We have a special treat for you this week: one of our readers is an aspiring games journalist and asked if he could review a game for the world to see. I started this site with the hopes of sharing my experiences with an audience bigger than my cell phone, so I had to say yes and I think he will have a promising future ahead of him. Here is Joe Sorbini‘s review of the The Last of Us:
Imagine yourself in a world that was devastated by a pandemic twenty years ago. Nature has resumed its dominance; all organized power and civilization have been wiped out. The infection that broke out on our people has not only taken them from us, but also turned them against us. Survival is the only thing that matters in this brutal world. This is the world that was crafted by the Naughty Dog team in their latest game titled “The Last of Us”.
Naughty Dog has a long history of producing award winning titles like “Jak and Daxter”, “Crash Bandicoot”, and the “Uncharted” series. After 3 years of development, “The Last of Us” had a lot of hype coming up to its release date, but I don’t think anyone was prepared for the journey that was awaiting gamers with this title.
One main feature that really makes this game special is its focus on immersion. It is the little things that may not initially stand out to someone, but when they are blended together it creates an experience that really captivates the audience. Naughty Dog has done an absolutely incredible job with this aspect, taking the time necessary to ensure that every room and street has character. Showing a world that was attacked and then left in an instant, seeing the untamed wilderness reclaim the spaces we used to inhabit. The landscapes play a major role in this game because they further drive home the fact that it is a game of survival and the environment is just another obstacle in the way.
The visuals in this game are unrivaled, like the emphasis on glare after stepping over a hill to see the sun on a horizon. Or the change in lighting after moving from an outside to inside space. It isn’t only the surrounding nature that is beautiful; this game does not have anything generic in it. One building will not look like the next; they all have been affected by nature in a different fashion. At one point in the game you will be able to enter a hotel, and once you’ve entered you will see what twenty years of being exposed to Mother Nature, the infected, and other survivors passing through can do to what was once a pristine and beautiful building. You can see that things were scavenged, eroded, and destroyed not only by time but by its inhabitants as well.
The visuals remain consistent with the cut scenes in the game. Cut scenes flows seamlessly into gameplay. The Naughty Dog staff did tremendous work with motion capture, facial expressions and body language. When you look into one of the character’s faces you can see and feel the emotion. You can tell from their eyes and how they act. These emotions even come through during gameplay. You’ll know when Ellie is upset because she won’t look at you, or she will cross her arms and pout. Also, the incredible detail on the infected makes them terrifying when they are sprinting at you. In the art book that I received with my game, it was written that each and every infected person would look different from the last, which is very impressive.
It is difficult to be immersed in a game without great sound to partner with the visuals. The sound quality of this title is on par with its graphics. Everything in this game is dynamic and has some subtle but powerful effects on the player’s experience. It makes walking through the woods feel real, and it makes being stuck in a tunnel full of the infected that much harder to bear. This amount of emphasis on sound quality really helps instill powerful, emotional gameplay. The soundtrack to this game also compliments its overall theme. It is very subtle, but when it is thrown in with emotional cut scenes, it makes the experience complete.
Another major feature that makes this game stand out amongst the rest is the voice acting done by Troy Baker (Joel) and Ashley Johnson (Ellie). The acting in this game is so powerful that it is difficult not to build a bond with them. As Joel, Troy displays how much depth and range he has as a voice actor. Taking on the role of a rugged, hard, and vengeful protagonist, Joel knew the world before it collapsed and now his past is being revisited with his newest journey. Ashley Johnson does a fantastic job taking on this role; Ellie, a young fourteen-year-old girl, was born into this world filled with death and despair. She doesn’t know any better and therefore is callous to the violence she sees every single day. Though she is young, she is very capable and Johnson’s portrayal of a young girl wiser than her years shines through in The Last Of Us. Another thing that captivates the player is that there are no static or dull characters that you encounter in this game. Along your journey you will meet some characters that have deep histories and through a little exploration and digging you can delve deeper into they’re pasts to see how they’ve become who there are now.
The gameplay in this title just clicks with its narrative. It flows perfectly and has realistic combat and movement. Gameplay for this title consists of two different play styles: stealthy assassin, or guns blazing. Both styles are challenging, but the former is much more forgiving than the latter.
This game is incredibly realistic which means in a post-pandemic world ammunition and materials are not entirely easy to come by. Meaning you have to treat every combat scenario based on what you have to work with. This also makes completing combat scenarios stealthily incredibly gratifying because you did not have to waste ammunition and probably not lose any health in the process. Every situation has its risks and the enemies react dynamically to what you do. Throwing bottles and bricks to distract or stun opponents is a great way to get gamers thinking tactfully throughout their entire play through. Gun play carries a lot of risk when it is not necessary in the game. Though using guns is much faster and more effective than sneaking up and choking enemies, there is the chance that you will miss and draw all the enemies towards you at once. Each style costs either ammo or materials, and since you cannot strangle some of the stronger enemies known as ‘Clickers’ (enemies which are at a further stage of the infection,) you’ll have to put together a makeshift weapon to kill them.
Crafting is another aspect in this title that helps players adjust to every situation. Players will be able to upgrade their weapons and themselves. Using materials found throughout the game, items can be crafted in your back pack to help aid you through your journey. These items include: shivs, nail bombs, upgraded melee weapons, smoke bombs, molotovs, and health kits. You will also stumble upon supplements scattered around the game which can help upgrade your character’s health, crafting and healing speed, listening distance, shiv usage, and weapon sway. You can upgrade the weapons you carry by collecting parts and tools found throughout the game as well. You will be able to upgrade the gun’s clip size, power, range, and other specifics that will make your weapons more effective against your enemies.
I believe the other core mechanic that this game was built around is the aspect of interpretation. This game is incredibly open in multiple ways. The world is vast and deep with a story to match. Though there are a very limited number of executive decisions that the player gets to decide, it does not take away from the power of this linear story. This game can be beaten fairly quickly if players do not explore and just fight their way through the main story. There is nothing wrong with that style, but I would highly recommend players take their time and appreciate all the effort that Naughty Dog has put into this title. There is so much to be found in this game including: collectables, artifacts, notes, comics, materials, etc. I cannot emphasize enough how incredibly deep this game goes. Everywhere you look there is something to be found and analyzed. The extra exploration also opens some new dialog between our two protagonists that, although incidental, really grounds them in the world. The game follows a linear story but getting there is rather difficult at times. When exploring sometimes it is easy to lose your way. This is not a fault on behalf of Naughty Dog. On the contrary, it almost motivates players to explore more deeply. It puts you in the shoes of a survivor trying to find their way. This is just another tactic to immerse players and make them think like our survivors.
The game also has a multiplayer which gives this title added replay value. The multiplayer is very fun and challenging. When beginning multiplayer you must choose a faction. Once you choose said faction, you will be the leader of a clan. This clan grows as you progress through multiplayer, but be cautious because if you do poorly or leave matches, as members of your clan will fall ill or begin to starve. Multiplayer has two modes, the first being the ‘Supply Raid’ mode. The objective of this mode is to eliminate enemy players while harvesting supplies from their bodies and toolboxes placed around the map. The supplies are then transferred into parts which help your clan grow and survive. The other mode is the ‘Survivors’ game mode. In ‘Survivors,’ players compete for multiple rounds in a sudden-death-based team death match of four-on-four. Both modes are incredibly intense and provide endless hours of entertainment.
A masterpiece would be an understatement for Naughty Dog’s newest title. This game is an experience that can’t be matched, it provides a timeless tale of the bond built in a world designed to break everything. It is a journey that hooks players from the moment the game begins and leaves them begging for more when it’s over.
This game receives a 10/10 in my books.
– Joe Sorbini –
Huge thanks to Joe for contributing. If you’d like to let him know how he did, send him some love in the comments below or send him a shout at @jsorbini on Twitter.
If you would like to contribute to the site or would like to see more guest posts like this email us at thespawnpointblog@gmail.
Thanks guys and see you next week!
So we got a laugh this morning when Ed Boon revealed today that the next DLC character to be put into Injustice will be MK favorite Scorpion. With the help of MKvsIce’s Youtube channel we brought you this news a month or so ago. If you’d like to see the some of the other characters coming down the pipe check out our story here.
It looks like most of Scorpion’s moveset is kept intact with a couple of wrinkles here and there, but honestly it comes off as a little bit lazy on the developers part to include him and not jazz him up a bit. His super move is also pretty damn lame, as a huge Injustice fan I’m really disappointed with his inclusion but the surprise at the end of the video more than makes up for it.
Check out the trailer and let us know what you think in the comments below!
We are back from vacation and want to wish you all a Happy New Year, we hope you all had a safe and prosperous 2012. We thank you for your support and plan on this being a great year as well.
This year is slated to have some of this generation’s most anticipated games: “The Last Of Us”, “Bioshock Infinite” and “Dead Space 3,” just to name a few. But I have another game that you might want to keep your eyes peeled for. “God of War: Ascension” from the fine folks over at Sony Santa Monica might have a sleeper hit in the making, at least on the multiplayer side, that is.
The multiplayer beta dropped last week on the PSN and at first I thought, “This can’t be any good can it?” But to my surprise it’s not just good, it’s very good. Good enough to perk my interest when the game comes out later this year.
You jump into the MP and find yourself in a palatial setting with the camera set behind a hulking mass of a man. From the start you can tell that this God Of War team is on to something new, but things feel familiar in a way. The role of gladiator is yours to undertake while you play these modes. You pledge your allegiance to one of four of the mythical gods—Poseidon, Ares, Zeus and Hades—each with different weapon types and “blessings” to bestow upon their champion.
Each gladiator will brandish a different melee weapon depending upon with whom they align themselves. Followers will have swords and huge hammers at their disposal to begin with. Each weapon type so far has a very different feel to how they swing and interact with players. At first I played with the sword and loved how nimble you felt slashing your way through players, but once I got my hands on a mighty hammer I changed my tactics and play style to compensate for the heft of my weapon.
What makes this so much fun so far is that it doesn’t play like a hack and slash kind of game. It honestly feels more like the classic Dreamcast game “Power Stone.” Bouncing around the gorgeous multi-leveled playfield while dodging traps filled with fire or spring loaded pikes feels extremely good. At the same time, the controls feel familiar for long time fans of the GOW series. Combos are implemented the same way as in other games with new wrinkles thrown in here or there for fun. The parry system makes the game feel like you are fencing: you step toward your opponent, then make a split second decision to parry or feint. When an opening in his/her defense shows itself, you strike and hit them for damage.
When you figure out what the game is trying to show you, it quickly becomes evident that they developers are not trying to fit the multiplayer fighting engine into the GOW mythos; they are actually trying to do the inverse. It’s exciting and with the four-on-four gametypes, a lot of fun. You will totally be hooked when you trigger a trap that catches a pursing enemy, or when you finish one off with a super cinematic “Brutal Kill.” I just hope that there are more of those brutal kills per weapon or that you have the ability to unlock more while ranking up, because they are beautiful gory masterpieces to watch. I want more gore, SonySantaMonica.
This GOW team has a big hill to climb to overthrow the reign of Kratos with Ascension. An iconic videogame character with three huge critically acclaimed games to try to overtake. With that said, this gamer is ready to give you the benefit of the doubt after putting out a pretty damn good multiplayer beta that shows you not only are showing respect to the source material but are also willing to go out on a limb and try new and exciting things. For that alone you’ve so far earned my $60.
If you’ve played it, tell us what you think in the comments or if this has peaked your interest and you have questions hit us up on Twitter at @Spawnpointblog.
The “SoundShapers” is a series of articles and interviews that spotlight a different member of the Sound Shapes community weekly. Check out other posts here.
The outstanding thing about the Sound Shapes community is that levels will bubble up through various means. Between chatter amongst the heavy hitters on PSN or the different filters on the Sound Shapes community website there are dozens of ways for players to find great content. While digging through my “following” list I saw that many of folk’s favorite levels were from this week’s shaper Anoy337.
Some of his stand-out levels that I have played include:
“Fatal Progress” – Levels like this are special because they take the usual platforming conventions and flip them on their heads. Usually you try to avoid things that can kill you, but in FP you embrace death by jumping into the red hearts on every screen. It also makes the save points (usually a good thing) into a total annoyance to run into. Hitting some of them will have you re-spawn in a part of the level that takes you away from your goal. It makes this level really challenging and almost Vita-chucking. The payoff is well worth it if you can keep pushing.
“Breakdown” – Breakdown sets you up to believe that it won’t be a pain in the arse, but you soon see that it’s devious, treacherous and beautiful. You can see that going into making this level Anoy had a plan, and it was to push players to think before you leap. Besides the actual plaforming, there are a couple of screens that are really gorgeous to look at.
“Bonus Round_01” – So far this is my favorite Anoy level. It plays like a side-scrolling version of the classic game “Mousetrap”. I really appreciate craftsmanship and this one-screen level is chock full of it. What makes it cool is that you have to open gates all around the screen through quick movement, precision jumping, and sequencing. It’s extremely well thought out and is challenging and fun to play.
After playing his levels I had to ask him some questions about his method.
TSP: Give a little background on yourself and why you decided to play Sound Shapes.
Anoy337: Hi all, my name is Lee and I’m a tattoo artist by profession. I’m mostly drawing on people but pretty much whatever spare time I have usually gets donated to video games. Among the many I enjoy is the gem that is Sound Shapes. The ability to use such an amazing platform to freely create your own “songs” is what won my heart.
TSP: How do you plan out your levels? (Music first or art?)
Anoy: To be honest I try not to have a standard approach to making the song but rather choosing my underlying concept first and then approaching it in whichever way is more practical for concept of song. Sometimes however I take a more loose approach and sort of try to let the song just make itself, if that makes any sense.
TSP: Do you make your levels on the PS3 or Vita?
Anoy: I use my lovely little lady, the PS Vita. Sometimes I play on my PS3 but I have made all my levels on my PS Vita thus far. I prefer the touch screen over cursor.
TSP: What are your favorite levels that you’ve made and why?
Anoy: Well this is a tricky one because I have lost many a level before doing online backups and some of them are amongst my favourites. My top published level would have to be “FATAL PROGRESS”. I could maybe have done more with the music but I love how it can make you fear save points if you play it too long, which is usually evident when you play a normal level afterwards. Also I felt making the only thing that could kill you in the level a heart seems to help you embrace death easier.
TSP: What is the favorite level you’ve played and why?
Anoy: There are so many amazing songs and creators out there it would be unfair to choose only one. A stage I enjoyed very much recently though was the “Shape Invaders Song” by Gasssst. It had some innovative game play ideas and a really nice style also. But with guys like Daftbomb, Beejabides, TT, Jool, Gezouten, Earlee and all the many other amazing Sound Shapers working hard, it’s guaranteed another winner song will be uploaded probably while you are reading this interview. Thanks again for making this possible Queasy Games and Sony.
TSP: Any tips or tricks that you’ve learned?
Anoy: Mmmmmmmmm…don’t use elevators the other way around, no matter how tempted. I recently learned that shapes isn’t enough for a good level; sound is also very important. Think about the player objectively when making your song and know who you’re trying to make the song for, even if it’s just for yourself. Most importantly don’t over complicate panels and try to spread out the songs; I struggle a lot with this one.
TSP: What would you like see added to the game in future updates that would make your creations even better?
Anoy: I heard something about a curve pack 🙂 which was my only wish at first, but recently when getting into the sound side I find that a volume adjustment on individual game objects seems like something that could be very useful. I’m not too sure however on how the programming behind it would work so it might not even be possible. Other than that, maybe some weapons to fight back against the reds in Sound Shapes 2.
Anoy also gave us some shout outs:
I would like to thank Kahlief ‘kahjah’ and The Spawn Point Blog for this opportunity. You guys are doing an awesome job. Thanks also to all Sound Shapers for working hard at making dope levels and a very special thanks to all the queasies @Queasygames for making this amazing medium its truly the canvas of our time. You guys rule.
Thanks again to Anoy337 for sharing his great work with the community and taking time to chat with us at The Spawn Point Blog. We hope that you all are enjoying the #SoundShapers series and Sound Shapes. Check back here next week to see our interview with DUSTINISGOOD.
If you’ve been paying any attention to 2K Sport’s basketball for the past couple of years you already know that they have and are producing the BEST b-ball game you can buy. High praise from both media and fans has kept them on the mountain top, and without any competition this trend doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon. With that said, I want to focus this review on the significant changes made this year and why you should care.
For the past three years, 2K has pulled some of the biggest names in basketball to help promote their game. The signing of Michael Jordan and then Magic and Bird to round out some historic teams gave notice to their fan base that they were serious about not staying pat on the innovation front. This year they went full monty by bringing on hip-hop mogul Jay-Z to executive produce the game. Many people, myself included scoffed at the idea of bringing on Jay. What would or could he really add to the game that gamers care about? Is this just 2K adding a huge name for “front of the box” name recognition?
Upon starting the game you quickly understand why they did it. You are treated to a montage of Jay doing his thing at a concert with interspersed gameplay clips. You can’t not get a little hyped up by seeing the mix of the two; it sets the stage for rest of the mash-up experience that is the presentation style of 2K13. Right before you start a contest you might be shown highlights of your favorite team, synced to an Eric B. & Rakim or Nas video. Behind the foreground menus you see equalizers pulsate in time with Jay-Z’s assembled soundtrack. They are small touches and I’m still not sure how I feel about them, but it is a interesting direction nonetheless.
Music isn’t the only thing Jay influenced: he used his clout to get some future hall-of-famers to join the ranks as well. With a call or two, he not only got Scottie Pippen to add his likeness to the 92’ “Dream Team” but also snagged longed-for “Round Mound of Rebound” Charles Barkley who hadn’t been included in a basketball game since 1994.
I’m not sure how Jay-Z’s inclusion has translated to direct sales and I’m not sure how those presentation flairs have come across to the greater gaming community but I will say that it might have put 2K in a weird predicament. Where do they go from here and how much bigger do you go without alienating your core fans? I suppose we will see what happens next year in this respect.
Detail, Detail, Detail
There are still times when someone will walk in while a CPU vs. CPU game is going on and mistake it for the real thing. This is testament to all of the intricate motion capture 2K does every year. The thing that makes this installment so breathtaking is all of the in-between and collision animations they have this year. Going up for a contested layup more often than not will put you into a supremely life-like animation in which flailing limbs connect. It gives both players and the ball heft and weight; feet plant realistically while the inertia of gathered momentum moves players upward to the rim. It’s a beautiful game to watch. Players react realistically to getting hit and will sometimes react to those bumps by holding their heads or falling to the floor.
Added facial animations, authentic celebrations from both teams and crowds add so much to the gameplay and feel of the game. They’ve even found a way for the first time in a basketball game to introduce playcalling, substitutions and technical fouls on the Xbox 360 via Kinect. Massive kudos go to 2K for stepping all these up in a significant way.
2K has added “VC” (virtual currency) to be the backbone of how you progress this year in the “My Player” modes and “My Team” modes. Usually things like this don’t ping my radar, but this is the first time 2K has gotten into the micro-transaction game. You can purchase VC or earn them in game to buy virtual goods like animation packages, clothes and other accessories for your player. Although I am not a fan of micro-transactions, it seems as if they have been tactfully implemented.
The Wrap Up
This seems to be the most feature-complete game 2K has put on the market to date. From my experience, they have fixed a bunch of the online issues that plagued them for the initial month of last year’s release. Games I’ve played have been as smooth as you can expect from an online sports game and have been steady connection-wise. The removal of “My Crew” is disappointing but understandable.
Lastly here are some things of note.
• Some of the historic teams from previous years are missing. I truly don’t understand why this keeps happening? I wonder if certain players like Dr. J are only contracted for a year at a time and multi-year deals are too expensive. I think maybe if they put these teams in as DLC at a reasonable price, fans would be excited. Possibly doing a couple of era packs would suffice.
• There are still some significant players missing. Everyone is still waiting for Reggie Miller. (C’mon Jay, make the call!) Other players like Manute Bol, Lattrell Sprewell, Derek Anderson, and Derrick Coleman haven’t gotten their due.
• Why in the world is the All-Star Weekend DLC this year? To gate this behind pre-order DLC and then to not have it available day one is just not right. To top it all off, 2K didn’t make either the dunk contest or three-point contest playable online. It makes no sense and would have been so much fun.
• We are still waiting for an EA “Gameface” equivalent on the 2K platform. I can’t be that excited for “My Player” if my created player — no matter how much I try — won’t look like me. The tech is there. I would much rather that than making shoes.
• The removal of downloadable sliders is a heartbreaker to lots of folks who know that the game doesn’t always play to your liking straight out of the box. There are lots of dedicated folks in the NLSC and Operation Sports forums who take time to fine-tune them and help others out. The weird thing is that 2K has intimate knowledge of this, frequents those boards, but still omitted this feature.
• Saving replays and screenshots in a high-res format would be nice, as both consoles and PC version accept USB disks. Why not let things export to the HD?
Even with those niggling bits, 2K has again put out the most amazing display of basketball that you can purchase, a game that you can play long into the season and beyond. The jury is still out on the inclusion of Jay-Z, but again his influence has reached across multiple lines and actually made the game fuller on a gameplay level. If you are a fan, you need to play this game. There is no doubt that you will get your money’s worth.