Marvel Heroes (PC – 2013)

In Marvel Heroes, players take control of one of several starting characters (Punisher, Colossus, Captain America, Black Widow, Storm, Human Torch, Hawkeye…among others, with the roster changing all the time) and embark on a mission to stop the nefarious Doctor Doom from his plans to use the Cosmic Cube for his own evil purposes.

If you’ve ever played a game like Diablo II, then you’ve essentially already played Marvel Heroes. This game isn’t innovative, but it doesn’t really seek to be – which is somewhat of a shame due to the Marvel property being so popular right now. However, for the casual gamer, this game will be great fun.

I had originally planned on boycotting this game when I found out that there was no character creation system and instead, as a player, you’d pick a character like Spider-Man or Colossus (whom I am using at the moment) and would be running around on-screen with potentially dozens of other players using the same character as you. However, in reality, it often doesn’t play out that way. The reason for this is due to there being (at the moment) 20+ characters (somewhere around 28, I believe) – all of whom have multiple costumes and other custom appearance options available to the player to make their particular Colossus or Spider-Man or Thor stand out. So even if two or more characters are using Colossus, there’s a good chance that most of them will have individualized aesthetics. Still not as good as being able to create your own character, which is what Champions Online excels at (Note: Champions Online was originally supposed to be a Marvel game) and even DC Universe Online is pretty decent at.

As it is, Marvel Heroes, despite not being innovative and despite being somewhat repetitive (as games in this genre sometimes are) is a decent action MMORPG. It’s best to play with friends for the fun factor, but there isn’t a large difficulty curve and it’s FREE (you can still pay for characters and costumes with real-life money but it’s not necessary to play the full version of the game – you can still buy characters and costumes with in-game currency that you earn, but it takes a long time), meaning that it’s not a huge investment and you’re likely to get at least some enjoyment out of it and the best thing about it is, well…it’s FREE. The only real thing that kept me from giving this four stars is the fact that you can’t pick any hero to begin with, and you can’t create your own hero.

Check it out, team up with your favorite characters and whup some bad-guy arse. The developers are constantly adding new characters to the mix, so gameplay isn’t likely to get too stale anytime soon.

JOE Rating: ★★★

Pokemon Black (Nintendo DS – 2011)

Pokemon Black (Nintendo DS - 2011)

Pokemon Black (was) is a refreshing entry into the Pokemon’s fifth generation of games. As the player-character “Hilbert/Hilda” (depending on your sex), you embark on a quest to collect all the Pokemon you come across, while at the same time defending yourself against Team Plasma and their Pokemon “liberation” efforts.

We’ve all played Pokemon before, right? Well, I used to love playing it back when the original came out. There was just one small problem, however – I didn’t own a Gameboy. I would play it at my friend’s house when I visited and we weren’t doing anything else, but since there could be only one save file…I kept getting to the same point, over and over again every time I played the game, before I’d have to shut it off. Well….all these years later I finally decided to get a Nintendo DS I found on the cheap in a little hole-in-the-wall store here in Portland, Maine. I got Pokemon White for my girlfriend and picked up the Black version for myself.

Back when this game first came out a couple of years ago, it was the first entry into the Pokemon franchise to sport individual, game-color-specific, in-game areas; In the White version there is a wild area called White Forest, while in the Black version there is a bustling city called Black City. Add to this the first time in a Pokemon game having changing weather and seasons as well as 150+ new Pokemon – and you got yourselves a jump-start to the tried-and-true formula of the franchise….which isn’t a bad thing.

The graphics are great for a DS game and I think the series has come a long way. With new connectivity options and new playable areas for each version, as well as upgrades to the battle system like three-way battles – I think that there are countless hours of replayability options. If I could only have one game for the Nintendo DS, I wouldn’t mind just having Pokemon Black.

Now, if I could just get my girlfriend to catch up so I can trade with her! (I need to get a Zekrom!)

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Call Of Duty: Ghosts (PS3 – 2013)

Call Of Duty: Ghosts (PS3 - 2013)

In Call of Duty: Ghosts, players take control of Logan Walker (most of the time, anyway) in a world where the United States has been reduced to a third-world power after an attack by a satellite super weapon called Odin destroyed much of the infrastructure of the former government and economy. In a last ditch effort to survive, a legendary unit of special forces members with the code name Ghosts have banded together to try to take back control from their oppressors. As Logan, you are joined by your dog Riley, older brother David and father Elias ten years after the attacks and operate in secret, hoping to win the war once and for all.

I’ve long been a fan of this game series, but while most of the time I’ve been sort of excited once a new installment has come out, I kind of felt like stopping after Black Ops II due to lack of innovation and the multiplayer feeling unbalanced. To my surprise, there were some pleasant twists to this tenth entry in the series, at least enough to keep me playing for now.

First of all, the story mode was pretty engaging. It’s smooth, if short, and feels like you’re watching an action flick most of the way through. There are some nice cinematic “I am awesome” moments that make you truly feel that you’re accomplishing something great. The innovative side of using Riley, the dog, to silently dispatch enemies (in a pleasing, visceral way) in lieu of sneaking around by yourself constantly is a nice touch – but it wasn’t as innovative as I think it could’ve been. I think it would’ve been awesome if you could do co-op in story mode with one player as Logan and the other as either David or Riley depending on needs. Missed opportunity! One other bad thing is that the developers copy/pasted the ending from Modern Warfare 2 onto the beginning mission of Ghosts (which can be seen HERE), which is reason to give this title pause; What are we really buying when we get this game? A recycled money-grabbing installment of the same old thing?

Aside from the story mode (and the lifting from MW2) there ARE a couple of reasons to play this game – Extinction Mode, which is sort of like survival mode but you fight against aliens with a customizable load out and also is co-op (sort of like Zombies mode from the Treyarch games).

On top of that, there is the normal multiplayer mode that most people will no doubt get the game for, although some of the maps are too large for normal death matches and others feel too similar to others we’ve done before.

Infected Mode is a nice touch, with one random player spawning with an infection and “turning” other players until everyone is infected.

Squad Mode, too, is fun in that you get to build up a squad which will autonomously battle without you and you can see how they measure up on the leaderboards.

In my opinion, this installment could have been a lot better but what we have is an okay shooter with enough touches to entertain for another year or so before the next installment comes out. It’s far from perfect, but it’s still fun.

JOE Rating: ★★★

The Last of Us (PS3 – 2013)

The Last of Us (PS3 - 2013)

It’s twenty years after a zombie-like pandemic broke out across the globe. As Joel, a survivor living in a Boston-area quarantine camp, you have experienced the loss of everything you know and loved in your past life. As a survivor, you’re in a constant struggle for resources and when your dealings land you with an opportunity to smuggle a young girl, who may have the key within her to saving humanity to a band of freedom fighters calling themselves the Fireflies,  you find yourself in a dangerous and intense quest across the continent as you evade roving bands of human scavengers intent on murdering you and taking your possessions and also evading the clickers….humans who’ve been infected with the spores that have turned them into zombie-like creatures which use sonar to hunt their prey.

The opening of this game packs a punch like no other I’ve seen in recent memory. The writing is superb, the graphics are great, the gameplay is seamless most of the time and moves back and forth between gameplay and cutscenes effortlessly.

The enemies are cunning and terrifying. Not since I originally played Fatal Frame or Silent Hill have I been this unsettled within the atmosphere of a video game.

Play this, play this, play this. It’s like The Road mixed with Resident Evil.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Diablo III (PS3 – 2013)

Diablo III (PS3 - 2013)

On Sanctuary, a fantasy world constantly under attack and being saved by heroes in previous incarnations of the Diablo franchise, you must set out either by yourself or with friends to stop the advancing shadow of the demonic hordes. With the help of magical items and powerful allies, you will trek across the continent and lay waste to the evil armies of the Burning Hells…and get rich doing so.

Listen.

I have loved Diablo for years. I straight out REFUSED to play Diablo III when it came to PC because it a.) didn’t FEEL like Diablo to me – instead seeming almost like an auction-house simulator, with micro-transactions ruling the day and the gameplay, throwing everything off balance and b.) it required you to be online EVEN TO PLAY BY YOURSELF.

Once I found out they’d gotten rid of the auction house and the online-only requirement, I was sold on at least trying it, and let me tell you – I’m not super-disappointed.

There are plenty of classes to choose from like Barbarian, Monk, Wizard, Witch Doctor and Demon Hunter (with optional male/female with different looks for each) and though most of the time you’ll be mindlessly slogging along through impossible-looking mobs of enemies there is a slight amount of strategy involved in most situations, especially when it comes to combo attacks with your friends.

Still, with other games like The Last of Us and Grand Theft Auto V out there which offer lots in the way of story and immersive gameplay, this game can seem tame in comparison (although those are completely different kinds of games) although the animations and the graphics are sort of flashy and colorful and reminiscent of World of Warcraft.

This console port exceeded my expectations by far and I’ve been able to play alongside my friends on the same console, which to me is the main draw. Online-only isn’t always the best option, so I’m really glad they decided to get rid of that feature. If you’ve played the PC version, you might hate it but maybe you should give the console version a chance. It seems to have been made more with the consoles in mind than with the PC. And if you’re like me and you didn’t want to touch this game with a ten-foot pole, try it out. It might surprise you.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Grand Theft Auto V (PS3 – 2013)

Grand Theft Auto V (PS3 - 2013)

Los Santos: A city that never sleeps, filled with botox, gangbangers and money. Lots and lots of money. As either Michael (A former wise-guy-turned informant), Franklin (A hustler looking to make some fat stacks and a better life) or Trevor (a violent psychopath with a meandering scale of justice and morality), you find yourself thrust into the biggest heists of your careers which could make or break you, depending on the roads you take.

Having played all the previous incarnations of the GTA series (Vice City being my favorite and San Andreas being my least favorite) I was pretty excited about playing this and bought it a day or two after it came out.

The story mode is great. A lot of missions are gun-n-run, but that was obviously expected. The graphics definitely got an overhaul, most noticeably with some of the environmental stuff. (Check out videos of the water graphics if you haven’t played the game yet).

The police seem to swarm faster and angrier in V than they did in previous incarnations – sometimes I find myself in a harrowing flight from death by trigger-happy police for the most minor infractions while they burst through parked vehicles with their armored vans and fire willy-nilly into the crowds trying to murder me in cold blood.

As in previous GTA games, there are a ton of mini-games. I haven’t tried them all out yet, but they are all kind of nifty to try at least once from what I’ve seen. As Michael, I played tennis with my wife for a good half hour of real time and it was fun. One of the most controversial mini-games, of course, is when you’re at the strip club and you’re trying to touch the strippers giving you a private lap dance without getting kicked out of the club. (FYI – might not want to play this particular mini-game in front of sensitive folks or children because the strippers are topless and it’s a first-person strip-club experience. Yup….big ol’ digital boobies on your massive flat-screen television. If your grandmother didn’t think your life was fail before, she will now).

GTA V Online launched already, of course, and it has been riddled with lots and lots of problems. At first, I just couldn’t get on and then after that, I could get on but my character wouldn’t save and I couldn’t rob stores or do missions so those of us on the map just ran around killing each other with sheer boredom. After that, they finally got the game at least somewhat functioning so now I can join missions and complete robberies, but the kinks aren’t all worked out yet and there are still griefers out there so watch yourself if you go on. I had a whole squad of them following me around, trying to kill me for at least an hour.

Without even taking GTA: Online into consideration, I’d give the game the score below. They packed so much into the game that it will honestly give you hours and hours of enjoyment. The sheer amount of variety earns this game a five star from moi, despite its faults, which are minor against the entirety of the game experience. Add to that the extra depth of the online mode once they get the kinks out, and it’s just a mind-numbing amount of time one could spend playing it.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Dead Or Alive 5 (PS3 – 2012)

Dead Or Alive 5 - PS3 (2012)

The Dead or Alive crew is back in an all-new installment that features MMA fighting techniques blended with the same old Dead Or Alive style we’ve seen in the past. Take on the role of some of your old favorites like Lei Fang, Jann Lee or Gen Fu – or try out some of the newcomers from the Virtua Fighter series such as Brad Wong or Eliot.

Each level comes to life with interactive environments which you can use to your advantage in the right situations. Multiple unlockable outfits and some unlockable characters round out the replayablilty factor while online modes and a robust story mode should keep you entertained for a long while.

Everything I love about this game franchise was still there in this incarnation. The fighting system is still the same as the one found in Dead Or Alive 4, with the “paper, rock, scissors” style mechanics. Button mashers will have a tough time duking it out with more skilled gamers due to this, but the game doesn’t have a massive learning curve.

The graphics are amazing, as usual. Fabric flows, animals move around, sweat glistens as your characters exert themselves and hats fly off heads with strong blows.  The music and sound effects were decent enough, too.

The only thing I didn’t really like about this was that the story mode was a little bit incoherent, but it’s in the same way that a lot of Japanese animation feels. It’s chaotic, you’re not QUITE sure what exactly is going on and then WHAMMO – you finally get it. It didn’t really detract a whole lot from my experience, however.

This installment focuses less on the T&A that first drew attention to the series, although that aspect is definitely still present in the form of constantly-jiggling boobage – and make no mistake, the updated facial models and graphics have the characters looking better than ever. And for ladies who appreciate some man-skin, there are also unlockable outfits for the male characters, as well.

All in all, this is a great title and probably one of the best entries into the Dead Or Alive franchise. Learning the game’s nuances is fun and never tedious. The fights and characters are flashy and likable, and the kinetic pace will have you coming back for more. Hands down my favorite fighting game, ever.

JOE Rating:  ★★★★★