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Bloodborne The Old Hunters Collector's Edition Guide
Bloodborne The Old Hunters Collector's Edition Guide
by Future Press
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.09
20 used & new from $16.24

5.0 out of 5 stars Awakening From the Hunter's Nightmare, January 12, 2016
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
It's rare to see Future Press make a guide for the expanded content of a game. When Dark Souls and Dark Souls II got their expansions, Future Press wasn't in sight at all with a guide to cover new content and items. In their introduction Future Press admits they wanted to do such things for expansions but could never really justify it. Here, they just went for it. The end result is a guide that stays incredibly consistent with the original guide published. But rather than publishing a whole new book (that would amount to near 800 pages if they did) they merely covered the expansion by itself. Needless to say, you won't get any content for the original game if you don't have the original guide. Therefore, you might want to think of the guide itself as also an expansion.

The layout is almost exactly the same as the original guide, but this time it jumps right in. The original guide spent a lot of time getting you acquainted with the game. This one, however, assumes you're already familiar with the systems found in Bloodborne. This guide isn't treating "The Old Hunters," like a new game, but assuming that you already know Bloodborne's various systems in and out. What it does do, however, is point out the changes made in the various patches over time and how they will affect the gameplay. The opening section of the guide spends more time getting you familiar with the updates rather than familiar with the game itself. This is perhaps what I like most about this guide. It doesn't spend a lot of time rehashing stuff from the previous guide. Everything it does rehash is all quick. There is a table for the weapons and a quick call out to previous enemies they've already discussed.

This doesn't mean it'll shorthand you in all the areas. The guide has no qualms jumping int the walkthrough and it's written exactly as it was before. The walkthrough has markers on the maps that guide you through the various areas of The Hunter's Nightmare, pointing out branching paths and pointing out items along the way. The walkthrough is going to feel quick, however. It'll give you combat scenarios and how to deal with them, but for the most part, it spends time focusing on what to do at certain points. The walkthrough itself doesn't have boss strategies or individual enemy strategies. All that stuff is saved for later. The walkthrough gets the job done, but as with the original guide, the stuff beyond the walkthrough is far more valuable and insightful.

First there is the bestiary. This section gives step by step tip son how to defeat each and every new enemy encountered in The Old Hunters. More than that, the guide also provides the expert boss strategies necessary to get past the strongest of foes. They're precise and in depth. A part of me still wishes they were in the walkthrough itself, but the fact that they're as in depth and as good as they are will have to suffice. The strategies always give an overview and then detail the battle itself and also talk about the environment you're fighting in. They're usually helpful tips and to the point.

The Old Hunters introduces a LOT of fascinating new weapons and this guide will help you understand how they work. Diagrams show how their swings work, how fast and how effective they can be. They also detail how to scale the weapon to the best of its abilities and offer advice on which gems to attach to it. This is where I got some of the most out of the guide simply because the new weapons were amazing, and it helped to recognize how they work. This is especially true if you've engaged in PVP or cooperation and seen these weapons in action without having them yourself. There is also a lot of useful information on the new items and attire you'll find as well.

Another useful portion of the book is that the guide also gives individual strategies for each hunter. It talks about the weapons they use and how to defeat them. There's always a good breakdown.

A lot of game include trophies now, but I'm always surprised how many guides neglect a Trophy Guide. It's starting to become standard to include a trophy guide for those who want it and I'm glad to see it here. It'll point out trophies but sometimes the strategies are located elsewhere in the guide and you'll have to flip back. It's an interesting concept and I'm glad more guides are starting to do this. It's pretty good here and it's great some of these strategies are in the walkthrough. Other times, it has quick references for you. For instance, in terms of getting all the weapons, there's a handy chart to point to where all of them are.

If you were one that was particularly interested in the lore of Bloodborne the last chapter might be the most fascinating for you. The last bit spends a lot of time talking about the lore and going in depth about the story of Bloodborne. It does this by showing connections between locations, characters and even talks about the items in your inventory that add to it. If need be, they'll also utilize dialog to help you understand the lore as well. Dialog drawn directly from the game. It all comes together to provide a coherent and in-depth interpretation of the events of Bloodborne. If you're curious about the lore and want to know more, this is a nice bit. Although it's still just as fun to learn of these things on your own. At least it serves as a great reference. The last bit is an art gallery and it's pretty amazing to look at. A nice bit of closure to such a fantastic guide.

The best part about this guide is that you can use as much or as little as you like and still feel like it's helping to enhance the game compliment the game itself. It's a detailed guide. If you've got Bloodborne and you need some help with The Old Hunters, this is a great guide to invest in.


Final Fantasy Box Set 2: Official Game Guide
Final Fantasy Box Set 2: Official Game Guide
by Prima Games
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $82.60
37 used & new from $66.76

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Much Like the First Boxset, There's Nothing Special Here, December 20, 2015
Like the first boxset that came out in mid 2015, this Final Fantasy guide boxset is largely just the exact same guides you saw before, just given a facelift to their layout design. This makes the guides look slightly cleaner, but for the most part all of the information is the same information you got with these guides before. The largest difference is that the Final Fantasy X and X-2 guides include information for the PS3/PS4 release that's actually taken directly from the updated Bradygames guide that came out. All three guides, like before, are just the Bradygames guides released from back in the day with a new coat of paint, but no noticeable renovations.

Let's talk the Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2 guides first. They are similar guides. Both were published by Bradygames originally in 2001 and 2003 respectively. Both guides were then updated for the HD Remaster and that information is also here. The good news is that unlike the Final Fantasy VII, VIII and IX guides you at least can bask in the comfort that the Final Fantasy X guide originally published in 2001 was a relatively good guide, at least. You can also rest assured that the Final Fantasy X-2 guide isn't horrible. In the previous boxset the only guide really worth getting in the set was the Final Fantasy IX guide... but only because it was actually updated. This same thing isn't true here. Both the Final Fantasy X and X-2 guides are nearly exact duplicates of the guides published in 2001 and 2003... just adding what they could from the X and X-2 remastered guides. While the two guides aren't bad, just slapping a hardcover on them hardly makes them worth as much money as the boxset is asking for. The softcover guides are still plentiful in circulation, for cheaper. The HD Remaster guide (which covers both games together) is also still in circulation and is astronomically cheaper than this boxset. The information you're getting there is exactly the same as what you'll get here.

Yet, this also means that both the Final Fantasy X and X-2 guides have the exact same errors as before. While the original Final Fantasy X guide wasn't bad, it misses out considerably on the coverage of the monster arena. You'll learn nothing about it in the long run. What are the stats of the creations there? What strategies can be used to defeat them? The guide doesn't say and it isn't updated here to actually give you any idea. The Piggyback Guide published in 2002 is still better than the updated guide you're getting here. Prima didn't bother to actually update the information, even though it's now available everywhere. They literally just slapped the guide together from previous assets, but not actually adding anything. Even for collector's purposes this isn't really worth it.

The Final Fantasy X-2 guide is also the same. The checklist to make sure you get a full 100% is still incomplete and missing a couple of rather small tidbits. One has to use the walkthrough to really find them all in conjunction with this list. Again, with all the information actually being available, it should've been updated to include these things. Again, Piggyback Interactive's original guide is STILL better than this "updated" one.

But worse than the Final Fantasy X and X-2 guides is the Final Fantasy XII guide. This guide, originally published in 2006, wasn't much to write about then, and it still isn't here. Like all the other reissued guides, the layout is cleaned up to look a little better and more friendly to read, but none of the information has been updated. It's the same guide you got back then... with the same errors. For Final Fantasy XII, in particular, this is pretty important because there was so much information missing from the 2006 release. There were times when the guide didn't actually point out what items were where. But worse than all of that was the large amount of sidequests missing. Want to know about the Subterra? The guide doesn't tell you anything about this. Want to know what to do in the return to the giant crystal? Tough, the guide doesn't cover it. At all. Want to know about the Zertinian Caverns? Tough, the guide doesn't cover this either. It has a lot of information in the main walkthrough, but the moment you want to know about the sidequests in Final Fantasy XII the guide doesn't have this information. None of this is updated at all. Considering how long ago Final Fantasy XII was released and how plentiful this information is out and about... it's strange none of it was included. And much like the first boxset, you can find better guides with this information already included. In this case, the Piggyback guides released in 2002, 2004 and 2007 respectively have all the information for all the games. And since the HD Remaster of Final Fantasy X and X-2 are the PAL regions, it means that Piggyback can give you full coverage of the game without being designed for the North American releases.

The box set also comes with lithographs. As with the first set, it's all familiar artwork you can find everywhere, better in quality and all around cheaper.

When guides are reissued--even in the context of being collector's items--they should be updated in some way. Not just layout, but the information. Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy X-2 and Final Fantasy XII have been out for a while. All the information is now known, the guides should've included this. If someone is playing through any of these games for the first time, they're not getting all the information about these games. Granted, this is meant to be a collector's item. You don't necessarily need a printed guide for these three games when all the information is readily available. But that is no excuse to make a poor product. Especially considering how expensive this set is. If one is going to pay this much, it ought to have all the information needed.

Yet even as a collector's item, it is something of a letdown. The hardcover is not up to the same quality that you find with other collector's edition strategy guides. Those Legend of Zelda collector's edition guides have neat hardcovers made with quality. They not only opt to evoke the games aesthetic qualities (the Zelda guides, in particular, really have a look that gives the illusion you've found ancient tomes) but the binding used with them holds them together really well. The paper is nice and thick, but they don't lack this idea that you've found something authentic. It's kind of cool to display those Zelda guides with their gold trimmed pages and Hylian symbols on the front (and Majora's Mask collector's edition has--what else, a gold Majora on the front cover).

And that's the worst part about this set. It's not like Prima hasn't done a great boxset for strategy guides before. They did, after all, release a collector's edition boxset containing six Zelda guides. Not only were they updated with the correct information (they took great care in revising their Skyward Sword guide--the initial release of which was terrible) but they evoked the feel of the games they represented. Certainly one does not "need" those guides, but they supplement the games nicely. They also compliment the games nicely. As a collector's set, they are worth having around for Zelda fans to display their fandom. This set (as well as the first Final Fantasy boxset) are rather poor in comparison. The final fantasy boxsets don't feel like love letters to fans, but rather like cash grabs. Even the most hardcore of Final Fantasy fans aren't getting much from this boxset.


Yoshi's Woolly World -  Wii U
Yoshi's Woolly World - Wii U
Price: $45.99
82 used & new from $34.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Stitched to Perfection, December 5, 2015
Twenty years ago, Nintendo released Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island. The game was a masterpiece and made Yoshi even more popular than he already was at that time. Since then Yoshi has been in several games with varying aesthetics. From the crayon inspired visuals of the first game, to the oil pastel inspired visuals of Yoshi's New Island. Yoshi's Wooly World takes an aesthetic similar to Kirby's Epic Yarn. This should not suggest, however, that the game is the same thing with Yoshi slapped on. Yoshi's Wooly World is a delightful experience.

As is the case with many Nintendo games, Yoshi's Wooly World is not a story centered kind of game. It is a game which wants to focus on gameplay more so than anything. Kamek has come and turned several of the Yoshi clan into yarn and kidnapped them. Along the way he drops a few bundles of yarn. A few of the Yoshis managed to escape and now have to follow Kamek to rescue their friends.

If you've played previous Yoshi games, then Yoshi's Wooly World is going to be easy to sink into. As Yoshi you will traverse a series of levels over the course of several worlds. Yoshi can use his tongue to ingest enemies and he can turn them into yarn balls, which he can use to throw. Yoshi can also flutter and ground pound just as he always has. But the most important thing is making yarn balls and using them. You'll have to constantly throw them at enemies, use them to fill in platforms and sometimes even toss them at enemies so that you can use them. For example, throwing a yarn ball at a chain chomp might turn them into a giant ball of yarn that you can use as a ball to push. On the surface, Yoshi's Wooly World is simple. And were it not for the level design you'd likely think it was an easy game. Certainly it begins this way, but Yoshi's Wooly World can actually be challenging.

Unlike Kirby's Epic Yarn, Yoshi's Wooly World isn't a cakewalk. While I still believe Kirby's Epic Yarn to be fun, there were never any consequences for anything for the player. Some games have succeeded through this (the LEGO games are usually still great regardless) but it also meant that Kirby's Epic Yarn didn't really provide a lot for players to strive for. Yoshi's Wooly World has consequences. You have a finite number of hits to take before you fail and there are pitfalls everywhere. The first few levels are simple, teaching you the basics of the game. Once you've learned them you're off on your way and the levels become more unique. While various concepts might be repeated, every level feels unique and different.

Throughout each level there are certain metrics that have to be met. You need to collect five flowers, five bundles of yarn and 20 stamps. This is very similar to what Yoshi games usually do in general. You are also tasked with completing a level with all of your hearts. It's the flowers and bundles of yarn that are most important. The flowers open up hidden levels, while the bundles of yarn rescue a new Yoshi. It's finding all of these goodies in the levels that can add to the challenge considerably. For instance, to find all the flowers might require you to find hidden bubbles to pop or bonus rooms. You need to be willing to search every nook and cranny to find every levels hidden secret. The stamps are hidden among the gems you collect. And collecting gems is important because you can buy powerups by using them.

The powerups can make the game easier if you so choose. They have different properties. One, for example, makes all your yarn balls big. Another allows you to see all the hidden secrets in a level. There are a lot more, but they're helpful. Especially the ones that allow you to see the various hidden secrets.

For those who are curious about whether or not the game is a challenge, it is. Once you get beyond the first world the game has no qualms throwing various environmental challenges at you that will test your reflexes and platforming skills. If anyone finds the game a little too much you can change difficulty settings at any time. There's a classic mode which sets the difficulty where you want it, and a mellow mode which considerably drops the difficulty level for those who just want a nice adventure through the game. For those who are experienced platform players, I highly recommend the classic mode.

There's also a co-op mode. Two players are able to go about the game together. It's a unique experience. But it's not like New Super Mario Bros. The game doesn't move fast enough for a second player to be continuously left behind. Players can also eat one another and utilize them. This means if you're partner is about to fall into a pit you can definitely save them. It's a good experience that isn't really hampered too much. There is a lot of fun to be had, but you won't find yourself in constant competition with the one you're supposed to be working with. This means it's not as crazy as New Super Mario Bros. is, but it also means that you're likely to get through the game more smoothly.

There are a lot of games that rely on raw power for their visuals. But being a good looking game isn't just about graphical prowess. It's also about your art direction and artistic design. Yoshi's Wooly World is by far the prettiest looking game I've ever seen on the Wii U, and it's all due to the art design of the game itself. Everything in this game is made of wool. But the game keeps this aesthetic choice going throughout the entire experience. Yoshi wool will stitch into something else depending on what he's doing. When he's in water, for instance, his feet stitch into tiny propellers. When you eat shy guys, they unravel when Yoshi turns them into balls of yarn. This doesn't just happen with the characters, but with the environment as well. Yoshi can pull at loose threads and watch parts of the environment drop away and change. He can also push fabric aside to find hidden secrets. Since everything is made of wool or looks stitched in some way it helps the game keep a consistent and uniform look. It's an amazing looking game. It's also insanely colorful and bright. Yoshi has gone through several different artistic looks, but this wool like look is the most imaginative that the series has ever had. If you have Amiibos you can also see how Yoshi looks as various different characters depending on the Amiibo you've used.

The music in previous Yoshi games hasn't been the best. Yoshi's Island DS had music that was quite forgettable and just didn't match up with the tone of the levels at all. Yoshi's New Island soundtrack was barely even worth talking about. Yoshi's Wooly World actually has good music. It's got a lot of catchy tunes. Likewise, almost every level has its own unique background music. There are also various sound effects that are familiar. You've heard most of Yoshi's yelps and hums before and they're not really any different here. A lot of the music, however, sounds calm. It can be good considering that a lot of the levels in Yoshi's Wooly World are quite lengthy, even the early ones feel longer than your average platformer.

Yoshi's Wooly World is a delightful game. There are not a lot of problems with the game in and of itself. The problems it does have, however, are mostly problems that can be avoided or are more subjective. For one, you can use a Yoshi Amiibo to have an extra Yoshi with you, and you'll control both. This is not a good way to play. It's more trouble than it's worth. But in order to end up with this problem you'd have to actively do this in the first place. And while the game can be a challenge due to platforming and hazards... the bosses are strangely not that difficult at all. A lot of Yoshi games give you tons of creativity. And while there are some creative bosses here, none of them are actually that difficult to defeat. The trek to the bosses are more challenging than the bosses themselves.

There isn't a lot that keeps Wooly World from being amazing. It's a great game that any fan of Yoshi should play. It's creative and imaginative in a lot of ways. For those who've gone on Yoshi's previous adventures, Wooly World is a delightful experience.


Until Dawn - PlayStation 4
Until Dawn - PlayStation 4
Offered by GameBLVD
Price: $44.95
79 used & new from $40.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly Engrossing, November 30, 2015
Within gaming we've seen a resurgence of the horror genre. Albeit they are mostly smaller independent games. Until Dawn drops down onto the mainstream market and it's an amazing experience. One that actually has the power to make your choices feel like they matter. It's a love letter to horror movies, relying on familiar tropes but letting you play around with them in the experience. What results is a gaming experience that's both intense and engaging.

Until Dawn centers on a group of friends who have reunited at a Cabin a year after two of their friends disappeared. Things are going just fine until the group of teenagers realize they aren't alone in the mountains. On the surface there's nothing about the story that feels exciting. It's typical horror movie fair. A bunch of teenagers are isolated in a cabin in the mountains that also just so happens to be out in the middle of the woods. But if the isolated cabin and a bunch of teenagers was all there was to the experience, Until Dawn wouldn't be worth discussing in any fashion. What makes the story important (and actually good) are the mysteries at play and the characters themselves. The mystery is actually quite good in and of itself and there are actually three. The first is figuring out what happened to your two friends a year ago. Another involves figuring out the mystery surrounding a mysterious man wandering around and the last concerns itself with events which happened in 1952. As you progress through the game you'll constantly find clues to all three mysteries that you can pick up and inspect and try to put together. As the game progresses the mysteries actually become quite fascinating and absorbing.

There are seven characters in Until Dawn and you'll spend the game taking control over each one of them at various times in the story. The game begins with an excellent tutorial that gives players a sense of just how the game works and the game flow itself. When you control characters you can walk around and explore your surroundings. Sometimes objects will glimmer, giving you a chance to inspect them. Upon doing so you can usually grab them, flip them over in your hand, observe them and watch as characters make commentary. Other times during certain scenes and during certain moments of the game you'll have to make choice decisions. Do you provide humor to an intense situation or are you serious about it the whole time? When two characters are fighting, who do you side with in the fight? How will you build and maintain the friendships between these characters? What makes the game exciting is that your choices actually feel like they matter in some way. Games like The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us have ways of giving the illusion that choice matters, but without drastically altering the narrative at play. Until Dawn, however, makes sure that your choices actually have an impact in some way. Ever character has a set of attributes about them, and every character also has a relationship with every other character. Characters might be honest, charitable, humorous or brave, for instance (among other things). The choices you make might affect them in various ways. If you're picking a lot of humorous or sarcastic choices, for example, then you'll find their "Funny" attribute increases. When you're introduced to the characters you'll get a sense of their personality.

Players also have to keep an eye on the relationships they have with the characters in the game. During choice moments the choices you make will have an impact on various friendships. Do you look at someone's phone and snoop? Doing so will decrease the relationship between two characters. Early on in the game two of the girls fight and whoever you side with has an impact on the relationship between all three characters.

The game is made even more intriguing by the butterfly effect. There are a couple of games that utilize something like this (Life is Strange is a good example) and do it well. Until Dawn makes sure that some of your choices matter. Every now and then when you make a choice, a butterfly effect takes place and can alter the story. Characters will remember certain things you did. You might find certain objects you realize are actually important and the game lets you know via a butterfly effect. It keeps you on your toes and keeps you guessing, especially as you realize the impact of your decisions later on down the line. Through some of these choice moments characters will likely die. Their lives are in your hand and the game challenges you to try to save everyone. On the other hand, however, Until Dawn doesn't give you the opportunity to reverse your decisions. In many games if you simply reset or reload you can make a different choice, but Until Dawn wants to instill a sense of permanence. Once you make a choice there is no going back. The only way to make a different choice is to start the entire game over. It's a nice touch that forces players to actually think about their decisions. Especially as the majority of them have insane consequences.

The game isn't just making decisions, however. Sometimes you'll take control and be able to explore your environment. But when things actually really get going you'll be given opportunities to really test your reflexes. During some of the games more harrowing moments you'll find yourself having to make snap decisions in a limited time frame. You'll have to quickly rush to the aid of a character, for example, and the game is going to give you a series of quick time events to do it. Screwing up could mean the death of a friend or just slow you down... you never know. Do you keep playing it safe taking the safe paths? Or do you rush and put yourself in danger? Either way the game provides quick time events and if you screw up there's no instant "game over" you just have to sit there and live with the consequences of your failure. Normally I'm not a big fan of quick time events, but I actually felt some of them (not all) were actually important. They provided a sense of urgency.

Of course there are moments where the events being on a timer didn't feel like they mattered. But this is done to help you understand that in some of Until Dawn's decisions (the timed ones anyway) it's okay to do absolutely nothing. Early on, for instance, you have a choice to pelt a bird with a snowball. It's a timed decision but doing so actually has drastic consequences. Do you keep nature in balance or do you not? I was surprised that not only was it a butterfly effect decision, but that it was a major decision. Then again, that's the point of the butterfly effect. The smallest things you do are often the ones which have the biggest consequences.

All of this is thrown into a fairly interesting story that's littered all over with horror tropes you're familiar with. The difference between Until Dawn and watching a typical horror movie, however, is that you actually get to choose what will happen. If you've ever been watching a horror movie and found yourself screaming at characters investigating a noise or splitting up... you get a chance to be in control of all of these things. As such because the choices are yours you'll find that you can actually subvert a lot of tropes or invert them. And sometimes playing to the typical horror movie tropes can save you in instances where they shouldn't, or kill you instances where they should've saved you. It makes playing and experiencing Until Dawn far more interesting than watching a horror movie itself.

Until Dawn sets its horror up perfectly. The first few jump scares are characters usually playing jokes on one another, disguised as intense moments. They freak you out but... end up putting your mind at ease. Jump scares are usually ineffective in a lot of games, but they work in Until Dawn simply because its early moments begin to prime you for the more serious ones. As the game settles in and gets cozy the scares become more frightening thanks to Until Dawn relying more on the player's anticipation for the scare as opposed to going all in for the jump scare. It creates a great atmosphere. The characters also play into this just as well. The seven teenagers you control end up making a lot of bad jokes and spitting off a lot of goofy one-liners as the game begins, but they're just goofy enough that you actually start to like them. Very few video games do well on making silly, goofy teenagers actually be silly goofy teenagers. So many focus so much on angst that they forget that teenagers actually have dynamic emotions. Until Dawn captures this dynamic perfectly that some characters actually become charming and you want to save everyone.

The game is broken up into ten chapters, with each lasting about an hour a piece. In between each chapter you'll be talking to a psychologist who seems to be breaking the fourth wall, addressing the player directly. During these moments in between he'll make comments about your play style as well as have you make other decisions. A lot of these things feel like they don't carry weight at first, but eventually the game ties this all together in an interesting way.

Graphically, Until Dawn is a gorgeous sight on the eyes. There are a lot of games out there that utilize the raw power of their console, without actually giving credit to a game's art direction. Until Dawn makes sure to not just be a powerful game, but making good use of the style of the game as well. Some spaces feel cramped. Others are extremely dark while there are haunting images and uncomfortable sights on the wall. The game evokes a horror atmosphere that begins to make your trek through the game feel unsettling. Until Dawn never opts to let up either. The game's use of sound may actually be better. You'll hear odd noises and the the notes in the music can sometimes hit eerie heights. But what really drives a lot of it home are the sound effects. The uncomfortable whistling of the wind outside, the noises of the animals throughout or sometimes even just the realization that something is off and the sound is constantly letting you know this. The voice acting is also incredibly well done. There are a lot of cheesy and strange lines, but after a while you don't really mind because you ARE playing around in a horror game, after all. A little bit of cheese is not only welcome by this point, but expected. It keeps Until Dawn's moments a little light even in the event of despair.

Thanks to the structure of the game it also has surprisingly high replay value. If you messed up you'll want to go through the game and try to save everyone (or maybe you're one who is curious to see how everyone meets their end). The game isn't terribly long, but there are a lot of ways to experience it and you'll find yourself replaying just to see how everything can potentially turn out. The game's length is designed so that you can keep experiencing and changing the fate of the game itself.

Until Dawn was certainly a game that surprised me. It's a horror game, but also an adventure one where you make various decisions. Those decisions actually matter, and I was surprised at just how engaging the game could be. Of course, Until Dawn isn't perfect. It's a great experience and one that most gamers will love and enjoy. It's good enough that some of its issues aren't always noticeable. The first and most obvious is that you're playing a game full of choices that sometimes consist of quick time events and timed decisions. In these kinds of games sometimes you need to play through once and fail before you can play through and succeed. Quick time events may feel appropriate in Until Dawn, but they haven't solved the number one issue of quick time events: that if you don't know they're coming you're likely to fail simply because you had no time to prepare. Until Dawn tries to solve this issue by making sure to telegraph that you're going through some harsh terrain such as when you're asked to decided to go the safe route or the more dangerous one. Obviously the dangerous one is going to have more to it. But then the game throws in other quick time events like giving someone a high five... and if you miss it, well... you strangely find yourself screwing up that relationship.

The other big thing is that while A LOT of decisions in Until Dawn have profound effects such as the Butterfly Effect, the game is also having you make mundane decisions a lot that don't really matter. Decisions that neither improve your status or relationships and that don't affect the narrative at all. They might reflect how some characters respond, but that doesn't mean they impact the story. This is a smaller nitpick, however. Until Dawn still does a better job of presenting your decisions as important in a way that games like The Walking Dead don't.

The last thing is that sometimes walking feels clumsy. You spend a lot of time walking but often times those controls are kind of clunky. Every now and then I couldn't line up with something I was supposed to interact with because walking was sometimes just that strange and clumsy. There are also moments were you have to sit perfectly still as opposed to pressing anything but like the quick time events, if you don't know these moments are coming you might screw them up if you're the type of gamer to fidget a lot. Again, this one is more of a nitpick. Until Dawn's problems aren't enough to pull you out of the experience entirely, but they are enough to jar you just a bit during the experience that you have to take a moment to get sucked in again. It usually doesn't take long to get sucked back in.

All that said, Until Dawn is a good game. It's a great experience filled with some good characters. Giving the player the opportunity to subvert classic horror tropes allows for a lot of replay value and agency that a lot of adventure games don't have. Your choices feel impactful and like they matter--even in instances where they don't. Players looking for a great horror gaming experience will find it here.


Fallout 4 Vault Dweller's Survival Guide Collector's Edition: Prima Official Game Guide
Fallout 4 Vault Dweller's Survival Guide Collector's Edition: Prima Official Game Guide
by David S. J. Hodgson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $23.99
73 used & new from $19.78

122 of 144 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars It's More Like a Bloated Instruction Manual, November 16, 2015
Generally speaking, over the past few years Prima guides haven't really been bad. In fact with how useful their Fallout 3: Game of the Year Edition guide was and how incredibly handy it was to have their HUGE Skyrim Legendary Edition guide, I was expecting a bit more from Prima than this. This guide is big. You'd assume a really big guide would be jam packed with information, but it isn't. Not only does Prima's Fallout 4 guide require a LOT of navigation to get all the information you need out of it, but the information itself isn't in depth in any way.

To begin, the guide looks pretty good. The cover (at least of the collector's edition) is very nice and the pages are perfectly glossy (even if a little thin). But the layout and design are usually pretty simple to follow. It doesn't quite thematically breathe Fallout the way the Fallout 3 guide did, but upon first flipping through it you'd be forgiven for thinking that it was a really in-depth guide. After all, it's thick, every page is filled with screenshots, tables and what looks to be information. But... what does that information say? How does it guide the player? This is where the guide becomes problematic.

The guide jumps right in, attempting to help you understand the game. It'll tell you about the basic things that the game itself will tell you. For those hoping to get more information on the various systems and how they work the guide doesn't go far. It doesn't necessarily have to, but it also doesn't spend a lot of time here. Once we get to the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. perks, though the guide begins to show the flaw that's going to keep players from truly mastering Fallout 4. Everything concerning your attributes and perks are things the game itself already tells you. There are no suggestions as to how to utilize or suggestions for players who wish to play a specific way. So much of what's here is ripped directly from the game itself. There's no real strategy or suggestions of how to utilize the perks to your advantage.

Going beyond that the guide mostly talks about other basics. It'll tell you things such as how combat works (a very basic rundown) before going on to detail the enemies you'll run into. There are only a couple of paragraphs. No strategies on how to fight these enemies, or suggestions but I suppose that I can deal with. We then go into things like your inventory where there are lots of tables. I don't have too many qualms here except for one: Your weapons. The guide only tells you the most basic of basic things about the weapons. Every now and then there are some tips, but the guide spends far more time telling you ABOUT the weapons rather than giving tips on how to USE the weapons or how best to customize the weapons. The guide talks briefly about mods... but once again it spends a lot of time telling you ABOUT them and not how to utilize them.

Even if you manage to get through all that, the walkthrough itself is going to be terribly problematic. Before the walkthrough there is a list of all the quest, but I found this to be quite useless in comparison. For instance, it's great that it tells me the quest type, but... I'd like to know where it is. It tells you what page to find the quest on but say you want to do a quest in a specific location... it won't tell you. It just won't tell you where it is in the game.

I understand that Fallout 4 doesn't exactly present a great main story. The joy of Fallout 4 is roaming the wasteland and finding and discovering the individual quests, not necessarily your own. The world is pretty cool. Apparently Prima thought similarly. The guide only takes twenty pages or so to cover the main quest. This is because each quest is only given a handful of paragraphs dedicated to it. Sometimes those paragraphs are used to tell you absolutely nothing. Near the beginning of the game when going through Sanctuary, for instance, the guide tells me to explore, but at no point helps point me in the direction of potentially useful items or prepares me for some the hazards I might face. At times the guide MIGHT mention enemies you might encounter and at other times it doesn't say anything. The hazards is a far worse, though. Certainly it's important to explore without really knowing what's coming. But if I'm going to spend a good deal of money on a strategy guide (whether for a collector's item or not) then it's not unfair to expect the guide to give me as much detail as it possibly can. At no point has this guide made me feel secure in what it is I'm doing. There's usually an enemy it doesn't mention. A hazard it doesn't talk about. It rarely points items out in the walkthrough.

There are more quests the guide covers beyond the main stuff, but it's mostly the same. A lot of paragraphs that usually describe the quest but don't guide you through it, while explaining to you what the game is already telling you. There are hardly any real details on what to do. Usually it's something basic like... "Explore this area." Each quest usually has a list of objectives and places to explore listed as well. This is great, but going beyond this the guide doesn't feel it needs to tell you HOW to obtain those objectives or what's worth exploring. The guide will usually point you to somewhere in the middle to look for a map. We'll come back to this as well. The point is that the walkthrough and quest guide don't feel complete. They are peppered with good looking screenshots, but again, it's that you don't get enough details about these quests. And sometimes inbetween main quest missions it doesn't tell you what to do inbetween. Things you need to be doing inbetween quests the guide isn't always telling you about. Going from one main quest to another, for example, might actually require you to go through other areas. But since it's not a "quest" the guide just simply opts not to mention anything about it. It's SOMEWHERE in the walkthrough, but because it's not a "main" quest it's not going to be found in that section. It might show up in one of the other quest sections, but you're going to have to basically flip through the guide to find it.

The walkthrough also has lots of helpful tips from Vault Boy... but often it's just repeating a lot of things the game itself is actually telling you. They're not so much helpful as they are redundant. And the entire walkthrough is sometimes written in this manner. The game will tell you something and you'll often read the walkthrough to find it describing what an NPC just told you and not necessarily how to go about it. There's so much fluff in the guide at times that it was usually better to go online to figure out what I was looking for. To spend this much money on a guide to ultimately need to go online for information is pretty bad. In this day and age, a strategy guide is a supplement and not a necessity. Often they are collector's items. That isn't a good reason for a poorly constructed walkthrough, however. The Fallout 4 guide either holds back on a lot of detail or it just simply gives you the most basic of basic information. It's the difference between someone backseat gaming and someone playing the game with you.

After the walkthrough and quest guide we come to the workshop chapter. As with the rest of the guide it tells you a lot ABOUT the workshops but isn't going to help you utilize them. At times the Fallout 4 guide feels less like a strategy guide and more like a bloated instruction manual. After the workshops we then come to the maps. The maps section is the biggest section of the guide by far. Taking up HALF the guide itself. Sure enough most of these maps are good. It shows you a huge map before going region by region. In each region it'll then go through all the primary locations where it actually shows you the area itself. The guide is less interested in showing you all the wilderness in between these primary locations. Each section in the walkthrough usually will send you to the map if you want a good idea of what the location looks like. While some of those items are shown in the walkthrough, they're definitely shown on the maps. You get an optimal route to get through an area and then they point out a few items. There are even small snippets of information here that even tell you some things you might want to do in these areas. I'm not sure why those things weren't included in the walkthrough. Sometimes it's even more precise in fewer words. At times it made more sense to just flip to this section of the guide than it was to use the actual walkthrough.

At first it seemed odd that the maps weren't in the walkthrough itself, but after utilzing the guide for a bit, I'm glad they weren't. The walkthrough would be far more hazardous to use. It made using the walkthrough a lot easier. The maps section also shows all the secondary locations. There aren't maps for these, but they're usually places on the over world map with a small bit to tell you about it. It's actually not a bad section. The only major nitpick here is that the legend only appears on the first page or so of the section. There are a lot of symbols to memorize. You might have to flip back to it from time to time.

The biggest problem with the guide isn't necessarily it's lackluster walkthrough. The bigger problem is definitely navigating the guide itself. Useful techniques, that even Prima used in the past, aren't used here. Most guides have a decent "tab" system. This is where you can get an idea where you should flip by looking at the tabs usually in the margin of the page. Each section has a tab at a different spot. A tab system helps players get an idea of what section starts where and how large it is. When flipping through you'll know if you've gone too far because the tabs have changed. I'm not sure why Prima didn't use a good tab system. Especially when they've used one in previous guides. Worse than a tab system, however, is the lack of an index. This guide is huge. Being able to pinpoint a quest (in more than just a list) would've been nice. There were times when I wanted to know WHERE a quest was and I had to flip through the guide endlessly to find it. An index would've easily solved these issues. Not just that, but for those who purchased the collector's edition guide... ribbon bookmarks would've been a nice addition. It would've helped with the page flipping.

Strategy guides are not really a necessity anymore. Guides are often supplements or collector's items now. Sometimes strategy guides can enhance the experience of the game. Prima's Fallout 4 guide doesn't really do anything. It doesn't supplement the game or enhance the experience. The extras included with the collector's edition guide are hardly enough to make up for how much information the guide just doesn't have. Prima's Fallout 3 guide felt complete. It was huge, but justifiably huge. Here the guide feels incomplete. Were it not for the maps it'd likely just be an overblown instruction manual. A walkthrough needs to do more than tell me what the game is telling me. It needs to actually guide. It needs to actually dive. For collector's the guide will certainly looks nice on a shelf. It's pretty and has some decent maps. But the problems with the walkthrough and the absurd amount of page flipping you'll need to do to find all the information you want don't make the guide a good companion.
Comment Comments (9) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 17, 2015 2:22 AM PST


UNCHARTED: The Nathan Drake Collection - PlayStation 4
UNCHARTED: The Nathan Drake Collection - PlayStation 4
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17 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Three Treasures Worth Experiencing if You Haven't Before, October 11, 2015
When the Uncharted series first debuted in 2007, it was largely seen as something of a Tomb Raider ripoff (of the original Tomb Raider games, that is). The series, however, quickly established itself as being something separate from the old Tomb Raider games (with the reboot now strangely being referred to as an Uncharted ripoff which is also... wrong). They were pulp adventures, largely, filled with action and adventure, peppered by some fantastic set piece moments. With Uncharted 4 on the horizon, the Uncharted collection is here to remind fans of what it is they loved and to introduce new players to the series. These remasters are nice, but it also serves as a great way to see how the series evolved. How it went from the style of the first game to the epicness of the third.

So let's start at the beginning. The first story centers on Nathan Drake's quest to find Eldorado. As a descendant of Drake he is pretty smart about finding lost treasures and following clues to connect things. Here he wants to search for the Lost City of gold following clues that he has left behind. Along with his partner Sully and love interest, Elena, they travel across the world. Along the way they face pirates looking for the same treasure. What unfolds is a story that is so much bigger. What has often made the Uncharted games fun storytelling is that the games themselves have relatively simple stories... but they have fun, charming characters. The writing is fantastic, the sense of humor impeccable. It goes to show it isn't just the idea the story has going for it, but how that story is presented. Clearly Uncharted has borrowed cues from Romancing the Stone, Jewel of Nile, Tomb Raider and (most obvious of all) Indiana Jones. It's action packed, with spectacles all around.

You needn't play the Uncharted games in order to understand the story at all. While games might make references to each other they're fairly episodic in nature. If you're new to the series, however, I'd recommend starting with the first one just to get it out of the way. Uncharted 2 and 3 are so much better games you'd likely never want to play the first one again afterwards. The games are fun, but the first is most certainly the weakest in the series. It's the one which features the most boring gameplay and most tame set piece moments. The gameplay of Uncharted is very similar to Gears of War. You play through each game and get into fire fights. During these fire fights you can always take cover behind whatever structures are in the area. Nate can carry two weapons at a time. He can carry one two-handed weapon such as a shotgun or an assault rifle, and he can carry one pistol such as a handgun or desert eagle. As fire fights commence you'll pop out and shoot and take cover. Sometimes you might be chased out when enemies throw grenades or when your cover gets destroyed. Nate can also grab grenades which, thankfully in this collection, don't require the motion controls to use anymore.

This makes up the basic frame work of all three games, but in the first Uncharted it's a somewhat daunted by these mechanics. Not because they're bad, but because the first Uncharted doesn't fully know a lot of variety. For the most part, the first Uncharted isn't a properly paced game. For the most part you're constantly running from one gun fight to the next without a whole lot to break up the monotony of the gun fights themselves. There are a good variety of weapons, but for the most part it's just mowing down bad guys in tense firefights. There are a few set piece moments like an exciting jeep chase and a part on a jet ski, but aside from these moments the first Uncharted is definitely the game in this collection that hasn't aged very well at all. The way melee combat works in the game is also a sign of this. It feels loose and clumsy and, for the most part, isn't really necessary at all. The first Uncharted also has a terrible implementation of quick time events. The kind you're likely to fail because you're surprised the game has them in the first place. These things don't make the first Uncharted bad. It's a solid game. They do, however, help you realize just how poorly the game has aged in comparison to the next two.

Uncharted 2, on the other hand, pretty much went above and beyond the first in almost every way. Where as the first begins with you on a boat digging up a coffin. Uncharted 2 opens literally with a bang. You're in a train teetering off the edge of a cliff and you have to climb out before it goes. But you've also been shot and you're bleeding out. The game then flashes back to the events which lead up to it. Like the first, Drake has found information about a famous explorer. This time Marco Polo. Apparently he found the lost city of Shambala and now Drake must find it. Sully and Elena return but we're also introduced to new characters such as Chloe and Flynn. But more than that, the story really amps up this time around on both an emotional level and on an adventurous one. The villain, for instance, is much more threatening and lethal. You won't find yourself in fear of the first game's Gabriel Roman by any means. But Zoran Lazarevic is so much more intimidating.

There are tons of areas where Uncharted 2 does better than the first. Even in specifics to gameplay. The platforming is more refined. Even more than that the gunplay is the most well tweaked. You now have a reticle for blind fire. You can throw grenades seamlessly and fighting hand to hand is simpler. It's complete with counter attacks. The story also paces so much better. The first Uncharted had a few big adventure moments such as a short jeep chase, but Uncharted 2 had so much more. A daring chase across rooftops as a Helicopter tries to gun you down, a fantastic train sequences, a game of cat and mouse with a tank... and it keeps pace brilliantly. Because of all this refinement with pacing, storytelling and gameplay, Uncharted 2 is pretty much the go to example of how to make a sequel better than the original. It outdoes the original in every way.

The pacing is improved because instead of running from gunfight to gunfight there are things that break up the action. Uncharted 2 makes good use of downtime. After a tense helicopter chase, for instance, the game dials it back to giving you some simple platforming afterwards, a puzzle before it slowly starts to ramp up the action again. Uncharted 2 does this again and again. The puzzles aren't exactly hard, but they make for a nice break between the action. In comparison to the first Uncharted which kept throwing armies of enemies at you from one room to the next, Uncharted 2 has a lot of variety. It's a near perfect game. If there were any problem with Uncharted 2 it would be that the game's final encounter feels pitiful compared to the rest of the experience. It's simple and repetitive for a game that spent so much time giving us a lot of variety and gameplay improvements. But after the final encounter we get back to doing what Uncharted 2 does best: set piece moments. The first Uncharted combined a lot of gameplay mechanics and experiences from other games, but Uncharted 2 masters this combination to make a game that's really fluid.

Uncharted 2 is often cited as one of the greatest games and sequels of all time. When Uncharted 3 came out, there wasn't really a lot of improvement needed. Yet, it was also important to make the game feel somewhat different from the second game. The third game centers more so on Nathan Drake and Victor Sullivan's relationship in terms of story. Not just showing how they came to be allies, but also showing how deep their relationship goes. Other characters from the series return such as Chloe and Elena, but the game tries to firmly keep to Nate and Sully. The game is also constantly questioning Nate as it goes on. What makes someone a madman? And why does Nate always have to be so obsessed with treasure and danger? Nathan Drake doesn't fear death... he welcomes it. The adrenaline he receives from these moments gets him high... but when does the obsession end? The game is constantly asking this question as it progresses. It's certainly the best story in the series because of its focus on characters and themes, but it's also likely the best game to play. It's the Uncharted that even manages to improve on the second one.

Yes, it uses the same basic gameplay. Taking cover and popping up to fire. But even Uncharted 3 makes some slight improvements. For instance, you can now toss grenades back at your enemies. There are also a larger variety of weapons. Yet where Uncharted 3 really improves are its set piece moments. Certainly Uncharted 2's helicopter chase and train sequences were phenomenal, but Uncharted 3 does better. Some set piece moments include playing as a young Nathan Drake escaping dangerous agents, and Nathan Drake also being on a capsizing cruise liner. They are intense moments that really show the strength of the Uncharted series. The melee combat is also better. This time around it feels more influenced by the Batman Arkham games than anything... but it works and feels fluid. And unlike the second game, the third game's final encounter is definitely more exciting by giving you the best of Uncharted. Uncharted 2's final encounter feels out of place... but Uncharted 3's final encounter drops silly gimmicks in favor of simply having you do the things Uncharted is best at: Platforming, melee combat and shooting.

The pacing in Uncharted 3 is also the best. Uncharted 2 has great pacing, mind you. It really does. The third one has more moments of downtime and retrospection for the player. The Uncharted games (specifically 2 and 3) show how important down time in a game can be. To take time to breathe in the experience of a game is important.

The Uncharted games are also beautiful. They have a lot of eye-popping visuals, but the style of the game also works. Again, the first game was released (as well as the second) where so many developers weren't using a ton of lighthearted aesthetics when they wanted to be serious. Uncharted opts to be light while peppering moments of seriousness. The characters are always bantering with each other as you run through areas with them, but they're beautiful areas that are well presented. The experience is even better on the Playstation 4. It's in 60 frames per second and looks a lot cleaner and smoother. This is on par with Naughty Dog's remaster of "The Last of Us." It's not quite as good, though.

One point of contention I have with The Nathan Drake Collection is that the asking price is pretty high. While the improvements are great, it's a game where you're likely going to play it because you haven't played them before. In all honesty, it feels like this is the only reason you'd really want The Nathan Drake Collection. Sixty dollars is a lot to put down on a remastered collection. Especially when the first three games on the PS3 are exceedingly cheap used. This isn't like finding a remastered PS2 game where the presentation has been changed to wide screen and the visual improvements are much more noticeable. For some, the upgrade in visual fidelity is going to be hard to spot with a game remastered for the PS4.

This brings about the question, as always, as to whether or not it's worth buying the Nathan Drake Collection if you still have your trilogy of games on the PS3. In all honesty, if you own the original three already and you want to experience it on the PS4, it would probably be better to simply wait for a price drop if you HAVE to experience them. The second and third games have aged relatively well that any improvements to the games don't have an enormous impact on the package itself. If, on the other hand, you've never played the Uncharted games before and you have a PS4 this is a good time to experience all three games.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 12, 2015 12:45 PM PDT


DARK SOULS
DARK SOULS
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5.0 out of 5 stars Prepare to Die, September 12, 2015
This review is from: DARK SOULS (Video Game)
It's been an astonishing four years since the first Dark Souls hit the scene and the game still gets talked about as though it's still a fairly recent release. This despite the fact that it has a sequel and a spiritual successor (Bloodborne). Of all the games of the PS3 and XBOX360 era, Dark Souls is perhaps one of the biggest sleeper hits of that generation. But why? What was it about this game that enamored so many people and turned so many heads? In four years most games would've died down considerably in popularity, but Dark Souls cult following is just as strong now as it was during it's original release in 2011. It has entire channels dedicated to it on YouTube, a thriving community that still comes together to play the game in jolly cooperation and gamers who still insist on challenging themselves by doing their own custom play throughs. Can you complete the game at level 1? Can you complete the game without dying once? Can you complete the game quickly? Can you get through without summoning? Can you get through at level 1 with only your initial equipment AND without summoning? These were various challenges and more the community came up with.

But why Dark Souls? What was it about this game that was so mystifying? Even now I still put Dark Souls into my PS3 and even now I still get something out of it and I've played through the game dozens of times. Each time still feels like a new and harrowing experience despite that I can get through much of it in my sleep. If I even see the words "You Died" on screen I have to take a moment to figure out what happened. I mastered Dark Souls (as difficult as that was) but I still come back constantly to experience the majesty of this game. It's probably in part because it's one of the few games that does almost everything right. It's one of the few games so meticulous in its design that if you discover something and ask yourself, "I wonder if the developers intended for it to be done that way?" and the answer might actually be "Yes." Dark Souls quietly snuck into the gaming culture and grasped a following that refuses to let go. There may be bigger and better games out there... but none of them are Dark Souls.

No doubt, the most common thing everyone hears about Dark Souls is how challenging it is. And make no mistake the game is challenging. Yet if this was all that made Dark Souls a curiosity it wouldn't be worth discussing in such detail, nor would it be a game that amassed the following it has. Other games are challenging and difficult, but they don't retain the following that Dark Souls has. No, there's so much more to Dark Souls than just difficulty. And we're going to talk about it at length in this review.

So let's dive in. This review is long and filled to the brim with love for Dark Souls. This is your warning.

Dark Souls isn't known so much for its story as it is the lore. The game begins with a short cinematic explaining how Gwyn and his knights went to war against the dragons. They won and thus began the age of fire. But in the world of Dark Souls everyone is hollow. It's not at all a bright and sunny story. You play as one of these undead who has been trapped in an asylum and once you get free you go off to Lordran. When there you slowly realize what your quest is. As an undead you are tasked with bringing in a new age or continuing the rule of it in this decaying world. But that's really all you get. The game isn't heavy on exposition, yet Dark Souls actually has a huge story to tell. It's just not given to you in mouthfuls of exposition like other games. Most video games make sure the player understands at all times what's going on, what the goals are and rarely do you have to venture outside of the beaten path to uncover more. But Dark Souls isn't most games. Dark Souls wants you to explore and put pieces of the story together on your own. Who are you battling? What's the significance of all this? What is up with the places you're visiting? The game doesn't wish to explain much of this to you. Instead you need to make sure you examine and read a lot of what you find. The flavor text on items and weapons can often add a lot to the story on its own. The world the game takes place in works in a similar fashion. It wants you to understand that the world, items you find and weapons you use all have a story. And by putting all of these together Dark Souls not only forms a coherent narrative but also a coherent world. It doesn't fill in all the holes, though. There's still a lot left to interpretation, and fans all around the world have come up with various ideas. Dark Souls is a world full of mystery where you won't always get the answers to the questions you ask. But if you're willing to go a little further and examine the items you find or talk to various NPCs you won't be left swimming without a life-preserver.

The gameplay is not your standard action game either. You'll begin by making a character and a class. In the game's opening dungeon you can't really do much. The opening dungeon is nothing more than a crash course. If you can beat it, then anything in Dark Souls is manageable. Once you get to Lordran (the main focus of the game) many elements come together. You'll begin to battle and collect souls which you can then use to either buy items from merchants or use them to level up. Souls are both currency and experience. You can dump levels into various stats. There is no "best way" to level, it all depends on how you wish to play the game. Those who rely on magic, for instance, aren't really doing themselves a lot of good by putting levels into their strength. Although you may have to anyway. The levels of your stats don't just determine how strong your weapons are, but also if you can use them at all.

If you've played Bloodborne you'll no doubt realize the game puts a lot of emphasis on offense. Dark Souls is the opposite. It puts a lot of emphasis on defense. When playing you have a stamina meter. It depletes when you attack, block attacks or dash around. When it runs out you have to wait for it to replenish. It actually replenishes quite quickly so there's no harm there. But a lot of the combat in Dark Souls focuses more so on knowing the weapon you're using as well as learning the attacks of your enemies. You'll spend quite a bit of time running around with your shield raised. Dark Souls works in a trialed manner. That is to say that it's a game you're supposed to learn through play. Like many games that came out during the NES and SNES era, Dark Souls expects you to learn through observing your enemies and then using what you've learned to win. At first this might be intimidating, but this also means that once you recognize certain attacks Dark Souls can actually be a breeze. Every enemy has a way of telegraphing their attacks and pretty soon you'll learn the best tactics to dodge, block and also learn when it just isn't worth it. This makes Dark Souls a game of mastery and skill. But this also makes Dark Souls a game of patience. If you aren't willing to actually learn your enemies and you decide to try and rush through everything without actually knowing, the game will punish you over and over again.

Dark Souls is not forgiving, but it is meticulous. You can rest assured that most of the time when you die it was through your own doing. Most games don't have a large penalty for dying, but Dark Souls actually does. If you die, you'll lose all your souls. This means that if you had a lot you have levels you might otherwise be able to gain or items you could buy. And you won't necessarily want to farm for all of them again. You have a chance to recover them by going to where it is you died and grabbing them. The thing is, though, whatever killed you is usually lying in wait. It's still there. This is especially taxing if you're constantly losing to a boss over and over again. Dark Souls does, at least, have checkpoints scattered throughout the world. There are bonfires all over the place and if you light one you can rest at it. You will always respawn from the last bonfire you lit. You also cannot be attacked when you're there. This is also the time when you'd repair broken weapons or distribute your souls for experience. It's also where you'll use humanity that will get you more invested in the PvP.

Dark Souls has two unique features. The first is that if you are connected to the internet you'll commonly come across messages left by players on the ground. These messages can help you a great deal, or doom you. It depends on who left them. Some will give you hints or warn you about traps. Others might lie to you and get you to attack walls that don't break... or more devious than that, cause you to die. You can rate messages as well. The other, however, is the games PvP. This requires you to have a specific item in your inventory: Humanity. Using humanity will relieve of your undead state. You can then summon other adventurers into your world to help you for whatever tasks you need done. You can summon two players at once. There's a catch to this, though. You can also be invaded by other players who will try to kill you. Being human means that you are always subject to this rule. The thing is, though, Dark Souls PvP is entirely unpredictable at times. Summoning allies is always a unique thing, but when your world is invaded by a player you never know how things can go. Some people invade you and try to kill you immediately. Others might give you items and THEN kill you (but they usually give you really helpful items) and others aren't interested in anything at all but to try to show you things. It's unusual, but even the people who invade your game might be out to help you instead of hinder you (though you should assume an invasion is a bad thing). Dark Souls is an unusual game, but this makes the experience unique to play.

The game also allows you to join various covenants throughout your quest. Some utilize the PvP very nicely. One clan you join, for instance, gives you the opportunity to bring about judgment on players who constantly invade other players. You'll randomly get called to their world to kill them. Another clan in a forest will summon you any time you're wearing the ring they give you to defend the forest from intruders. Other clans, however, aren't meant for PvP. They either provide more lore or give you items. For the game's most famous clan (the Sun Covenant) you get sun medals every time you help someone defeat a boss. Give enough of these to the sun alter and you'll be given more spells. It all depends on how deeply aligned to the clan you are.

All of this is very complex stuff. It feels like a lot but when you actually play the game it actually becomes easy to learn. The hardest part of the game, truthfully, is getting to the bosses you'll face. The enemies along the way are tough, but the environments are also filled with their own traps and hazards. When you finally do get to the bosses, though, this is where you'll really learn the meaning of the game's slogan: Prepare to Die. You will lose to the bosses countless times, but they're just like most of the standard enemies. Pattern recognition is all you need. Each boss telegraphs their attacks, they just usually have more of them. Yet if yous tick to it most bosses can be overcome through this pattern recognition. Dark Souls is one of the few games where defeating a boss feels extremely satisfying. Each boss explodes in a flash of white dust as the game proclaims your victory and you're awarded with thousands (sometimes hundreds of thousands) of souls for your victory before moving on to the next area.

Dark Souls may be out to punish you but it rarely seeks to do so unfairly. There are always bonfires close to the bosses (both before and after) and the open world makes sure to stick several shortcuts in the mix so that you can always return to the games main hub area, The Firelink Shrine. The game also provides you with the ability to warp at some point between bonfires. Particularly when you get deep enough into the game that traveling back on foot or no shortcut is really all that handy. And it balances this incredibly well. Players who get deep into the game will know that there's always a safe zone close by but it also lessens the sense of abandonment as you get deeper into the game's core. The difficulty, by extension, also rises gradually. Since the focus is more so on being meticulous, patient and recognizing patterns, the world also works this way too. Combat is like this. The story is like this. But more importantly the world the game takes place in is like this.

You'll slowly begin to realize that Dark Souls actually does slowly lead you from one key point to the next, even if it isn't always telling you. But you'll also realize that there's a lot of exploring you can do. There are tons of side areas and character arcs to explore throughout the game. You'll often run into NPCs on their own quest and you can always choose to help them. At times this will build your relationships. And depending on how you go about these particular quests, NPCs might die or they might go hollow and start attack you. Thanks to the good characterization (mostly through showing rather than telling) the game actually makes you care about some of the NPCs you encounter that when some of them bite the dust... it can be heartbreaking (though for some it'll be because they were a merchant that sold you something). When NPCs are gone, they're gone for good. Yet the rewards for helping them through their journey are satisfying. Most lead to weapons or valuable items. Others might net you fantastic spells if you manage to go through them without fault. As with other aspects of the game, Dark Souls doesn't really tell you how to go about it. You just might be battling in a dungeon and an NPC is close by waiting to speak with you. Other times you might rescue them from a terrible fate. But the NPCs are also unpredictable. Some will be your allies and help you out at first, but then they betray you or other NPCs and you have to fight them. It all adds to the world Dark Souls takes place in.

Graphically Dark Souls is a good looking game, but the part that really stands out is the art design and aesthetic appeal. The world of Lordran looks like it's been lived in and inhabited. There will be locales in ruin and you'll often find characters willing to speculate about its mysteries. It's also usually dark and gloomy and evoking a sense of dread. The sound also helps in this. No background music plays throughout your journey. The only time you hear music is when you're in a boss fight, and the music always reinforces certain characteristics about the bosses themselves. When fighting Ornstein and Smough in Anor Londo, for instance, the music reinforces that they're powerful warriors while the music for Sif, the giant wolf, reinforces how majestic he is. Aside from boss battles the lack of music even adds to the game. The game wants you to feel alone and isolated. This is why so many areas are dark. This is also why you can't talk to your friends via an in-game voice chat. Dark Souls wants you to feel like you're being helped by a stranger and it reinforces this through the fact that you can't hear their voice... but you can still communicate through gestures. The game wants to evoke a sense of dread and often it succeeds. The first time through it's not uncommon to find yourself fearing what may be around the next corner. Are you strong enough? Would it be too much to go back to a bonfire and restore your health? But if you do that you'll have to fight through everything again. Dark Souls is challenging the player constantly.

All this forms a near perfect package of a game. But Dark Souls isn't perfect. It has a huge following but the game hasn't even escaped criticism from that following. The first and most important thing to talk about is how Dark Souls sometimes performs. The game insist on not really loading. The game is an open world experience and all the areas are interconnected. This means it almost never loads. At first this is good, but it brings about major performance issues from time to time. Namely that Dark Souls often buckles under this weight. There will be times when the frame rate drops. Sometimes not so much, but other times (most notoriously in Blighttown) it's a huge problem. For a game that is this meticulous and asks for this much precision, frame rate drops can, quite literally, be life threatening. The other is a nitpick. The ragdoll effects. Over time they've become endearing for the community. But sometimes they can actually get in the way of a good time because you can see the sacrifice the developers had to make in order to achieve the incredible lighting and graphical effects they already have. Enemies will bug out and get stuck to you. And while for standard enemies this is sometimes okay, sometimes for stronger enemies it's quite laughable and can take you out of an otherwise serious game.

The online connectivity can also be a bit of a problem. The game goes online, but when you jump online you need an established connection constantly. If you lose connection during play while you're online (regardless of whether you've been summoned or not) the game will always kick you to the title screen and then switch to offline mode. This also brings about a unique issue. The core of Dark Souls is experiencing its online aspects. When the servers go down for good, how magical and meaningful will Dark Souls be? Dark Souls has thrived largely due to the online world it creates. There's even a boss battle in the game designed specifically so that you need to summon (it's still possible without summoning, it's just that much more difficult). When those servers finally shut down for good, I have to wonder if Dark Souls will still thrive triumphantly.

But now for the other big thing to address. Is Dark Souls really that excruciatingly difficult? At one point in time... it was. Dark Souls was a punishing game. One where learning it meant dying several times in order to get an idea of what you were up against. There isn't a soul that could complete Dark Souls the first time through without dying. It's a shame that Dark Souls doesn't have a death counter to let you know how many times you died. The first time through the game is difficult and some players might even think it's unfairly difficult. In particular there's a notorious moment in Anor Londo that many players dread. But Dark Souls is a game that's all about learning. You're going to screw up when you don't know how it's done, but every obstacle can be conquered if you're patient. Dark Souls begins as a relentlessly difficult game, but it won't end that way. It's a systemic experience. One that becomes easier to more you play and the more you observe. Players used to rushing into any situation with abandon will find themselves thoroughly (and deservedly) wrecked by Dark Souls. This isn't a fast-paced, action packed, hack and slash game. This a meticulous game that thrives on you learning from your experiences and screw ups. Simply put, Dark Souls is all about dying and you'll definitely do a lot of it. But once you do learn the game in and out... it is actually a fairly easy-going experience. Since every boss and enemy telegraphs their attacks you can dodge or block anything. Boss battles that were a nightmare suddenly become cakewalks. Dark Souls does have a New Game+. And it actually increases the difficulty in it. Each time you beat it on the same file the enemies get harder and harder in each new game+ you do. But again, it's not difficult if you recognize patterns. For the most part enemies just hit harder and take less damage on a New Game+.

So if Dark Souls actually becomes relatively easy with practice... why do people keep revisiting it? Well, because it does so much right beyond that. We revisit easy games all the time, but Dark Souls has its reputation steeped in it being a particularly difficult game. But it's other reputation (the one less talked about) is that it has an amazing world and an amazing journey. The narrative, the lore and the world of Lordran are exciting. It's a world I want to go back into and explore over and over again. The way the stories of the NPCs work out also add to the replay value of Dark Souls. Perhaps in one play through Solaire, the Knight (who just loves some jolly cooperation) will die... so you resolve that in the next one you'll save him. Perhaps what really gets people to go through Dark Souls again is that the game gives you enough to put a story together... but leaves out JUST enough for you to want answers. And so you play through again hoping you'll find them. It's rare to have a game that does this. Of course, in 2015 there are a myriad of games that do this now (Five Nights at Freddy's in particular), but Dark Souls was a game that took a very different approach to story telling. It took a minimalist approach. It's rare to play games that don't insist on explaining everything to you. That leave no stone unturned and give you all the answers without forcing the player to think or dig deeper. Developers spent time creating this world, as a player we should want to invest in it. Dark Souls asks you to dive. If you're willing to jump in, the experience will be rewarding. If not and a good challenge is all you're seeking, then you'll be left scratching your head wondering what the big fuss is about. Dark Souls was so unique for its time that only its spiritual successor, Demon's Souls, could really draw comparison. But Dark Souls manages to be a better game overall. This isn't to say Demon's Souls is bad, it's only to say that the lasting impact from Dark Souls was amazing.

If there was any shortcoming in Dark Souls storytelling and narrative it would be that the ending (either one of them) is a letdown. Not in a thematic sense, but in an accomplishment sense. After you've slain the final boss and seen the ending it's going to feel a little empty. It takes a lot of work to get through Dark Souls and defeat every challenge it throws at you. Defeating the bosses fills you with a sense of accomplishment. Completing the entire game, however, doesn't leave you with this same feeling. For as majestic as that opening cinematic was it's surprising to see that Dark Souls ends not with a bang... but with a whimper. Yet at the same time right after it's over the flame is going to beckon you again. Dark Souls can be forgiven for having a lackluster ending. The world you inhabit is rewarding enough.

All told, Dark Souls still holds up well. There are few games like it, actually. Demon's Souls and Bloodborne come close, but they aren't Dark Souls. They're fun and enchanting games... but they aren't Dark Souls. Had I played them first I might feel differently. But alas, I ventured to the land of Lordran first. I dived in and died many times before I saw the fruits of my labor rewarded. If you have not played Dark Souls, and you want to give it a try, do so. Not because it's challenging, but because the experience is still unlike a lot of games you'll play. Dark Souls II is a good game, but it lacks the polish and meticulous refinement of the first game. It misunderstands what makes Dark Souls special. It's not just how challenging Dark Souls is that makes it stand out. And it isn't just the challenge the game puts on your skill that makes it stand out. Dark Souls II seemed to put an emphasis on how challenging it could be, but it always failed at making the world come to life the way the first Dark Souls did. So jump into Dark Souls if you're looking for a game that still manages to feel different... but that will also challenge you in other exciting ways. Prepare to die. But also prepare to be absorbed in its fascinating world.


Super Mario Maker - Nintendo Wii U
Super Mario Maker - Nintendo Wii U
Price: $55.28
75 used & new from $44.99

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Constructing a Dream, Brick By Brick, September 12, 2015
The very first video game I ever played, like so many people born around the same time as me, was Super Mario Bros. I was a kid who had never played a video game before and it blew me away. And like every child I had all the Mario games on the original Nintendo (and later the Super Nintendo). You'd think that as I grew older I'd outgrow Mario... but no, I still have quite a bit of love for Mario. It's hard to abandon the first game you played. Mario has been the reason I've purchased several Nintendo consoles over the years despite having a wide range of games to choose from. And like so many children, I one day dreamed of creating my own levels. Mario Maker gives you the chance to do that. It also gives you the chance to showcase your creativity. And there are a lot of assets for you to use in doing so. The game is so massive and huge that I don't think it's possible to cover every nook and cranny in a review. So instead let's just run through some of the basics and talk about some of the level design.

When you begin the game it has a tutorial that will make you finish creating a level. In doing so you'll learn the basics of dragging things from your tool bar and placing them in the level. You can create bricks and ground and place items in question mark blocks if you so choose. Once this is done the game throws you into the course maker on your own. There are lots of tools to unlock, but the game doesn't make them all available from the get go. Originally you had to wait nine days to unlock everything. Nintendo patched this just before launch, but now the stipulations aren't always clear. You CAN unlock everything in a day now, but the "wait a day for this..." method is still there. As you create levels you'll get a notification stating that certain tools will be available soon. Despite telling you to wait a day, you can still get access (it seems by waiting). With this in mind you are still able to do the method where you set your Wii U forward a day (but only after you've gotten the message that new tools will be available).

There aren't a lot of games for the Wii U that make excellent use of the gamepad. Mario Maker almost feels as though it was designed around it. It's the best use of the tablet the Wii U has right now. You use the stylus to select tools and place them in the level editor. It's quick and easy. The interface of this game is brilliant in this regard. Sometimes if you shake certain assets they'll change. Take a koopa trooper. By default it's green. But as you're dragging it, shake it a little and it becomes a red one. Shake bullet bill and instead of its bullets flying straight they become homing bullets instead. It'll be no surprise that you'll start shaking, well, everything at some point to see what it does.

While I don't like waiting, it makes sense that Nintendo would want to ease players in. The manual you get on the disc isn't quite as helpful as you'd have it believe. However, that being said, it's not really hard to learn Mario Maker on its own. There are a lot of tools and a lot of things you can do with them, but the level editor allows for a lot of experimentation. And the level editor is actually really well designed. You can place Mario anywhere and hit "play" to see if something works. You don't always have to test your creation from the start. This allows you to see how it is in practice instantly.

Players can change between the games in the level editor instantly. You can create levels for Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World and New Super Mario Bros. U. You can also change the setting in any of these levels as well. You can create typical ground levels, underground levels, underwater levels, castle levels and airship levels. And these can be used with any game. Even games that didn't have them. Super Mario World, for instance, doesn't have airship levels but you can actually create an airship level now. What you CANNOT do, however, is combine Mario games. It is not possible to make a portion of your level one Mario game and make another part of the level a different Mario game (for instance, if you wanted to enter a pipe and have it change from Super Mario Bros. to Super Mario Bros. 3 you can't do that).

The other thing to keep in mind is that the four games still utilize their own unique styles, in spite of everything. So when you create levels it actually is important to remember which you game you've created the level for. Each game does pull its own play style. You can't, for instance, use a raccoon leaf in Super Mario Bros. because it doesn't exist in Super Mario Bros. Players also have to keep in mind certain mechanics. There's no spin jump, for instance, in Super Mario Bros. or Super Mario Bros. 3 so you can't hope to do that in either game. So if you're thinking of making levels where you spin jump on thwomps, better make sure you create it in the right Mario game. This all means, of course, that you can use these mechanics to suit your style. New Super Mario Bros. U allows players to wall jump and you can totally design levels around this mechanic if you want. This means in some games you may run into limitations while in others you won't.

But there are things that you can use and do pretty universally as well. Not every Mario game had Magikoopa, but you can put him in all of them. Not every game had Bowser's flying clown car but you can put it in everything. The game also has fun things you can do as well so that you aren't only limited to doing the things Nintendo did. You can give enemies Super Mushrooms and make them larger versions of themselves. You can also do such things as make bullet bills spit out power ups if you want... or shoot out enemies. You could make question mark blocks throw out enemies if you want. The possibilities here stretch well beyond the limits of what Nintendo originally placed in these games.

The only particular urksome downside to the level editor is that Nintendo didn't make a way for you to put checkpoints in the levels. There's no halfway mark or anything you can place. So if you've made a particularly challenging level and you wanted someone to be able to restart halfway through after getting beyond a certain point you can't do that.

Players are also going to want to play test their levels extensively. This is especially true if you want to upload it. In order to upload a level you have to actually complete the level yourself. In other words, the level needs to be beatable. That's not to say you won't run into ridiculously hard levels. You will. Lots of them. They're quite prominent in the community (as well as levels that either play themselves or where you merely need to keep running to the right or something like that). It is only to say that no matter how hard the level is, it's possible to beat it. When playing through other peoples levels online there will also be notes left by those who have also played it. When you die, you'll also see places where other players have died. It's only a day after launch and there's already a booming community on Super Mario Maker. You can leave comments on other levels and you can also give them a star if you liked it. It's interesting to play the levels and see what everyone has done. You may even find inspiration for your own levels.

If you don't wish to hop online there are other things you can typically do to pass the time. If you're not interested in playing other users levels or if you don't want to play your own you can go and play the 10 Mario Challenge. This is basically a mode where you play through eight levels on only ten lives. These levels are made by Nintendo and most of them begin as pretty easy levels. They do, however, get harder. You go through them in sets of eight but you can keep coming back over and over again for new levels. It is clear, however, that one of the tenants of this mode is to show everything you can do in Super Mario Maker. If you're nervous about building your own levels this is actually probably the best place to start.

There is another mode that involves you going back into the community, however. The 100 Mario Challenge. In this mode you'll play through several levels pulled at random from the community. The point to playing through this mode is that you have a chance to unlock more content to use. More specifically you can unlock lots of costumes for the original Super Mario Bros. If you've got Amiibos you'll find that you can use them to unlock most of the costumes, but you'll still have a lot to unlock even if you have every Amiibo at this point in time. If, on the other hand, you're not into collecting Amiibos you can still use the 100 Mario Challenge to unlock all of the costumes. Each costume also has its own unique theme surrounding it (if you complete a level in costume the victory fanfare is different).

There's a lot of content in Mario Maker and we're only really scratching the surface. There are so many things to do and to create in the game itself. By going into the community you'll definitely learn a few things about what drives other players and they may even help drive you. There are a couple of downsides to the community, though. The first and most annoying, is that the game doesn't make it easy in anyway to share with your friends. So if you have friends there isn't a separate list to look at specifically their creations. The other is less daunting. Several players will have likely played any level you're going into, and they'll leaves notes. Lots and lots of notes. Sometimes this clutters the screen, but more often than not you'll find that many players ruin the surprises that most creators have thrown at you. On the other hand, the Mario Maker does make it easy to continuously find your favorite content creators. You can also see how many people attempted a level and how many completed it to give you an idea of how difficult it might be.

With all that being said, Super Mario Maker is amazing. It's loaded with a lot of content and will keep you busy for hours. Either by creating your own levels or by seeing everything that has already been created. Super Mario Maker is amazing. If you've found yourself in love with Mario for any time over the past three decades, this game is for you. There's a lot to do and a lot of hidden goodies and secrets. But more importantly, playing through the creations of the community is the absolute best part about it. There are so many amazing levels and the experience can be as everlasting as you want it to be. For fans of Mario (particularly his 2D games) this is a love letter. More than that, though, it can be one of the most amazing Mario experiences you'll ever have.


Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain: The Complete Official Guide Collector's Edition
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain: The Complete Official Guide Collector's Edition
by Piggyback
Edition: Hardcover
32 used & new from $27.99

46 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vital to Your Survival., September 4, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Metal Gear Solid V is a huge game. It's a very huge game. It's also a game that introduces a lot of new elements for series fans. A strategy guide can come in handy. Piggyback Interactive has made tons of Metal Gear Solid guides and they've all been very helpful. But Metal Gear Solid V is a totally different beast. With how unique it is the focus of a guide might also need a unique focus as well. This is what that guide does. It provides the tools for you. In short, Piggyback Interactive is more about helping you understand Metal Gear Solid V just as much as it is about helping you get through it. This is the most exhaustive and unique Metal Gear Guide I've ever seen.

The guide begins with a fairly touching foreward from Hideo Kojima. Seeing as how this may very well be his last Metal Gear game, Kojima lets us know that he gave Metal Gear Solid V his all and that he also wants you to enjoy this particular strategy guide. Once we've gone from this we jump into learning about the basics of the game itself. Even veterans of the Metal Gear Solid saga might want to make a stop here. Things are incredibly different in Metal Gear Solid V and you'd do well to make sure you know how all of its systems work before really diving in. This is all the stuff for beginners, though. Once you learn the basics of the system, the guide has more information you may want to utilize later. We'll get to that. First, the part that most of you are wondering about: The Walkthrough.

Is the walkthrough good? Yes, but it also has to take a different approach than most previous guides by Piggyback. In previous games, Metal Gear was particularly... predictable. Not so in this. Thus Piggyback can always tell you what to do and where to go, but it can't always offer up strategies for how to do everything. It can't tell you much about patrol routes or even how many patrols are in an area because Metal Gear Solid V is changing this stuff up constantly. It doesn't mean you can't get help. You can. The guide provides a few basic tips before it actually dives in. It's going to let you know how the guards can change and show you a few "points of interest." Each mission always begins with a few "notes" and addresses your first play through. Each section also has very detailed top down maps. It then utilizes a waypoint system. It'll show point 1 on a map and then you need to find the "1" in the walkthrough and read it. But for those who just want a quick reference, you can just look at certain call outs on the map itself. It also takes some time to map out how you should go about your mission. As I said, though, it can't really show you guard routes or account for certain things like environmental changes or what happens during the night. It can always point out objectives and intel, though. And it's a good thing the guide comes with a huge map of both Afghanistan and Africa.

This layout means that each mission it can detail quickly. But whenever new enemies are introduced or there are new boss fights, the guide goes into a lot more depth. It might seem like the walkthrough is flying by, but you'll get quite a bit out of it. You won't always learn patrol routes, but the guide will actually help you out in other ways regarding that. The guide also covers side ops, but not with the same amount of depth. Since the side ops are typically not as long or as important you mostly get a screen shot and the details. The guide and walkthrough are organized the way they are so that it can avoid as many spoilers as possible and so that it can be used more so for a quick reference rather than being used in an in depth way.

The guide also has a section dedicated to Mother Base. You'll get a lot of details here. There are maps and information on your entire arsenal here. You can also learn about development and how to manage it too. This section of the guide is valuable because you'll get the most out of development and recruitment this way. Players new to the concept of the mother base should spend time in this section. Probably even more so than the walkthrough at times.

In most strategy guides, the walkthrough is the meat and bones. It's the section you buy a guide for. I would argue that in the case of Piggyback Interactive's Metal Gear Solid V guide the reason you should buy it is the analysis and references chapter. The guide cautions against using this section until you've completed 31 missions, but the first couple bits of advice are valuable to beginners and experts alike. In particular, if you want to learn more about how your enemies function and work... this is where you want to go. And believe me, you want to know how your enemies function and work. But you'll get more than that. Here I was able to learn about Metal Gear Solid V's dynamic difficulty and learn more about the response system and how the game changes based on your style of play. All of these things were important to the core experience. How your enemies work is invaluable, though. How far can you enemies see? This section tells you. How about their health levels and various body parts? It's all here. Yeah, the walkthrough can't tell you about patrol routes or anything, but the enemies section can help you understand everything about them to aid you in how you go about it. The guide also details the entire score system to help you get the best rankings on every mission.

There are some spoilers in the references and analysis chapters, however. In particular, a certain recruit is detailed in full that might be a spoiler. The guide, of course, has already warned you that there would be some spoilers in this section. You'll also get information on a lot of bosses here as well. This section is here primarily for advanced players of Metal Gear Solid V. In reading this section you already need to understand the basic systems of the game to begin with.

The Extras chapter can help you learn some secrets about the game. This is nice, but the real treat in the extras chapter is actually the entire story recap. Piggyback has always done this with their Metal Gear Solid guides going all the way back to Metal Gear Solid 2. And in each new guide they release they always recap the entire story and give an interpretation of the events that have happened. This particular guide opts to cover every last detail you need to know in the story. It'll also do so in chronological order. Meaning it details the events of Snake Eater, Peace Walker, Ground Zeroes and Metal Gear Solid V before it goes into the plots of Metal Gear, Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, Metal Gear Solid, Metal Gear Solid 2 and finally Metal Gear Solid 4. The guide also provides profiles for other characters throughout the saga. If you've gone through the entire saga, this guide will help you begin to make sense of it.

The paperback guide ends after you've read the whole synopsis. The collector's edition, guide, however, has an art gallery with commentary by Kojima himself. This alone makes the collector's edition worth a buy. Here you'll get to learn about some of he development of the game and learn about some of the symbolism found in the game itself--directly from Kojima. And it's brilliant looking artwork as well.

Most strategy guides tend to be about making sure you get through the game. They have a walkthrough and some secrets but that's about it. Piggyback's Metal Gear Solid V guide, however, is trying to enhance your experience of the game. It provides advanced data on enemies, environments, mother base etc., but give us more by providing a story analysis and some artwork with commentary. For a collector, the guide is worth the purchase because you're getting far more than just a strategy guide. You are getting an analytical tome. This guide will really help you understand this complex game. The most helpful bits aren't even in the walkthrough but rather in all the data which surrounds it. The guide is more about helping players understand the game and its unique systems more so than just getting you through it. This makes the guide helpful to beginners and experts alike. If you want to understand Metal Gear Solid V and still find enjoyment in the game's surprises then this is pretty much the perfect guide.
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Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain - PlayStation 4
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain - PlayStation 4
Price: $39.99
110 used & new from $31.99

77 of 88 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars (4.5 Stars): Despite Less Emphasis on Storytelling, the Gameplay is Solid, September 4, 2015
The Good:

+Amazing Presentation
+Engaging Story, For the Most Part
+A lot of different gameplay elements at hand
+A lot of things to keep you busy. Several missions and side ops

The Bad:

-There might be a little too much to do. Metal Gear Solid V is amazing, but there's a lot of side ops and moments of padding.
-The story is good, but doesn't quite have the emotional pull of the previous games in the series. The cutscenes are less about character building and more about plot exposition. Considering all the things Metal Gear Solid V wants to say, it's amazing that not more of these things are conveyed in the game amazing cinematics. Instead, much of what you learn in the plot and story is put to cassette tapes

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NOTE: The Following Review is Long

For years Metal Gear Solid has been a staple in storytelling and gameplay innovation in video games. Each new installment has either offered up a unique challenge (usually intellectually) or has offered up high stakes drama. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots saw the conclusion of Solid Snake's story, but Big Boss's has yet to come full circle. With Metal Gear Solid V, the series finally comes full circle. It's a unique experience, unlike anything Metal Gear has ever really done before.

The game begins with you as Big Boss awakening from a nine year coma. You're a legendary soldier and as such you are also hated by much of the world. When you awaken you are missing an arm. Just as you're recovering in the hospital, however, the facility is attacked. A mysterious man named Ishmael is helping you get through the endeavor. By the time Metal Gear Solid V's prologue ends you're left with more questions than answers. The prologue is intense. Metal Gear Solid V seemingly wants to dive in immediately. Unlike previous games, Metal Gear Solid V doesn't dwell too much on things that have already happened. It expects you to know them already. They'll make references to other games but not explain them. It brings up story elements and proceed as if you know this stuff already. And frankly, I like that. Metal Gear Solid V wants to be more to-the-point. It's a lot better than hearing characters literally explain all the previous games to you the way some did in Metal Gear Solid 4.

When the game starts it can be jarring for players because everything about it is so new. Even Metal Gear Solid veterans might have to take time to adjust to the new stylings of Metal Gear Solid V. For those who played Ground Zeroes this isn't a big deal. But for those who did not, Metal Gear Solid V is a game that has a steep learning curve.

First, the game is more open world. You've got various locations on the overworld map. You can set markers (and you'll have to) to mark certain objectives, enemy patrols or even just items in the area. The world is huge and expansive. There's a simple mission set up structure, but for the most part MGSV lets you tackle the missions any way that you want to. You can either blaze into enemy territory guns blazing or you can sneak around. Either way it's important to take in your surroundings and plan accordingly.

Metal Gear Solid V doesn't want to remain consistently easy. Or predictable. Metal Gear Solid V utilizes dynamic difficulty. In previous installments there were different difficulty levels to choose from. Here, the game adjust the difficulty based on your performance. And sometimes your enemies will learn from you as well. Are you placing too many headshots? Well then, they'll start wearing helmets. Are you waiting until nightfall to complete most of your missions so that the patrols have a harder time seeing? Then they'll start using night vision goggles. Are you using a sniper rifle too much? They'll start deploying more snipers. There's more that happens, but the game will also mix and match these. If you're a sniper going for too many headshots, for instance, you'll start coming up against snipers in full body armor. Metal Gear Solid V doesn't just change this up for difficulty sake. The game also wants you to experiment and play in various ways. The game adjusts to your play style. But if you're also failing a lot it'll take time to actually dial it back. Except it doesn't just end there. Nothing your enemies do is going to be terribly predictable in Metal Gear Solid V. Unlike previous games in the series, the patrol routes of your enemies can change at any given time for no real reason. You can't simply map out enemy patrol routes and memorize them.

All of the new gameplay elements in Metal Gear Solid V make for a game that plays so radically different from previous installments that you'll need to adjust (unless you played Ground Zeroes). It can take time to learn Metal Gear Solid V, but once you do the play is smooth. The controls are very tight and function incredibly well. Of course, the untold precision of the controls means you need to be precise as a player. There are times (not many but a few) where you can easily screw up a plan of attack simply because you haven't taken into account just how precise everything has to be. For instance, getting someone in a choke hold and slamming them to the ground is mapped to the same button. One requires a simple tap... the other wants a firm press... but the distinction isn't always obvious. Sometimes I grabbed an enemy when I wanted to slam them to the ground. The game isn't demanding by any means, and punishment for failing a mission isn't harsh at all. When you do go into an alert phase, however, the game will become unlike anything you've ever experienced before.

In previous Metal Gear outings, getting spotted usually resulted in an alarm being lifted and an "Alert Phase," wherein you had a counter that counted down. Eventually you'd go into "evasion" phase which meant the enemies weren't in pursuit and that they were looking. Finally there was a "caution" phase which meant that there were more patrols temporarily. Metal Gear Solid V more or less does away with "phases" and just has it all play out organically. When you're spotted and fail to dispatch the enemy who saw you while in reflex mode, the game enters a high alert phase. There are no counters and there is no real waiting anymore until the dust settles. Everything just simply plays out in real time from here on out. Enemy patrol routes (as unpredictable as they already are) become impossible to predict. If it's at night they'll use flares to find you. Other bases near you will also go on high alert. It's not just enough to leave the area and wait. When an alarm is raised it's going to be raised for a while. Enemies will also start using mortars, if they have to or call in reinforcements for strikes. When the enemy spots you, Metal Gear Solid V doesn't mess around. The enemies go into high alert but the game will more or less continue as normal. The lack of phases means you have to be very careful upon being spotted. They do eventually leave you alone, but you have to be listening out for enemy radios in order to do so. This doesn't mean everything is fine. They'll go and search the area where you were last spotted.

Getting into a fire fight has almost always been discouraged in Metal Gear games, but Metal Gear Solid V is perhaps the first one where getting spotted actually FEELS like a stealth game. Your ammo resources aren't always going to suffice to survive a firefight. You have to suddenly take different sneaking approaches to get through areas should you be spotted. Enemies going on high alert doesn't necessarily mean they're going to give chase and shoot at you with abandon like in previous games. Simply put, Metal Gear Solid V is one of the most intense stealth experiences I've ever had with a video game. There is never a "best" way to go about anything. Strategies that worked one time won't always succeed the next time. Even veterans of the Metal Gear Solid saga will find themselves having to think and plan out their actions more precisely than in other games in the series. And the precision is important. The games controls can be a little too tight. It's easy to mess up a set up either because you didn't press a button hard enough or because a shot you took didn't land exactly where it needed to. Once you get this down, at least, the game is more manageable.

There is a lot to do in combat, but sneaking is often the best way to go about it. While getting into firefights can be fun based on how much you can experiment, what you really want is to be able to send troops to Mother Base. When you knock out enemies you can attach a pack to them that sends them back to mother base. While they're there you can start sending them to different work centers where they can develop new things for you. You can get better weapons, better sneaking suits and various cardboard boxes. It's pretty vital to keep up with Mother Base. If the game begins getting too difficult, it might be because you haven't developed a lot of resources at Mother Base. And if you haven't developed a ton of resources, it might be because you haven't sent a lot of people there. But it isn't just important to send anyone. It's important to send the right people and place the right people in the right jobs. Constructing and maintaining Mother Base is a game in and of itself. Without taking time to construct mother base and get new recruits you're greatly limiting your arsenal. The only way to get to the best of Metal Gear Solid V is to keep up with Mother Base.

A common criticism about the Metal Gear Solid games is that they have a ton of cutscenes. In particular, Metal Gear Solid 4 couldn't seem to stop with cutscenes. A fun game to play... but too many cutscenes. Metal Gear Solid V is different. The open world experience doesn't cater to cutscenes nearly as much. There is a lot of drama within the game, but most of the cutscenes are just used for you to gain more information. And they're much more to-the-point than previous games. The bulk of the story is actually told to you through various cassette tapes. If you aren't listening to briefings you're going to miss out on a lot.

For those who were upset that Metal Gear Solid 4 had too many cutscenes (even for Metal Gear) you'll be glad to know that Metal Gear Solid V features a lot more gameplay than cutscenes. And I do mean a lot more. Since it's an open world game, it's divided into missions. There are about 50 missions central to the story, but there are also plenty of side-ops as well. All told, Metal Gear Solid V has about 200 missions. This means that not only is there far more gameplay than story... but that Metal Gear Solid V can keep you busy for a long time. Previous games in the series relied heavily on replay value where you could discover more secrets or find interesting ways to go about things. Here, it's not uncommon for the experience to last hours upon hours. You're not going to finish Metal Gear Solid V in ten, fifteen or even twenty hours. Especially if you decide to tackle everything. This game is going to keep you busy for a very long time.

And even some of the side ops are important. Through these you can get new recruits for Mother Base and build your army. You can also get more intel or you can get more allies and supplies. One side op, for instance, has you getting an interpreter so that you can understand what the enemies around you are saying. Others might have you rescuing prisoners. All of this is usually for Mother Base so that you can develop better weapons and equipment. The game is going to encourage you to do a lot of side ops to better your resources.

All of this makes Metal Gear Solid V a great experience. It's a fun game to play that has all the elements needed for a great gaming experience. However... given all that Metal Gear Solid V has, it's also a good example of a game that is "overdeveloped." Metal Gear Solid V is a game that's huge and after a few dozen hours with it you'll begin to realize it may be unnecessarily so. Afghanistan and Africa are enormous locations, for instance, and after a while traversing the landscape feels like padding. It takes a long time to get from one end of any zone (even stuff restricted to missions zones) to the other. And while it's huge, that doesn't mean it's really populated. There's a lot of empty space. Sure you can pick up plants, but for the most part running from one point of interest to the next is going to feel long and tedious. Thankfully you'll be able to get vehicles later, but the point is that Metal Gear Solid V sometimes feels far too big for it's own good. The various side ops are great, but after a while they too become repetitive and monotonous. Most side ops eventually become busy work. After a while a lot of side ops have the same objective. Go to a particular location and extract a specific soldier (or eliminate a team of some sort). You'll revisit the same regions of the game constantly, but so many side ops go this route that they feel less like they're adding to the experience and more like the game trying to justify it's length and give you things to do. Other tasks involve you disarming mimes or capturing animals. They are predictably boring tasks. Metal Gear Solid V is fun, but it is monotonous too. In comparison, previous Metal Gear Solid titles that didn't exactly have a lot of free roaming felt engaging and urgent. The experience wasn't long enough to be bothersome. The games got to the point and that made the experience one I was comfortable having again and again. Metal Gear Solid V is sometimes so big that it actually loses out on having the same kind of heart and charm that previous games in the series had.

Perhaps Metal Gear Solid V's worst trait may be the story itself. As I stated, it's not bad. It's actually good. It has moments where it leaves you thinking (albeit, sometimes for the wrong reasons), but it's a terribly paced story thanks to the design of the game. The majority of your missions are lengthy more so because you have to take time to get to your target or destination. On the other hand, the story mostly suffers because so much of what you learn has to be done through cassette tapes rather than cutscenes. While it's not necessary for every cutscene to be long, Metal Gear Solid V's cutscenes don't always carry the emotional weight of the previous games. It's great that the game gets to the point. And it isn't completely devoid of emotion, but it has less emphasis on character as a result. This is largely because the most important story points are separated by a lot of missions at a time. Not only are the most important story beats separated by the main missions, but the game is also expecting you to do other things in between as well. The game is always pushing you to be active in some way such. Either you need to be doing side-ops, developing Mother Base or developing weapons. There are even moments where you can't progress further in the story because there might've been someone in a main mission you didn't extract that lets you upgrade something you NEED for an upcoming mission. It's just too easy to get distracted from the story at hand. For as good as the story can be, the game keeps you away from that story for a long time. And because the bigger story beats are separated by several missions this means you may go for hours at a time before actually seeing the next story moment. But it won't matter as much because Metal Gear Solid V doesn't appear to have a lot going on in its story until late in the game.

There are not moments that are nearly as hard-hitting or as impactful here. Remember Liquid's impassioned speech about how much he hated Big Boss in the first Metal Gear Solid? Nothing quite as impactful here. Remember how upset fans got when Metal Gear Solid 2 pulled the bait and switch and had you play as Raiden instead of Snake? There's nothing that daring here. Remember how emotional the ending to Metal Gear Solid 3 was? Not quite as emotional here. Remember how you used to get these moments where characters would take time to talk about themselves or you could just call them up and have these weird conversations in these games? It's not here either. The story feels pretty bare bones that it feels kind of weird giving it praise sometimes. Rest assured it's a fairly good story, but it only becomes that when you're willing to dig by listening to conversations that sentries are having or by listening to all the cassette tapes in the game.

The characters suffer the most, through this. Metal Gear Solid V may have a lot to say, but it isn't a story-heavy game. The game paces quite poorly and the characters also don't add a lot simply because there isn't enough story in the games cutscenes for them to do so. As mentioned, the cutscenes are mostly designed to push things forward, not to give you greater insight into the characters or the situation. The cast in this game is unusually quiet. Something is, well, missing. Characters that were previously interesting (such as Ocelot) are now boring, serving merely as a means to give you information and pass off exposition but not to engage you in the game's narrative on an emotional level. In previous games the cutscenes could be quite engaging by giving you a glimpse into the characters or the situation. Here they're largely just there to pass information along. Say what you will about previous games engaging in long cutscenes, but at least they felt like they added depth and meaning to the overall narrative. Metal Gear Solid V doesn't seem to care. The moments in which the cutscenes hit the emotional highs of previous games are few and far between. The story isn't as rewarding simply because the design of the game's open world keeps it from reaching that pinnacle. It's as though the game knows you're just playing to mess around in the open world and so it tries very hard not to keep you for a long time.

Metal Gear Solid V is designed to let you play the way you want. You don't need to be stealthy. Some of the best experiences I've had with Metal Gear Solid V have been simply playing the game in free roam and getting into combat situations and experimenting with all the things I could do. Were it not for the gameplay, Metal Gear Solid V would probably be a more forgettable Metal Gear outing. But instead the gameplay makes the game so much fun. There's a lot of experimentation. Each mission also has different missions objectives and tasks to give you different ways to play them. One moment you're playing just to get it done, the next you're taking a totally different approach so that you can complete all the optional tasks such as rescuing prisoners or listening to conversations between sentries. It gives the player incentive to keep replaying missions, but also encourages players to play differently. There are a lot of things to do, a lot of ways to play and the fact that the game spends of lot of time changing things up so that you'll fell compelled to play differently is why the game is so much fun, and probably why it's assured you'll get several hours of gameplay. Like I said, some of the combat moments were some of the most intense in the series for me just because they were so well crafted and constructed. It's gameplay is really good. The only problem with it is that it might require players to be patient. A lot of things you do are set on a timer. A literal timer, not the in game clock. When you develop weapons in Mother Base, for example, you actually have to wait a certain amount of time for them to be developed. If you expand platforms or send recruits out on a dispatch you have to wait in real time for those things to be done. While waiting you could probably do more side ops or mess around, but the point is that for as much fun as the game is, it still feels the need to slow down so that you still have to experiment and play in different ways.

What the game lacks in story, the gameplay more than makes up for. However, this does mean that hardcore fans who were really hoping for a great story won't get it. The story isn't bad, it's just not the central focus and the game is constantly reminding you of this. It feels content to take a breather from the story in all kinds of ways and force you to do other things to trigger certain story events as opposed to reaching them. If you've valued Metal Gear for having a large emphasis on its story then the fifth game will take getting used to. In the past I have valued this quite a bit. And sure enough, it keeps Metal Gear Solid V from being the best the series has to offer. As far as I'm concerned, Metal Gear Solid 3 is still the greatest achievement the series has had. Metal Gear Solid V may be big on its gameplay, but at it's core you always get the sense that it's missing something that should've been there all along. Whether or not that's the point of The Phantom Pain will probably be debated among players for quite some time.

Graphically, Metal Gear Solid V is definitely a gorgeous game on the eyes. As usual, the attention to detail is very good. Considering how huge this world is, it's amazing they were able to put this much detail into it. The voice acting is going to be hit or miss, though. Since the game doesn't have a huge emphasis on the cutscenes, you get a lot of moments of dry voice acting since so much of what the cutscenes want to do is explain things to you. Strangely enough, the voice acting on the various cassette tapes is far better than in the actual cutscenes because this is mostly where the heart of the game's voice acting is to begin with. As I said, Metal Gear Solid V has a good story... you just have to dig to unearth it and a huge part of that are the cassette tapes. It's remarkable just how much story is on those tapes.

It might seem like I've been quite hard on Metal Gear Solid V for what it does with the story. Guilty as charged. That being said, though, the experience of Metal Gear Solid V is still pretty amazing. The gameplay is engaging, even if the story isn't always engaging. I've poured hours into this game and haven't tired of it yet. For as much as Metal Gear Solid V stumbles, it's strengths stand just as tall. Fans should play it just to get the full story. On the other hand, though, it's lack of emphasis on the storytelling might be hard for some of the most devoted fans of the series. It has its moments where it'll challenge you and make you think, but the story is not quite as engaging as the gameplay itself is. I have thoroughly enjoyed the time I've spent with Metal Gear Solid V. It's not perfect and it doesn't hide its blemishes as well as other Metal Gear games, but even with its flaws in storytelling I found myself unable to put it down. For that, I can recommend Metal Gear Solid V. Even if it can't quite reach the heights of the previous games in the series, Metal Gear Solid V is still a great game.
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