Video Game Review: Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver (PlayStation)

*I played the PlayStation version. The game is also available on Windows and Sega Dreamcast.

Man, this game is almost twenty years-old but boy did it feel pretty sweet playing it again. In fact, in 1999, this was probably my favorite game. Although, I was still playing through the first Metal Gear Solid and Tenchu: Stealth Assassins on an almost monthly basis. What set this apart from those great games however, was just how massive this game felt in scope. It felt like the most epic video game since I played the first Zelda, as a kid about twelve years prior.

The world in this game is huge and meant to be explored. There is a sequence that you are supposed to play the game in but truthfully, you can skip around if you want and it makes this one of the first games ever to have that sort of freedom. There are several kingdoms to save throughout the game and every one of them is pretty simple to get to and explore. Sure, some are much more challenging and for the true gaming experience and to properly follow the story, they should be done in a specific sequence (similar to a MegaMan game) but the freedom does exist.

The graphics for the time were great. It is blocky and primitive looking today but despite that, it is still a beautiful game to look at and not hard on the eyes at all.

The really cool thing about this game is not just the great story but the entire mythos. Certain things were established in this games predecessor Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen. However, this game expands on that greatly. It takes vampires and presents them in a cool new way. They have evolved and become world-ruling super beings. As the main character Raziel evolves further than his master Kain, he is punished for it and destroyed. He awakens centuries later to see the horrid results of further evolution by his vampiric brethren.

Each vampire brother is a boss in the game and each has evolved in an unusual way that makes each kingdom, each vampire army and each boss a refreshingly new experience. There is nothing repetitive about this game and it has some of the best boss battles in video game history. This, along with Metal Gear Solid, were standard-bearers on the PlayStation One platform for what boss battles could and should be.

I feel like this game and this series has been somewhat forgotten over the years but it is a classic and is still fun almost two decades later.

Video Game Review: Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams (Xbox)

*written in 2014.

*I played the original Xbox version. This game was also released on PlayStation 2 and Windows. An updated HD version was later released on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

This is my favorite horror video game of all-time. Now it might not be as scary as my first experience playing the original Silent Hill in the dark: alone. However, it captures the beauty and magic of the first game, enhances the graphics and game play and gives the players a better story and more intense situations. In fact, this is the game that launched Pyramid Head (or Red Pyramid, if you prefer) to horror icon status, especially in the gaming world.

I played the Xbox version of this game, which is subtitled Restless Dreams. The reason being, it is an extended version and has a bonus game featuring another character. This smaller game is called Born from a Wish. It ended up being a pretty awesome experience on its own and a game worth reviewing separately at some point.

The situations in Silent Hill 2, mixed with the visuals and scares are enough to have you on edge every second of this game. You are never really sure what is going to happen at any moment. The game makers did a great job of adding a lot of surreal elements and creepy sounds to keep the players disoriented, at least on the first play through.

This is also a game with an insane amount of replay value, as there are a half dozen different endings and the different choices you make throughout the game, effect the overall experience.

This game is still the strongest in the Silent Hill lineage. It is actually pretty close to what I would consider a perfect game, especially for its genre. I have now replayed it enough to know where every scare is but it doesn’t mean that I’m not still a bit freaked out when I have to jump into a big black hole in the ground or walk into a demonic prison.

Despite the fact that it is a thirteen year-old game, it is still quite effective at making the player fearful and nervous. Especially when played alone, late at night, in the dark.

Do not take hallucinogens and then play this thing.

Video Game Review: L.A. Noire (PlayStation 3)

Being both a fan of film-noir and several video games put out by Rockstar over the years, L.A. Noire should be a pretty awesome experience for me. It was a mixed bag but the game falls mostly on the positive side.

It benefits from the fact that it stars an actor from Mad Men, one of my favorite shows of the last decade or so and it even has cameos by other Mad Men actors. A few familiar faces will pop up throughout the game. There are no major stars but you do see certain characters played by actors you’ll recognize from various things. I had a lot of, “Oh, wait! That’s that guy from that thing!” moments.

L.A. Noire follows the same sort of gaming style as Grand Theft Auto or Red Dead Redemption. However, being that it forces you to be a cop that performs “by the book”, it makes the game more limited than those other games from Rockstar. You don’t have the freedom to make moral choices and thus, the free roam aspect of the game isn’t a true free for all. I wish you had the ability to walk a different path but the game’s story and the purpose it serves is still entertaining and worth your time.

You mostly play as Cole Phelps, who is played by Aaron Staton. You are an ex-Marine from World War II with a past that comes back to have a major effect on the overall story. Within the main timeline of the game, Phelps starts out as a patrol cop and moves into being a detective, moving around into different branches based off of how he is promoted or demoted. However, these promotions and demotions aren’t really based off of anything you can control.

The graphics are solid, the motion capture is absolutely top notch and this game utilized it in ways that no other game had before it. It is certainly innovative and impressive and the motion capture work is what makes this game come alive and what provides the unique experience of interviewing characters and making decisions based off of how they physically react to your questions and evidence.

L.A. Noire has been out for a while now and I hope it becomes a franchise in the same vein as GTA and Red Read. I guess time will tell but quite some time has already passed.

Video Game Review: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PlayStation 3)

*written in 2015.

*I played the PlayStation 3 version. The game is also available on Xbox 360 and Windows.

Yes, this game is a bit dated. I don’t care. I put it off for very good reasons.

First of all, it is made by Bethesda, who have made four other Elder Scrolls games before this one, as well as the last two Fallout games, which took away big chunks of my life, as I was immersed in their world for not just weeks but months. Well, Skyrim was no different and I knew that for a long time before I started this masterpiece, that I had to be prepared to devote an insane amount of time to the game to truly get the full experience.

Over the last month of my life, I have spent most evenings and weekends traversing the mystical land of Skyrim – protecting its citizens from massive dragons, frost trolls, giants, liches, vampires, werewolves, orcs, dark elves and civil war. There are several other threats, such as gods and small armies of bandits. Actually, almost everything is a threat.

Additionally, this is the ultimate sandbox style game and the world you play in is so massive that it makes the Fallout games feel like they take place in a cereal box. Now it might not be as massive of a map as Just Cause 2 but it is pretty close and a lot more diverse. If you count all the square footage of the dungeons and caves in the game, plus all the DLC content, it probably exceeds Just Cause 2 in total area.

The game also features a slew of radiant quests, which are quests that reappear as the game goes on and each time that they do, they have differences that set them apart from their previous incarnations.

Essentially, this game is designed so that the player can play forever. There is always something to do. It took me less than a week to finish the main quest but with all the DLC content, radiant quests and several other quests I haven’t even unlocked yet after a month’s worth of play, I could just keep going and going and going.

The engine is pretty much exactly like the one that Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas were built on. They’ve fixed and polished some things though and this is a much more enjoyable experience from a technical standpoint. It does still have its issues, especially on the PlayStation 3 – the version I’ve been playing, but they aren’t anywhere near as bad as the freezing, lag and annoying other little things that plagued the Fallout games once you got deep into them.

There is lag here and there, the game has frozen up a few times but it is rare in comparison to Bethesda’s other PS3 releases. My biggest complaint is that the load screens take a really long time and that gets worse the bigger your save file gets.

However, Skyrim has provided me with one of the best video game experiences I have ever had. Yes, I’ve wasted a ton of time on it but it isn’t a waste if one is truly enjoying themselves.

Besides, what is cooler than building your character up so strong that you can kill a dragon with just your fists? Yeah, I’m at that level and it is fucking awesome!

Video Game Review: Godzilla: Monster of Monsters (NES)

*written in 2014.

Back in the day, just about every kid in America had a Nintendo Entertainment System. Truthfully, I feel for those who didn’t. Reason being, at that time in history, the NES was Americana! Sure, it is a video game console imported from Japan but it was just as much a part of American culture as it was Japanese.

Like today, you can’t say Call of Duty isn’t American. Even though it is played on a Japanese console and part of a monstrous industry created in Japan. I guess Godzilla fits that mold to a degree, as well. A Japanese creation hat has transcended an industry and also become a part of American culture.

Well, putting video games and Godzilla together in 1989 gave us Godzilla: Monster of Monsters. It was released on the Nintendo in a time when I was at the height of both my video game playing and Godzilla worship. When the game dropped, I was at the store to buy a copy as soon as I had earned enough money to afford it.

Godzilla: Monster of Monsters certainly isn’t a game without flaws and in many ways, it is very repetitive. However, some of my fondest video game playing memories, from that era, where when I was fully engaged in this game. It was fun and in a time before fighting games were a normal thing, Godzilla introduced me to the style with its awesome one-on-one monster battles.

The monster battles were actually the big highlight of the game. There were literally dozens and dozens of levels, many of them just rehashes of themselves, which added to the repetitiveness of the game. The problem was that all one wanted to do was fight giant monsters and the levels became too abundant and too much of a roadblock to get to each epic kaiju battle. Honestly, that is my biggest complaint about the game.

The only other real complaint is that the mechanics of the monster battles are very primitive and tedious at times. In retrospect, it didn’t bother me back in 1989, as there wasn’t a lot to compare it to. It doesn’t play great today but at the time, it was awesome. The other issue with it, in regards to the battle mechanics, is that the fights tended to be super long, especially the further you went into the game, as the monsters become increasingly more powerful.

Today, despite the issues, I still find the game enjoyable and fire it up from time-to-time. And I should also make note of the graphics, which were pretty impressive for 1989 on an 8-bit console.