Category Archives: Video Game Review

Will Project Scorpio Be Enough To Save Microsoft?

by Dillon Meehan

In May of 2013, then-head of Xbox Don Mattrick, unveiled the Xbox One, Microsoft’s successor for the Xbox 360.  It was supposed to give the company a leg up against their competitors, specifically Sony and their system, the PlayStation 4. However, it was the opposite.

The rumors of mandatory Kinect usage, the need for the system to always be connected to the Internet and the banning of used games from working on another system, were all true.

It was a PR disaster for the company, by mid-June after E3 – the video game equivalent of the Super Bowl – the Xbox One’s grave was already dug. Their competitors, Sony, had a slightly more powerful system that did not require constant Internet activity. It allowed gamers to share used games with their friends, and didn’t require a camera that was always listening to you even when the console was “off.” To top it all off, it was $100 cheaper.

Less than a week after E3, Microsoft – with their tail between their legs – backtracked on their ridiculous demands.

A few weeks later on July 1.  2013, Don Mattrick had left Microsoft to join Zynga and become their CEO, a position he would resign from a year and a half later.

In March 2014, it was announced that Phil Spencer had been selected as the new head of Xbox. The former intern-turned executive, had spent nearly three decades with the company and promised to turn the company in a new direction, and he has. But the damage was already done.

Fast forward to early 2017, the PS4 has outsold the Xbox One nearly 2-1.  The estimates are around 50 million PS4s in the wild, compared to 30 million for Microsoft.

However, Spencer and the rest of the Xbox team plan to change that with Project Scorpio. At the end of Microsoft’s E3 presentation in 2016, a sizzle reel teased an upgraded Xbox One with the code name “Project Scorpio.” It was touted as the “most powerful console ever,” that would deliver native 4k graphics and be set to release in “holiday 2017.”

In the first week of April, Microsoft gave Eurogamer and Digital Foundry an exclusive look at the system. So far, it has lived up to the hype. The system is four and a half times more powerful than the original Xbox One that launched in fall 2013, and nearly twice as powerful as the PS4 Pro, Sony’s more powerful version of their PS4 which launched in fall 2016.

For Microsoft to make this system a massive success and to try to cut down on Sony’s lead, it needs to have a $400 price point. Unfortunately, that is not likely to happen. Since it’s announcement, it has repeatedly been referred to as a “premium” system for hardcore gamers.  In English, that means $500.

Now maybe that is simply Microsoft attempting to be coy, then have a massive reveal at E3 with a $400 price point. However, that is very unlikely. During their tech reveal, Eurogamer estimated $500 as well.

Apart from price point, there is also an issue about exclusive games.  Software sells hardware, it’s that simple. Nearly 20 years ago, Steve Balmer purchased a Bungie from Apple so that Halo could be developed for Microsoft’s first game console, the Xbox. The rest is history, as the Halo series became a staple for their systems.

But that was 20 years ago, as Microsoft is now in dire need of exclusives and their new “killer app.” The Halo and Gears of War franchises are still strong, but not what they were during the days of the Xbox 360. Apart from those, the only games Microsoft has that cannot be matched by Sony are the Forza series and Insomniac’s Sunset Overdrive.

While Sony doesn’t have games in the first or third person shooter genre that match up Halo or Gears of War, they offer plenty more than Microsoft. They have the Uncharted series, The Last Of Us, Horizo: Zero Dawn, Neir: Automata, Bloodborne as well as the upcoming Spiderman game as well Hideo Kojima’s newest game, Death Stranding.

On June 11, Microsoft will have their last chance to win fans over for this generation. Not only will they need the right price point, they will need the right games as well.

“MLB The Show 16,” The Best One Yet

by Dillon Meehan

For the past 10 years, the “MLB The Show” franchise has not only been the premier baseball game, but maybe the best overall sports video game. Nothing has changed for Sony San Diego, the video game’s studio, who have once again crafted a stellar game.

For years Take-Two’s “MLB 2K” series battled “The Show,” but ever since “2K’s” final installment in 2013, “The Show” has dominated the baseball simulation genre.

The game’s 11th installment is no different in terms of its excellence. It has once again raised the bar, forcing other companies who have considered making a baseball simulation to have second-guesses.

Until recently, sports video games always had competition. “FIFA” fought “Pro Evolution Soccer,” and developers EA Sports and Take-Two fought each other in basketball, football and hockey. But now the majority of sports video games have only one viable option – because the developers know this, they do not strive to greatly improve their game. They know that as long as minor improvements are made over each annual release, millions of consumers will purchase the game every year no matter what.

However that is not the case with Sony San Diego. They have once again taken the great foundation that has been laid out by the previous iterations and added enough new features to be a brand new game, without completely reshaping the series.

Last year, Diamond Dynasty became the go-to game mode for players, being modeled after EA Sport’s ultimate team mode for their sports game franchises. With “MLB The Show 16,” they have built on that success and have added a new draft-based mode known as Battle Royale.

Much like Madden’s Draft Champions and FIFA’s FUT Draft, Battle Royale allows players the option to draft a roster over multiple rounds from four possible selections, one more than is offered with EA’s other draft-based modes.

One of the heavily advertised improvements was the new ShowTime mode. ShowTime essentially allows users to slow down time when in Road to The Show mode, to either make a play on the ball or when at bat. It has been used sparingly, but as of right now it is tough to time when to swing while slowed down, and there is no way to practice these situations; it has to be done in-game.

While the game is fantastic, there are a few flaws. The most notable is the commentary. For years, fans have clamored at the fact of having a new commentary team, but Sony San Diego has remained fixated on not replacing the commentators. Instead, there are a few extra lines of dialogue that have been added, which has been their go-to move for the past half-decade.

The other major issue is the lack of alternate jerseys. It is relatively easy to see the new jerseys that teams showed off in the offseason and add them to the game, but even with the season now underway, this has still not been changed. Sony has refused to even hide their mistake either – Josh Donaldson is on the cover of this year’s game in Toronto’s alternate jersey, which is not even available in the game.

Originally there were some major online issues that made playing against others on PlayStation Network practically impossible, but the new update seems to have fixed that.

It says a lot about the game when the two biggest issues are presentation and cosmetic. This means that its gameplay and modes are solid. If you were on the fence for this year’s version, you shouldn’t be – it’s a must buy.

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

by Kelly Moore-Norwich

The Playstation Vita is often ridiculed for having a small library of games in the West. However, the games it does offer are, for the most part, solid. One such title is “Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc,” a murder mystery game developed by Spike Chunsoft and published by NIS America. Its audience was previously restricted to Vita owners, but “Danganronpa” is scheduled for a Steam release sometime this February, so anyone with a PC will soon be able to experience it. A price has not yet been announced for the Steam version.

“Danganronpa” has a truly gripping story, though not much can be said without spoiling the plot. The game opens with protagonist Makoto Naegi’s arrival at the illustrious Hope’s Peak Academy, a high school for talented teens who have achieved great success in their areas of expertise. Rather than apply for admission, students must be chosen to attend Hope’s Peak by the school itself, save for one yearly lottery winner who is granted admission simply because they were lucky enough to win. Makoto has won that privilege, and he is excited to begin his life at Hope’s Peak — that is, until a black and white bear called Monokuma shows up and informs Makoto and his fourteen classmates that they’re all trapped inside the school. The only way to escape is by killing a fellow student, then pinning the guilty verdict on someone else at a class trial.

The appeal of “Danganronpa” lies heavily within its cast. Every student has a unique talent, and they are referred to as the Ultimate of their craft. Celestia Ludenberg, the Ultimate Gambler, can win any betting game against anyone, while Aoi Asahina, the Ultimate Swimmer, is a legend in the pool even though she’s still in high school. As Makoto, you can interact with these characters and learn about their pasts through free time events. Take caution though, for your favorite classmate may soon end up dead — or be found out as a murderer.

Be prepared for a lot of reading in “Danganronpa.” Your classmates have much to say, and it’s important to pay attention to every word, lest you fall behind on the case and frame the wrong person at the trial. The game has three main parts to each of its chapters: Daily Life, in which you enjoy peaceful school days with your fellow students, Deadly Life, in which a murder is committed and you must investigate, and the Class Trial.

The Class Trials are the most dynamic parts of the game. Each trial features full voice acting in both English and Japanese, and both voice casts are incredible. During a Class Trial, the students are seated in a circle for a Nonstop Debate, in which everyone must discuss who they think the murderer is and eventually agree upon a culprit. The characters’ arguments appear in large white text on the screen, and you must find and point out the contradictions in their statements to lead everyone to the true killer. Once you’ve convinced your classmates of the killer’s identity, you put your guess into a giant slot machine. Monokuma then executes the murderer in a gruesome but well-animated cutscene. It’s worth noting that all the blood in the game is colored a stylish hot pink.

The soundtrack of “Danganronpa” was composed by Masafumi Takada, who also wrote the music for the “No More Heroes” games. Many of the game’s tracks are absolutely fantastic, and all of them add to the emotion and suspense of the story. My favorite track is “Beautiful Dead,” which combines synth-filled ambiance with jazz piano. “Mr. Monokuma’s Lesson,” Monokuma’s wacky theme, comes in close second with its sheer strangeness.

“Danganronpa” does have its downsides, though there aren’t many. The minigames within the Class Trials are mediocre, especially the rhythm game near the end of each trial. A few of the characters rely too much on tropes, such as Hifumi Yamada, also known as the Ultimate Fanfic Creator. None of the flaws detract from the full experience, but they do prevent the game from being perfect.

“Danganronpa” is a must-play game for fans of murder mysteries, as well as those seeking a new and different video game experience. You’ll undoubtedly form a love-hate relationship with the quirky and sadistic Monokuma, and you may find yourself not wanting to leave Hope’s Peak Academy after all!

UFC Beta

by Dillon Meehan

In the summer of 2014, video game developer EA Sports released “EA Sports UFC,” the first mixed martial arts video game that was playable on next-gen consoles; and it failed, miserably.

MMA fans had been clamoring for nearly two and a half years to get their hands on a UFC game, however they were devastated when the game was finally released.

Despite being shown a graphically stunning vertical slice in 2012, the game overall failed to meet most fans expectations. Fights never had an urgent feeling that most fans experience with UFC fights, which is strange considering how well EA Sports has done with their Madden and FIFA series.

The action also always seemed superficial. While graphically it was impressive, every punch felt as though it lacked power. Even when you had knocked your opponent to the ground and were standing over them, punches felt slow and as though there was nothing behind it. In the older “UFC Undisputed” games, made by THQ, every punch felt as though it was inflicting damage, which was a major drop-off for most fans.

Then there was the career mode, which seemed as though it was hastily put together in an attempt to appease fans, but it also failed to deliver. In older UFC games, there was so much customization not only for picking sponsorships, but also the attire worn both during the fight as well as during your fighter’s entrance and post game interview.

However after all of that disappointment, EA Sports hope to change the narrative with “EA Sports UFC 2,” which is releasing this winter on March 14th. Last week, EA opened their doors to a select few, myself included, allowing them to see a preview mold of their upcoming game.

From the moment you start your first fight, you immediately notice the difference “UFC 2” brings. To start, the graphics and presentation are even more realistic. As soon as the fighters enter the ring, you hear the legendary voice of Bruce Buffer announcing the fighters and Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg give their commentary, and it all feels natural. With every punch thrown, you will see blood or sweat fling off the fighters and down to the canvas.

Then the real action starts. The fighting has drastically changed. In years past, UFC games were nothing more than a button masher for certain users, but “UFC 2” is far different. The fighting is now much more strategic, with an emphasis on finding a window and landing combinations. You have to be careful; if you get too aggressive you will run out of stamina much quicker than in previous iterations. This means your fighter will move much slower, generally causing either knockdowns or a knockout.

One of the newest features this year is Ultimate Team. In EA Sports’ other titles Ultimate Team has been around for years, however it is making its debut for MMA in “UFC 2.”

For “UFC 2” your “team” will consist of five fighters in five different weight classes. There are going to be both online and offline components to the mode, and you have the ability to apply permanent upgrade items to your fully customizable fighter, as well as boost items that may only last for one fight.

EA has made the online Ultimate Team similar to its other sports games, where there will be various divisions that are based on skill. You start in Division One as a prospect, and then as a contender until eventually becoming a champion. If you keep defending your title, you will move up in the leaderboards, but a loss will drop you down in the title chase race again.

“UFC 2” seems to be a step in a different direction. EA’s first attempt had more of an arcade feel, like what the Burnout series is for racing simulators. “UFC 2” appears to have much more emphasis on realism. While that may be good for hardcore fans of MMA, it is tough to tell if that will relate to consumers enjoying the product.