Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The True Story of Halo

When someone mentions the video game Halo, what do you think of? Green super soldier running around shooting aliens? An amazing first person shooter? A game that's over hyped and not that good? What about Bungie, do you think about them and all they've done? Well whatever comes to your mind, the fact is Halo is a widely popular series that has been very love or hate among gamers. Some like it, others don't -- simple as that. But whatever your feelings are on the series at the moment, I ask that you put it all aside because today I'm going to tell a lot of you that Halo isn't what you thought it was -- or rather, it's story isn't. This may sound strange to you at first, but a lot of Halo fans out there today don't even know the story! And I'm not just talking about those who only play it for multiplayer, but those who have completed the game's campaign as well. Now of course that statement doesn't apply to everyone, and there will be many of you that already know what I'm about to say -- but feel free to keep on reading anyway!

(Also, spoiler warning)

If you ask someone what's the story of Halo, what do you think they'll tell you? For those who have actually played the game, I'm sure it goes a little something like this: Halo is a game about the Spartan Master Chief who is attacked in space, and crash lands on a strange object that looks like a Halo. With his AI Cortana, Master Chief explores Halo, fights against the aliens, discovers the truth of Halo, and escapes after destroying it. It's a pretty basic story, and people accept it for what it is... Except, that's not actually the story. In fact, it's only a small part! The real story of Halo begins with The Fall of Reach, and is what one could call a tragedy. Rather than being your standard space marine war story, Halo is actually a story of a group of children kidnapped from their homes, and forced to become the new "Spartans." It's a story of their struggles, and the eventual outbreak of war. It's a story never told in game, and it all begins with a novel.

The Fall of Reach:

At the beginning of the novel "Fall of Reach" we learn about the current state of the universe. Humans have left Earth and began colonizing other worlds, and many groups have gone rogue to fight for their own independence in space. To fight back against this a scientist by the name of Catherine Halsey sets out to put her new project in action -- the Spartan II project. The idea behind this project was to basically create a new "300." They would look for young kids who showed promise in their eyes, kidnap them, replace them with clones (that would in return die young at an early age so their parents wouldn't suspect something), and then force them through extreme training to create the best soldiers possible. It was sort of an expansion to a previously failed attempt to create super soldiers, but using kids trained for it rather than adults. One such child was a young boy named John, who had his life changed forever after a chance meeting with Dr. Halsey and Captain Keyes (yes, the very same from Halo 1).

After being taken, John was forced to adapt to his new life. He became good friends with another young boy named Sam, and a girl named Kelly. The three would become like family over the years, and along with the other children they would constantly be forced to fight against the odds. Strict training missions had them look death in the face, and horrible experiments, that were done to enhance their bodies, either left them broken beyond repair, or dead. Those who survived such tasks eventually went on take part in real missions for the military, and those who didn't were either sent away, or died from their injuries. It was a brutal project, and John did whatever he could to ensure as many of his friends survived it. However, he also learned that loss was sometimes necessary. Saying goodbye to his Spartan family never became easier for John, but it's something he would see time and time again when the Covenant entered the picture.

During the war against the rebel forces, things took an unexpected turn. First contact was made with another alien race, and things went bad. The Covenant was a group of alien invaders that seemingly only sought the destruction of humans. Destroying entire worlds wasn't a problem for the Covenant, and humanity didn't stand a chance. That is, until they mobilized the Spartans.

The Spartan IIs were kept a secret from the public, but with the Covenant threat they quickly became known. Equip with a new type of armor that would turn a normal human into mush if they were to put it on (as explained in the novel, even tiny movements were enough to snap normal human bones and kill a person as they reacted to the pain and made other slight movements), the Spartans headed out to fight the alien forces, with John as their Master Chief. The battles that followed would mostly result in human losses, but they never gave up and continued the fight. Eventually a plan was hatched to capture a Covenant ship, and the events that lead to the beginning of Halo began to unfold. Equip with the brand new AI Cortana (whom was created from a scan of Dr. Halsey's mind), John teamed up with Captain Keyes and his crew to go about this mission; however when the Covenant reached Reach (the location of the military's main base -- and the planet the Spartans considered home), things went bad.

Splitting his team between air and ground, John and his fellow Spartans joined the battle to protect their base. While John joins the fight in space, he sends many of his team down to Reach below with his trusted friend Fred in the lead. Although at the time John thought Fred and the others would have the easier job, he soon learned this was not the case. Reach became a total loss (those who have played Halo Reach would know more about this), the fight in space was a failure, and Captain Keyes had no choice but to order a jump to safety -- using coordinates taken from the Covenant earlier. This is where Halo 1 begins.

Although this is the basic story of Fall of Reach, this summary only scratches the surface. The novel itself is actually more about John and his friends as they grow and learn about the universe around them. We see the characters develop over time, we see their struggles, and we get to see all of the events that would eventually lead to other story elements featured later on. The story also introduces us to Dr. Halsey and all of the things she's involved with, and Captain Keyes and his crew. Despite being such important characters to the story, it's possible those who play only the games will not even remember them (or possibly not even know they exist). Of course it doesn't stop here though.

The Flood:

The second novel in the series is the story many will know. The Flood is based off of the story in Halo 1 and picks up the moment Captain Keyes makes the jump and ends up in front of the strange floating object "Halo." Here is where the game also opens, but the novel takes a different path. Rather than following Master Chief 100% of the time, The Flood tells the full story of the events of Halo 1, and actually follows multiple groups of characters. You have the Master Chief story of him and Cortana exploring Halo and fighting the Covenant, you have multiple groups of soldiers (that do eventually meet up), and you even get to see a team of Covenant aliens as they search for the humans and try to prevent them from escaping Halo. This set up allows for the full story to be told, and explains everything that happens in the first game. What was originally a simple escape story that lead to the discovery of the parasite creatures known as the Flood and the destruction of Halo, becomes a fully fleshed out story of mystery as each group fights to survive on the strange object.

Although this is a retelling of the game, with only around 1/3rd of the story being shown in game, this can be an issue later on. The things that Keyes does, as well as the other soldiers on Halo did are once again lost to the player, which can make things very confusing going forward. Sadly Keyes and his team (whom many may become attached to during the first novel) meet a tragic end, but the actions of other characters do make a huge difference in the end, and help lead the story into Halo 2. However the biggest impact on the story happens in the 3rd novel, and it's what will answer so many questions and fix the "plot holes" some fans may have realized. Although, they technically were never plot holes to begin with, but many don't know that.

Third Book:

The third book titled "First Strike" is the real game changer in the Halo story line, or rather, it's the book that makes everything else in the series possible. When fans go into Halo 2, they are greeted with more story than in Halo 1, but that story is also a bit "off." Fans playing the games, once again, just accept it and go with it, but in reality they are missing out on a lot (to say the least). On top of everything that happened in Fall of Reach, and during the events of Halo 1 (and it's book), there is a massive gap between 1 and 2 where a lot of key story events happen. This includes how Master Chief escaped from the space around Halo, the reason Johnson is still alive when he clearly "died" in Halo 1, and it also shows us how characters such as Linda survived the events of Fall of Reach as well... Although, many may not have even known who she was until Halo 5 released... Either way the story is massive, and is the reason Halo 2 even happens.

In First Strike, Master Chief comes across another ship in space. On this ship is Johnson (again, who should be dead), as well as other soon to be fellow teammates. It turns out Johnson suffers from a rare illness caused by exposure to the Covenant's plasma weapons. Normally a soldier would be taken off the field and be locked away for MANY months of treatment, but Johnson refused and continued his fight. Because of this sickness though, the Flood was unable to infect his body as seen in Halo 1, thus leaving him alive. Afterwords he, the Chief, and the others come up with a plan to steal a Covenant ship, and make their way back to Reach. While it may not seem like much at first, this ship was actually commanded by a well known character, and is the reason half of Halo 2 even happens. Who was this commander who abandoned his own ship and charged as a criminal? I'm sure you know. (And if you don't, it's the second main character of Halo 2... The one you spend a lot of time playing as...) Because of this event though, a lot of things were set into motion, and the future of the war was all but decided.

Because John was able to capture the ship and get the commander branded a heretic by the Covenant, he was able to make it back to Reach to help his fellow Spartans, he was able to find Linda frozen in space and get her back to Dr. Halsey for surgery, he was able to help get Fred, Kelly, and other Spartans off of Reach before it was 100% destroyed, and they were even able to discover that the Covenant had found the location of Earth (by mistake at that), and destroy a massive fleet to buy Earth more time to get ready for it. All of this became possibly only because they captured that Covenant ship, and the events of Halo 2 would eventually even lead that commander "heretic" to join John's side as well. All of these events plus more unfold all within this third book, and despite being how important it all is, many fans have no idea this story even exists.

Fourth Book and Beyond:

Halo and it's story doesn't stop there. Although Halo 3 ends the original story arc, there is actually much more to it. There have been many books, side stories, comics, and even movies and anime OVAs released for this series, and all of them add something to the overall plot. One book actually follows Johnson's story back when the war first began, while others tell the stories of the Spartan IIIs and connect even more with games such as Halo Reach. The overall story of Halo is one massive sci-fi adventure, and the games themselves only show a small fraction of it, while leaving a lot out as well. Because of this a lot of people who play the games don't even know the full story of Halo, and there's a chance that they never will. On the flip side, because Halo's story is mostly shown in other media, it's a story non shooter fans can enjoy as well. Really if you're a fan of sci-fi at all, and want a good book series to get into, then Halo really is something you should check out. Although the newer entries in the series since 343 took the games over may be hit or miss for some people, the original series of books are still a great read.

So, again I ask you. What is the story of Halo? Honestly I've only scratched the surface. If you want to see the story, you're going to have to read it yourself!
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Friday, May 19, 2017

Destiny 2 - Official Game Trailer and Info

Miss the Destiny 2 announcement? Well don't worry, the official trailer is now live, and you can check it out below!

Although we still don't know a whole lot about Destiny 2 (of course they're not going to spoil the wole game), Bungie did have some new info to share with us along with the trailers. Some key points include:

  • The PC version will be releasing on Blizzard App (Battle Net) and will make full use of it's features. This includes the ability to talk with friends across multiple Blizzard games from within the game, as well as use their other social features. Of course this also means your Blizzard wallet will be used for the game as well, so it'll be easier for those of you who already play Blizzard games to buy Destiny related content.
  • Clans will be included in game this time!
  • Weapons are no longer locked to specific slots, allowing you to take multiple of the same "type" of weapon with you to freely switch to.
  • PvP is being revamped to include 4v4 modes across all game modes, and will be more competitive.
  • New locations! Now this one is a given, but it's good to hear either way.
For more information, as always, here's the trailer!

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Custom Characters come to Sonic Forces!

A little bit of shocking news was announced today by SEGA, and it's something that no one could have ever seen coming. It turns out that the so called "3rd character" for the upcoming game "Sonic Forces" isn't a standard character at all, but instead it's your OWN character! Yes, that's right, Sonic Forces will have custom characters! Although this isn't the first time a Sonic game has allowed you to customize a character (looking at you Sonic Battle), this is the first time to give us a truly unique character for each player. Although not too much is known about the system, what has been said is that we can choose from multiple animal types (each with their own abilities), we'll be able to change things such as their fur (or feather) color, and there will be many different types of clothing and accessories to equip to give them a unique look. These characters will also be able to use new items and equipment during gameplay, and in some ways seems to resemble ideas that were seen in games like Sonic Unleashed, and even the doomed Sonic Boom. These gameplay elements seem more action and combat focused than the Classic Sonic and Modern Sonic sections of the game, but it's still too early to tell just how this will play out.

For more information, check out the official trailer below:

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Saturday, May 13, 2017

The PlayStation Aim Controller

The next major PlayStation VR release will be here in just a few short days, and Sony has released a video showing off one of the major new additions the game brings with it -- the PlayStation Aim Controller. Although this isn't the first time Sony has released a gun like controller for a Sony console, this is the first time they've created one that was designed to be a full controller for multiple games to use, and not just some plastic shell to stick a Move controller into (looking at you PS3). So, what does this mean exactly? Well the PS Aim Controller is in fact a full on PS4 controller. It has an analog stick and D-Pad in the front for your left hand (or right hand if that's what you prefer), a right analog stick and the four face buttons at the front of the controller, a physical trigger for shooting, and the other L and R buttons tucked away in an easy to reach spot as well. It has every button needed for a first person shooter, and it has the PS Move tracking ball in the front to simulate 1:1 gun movement in game.

Although this controller is launching with Farpoint, it's something that was made to be used for everything shooting in PSVR. The tech is fully open source for other developers to make use of it, and quite a few others already have began adopting the technology. Some existing games will be receiving updates to allow the use of it, while other new upcoming ones have already announced that they'd be using it as well. It really is a great add on for PSVR, and is sure to be a much better control system than the current twin Move controller set up other games are using -- as the Move controllers do not even have analog sticks.

For more information, check out the official PS Aim Controller video below:

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Friday, May 12, 2017

Netto's Beginnings: First RPG

When I was a kid, I was like many others at the time and I quickly got caught up in the whole Pokemon craze. Kids at school would talk about it, I'd see the previews for the show on TV, and stores would be filled with the toys and cards. Seeing all of this pulled me in, and before long I was yet another fan. I can still recall the first episode I ever saw of the show, the one with Todd and the second Team Rocket group, and I can still remember the day I discovered Kids WB was showing reruns of it after school. Funny enough, just after watching only two episodes, I began drawing the Pokemon I knew of, and I was even cutting them out and putting them inside a plastic Easter egg I had laying around. I was hooked, and I wanted to play along in any way I could. Eventually I got the cards, I caught up on the episodes I had missed, I started talking about it at school with other kids, and finally I asked for the big one. I wanted a Game Boy, and Pokemon Red.

Back then I had no idea what a Role Playing Game was, and I had no idea that Pokemon was considered one. It was purely out of my love for the anime, cards, and toys that I wanted the game, and because of that Pokemon Red ended up becoming my first RPG. It was my big gift on Christmas that year, and it was a game I would continue to play for the years to come. Although, not everything was "happy fun time" for me, and there were a few moments that really hung me up. Playing Pokemon wasn't as easy as I thought it would be, but looking back now all I can really do is laugh at myself for being the way that I was.

The first thing that happened to me when starting up Pokemon was my fear of not being able to play. I got a Game Boy Color for Christmas, and the Pokemon box just said "Game Boy." Going by the NES, SNES, and N64 before, I figured that was it for me. I was so worried that the game wouldn't work, that I actually tried putting it in BACKWARDS at first. "NO! IT'S NOT GOING TO WORK!" My fears were coming true right before my eyes, but then I decided to flip it around and hope for the best. And it worked! Pokemon Red played just fine, but what wasn't fine was my reading skills.

Being in elementary school at the time, I wasn't the best reader in the world, and being new to RPGs and RPG systems didn't exactly help. I could read and understand most of what was going on in the story, but every once in awhile an attack or some sort of mechanic description would completely go over my head. This didn't actually stop me from beating the game, but early on it did cause one major issue... I had no idea what save meant!

Years later I mentioned this to friends at school (high school) and found out I wasn't alone, but somehow I completely overlooked that you could save your game. Rather than getting as far as possible and shutting it off (only to then restart), the game was actually made to be saved so you could continue your adventure. Just imagine my shock when I randomly clicked the "save" option in the menus, and it let me keep going right from where I left off! It was one of my best discoveries when playing, but it's also something that would come back to haunt me later on.

As months and weeks went by I slowly got used to the idea of getting into random battles, and choosing my attacks from menus, but I still struggled with the idea of leveling up more than one Pokemon, and learning special moves like "Flash." For most of the game I used my starter as my only "real" Pokemon, but after finally getting a Beedrill thanks to the day care, I switched focus over to it and it became my new "main." That moment was another highlight of the game for me, and I still remember that I was sitting in a darkly lit restaurant trying to play as it happened. I don't know how I managed to see enough to know what I was doing, but somehow I got by and Beedrill was mine. (Glad those days of finding a light source are over...)

Speaking of the dark and game mechanics, Flash was something I didn't understand... And that wasn't good. The caves that lead to Lavender Town were pitch black, and all you could see was your character's sprite as you slammed into walls and other objects along the way. In reality you just use Flash to make it so you could see, but I didn't know that, and I continued to push on. Somehow by following walls I eventually reached the end, and then freaked out. Lavender Town... The colors on the GBC, the music, the look of the town, and the talk of death scared the CRAP out of me, so I saved and shut the game off. Yet, it still continued to bother me! So rather than leaving my character there alone all night, I turned the game back on, made my way BACK through the dark cave by slamming into walls and following them, and eventually I once again saved and quit once I was back on the other side. Of course this meant I'd have to go back again later... But at the time I didn't care.

Eventually I would go on to conquer my fears and finish Lavender Town, and I'd even eventually take out the Elite 4 with just my Beedrill and some potions (I don't know how...) By that point I was finally done with the game, and ready to move on with capturing the big one -- Mewtwo. Getting to him wasn't too hard, but catching him was another story. After I failed the first time, I decided to leave it till later, and instead I started a "new game." I had learned that you can play new games without using save to delete your old game, and I would do so pretty often just to mess around. I wanted to show my dad Mewtwo before I caught him, but I didn't want to stop playing, so I hit new game and went about my adventure. Then, I slipped up... As part of my messing around I decided to change my PC Box number, and that was the end of it. You see, back in the old days changing your PC Box number for Pokemon storage actually forced a save, and that's something I didn't realize until I turned on the game to show my dad Mewtwo, but instead ended up showing him a PC screen with all of my Pokemon gone instead. I lost everything, and I never got it back.

Losing it all in Red crushed me, but I took what I learned from it into Pokemon Yellow. I now knew the importance of leveling all Pokemon, I knew not to kill the legendary birds, I understood the RPG mechanics a lot better, and my reading skills had vastly improved. I was older, more experienced, and ready to take on the Pokemon world once again. This time I would go on to capture every Pokemon possible within that version (including the legendaries), and I would destroy the Elite 4 without issues. I became a true "Pokemon Master," and I couldn't wait till my next adventure. Little did I know, it would be coming sooner than I thought. Within about a year Pokemon Gold and Silver would be out, and I'd once again dive into the world I loved.

After going through many Pokemon games, it wouldn't be until much later that I realized they were RPGs or that there were other games similar without Pokemon. It was actually a friend at school who told me about this, but it wouldn't be until I was older that I experienced it for myself. But that's a story for another time.

Even if I'm not as big of a fan as I once was, Pokemon will always be special to me, and it's where I got my start on RPGs. It's a genre that I'd now consider my favorite, and I'm glad I was introduced to them the way that I was. I have so many fond memories coming from Pokemon, and I wouldn't trade them for anything.
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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Resident Evil VII - Review

Since it's release in the early 90s, the Resident Evil series has gone on to become quite the hit. Back in the PlayStation 1 days it was known as a must play nightmare for horror fans, and in the era of the GameCube and PlayStation 2 RE4 was seen as a revolution for third person shooters. With each release the fan base grew and grew, and eventually even a long running movie series spun off from it. Resident Evil was something that showed no signs of slowing down, and fans couldn't wait to see what came next. Then, things changed.

While the original Resident Evil games were "horror survival" with a fixed camera angle, limited supplies, and a limited number of allowed saves, the latter entries started to change their focus. With Resident Evil 4's shift to full 3D, the save limit was lifted, supplies became more available, and the game took more of an action approach to the formula. While the game did retain some of it's horror survival elements, it wasn't quite the same as the games that came before it, and each release after RE4 continued farther down that path. Resident Evil 5 was pure action with a huge focus on the brand new co-op mode, and Resident Evil 6 took a cinematic approach with co-op once again being the main focus along with it's crazy story set pieces. Now sure, there were some games that were throw backs to the original style, such as Resident Evil 0 on the GameCube, but such games only added to the already split fan base. On one hand many fans still loved the classic survival games, but on the other many also preferred the newer action and co-op spin on things as well. So, what was once a series loved by many, soon became one filled with criticism, with a fan base that wasn't sure what they wanted.

When Resident Evil 7 was first announced, many fans were unhappy. The trailer hinted that the game may have a focus on ghosts rather than zombies and bio weapons, and rather than being action like 4-6 (and Revelations 1-2), it appeared to be a "generic" first person horror game without combat -- something that had become popular in indie horror games. These misconceptions fueled fans for quite some time, and the release of the combat free demo didn't help. Sure it had some puzzles, but it wasn't enough to appease fans.

Jumping ahead to today, and Resident Evil 7 is finally here, but what's it like? Capcom promised us a game that returned to Resident Evil's roots, but was that really true? Is there combat? How is the story? Is it scary? And above all, is it fun? Well, after spending quite some time with the game on both the TV and in VR... I'd have to say... I'll get back to that!

The Story:

Resident Evil 7's story is one of mystery. The game begins with our main character Ethan receiving (or not receiving) a video message from his wife Mia. She's current on a ship working as a "baby sitter" and she assures her husband that she will be home soon -- then, things change. Shortly after the original message plays, it switches over to one with Mia in a panic, warning Ethan to stay away and forget about her. Apparently she has something she's been keeping from him, and wants him to never come looking for her.

A few years later Ethan gets a letter from Mia telling him to meet her at a house. Assuming she was dead, Ethan quickly accepts the invention and heads out to find his long lost wife. He's not sure where she has been all of these years, or why she would send him a letter now, but he is determined to find out... Completely unaware of the nightmare about to unfold in the "Baker's Home."

The main story of Resident Evil 7 follows Ethan as he tries to find his wife, and escape from the strange new world he has walked into. Shortly after arriving at the house, Ethan is knocked out, tied up, and is forced to come face to face with the family that lives there -- the Bakers. The moment Ethan sees them eating human remains at the dinner table, it quickly becomes clear that all is not well, and that he must fight for his life to survive. Of course, they're not going to let him leave that easily.

While Resident Evil 7 does include full cutscenes with character interactions, a lot of it's story is told by the world itself. Similar to the original RE games, you'll find notes and other things to read and examine around the Baker home, and even the environment will hint at events that happened there. Eventually you'll start to piece together the truth, and even start to see connections to the past of the series. Although RE7 is very much it's own game and story, it is still part of the Resident Evil universe, and it shows.

The Gameplay:

RE7 is a true return to the series' roots. Although the game does take place fully in first person, everything else is what fans remember. The Baker home is a large open area, that players are asked to explore to uncover it's secrets. There are puzzles to solve, hidden areas to find, and supplies to scavenge for that are key to your survival. While the immortal Bakers stalk the house in search for you (similar to what was seen in games like RE3), there are also monsters to deal with, and often it's up to you to decide if you want to run or fight. As resources are limited, sometimes using that last healing item can be the difference between life and death later on -- although thankfully the game actually isn't that strict.

Unlike other pure horror Resident Evil games, RE7 does in fact have a large focus on fighting. You get your standard knife as a melee weapon (which can be used to break boxes with supplies in them), you'll find a handful of different guns, and you'll even unlock the ability to craft different types of ammo to use. The game has you covered in every way you can possibly think of, and it actually encourages you to use these tools to fight. On the default difficulties there's more than enough ammo to kill everything in your path (as long as you've taken the time to find it that is), and every boss fight supplies you with what you need to win -- sometimes even killing bosses with things other than weapons. While the rest of the game is more along the lines of the classic entries in the series, combat isn't much different from the likes of RE4 which is sure to make some fans happy. Of course the same cannot be said for the "Madhouse" setting that's unlocked later, but that's basically a game of it's own (complete with different item layouts, and limited saves).

Other than the fighting and the setting, RE7 also features other returning features from the days of old. Item boxes are back for you to store your equipment and found items, herbs are once again your main way of healing, your inventory space is limited, and you must find a save room if you want to save your game. These systems not only force you to further think about your actions, but they require you to learn the house and remember exactly where things are located. Often you'll come across times where you'll need a key item, but the ammo sitting next to it will be just as inviting. At times like these you'll have to decide which to take with you for now, and when to come back later after you've made it back to your item box. It's the same sort of item management RE fans know and love (or hate), and it feels great to have it in RE7 as well.

The final piece to RE7's gameplay is something quite different. Throughout the game it's possible to find old VHS tapes that follow the stories of multiple characters. These tapes often offer different types of gameplay, and help fill in the backstory of the main game's events. Sadly though not all of these tapes can be found in game, as many of the other gameplay mode tapes are in fact paid DLC. While this shouldn't be a deal breaker for most, it is a bit of a let down that the mercenaries like "kill everything and survive" hoard mode wasn't in the main game. Even so the tapes in the main game are still fun, and most can be replayed time and time again.

Stepping into the world of Resident Evil (VR):

When Resident Evil 7 was first announced, Capcom also mentioned that the game would be fully playable in VR. Many people were unsure of how this would actually be, or if it would even change anything. How would playing in VR be any different than on the TV? Is the VR version better? Is the TV version better? How does it even work? What about motion sickness? There are a lot of questions about VR, but hopefully this will clear it all up.

To put it simply, RE7 is a complete nightmare in VR -- in a good way! What many who have not played a VR game before cannot understand, is just what VR actually does to you. Take a moment to look around the room you are currently in, and try to convince your brain what you are seeing isn't real. Tell your brain what you are currently seeing in real life is just a game, and that you are actually seeing a virtual world. Can you do it? Most likely not. Putting on a VR headset isn't much different than how you see the world every day. Your eyes and ears both send signals to your brain to convey where you are, and your brain simply accepts these signals as fact. So what happens when a VR headset changes your vision and hearing to that of a virtual world? The same thing happens. Although YOU know what you are seeing and hearing isn't real, the brain will not agree with that. It will be tricked into thinking the world before you is real, and it'll react in a realistic way.

Upon setting foot into the Baker home, your brain is instantly screaming "I want out." Suddenly all the smaller details you never noticed before is right in your face, and you never know what is around the next turn. Even after memorizing the game's layout without VR, telling your brain that "there's nothing there" isn't an easy task to do. Your senses are heightened, and even the smallest thing can be enough to strike instant fear. This feeling gets even stranger when enemies start to show up, and combat becomes a thing.

In VR combat is actually much smoother than with a controller. Aiming is done by simply looking at your target, and you can actually tell where your body is and where the enemy is. While your movement is still limited by the controller's analog stick, its still not much different from actually being there face to face with the creature in front of you. Just how immerse this is becomes even more apparent when an enemy goes to hit you and your reflexes cause your body to tense up and lessen the pain of the blow. Of course the hit never actually comes (as it's fake), but even though you don't feel the pain, you are often left feeling numb. It's actually a very strange feeling, and not something you'd expect from playing a video game.

Although the VR mode is possibly one of the best experiences out at the moment, it isn't without it's issues and cut backs. First of all, the graphics have been downgraded. While everything still looks really good, sometimes reading notes hanging on the wall and looking at smaller detailed objects can be a challenge, and some of the earlier areas in the game (specifically the opening scene) are pretty blurry. Thankfully it's not a major issue that takes away from the game, but it's not as nice looking as the game in TV mode. The second issue though is the fact that your character's model is completely removed from the game while playing in VR, and floating hands appear instead. Although it's not a big deal considering the game was in first person anyway, it can be a bit strange not seeing your arms and you also miss out on seeing some animations. For example, a piano lid closes on it's own as you reach for it in the intro, but since you can't see your hands during that scene it looks like you were the one that closed it. Again this isn't a big deal, but it can be a bit odd at times. Also due to the nature of some cutscenes being true cutscenes, not all of them can be viewed in VR. Instead a floating screen will appear in front of your face, and you'll watch it just as you would on a TV.

The only real issue with RE7's VR mode is one that will depend on the player. Since this is a full VR game where you get to move your character through the world freely, motion sickness is possible. There are modes to help cut back on this (such as a snap turning mode), but it's really going to depend on you if you can handle it or not. While it's true that over time you'll build up tolerance to VR sickness, RE7 may not be the best game to try to get over this. You'll often be moving through enclosed and cramped areas, and it'll feel as if the walls are flying at your face if you're not used to VR. On the other hand, it's also possible the fear alone will help you get past the sick feeling, but again it depends on who's playing.

In short, if you can play in VR then it is very much worth it, but it isn't required to enjoy the game. It's one of the best experiences out there, but it can also be sickening.

The Good and the Bad:

Resident Evil 7 is a solid game and a nice return to the series' roots. Although it's focused on new characters in what some may consider a side story to the main story line, it's still interesting with a mystery you'll want to get to the bottom of. The setting is well crafted with a good sense of horror, the inventory and resource management works perfectly, the combat is smooth, and the game never overstays it's welcome. It constantly throws something new at you, and by the end of the possible 12-15 hours you may spend on the initial run, you'll feel compelled to dive back in and work on the extra challenges. Madhouse with it's changed item placements, and limited saving is also a great challenge for classic fans, and the standard difficulties are perfect for both old timers and newcomers alike. The game is a lot of fun (especially when playing in VR), and well worth the time. However, it isn't perfect.

Putting aside possible motion sickness in the VR mode, RE7 does have a few other things that brings it down. Sadly enemy verity is pretty limited this time around, and is very similar to Resident Evil Revelations. Rather than white slime zombie monsters, RE7 features the black molded creatures which also only have a few forms to fight. Some are fast, some are slow and strong, and some jump -- that's about it. The bosses are also not quite up to par considering previous entries in the series, but they are at least entertaining. At least, in VR they are. Other than that there are some shaky moments in the story (specifically near the end), with some questions going unanswered, but it's nothing that ruins the story as a whole. All of these issues are actually pretty minor, and shouldn't stop anyone from enjoying the game.

If you're a fan of Resident Evil, are an owner of a PlayStation VR headset, or like horror games, (or all three), then RE7 is a must play. Yeah, it's not perfect, but it is fun.
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Friday, May 5, 2017

Netto's Beginnings: First Simulation Game

As a kid, I really liked going to see my aunt and cousins out of state. I mentioned this in my previous "Netto's Beginnings" posts, but they were the ones who always seemed to have some sort of new and exciting game for me to try out. Blockbuster video was actually pretty close to them, and because of that they would often go out and rent a game to play with me whenever we would come for a visit. Of course I liked seeing them also, but getting to play a new game was always a fun bonus. This is how I actually played my first simulation game as well. Sim Ant.

Although I also played Sim City and The Sims over at their house for the first time, the game that I actually sat down to play before any of them was the lesser known Sim Ant. In Sim Ant, you got to take on the role as a little Ant, and try to work to expand your colony. Most of the game takes place with a top down view where you click where you want your ant to move to, but when digging underground in the ant hill everything switches to a 2D view.

The goal of the SNES version of the game is to actually make it through the full story mode. When you first begin you start as a queen ant digging an ant hill and laying her first egg (you). Once you've ate away as much dirt as you think is needed (doesn't really matter honestly), you give birth to yourself, and then set out on your ant adventure. To keep the colony alive you must go out and find food, and feed yourself as well. The queen will keep doing her thing, laying eggs, and eventually you'll have a full army of ants at your disposal. By sending out cries for help, you can call other ants to your side to attack other bugs for food, and you can use them to defend yourself against spiders as well. Of course if you die you just switch over to one of the living ants so it doesn't really matter, but if your colony fully dies from hunger or what not, then it's game over. In order to advance through the game you have to kill the rival ant colony in the area, and afterwards you get to move onto a new part of the yard, and even the house. With the story mode in the SNES release I was playing, seasons eventually started to change as well, and you were tasked with surviving in different conditions. In the house you had to worry about things stepping on you, and outside you had other hazards like the owners cutting the grass. While you couldn't do much to actually avoid these things, it helped add to the feeling of being an ant -- a poor helpless ant.

Maybe Sim Ant wasn't the best game in the world, but it is one I had a lot of fun playing. I can still remember the time me and my cousin broke into the red ant hill and stole their baby, only to watch it transform into a black ant when we brought it back, and I still remember just how much the spider freaked me out as well (that... sucking sound.... and death image....). The game left a lasting impression on me, and many years later my cousin eventually bought the PC version for me off of Amazon (funny enough, that was the first time I ever used the site -- my main source of buying games now days). While the PC version lacked the SNES story mode, I still had fun playing it. It had cheat codes that let me not worry about energy or dying ("JENN" if I recall), and I was able to fully take over the yard and house at my own pace. I spent a lot of time playing this version on my own, but sadly lost it when I switched over to my previous PC. Although I really have no intentions of going back to it, it was still a part of my childhood that I loved, and the game will always be special because of that.
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Thursday, May 4, 2017

LocoRoco Returns May 9th!

A little over 11 years ago Sony released the unique PSP platformer LocoRoco to the world. It was a game that let you control little blob creatures by tilting the world, and every little sound made and every note they sang created the stage's background music. It was a game that would burn itself into the memory of all who played, and sadly it's a game that faded into the background to never be seen again. Until now!

May 9th LocoRoco finally returns on the PlayStation 4 as "LocoRoco Remastered." This remastered version of the game features everything fans loved about the original, but with it's own added twists for the new generation. The multiple character types from LocoRoco 2 have been added into the mix, new touch and motion controls have been added (let's face it, this is a game that begged to have motion control as an option!), and other new extras have been added as well. To top it all off, the game is releasing for only around $15 in the US.

For more information, check out the trailer below:

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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Returning to Puyo - 15 Years Later

With my copy of the brand new Puyo Puyo Tetris finally arriving in the mail, I can't help but think back to where it all began for me. This is a series that played a huge role in my childhood, but funny enough I didn't even realize it at the time.

As a kid I was a HUGE fan of Kirby. I didn't have a Game Boy so I wasn't able to play Dream Land, but my cousin would let me barrow his copy of Kirby's Adventure on the NES every once in awhile. I'm not sure why I liked Kirby so much (maybe it was because he could fly and had cool powers?), but something about his character drew me in, and I would always dream of the day when I could own a Kirby game of my own. Then, it happened.

I can still picture myself standing next to my parents at Walmart and looking up at the display case with all the SNES games in it, and one game out of all of them really stood out to me. The game was called Kirby's Avalanche, and besides knowing it was a Kirby game, I knew nothing about it. I didn't care though -- it was Kirby, and I really, REALLY, wanted it. So for some reason my parents bought it for me, and I rushed to my mom's work (where my SNES was set up) to play it. Thankfully my mom ran the office and my grandma was working her weekend shift, so it wasn't a problem.

Turning on Kirby's Avalanche had me extremely excited, but soon that excitement faded as I was left completely confused. Why is Kirby in the middle of these two boxes? What are these things falling? Why am I moving the blobs and not Kirby? What? I don't get it. Yes, the game turned out to be a puzzle game and not a true Kirby game, but over time I came to love that puzzler.

I didn't know it then, but Kirby's Avalanche was actually a western version of the popular game Puyo Pop. In this game, blobs fall towards the bottom of the screen, and you have to line up four (or more) of them to pop them and score points. Causing the blobs to explode to drop down more blobs piled up could cause a chain combo, and in return launch an "attack" on the second player in versus mode. This second player would then have white blobs fall on their side that must be destroyed by destroying other colored blobs on top of them. If your side is filled with blobs that reaches the top, then you lose. In a way the game was similar to Tetris, but believe it or not, I had never played Tetris by that age either. The closest I had ever come to this sort of game was "Wario's Woods" on the original Nintendo, but even that was different. So in my mind Kirby's Avalanche was a game of it's own, and it wouldn't be till years later that I'd realize I was wrong.

The very last time I would play anything in the Puyo series was actually when I was 10 years old and I got a Nintendo Game Cube. To go with the new console my uncle had bought me a copy of Sonic Mega Collection, and included was a game called "Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine." I didn't know what this game was when starting it up, but the moment I started the first stage it all came back to me. It was Kirby's Avalanche! A rip off of it! At least in my mind it was. Actually in reality both games were one in the same, as they were both localization of the Japanese original (with one using Kirby and the other using the Sonic Cartoon as a base), but as a 10 year old it actually bothered me. I didn't like seeing Robotnik in the game I used to play as a much younger kid, and the SEGA Genesis style graphics disturbed me. Everything about the game was made much darker than the light hearted Kirby version, and I had no desire to return to it. Funny enough, that was the last time I had played any version of the game, and it soon faded from my memories. Until today.

After roughly 15 years, I'm finally going back to Puyo, with Puyo Puyo Tetris. Unlike Kirby and Robotnik, this is the real original version of the game, but with new game modes and Tetris brought into the mix. Even with these changes though, this is still the puzzle game of my childhood, and I am glad to get another chance at reliving those days. Despite not playing it in so long, I still consider Puyo to be my favorite puzzle game to this day, and I can't wait to spend hundreds of hours playing it!
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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Pokémon Mystery Dungeon Series

I can actually still remember myself back in the year 1999. Yes, Pokémon was slow to come to Israel, but when it did, it exploded just as it did in the rest of the world. I was still in kindergarten at the time, but Pokémon was everywhere – cards, drawings, pencils, folders, you name it – Pokémon was there. If you can actually read, I honestly don’t think I need to introduce anyone to the concept of Pokémon. That’s just how big an effect that series had all around the world at the time. While the adults were calling it a fad and waited for us to move away from it, there’s a song that captured our feelings at the time perfectly: “No, they never can understand Pokémon.” 
My story with Pokémon is a long one, from being the first game I played on a console, to the origin of the name I have decided to go by online. While I am not at the same level of fanaticism I was when the third and fourth generations were released, and definitely not at the same level of when I was five, I still play and enjoy the game from time to time, and I like to dabble at the card game when I can actually find someone to play with (which is, unfortunately, barely ever).
I am not going to go into complete detail of my complete story with the series, how I went between loving it, not caring about it, to loving it and back again, as that will take too long, and doesn’t have a lot to do with the meaning of this article, but we’ll focus on a specific part – a game where, instead of a human trainer, photographer, whatever – you play as a Pokémon.
I’ve talked to several of my friends about it, and most agree the idea has a charm to it. Instead of playing as a boring old powerless human, you play the role of a cute, cool, or outright freaky monster with special powers, fighting other monsters, and simply having fun while doing it. While it’s true that my circle of friends isn’t that big, nor it is a great way to measure what most people think, but the idea was still there, and still had a crowd, and in November of 2005, we finally got Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Red Rescue Team for the GameBoy Advance, and Blue Rescue Team, for the Nintendo DS.
After playing through three of the main games in the series – not being able to play the Wii one because I have nowhere to connect my Wii nowadays, and not playing Gates to Infinity because of how stupidly restrictive it is – and after not writing anything for this blog since the beginning of the year because college, I decided it might be a nice way to unwind by posting my thoughts on the series to the two of you who still read this blog for some unexplained reason. I know my writing skill are borderline crap, but please bear with me, as I rant like an old man and go through a trip through a spin-off series I almost put as much time into as the actual main games.

Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Red and Blue Rescue Team – GBA/NDS

As stated earlier, back in 2005, we finally got Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Red and Blue Rescue Team for the GBA and Nintendo DS, respectively. I still remember, back when I had no idea what mystery dungeon games even were, getting this game into a GBA and starting it up, and being honestly shocked by some of the ideas used in the game.
As soon as the game starts, the player is treated to a personality test, with several questions to choose the most ‘fitting’ Pokémon to the player’s personality, out of the first three generations’ starter Pokémon, including Eevee and Pikachu, and afterwards the player needs to choose a partner out of the remaining Pokémon from the list of possible starters. That partner will do most of the talking and feel like taking a bigger role in the story than the player.
Honestly, as much as I enjoyed playing that game at the time, I have more complaints than praise for the game. The story in general feels tacked on, adding Pokémon to the team is handled poorly, with having to actually acquire a habitat for the Pokémon before even having a chance to recruit them – which can be incredibly low and force the player to battle them time and time again, dungeons that feel like they stretch way too long, with more than one dungeon taking 99 floors, and an experience that I have found mostly forgettable.
The one part I did enjoy in this game was the post-game – the game had a post-game that can take several hours, and add more layers to the story that the main story brings up but can’t be bothered to go into more detail, and the length of said post-game is artificial; it only really lasts that long because of the dungeons that have no reason to be so long.
Really, when I played Blue Rescue Team on my DSi years later, after beating the next game in the series several times, I struggled with playing through it because of how much better the next game actually was and felt. It might be a good enough experience to try and go through it just to see how it was like, but for anyone who’s thinking of getting into the series, I honestly can’t recommend this game as a good starting point, as it might even convince people not to play the rest of the series because of how repetitive and slow it feels.

Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time/Darkness/Sky – NDS

With these three, we actually have an interesting case; Explorers of Time and Explorers of Darkness are the same game, story-wise, each has several Pokémon exclusive to them, with Sky having all the Pokémon shown in both games, with the addition of Shaymin (who has been revealed only after the first two games have come out), several tweaks and changes, adding four new starter Pokémon, adding five new side chapters focusing on a few of the NPCs in-game, and overall just make it feel like a better experience, just like with the trios of Pokémon games that came out at the time.
While the first two games actually came out in 2007, I unfortunately couldn’t play them at the time, as I didn’t have a DS, and only got a DSi during the end of 2008, not really that long before Explorers of Sky came out. Because I had a relatively fond memory of Red Rescue Team, Explorers of Time was one of the first games I played on my brand new DSi, and it was great.
I beat these games several times – as intended, with codes, changing the leader and partner, and more. Something about this game just kept drawing me back to it, time and time and time again. While a bit easy throughout most of it, to the point where I never really felt that much challenged during the dungeons, at least during the main story (to quote Cathony in regards to the side stories added in Sky: ‘LET'S GO THROUGH A BIG FIRE DUNGEON AS A SUNFLORA, WOULDN'T THAT BE NICE?’), I found myself going back to it again and again, having beaten it, at the time of writing, six different times.
The dungeons, while not that hard, are fun to explore, the story is decent, and the characters is where this game actually shines. The characters are well-rounded, with interesting personalities, and Wigglytuff. I honestly cannot recommend this game enough, because of how fun the entire package just feels. Seriously, if you’re interested in mystery dungeon games and have a soft spot for Pokémon, don’t hesitate on getting Explorers of Sky, as in my opinion, it is well worth the investment.

Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon – 3DS

Now, if I am to be completely honest with you, I had no expectations for this game. At all. After seeing how much they botched Gates to Infinity, I only put this on my 3DS for old times’ sake. That is why it took me almost two years to get it. And I don’t think I’ll be able to go back to the previous games in the series after playing it.
While none of the improvements felt that much needed while playing the first two games in the series, after opening my eyes to them, they feel critical; the world feels more alive, with different ways to get Pokémon to help, a reason to explore the hubs – yes, several – each day, dungeons that feel challenging rather than long, a way for the player to rescue themselves without needing a friend or another game and console, an actually great story, with the player character actually playing a role rather than feeling tacked on, 720 Pokémon to connect with, an ending that feels like a punch to the gut, and much, much more.
I do have complaints for the game, like how linear the game was, a pretty short post-game story, not being able to change the leader and partner in the hub, and how the transfer between hubs can be somewhat slow, but the game actually improved and added so much from previous games, that this game has easily become my favorite of the bunch, with me spending thirty hours on it in four days, beating it and actually feeling sad that I beat the story, that genuinely made me laugh, feel surprised, sad, and happy for all the right reasons.
One of the better gaming experiences I’ve had in the past several years, being second only to NieR: Automata when counting this year alone, to anyone even remotely interested in the series, the genre of rogue-like games, or just Pokémon in general, I honestly couldn’t recommend this game enough.

And here, my incredibly vague and summarized thoughts on the series are all written here. I apologize if it feels like it somewhat skims over a lot, but a deeper explanation is not the purpose of the article – this article is me going over a series I’ve been enjoying for the past twelve years, and thought I might share my feelings towards. Maybe someday I’ll write an actual review for one of the games, when I feel like my reviewing skills are at an actually decent level.
But for now, for all of those who are interested in these games from afar, I have to say – play them. Try them. They are actually great games that deserve to be played, and you might just find a series you love just as much as I do.
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