soma

SOMA Review

Posted by | PlayStation 4, Reviews | No Comments

Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC

It took me a while to get into SOMA. I was initially a little disappointed that the protagonist wasn’t the Asian woman I had seen in all the marketing, and instead seemed to be a generic-brand 20-something white guy. I admit, I didn’t like Simon Jarrett at first. Read More

everybody's gone to the rapture

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture Review

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Available on PlayStation 4

The first thing that has to be said about Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is that it’s absolutely gorgeous. The setting, the graphics, the music, the atmosphere—all of it is completely beautiful. You don’t do much in this game. It’s mostly just walking around (or jogging at a realistically sluggish pace) and occasionally opening doors or listening to radios. But it doesn’t matter, because it’s lovely just to be there. Maybe all you’re doing in Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is just immersing yourself in your surroundings. You’re doing the same thing you might be doing if you really were alone in a rural town in Britain in the summer as evening falls. Gaining perspective, relaxing, looking inward (and hopefully working out some knots).

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angry birds 2

[Review] Angry Birds 2

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Platforms: iOS and Android Devices
We played on iOS (IPad)

Angry Birds 2 is the first official sequel to the pop-culture phenomenon. It’s already been downloaded millions of times. Much of the gameplay has remained the same. But the ever-changing consequences of failure take out all the fun.

The Story

The premise of the story remains the same. Mischievous green pigs have stolen eggs from the birds’ nest for no explicable reason. Having their eggs stolen makes the birds angry. And really who could blame them? Now Red, Chuck, the Blues, and the rest of the gang are trying to reclaim their eggs from the pigs, who have barricaded themselves in flimsy structures. It’s a silly story, but the story in this game is inconsequential. It’s the gameplay that matters, and that’s the part that falls short in Angry Birds 2.

angry birds 2

One thing the game has going for it is the beautiful graphics.

It Sure Is Pretty

Angry Birds 2 is leaps and bounds above the first game in terms of visuals. The birds, environments and pigs all look crisper and more colorful. The new animations add another level of humor to the game; debris, and sometimes the pigs themselves, will coming flying right at you. The backgrounds for the silly gameplay vary as well, with some stormy rain along with sunshine. It’s exactly what I expected for the sequel. No complaints there.

angry birds 2

Your bird winds its way through a map as in just about every other free-to-play game. So uncreative.

The Gameplay

The same recognizable gameplay is at the center of Angry Birds 2. You wind up your birds in a slingshot and toss them at the variety of structures the pigs have built. In this version of the game all of the birds are delivered to you in a set number of cards. Run out of cards and it’s game over. This is trickier than the original game because you have to conserve your cards to make it through each level’s multiple stages. You can earn extra cards by filling up a destruction meter, which can mean the difference between failing and streaking by with the pass.

Another change is that this time around the game is free-to-play. Unfortunately the implementation of that monetization model is the same dry formula we see in many games today. In fact, it looks they took Candy Crush Saga and covered it in Angry Birds paint. You progress through the numbered levels on a winding path through various environments. You have five lives that regenerate over time. If you run out of those, you can use the premium currency, which takes the form of gems. Gems can, of course, be replenished with real money.

angry birds 2

One of the spells allows you to shower the pigs with rubber duckies.

Angry Birds 2 also employs another staple of the free-to-play universe in the form of boosts. They’re called spells in the game. The spells come in the form of cards, just like the birds. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find these spells humorous. One will let you freeze all of the pigs’ structures while another will let you inflate the pigs’ heads to ridiculous proportions so they break down their own defenses. The funniest, though, is the one that unleashes a rainstorm of rubber ducks down on the pigs. The introduction of boss battles and an arena are good additions as well.

Like it or not, the free-to-play model is here to stay, and I don’t have a big problem with it. It’s a shame Angry Birds 2 doesn’t do anything creative with the formula, but at its core I think it’s fine.

What’s not fine is the way the levels in Angry Birds 2 are set up. The original Angry Birds was a great physics puzzle game. You had a specific set of structures that you needed to knock down. You’d figure this out through normal puzzle solving. Finding the right bird or using the environment in the right way was a matter of trial and error. At the same time, you were trying to destroy as much as you could to get the highest possible score and the coveted three stars. If you failed a level, trying again meant the same structures and environmental conditions.

The score and the stars are still there in Angry Birds 2, but instead of a specific set of structures and environments to puzzle out, you sometimes get a new setup every single time you fail. Sometimes the differences are subtle and you wouldn’t notice them unless you were looking very closely. Honestly, I didn’t even notice the changes into well after level 30. For example, the first time through a pig appears on the top of structure, but in the replay he’s beneath it. Or a normal wooden block turns into a TNT box. In other cases the changes are jarring, with structures being complete different in the replay than they were the first time around:

angry birds 2

On the left: Level 28 on the first try. On the right: Level 28 on a retry. Can you spot the differences?

Because of this, the score and the stars don’t really mean anything. Getting a higher score than your friends could mean only that you passed the level with an easier setup than they did. It’s this element that sucks all of what I loved out of the first game—hammering away at the same puzzle before finally figuring it out. That was a feeling of achievement. Angry Birds 2 doesn’t give me that feeling. So why should I continue to play it?

The Takeaway

Angry Birds 2 is a lot prettier than its predecessor, while still keeping the light humorous style that is a hallmark of the franchise. The-free-to-play model is unoriginal, but not surprising. The surprise comes in knowing you won’t get a chance to do any real puzzle solving because if you fail a level, you may not encounter the same structures the second time around. This gives the birds a broken slingshot before they’ve even had a chance to fly.