumping you right into the next mission. Perhaps because of the new episodic release schedule for this version of the game the story is told it shorter polished chunks.

Now, I distinctly remember the older Hitman titles having some pretty wonky and frustrating controls. I had distinctly remembered having difficulty specifically in Hitman: Blood Money and Hitman: Contracts. Not so much that the controls were difficult, they just never felt very tight. It wasn't till Squenix came in and polished up the series in Hitman: Absolution where I really started to find my groove with the game.

While proficient in hand to hand, you will be heard doing it.
Best avoid getting into dust ups if you can help it.

This particular installment feels like the controls of the older Hitman titles with only a few splashes of some of the new mechanics. This is going to be one of those games where every button as a purpose, so you are going to need to get real familiar with the controller. They brought back 47's "heightened senses" mechanic, which is essentially the same kind of sonar hearing they used in the The Last of Us where you can see silhouettes of everyone around to find your target, or intractable pieces of the environment. It's handy to give you an idea of where you should be headed without spoiling the nuance of the surroundings. Just seeing the target 100 yards away doesn't tell you what surrounds them.

What they did take away though, was "point shooting" system from the Absolution. Essentially this was a bullet time sequence (think John Marston's dead eye aim in Red Dead Redemption), which if used at the right moment and with quick enough reflex you could use to quickly dispatch an entire room when things got hairy, or if there were enough spaces completely remove the bodies prior to being noticed. It certainly made Absolution easier and I'd be lying if I said I didn't use it for all its worth to finish that one. But I'm not unhappy to see it gone.

Thats.... Not exactly subtle, 47.....

But at its core, Hitman returns to its the roots of its gameplay. From the campaign you select your location and you are treated to a small cinematic of Diana explaining your target(s) from who they are, what they do, and why the contract is out on them. She explains some of the situation you will drop into and what you can try, and then "leaves you to prepare."

And from that point, you are on your own (kind of). As you move around the map to case the area, you will stumble across hints and opportunities that Diana can expound upon to give you a path to try. Many of these help you build level mastery and are used to completely level specific challenges. But really, it's 100% optional. The real fun of Hitman is your first blind run: Just trying to get to your target without being caught, killing them, and bailing without dying.

That's some pretty pro level blending in.

You start missions with a pretty limited inventory, but you can always pick up items around the locations to provide more options. Some missions have multiple objectives but the majority of them just require taking down your mark. Once you get a feel for a stage it's worth your while to go back to the level and try to complete the specific challenges and opportunities you are presented with. Doing so completes the aforementioned level mastery, and what this does is this allows you to start the missions in different areas with different disguises, and allows you to bring or stash additional weaponry and tools to being with.

Most of the controls are pretty 3rd person shooter standard so there isn't a lot to go on for that front, but like I mentioned before it feels very much like the old ones specifically in regards to the face buttons. These are usually used for the item interaction and the big thing to remember is that they are not just presses, but holds. So say you take down a bystander, if you stand over their body you will be prompted with a few commands, X to change disguise, O to drag body, Triangle to pick up or interact. You need to remember to accommodate for those extra few seconds. It could make or break you getting caught.

Sometimes you don't even need to be near the target

Levels are pretty much completely open from the word go. Depending on what you bring with you (based on your level mastery) you might have means to get around locked doors from the start or have the necessary keys to get past locks, or even invited in as a guest. Regardless, it's always a great idea to just spend some time wandering around the level. Get used to what path the target follows, find out who he talks to, learn what situational things might be happening to get you close or provide distraction. Perhaps you might find an errant soldier that looks exactly like the guard that get into the building the mark frequents.

But you need to be careful about how you play dress up, sometimes specific people know who is on their staff, so if you wander into their eye-shot and you don't blend in immediately or get out of sight they will become suspicious and follow you, or alert the guards. If you don't move quickly and quietly, situations can escalate in a hurry. You can always run and gun your way through levels, but it really does you a disservice for what makes this game satisfying. It's funny to create a pile of bodies in a doorway, but not long after you will just restart your save and try again.

Upon completion of the level you are rated by how well you did and given a total mission score. This is essentially just for bragging rights and do nothing towards beating the game or unlocking more mastery items, but it does give you a quantifiable number for how you are doing as an assassin. If you run and gun your way through the level, sure you will probably be able to move on but you'll get slapped with a "dunce cap, zero star, thanks for trying ribbon for idiots" at the end of the level.

Looks like it's.... Lights out for you... (YEAAAAHHHHH)

But to get an idea of how satisfying being an assassin could be, allow me to go through a scenario I played through that just made the game for me: I'm in Sapienza, and I've currently snuck into the compound of Silva Caruso. He's been working on a viral weapon with Francesca De Santis. I need to kill both of them. After sneaking onto the compound as a gardener, I'm eavesdropping on Caruso during his golf lesson. I learn that his golf instructor has been having an affair with De Santis, but the instructor denies it.

After the lesson I follow the instructor and catch him making a call to De Santis about a date. So I size the opportunity knock him out, steal his clothes, and stash his body. With his phone, I call Francesca back to meet up for our date. I set some mood music and lighting, add some rat poison to the champagne set that was waiting for us, and take a seat in the lounge chair in the shadows. Franscesca comes in, worried about these trists and explains that she's actually been spying on Caruso, and that I risk my life by continuing this with her. She's clearly nervous but wanted to be straight with me about the risks.

I started a empathize a little as she took a nervous drink of her champagne, it didn't take long for her body to start reacting to it. She quickly rushed to the restroom as I slowly rose from my chair to sauntered after her. I opened the door to see her vomiting over the shitter and felt a little bad because this was a horrible way to go, but I have a job to do. I slipped behind her and forcefully held her face in the bowl until kicking and bubbles stopped, dropped her body in the clothes bin, hopped out the window, and was off to find Caruso for his turn.

"Farewell, my love...."

None of this pontificating of Assassins and Templars, No wiping a feather on their neck bullshit, no 20 minute monologue of a death rattle about how I don't understand shit. Just cold, emotionless execution. It probably says all sorts of fucked up things about me as a person that having things go that smoothly felt so incredibly satisfying to do. But this, THIS is how Hitman is intended to be played. When you can go in and get the job done with nobody being the wiser, it makes all the effort and time spent tracking your mark worth it.

I purchased the definitive edition of the game prior to season 1 going free to PS+ members, and I'm glad that I did because it allotted me two extra campaigns to play. They all use the same maps but the targets are different. There are also a large number of increasingly difficult challenges that you can use to improve your mastery and also just generally get more play out of a level. Which in turn gives you more memorization that you can use to play the main campaigns to get better masteries. I honestly don't think you can get the Silent Assassin rank without a couple higher rank mastery tools.

On top of these missions, there is a whole online contract mechanic that I never even delved into which is basically user made custom levels, so if you for some reason you completely dive into this one 100%, you can still find use created kills to continue to stretch your dollar out on this one.

I guess stealth doesn't always mean quiet....

If I have complaints, they are pretty minimal. First and foremost is the same problem I generally with every installment of this series, and that is that Agent 47 is basically a non-character. Like Master Chief, Agent 47 is basically a blank slate that has no tonal range, no emotional expression, no physical personality to his movements. In some cases he's even worse because he doesn't even string one liners during gameplay. Now, you can argue that this contextually fits in the story since he was essentially a test tube grown clone, so his human interaction was nil.

Two, the story itself to this game kinda sucks. Like I said at the top we get a brief greatest hits prologue explaining how we got to now, but as we play through this game we end up following the actions of a character I don't actually think is ever named. He seems to know who Agent 47 is and seems to be a hand behind a behind-the-curtain war between the ICA and a shadow group called Providence. The ending, without spoiling, basically is a teaser for the upcoming Hitman 2 which is kind of frustrating.

It's most egregious problem is that this load times in this game are just unforgivably long. Especially for a title that will cause you to reload the level or reload your saves regularly, any load time that takes longer than like 15 seconds is pushing itself to be too much of a noticeable wait if you have to constantly do it. It's not as bad as Bloodborne's original 30-60 second load times, but at this point Dev's really should find ways to have the game constantly loading or able to quickload to get you right back into the action.

"Ahem, Don't mind me..."

I'll be the first to admit that the game can be a little samey after a while. Especially when doing challenge missions because it is very easy to get into a rhythm of using the same tools to secure kills in different missions. I can't think of how many times I've used rat poison in a drink to take down a target in this one.

And while the controls are polished to be as responsive as this game needs to them to be, there still feels like a degrees of innate awkwardness to them when trying to change outfits, drag, or pick something up. It doesn't feel as broken as many of the old Hitman games seemed to be, but in the early going there is going to be a curve to pick up the nuance of them before they start to feel natural.

Ultimately though, I like Hitman and I like it a lot. I've said hundreds of times that this is how the Assassin's Creed series should have played. I play it off and on quite a bit still and it scratches the stealth itch for me in all the right ways. Or I can just melt down and try to see how many people I can kill before getting taken out.

Hitman is one of those games I like to play when I want to zone out and focus simultaneously. It's generally low stress to play and I can spend well over an hour just wandering around a locale, taking in the surroundings before plotting my attack. There is just something immensely satisfying about playing this game to me. The adage of "If you liked, then you will like" applies here. If you liked the other Hitman installments then Hitman 2016 is going to satisfy in all the right ways. If you are looking for a fast paced run and gunner, then this is not the game for you.

I had to walk the catwalk in Paris for a mission.
That alone made this game worth it.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Resident Evil 2 (2019) {PS4}: What's Old is New.

This one was one of those E3 megaton's that developers drop to bait older gamers like myself.  And while the fourth installment of this game is the one that is a lot of peoples favorites and probably (rightfully) the most important one of the series, the original version of this one is probably my favorite because my introduction to the series. 

Remakes like these are always a roll of the dice because its difficult to please everyone. Do you produce a new experience and risk having fanboys complain that everything is different? Or do you keep it faithful to the original and risk having people complain that its the same game they've already played. It's a fine line to walk, so let's see how Capcom did with.....


Resident Evil 2 takes place two months after the events of the original in 1998, where Raccoon City police S.T.A.R.S unit members Jill Valentine, Chris Redfield, Rebecca Chambers, and Barry Burton escaped the mansion outside of the city limits where Umbrella Pharmaceuticals had a secret facility to create the zombie producing bio-weapon, the G-virus. The mansion was destroyed but the it did not halt the outbreak of the virus.

It's Leon Kennedy's first day on the police force, and he's driving into Raccoon City to meet his new team and department. But on at a fuel fill-up just outside the city he notices the station to be surprisingly desolate. Investigating the gas station, he sees an attendant nursing a nasty wound and the man weakly points into the back. Another police officer is restraining a zombie, but as the officer tells Leon to stay back, the zombie lurches forward and kills him. Leon begins to work his way out of the station, but just before getting out the door, he covers the back of a young woman with a zombie encroaching behind her.

Her name is Claire Redfield, she is driving into Raccoon City in search of her older brother Chris. They decide to escape together and that heading to the police station would be a lot safer than staying out side. But they quickly learn that city is just overrun with these things as their car is quickly surrounded. They try to back out, but an injured truck driver tailing them is about to ram their car, forcing them to bail out. The resulting wreck and explosion separate the two, but they agree to meet up at the police station and get out of this mess.

Alright, I tend to find myself when it comes to remakes like this wanting to see the core tenets of what made the original good stay the same, but not delivering them in the exact same way, thus allowing us to have a new experience with the game, even if I know how the story might play out. The introduction of this version of the game provides a pretty excellent example of this. 

Right out of the gate the story managed to hit all the major points of the original one in a pretty faithful 1-to-1 recreation. There is some minor differences to how the events play out, but all the of the major beats are there, and they call back to the original animatics first meeting where Leon shoots over Claire's shoulder to cover her back. The dialog and delivery is different, but it doesn't feel alien. The objective is the same, but the starting map is not. Good start so far.

Credit where its due, Capcom has really been upping their game on the graphical front. After the the stellar looking Resident Evil 7: Biohazard the graphics are just pushed even further to where video games are literally just motion captured movie roles. Using mo-cap for both body motion and facial reactions, the characters are so lifelike its getting pretty difficult to distinguish if they are actual a real person or not. It's crazy, but we are getting closer and closer to producing CGI live action.

This burger looks so gross, but also delicious?

The character design is appropriately modernized as well. While the game is still set in 1998 (around when the original version came out) the clothing worn by the characters actually looks realistic and reasonable for the time. Hilariously, Leon and Claire's original outfits are unlockable and if you didn't think their old looks weren't stupid just wait till you seem them in realistic textures.

Resident Evil 2 does feel like this one borrows a number of elements from various different games in the series. The inventory system in this game is a blending of 2 and 7. It uses the familiar over the shoulder camera angle that made Resident Evil 4 famous, but I would say that it controls more like a traditional 3rd person shooter does like you would see in the less popular Resident Evil 6.  Fans just need to come to terms already: The tank controls are a thing of the past, and probably should have been since the advent of the analog control. I tried using them again in Resident Evil: Revelations and they were awful. It's a relic of a time when controls were D-pad directional.

They did a pretty good job with the map layout as well. It's core layout is almost exactly how I remember the original Resident Evil 2 but when you start to actually navigate around the map, you will find doors or stairs in different places. Major rooms right where they should be, but new or different rooms scattered around on the way there. For example if I said to go to the dark room, you would know to go right where the safe room at the bottom of the stairs is. But along the way, you would find a new weapons locker room that you will need to make several trips back to get all the contents of.

via Gfycat

More importantly, despite taking inspiration from the blueprint of the previous iteration, the game still manages to keeps it focuses tight and scary. Even though I have a general idea of where I want to move in the map, the surroundings are still unfamiliar and it does an excellent job of building tension from relentless enemies and jump scares. And boy is there tension, because zombies in this one don't feel like as harmless a threat as they used to be. They have much more sporadic movements, they can move much quicker on you, and worst of all they seem almost impossible to put down. I don't feel like I was every lacking in ammo, but trying to kill everything will certainly make it feel like it.

Cutscenes play out similar but differently as well. Most notably when Leon meets officer Marvin. Again like the main introduction it hits a lot of the same points but is completely different and new dialog. He mentions the party, at one point pulls his gun to get Leon to leave him. But this doesn't happen in the first and only scene he was in like in the original. A lot of these characters actually get a couple more scenes than I remember from the original. It's nice to see because any longtime fan of  this franchise knows that the lore of this one can get confusing.

via Gfycat

Additionally they also kept the "side" system you might remember from the old PS1 version. How it worked before was there was really no disc 1 or disc 2. If you started the game from the Leon or Claire disc you would start a new game with them as the primary lead. It affected how the game played a bit and how some of the items dropped. This more or less returns as you can choose who will lead off in the main story first, and who will follow in the supplemental chapter. So essentially each selection has 2 parts each.

Speaking of things that they kept, completing the game will also unlock the "4th Survivor" mode.  You may remember this as where you play as faceless umbrella operative Hunk with a set amount of equipment, and essentially need to run a gauntlet of all the baddies you encountered during the game to try to set the best possible time you can. Complete this, and you unlock the ridiculous Tofu mode, which is more or less the same thing, but the equipment changes. There are multiple versions of Tofu to unlock as well.

via Gfycat

And I can't believe I am saying this, but kudos to Capcom for the free DLC update. This is the store of thing I fully expected them to charge and additional 5 bucks a pop for but they released 3 additional mini chapters called the "Ghost Survivors" that give smaller but similar tight experiences with some of the smaller nobody characters from the game. They are a welcome edition and stretch my dollar with this game out a little more, which is nice because by credit roll I already had felt like I had gotten my money's worth already.

If I have any complaints about this one, there are very few of them or there are nitpicks at best. Like I said prior, the most baffling part of how the story is delivered is the fact that after Claire and Leon part ways for the first time, they basically don't talk to each other again from that point forward. There is one short scene in the early game, one scene in the late game, and then not again till the ending of the game. It's strange because I remember there being more interaction between the two of them in the PS1 version.

There is also a bit of inconsistency if you play both quests, both ways. Both G Berkin and the Tyrant appeared in the previous version of the game, but they were separated by who's quest you played. That way each character is resolved by another. But in this one, they are both in both quests. So while in one path one of them might be a difficult ending boss, in other they might be dispatched early and not relevant to the true ending. It's a weird way to deliver it. Not a huge issue, but it is noticeable.

via Gfycat

No bowgun in this installment of the game. Which is simultaneously disappointing and a relief, because if you played the old game its about as effectively damaging as trying to spit snot at a baddie through a drinking straw. Sure, it's become somewhat iconic to the game and the concept of zombie killing at this point in zombie culture, but ultimately I really don't mind that its gone.

Going through Hunk, Tofu, and trying to S+ rank is incredibly frustrating for me because I can't get the knack of properly side stepping zombies not matter how many speedruns I watch, but that's more of a "git gud" problem than it is a complaint about the actual game, but I will say the frustration in trying to do so was enough for me to put the game down and move on to something else.

via Gfycat

A number of people complained about how the character models looked for both Leon and Claire in this one but honestly, if they were to shoot a new (actual) Resident Evil 2 movie in the coming year, this is exactly the type of look Hollywood directors would cast for said role, it really feels like a complete modernization of the concept in every aspect.

I fizzled out pretty quickly on this one too after I played it. Which is strange because I was very excited to dive into this one. I powered through both variants of both campaigns, beat 4th survivor once, and after a few attempts at Tofu mode, that was it. I was kinda done with it. These modes don't seem to scratch my itch like the Mercenaries mode does, so I did find this one very easy to put down.

via Gfycat

But like I said, half of these barely register a complaint. The short and skinny of it is that if you are going to do a remake of an timeless old game that everyone loves? This is exactly how you to do it. There ARE ways to stay true to the original without changing the core of what it is. The graphics are new but familiar, the maps are the same but different, the monsters are acting the same but behave differently. It completely felt like I was playing Resident Evil 2 while still completely feeling like a brand new experience to me.

In the very early stages of my playing, I had said that the was the some possible game of the year potential out of this one. And I suppose technically this is still true, but I do have the tendency to get really excited with some early of the year games (see Tales of Berseria). It's entirely possible that it can be game of the year, but there is a LOT of games to look forward to this year. But even if its not, I can say with certainty that I felt Resident Evil 2 absolutely delivered on what it needed to be. It was a solid pick up, worth every bit of time I spent on it, and is a must have for 2019. Highly recommended.

Hey SquareEnix! Pay Attention!
This is how you need Final Fantasy 7 to go!