Far Cry 4 (Xbox One)
Also available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and Windows
My first foray into modern Far Cry games was Far Cry Primal on PS4, and boy, that game was dope. So when I saw that Far Cry 4 was all modern and had a fabulously psychopathic dictator to topple, I was instantly interested. However, I was also poor, so I waited. I'm still poor, but now Far Cry 4 is hella cheap, so I'm FINALLY getting around to playing it, and WOW, good things truly do come to those who wait.
The premise of Far Cry 4 is that you're a native of the island nation of Kyrat raised in the United States who has returned to Kyrat to scatter his mother's ashes as per her dying wish. Then your bus gets attacked, your companions get shots, your tour guide gets tortured to death, and you get drugged and wake up at a dinner table with the merciless dictator of Kyrat, Pagan Min. From there, you could either sit and wait for like fifteen minutes, have him come back and kill you, and get the bad ending; OR you could actually play the game you paid for, help the resistance group that your dead dad started overthrow Pagan Min, and blow up everything in sight.
The game, as is standard for the series, is a first person shooter. You can craft storage upgrades from materials you hunt from animals to hold more ammo, more medical items, more explosives, etc. You can also purchase new weapons although some of these get unlocked for free as you progress through the game. Once you purchase a weapon, it can be reacquired for free at any shop, so that's a nice feature. With enough upgrades, you can equip up to four weapons - a sidearm and three main weapons. I usually ended up keeping a revolver, an assault rifle, a rocket launcher, and a sniper rifle with me. You also have four throwable weapons - molotovs, grenades, throwing knives, and bait meat that lures tigers and the like to eat your enemies. All in all, you get a lot of leeway to play how you want. You can be stealthy and sneak around using stealth takedowns, silenced weapons, and throwing knives. Alternatively, you can run in guns blazing with machine guns and shotguns and grenade launchers. The sky's the limit, and if that limit isn't filled with flying dismembered bodies, you're doing it wrong.
Visually, you can tell that the game was designed for last generation consoles and ported to Xbox One, but it still looks pretty nice. The soundtrack is extremely well done, providing solid atmosphere without distracting from the action on screen. The voice acting, as well, is extremely well done, especially Pagan Min's voice actor. 10/10 would listen to again. A well voiced antagonist can really make or break a game, and Pagan Min's voice actor definitely made this game. The highlight of the game, however, is the hunting. I don't mean sneaking around the hunting deer with a bow. GTFO with that redneck real-world garbage. Na, man, I mean a REAL MAN'S hunting. Far Cry 4 is like a Cabela's game if it were actually fun. I'm talking aobut hunting tigers by driving cars into them at 100 KPH, hunting elephants with a rocket launcher, or hunting rhinos from a helicopter with a semiautomatic grenade launcher.
My experience with the Far Cry series is still fairly limited, but from what I have played, Far Cry 4 is an exceptionally fun and well crafted entry. The story is interesting, the map is detailed and a blast to explore, the voice acting is exceptional, and the gameplay is addicting to say the least. AND THE HUNTING. I felt like the Terminator roughing it in the wilderness. Sure, rocket launchers tend to leave the animal's hide too damaged to use, but good GOD, it is fun. Far Cry 4 isn't perfect, and it still has its share of shortcomings with frame rate dips, glitches, and profoundly challenged AI at times, but as a whole package, it's an exceptionally fun experience, and with the price it goes for used these days, I high recommend it to fans of open world shooters.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available for Xbox 360
With all the hype that Red Dead Redemption 2 got at launch, I started to feel a little bad that I hadn't played the previous games in the series yet. After playing through Red Dead Revolver, I took a brief break before diving into Rockstar's not-Grand-Theft-Auto heavy hitter, Red Dead Redemption. I wasn't really sure what to expect as all I'd really heard was that it was extremely different from Red Dead Revolver (which is absolutely true), it was really good, and it was kind of Grand Theft Auto in the Old West.
Red Dead Redemption follows the character of John Marston, a Wild West gangbanger-turned-vigilante on a less-than-voluntary mission to hunt down and kill his former gang companions. This quest takes him through the fictional state of New Austin and parts of northern Mexico and into contact with a jaded town sheriff, a sweet rancher lady and her grumpy libertarian father, a snake oil salesman who would make Joel Osteen look sincere, an actual necrophiliac, an alcoholic Irishman (I guess that's a bit redundant), and a Pancho Villa stand-in among others. Throughout his journey to hunt down his former companions, he has the opportunity to help - or hurt - the people he encounters. There are many opportunities to do good. If you pass a wrecked lawman with escaped fugitives, will you help him catch the criminals, or will you shoot him and skin his horses? If you see a prostitute being beaten to death in the street, will you pretend you see nothing, or will you shoot him and save her? If you see someone stranded on the road, will you stop to help? I always did cause I'm a Good Guy(TM), but they always ended up being horse thieves, so then I murdered them. For the good of the people, of course.
Visually, the game looks pretty good for the time although there were a few noticeable frame rate drops every now and then that got a bit annoying. The voice acting, however, for the main characters was very well done. Rob Wiethoff's performance as John Marston especially was spectacular, and the quality of his performance really helps to immerse you in the world and story being told. Voice acting is extremely important to my immersion, and the quality of the motion capture and voice acting are usually the determining factor in how emotionally invested I get in the game. This game made me tear up. That's as glowing an endorsement as I could ever write.
As a history teacher, one of the things I loved about Red Dead Redemption's setting was the relative accuracy with which it was portrayed. Obviously some creative liberties were taken, and there were parts that were made less accurate for the sake of making a fun game, but for the most part, Rockstar did a fantastic job of showing the death of the "Wild West" and the awkward and often unwilling transition to modernity. Those two systems had a lot of incompatibilities with the spread of federal law enforcement and vigilantes' increasingly finding themselves as being the outlaws, the horse's increasing obsolescence as a mode of transportation with the rise of the automobile, and the assimilation of native American tribes with the lingering myth of the "savage red man." Those issues were rarely put explicitly front and center, but they were issues that were addressed with subtle finesse throughout the game, and that made the historian in me as giddy as a kid in a candy store.
Red Dead Redemption is a fantastic work of historical fiction in its own right and a stellar open world video game. The world can feel a bit empty at times, but the accuracy with which that world is portrayed especially with respect to when the game is set is exemplary. It tells an immersive story with a massive world and an impressive degree of historical accuracy. The who, what, and where are all fictional, but they're believable, and the when of the setting is done justice. It's not perfect, and there were more a few technical hiccups and bugs that I encountered, but man, what a wild ride. I suspect most folks have played this one by now, but if somehow you haven't, do yourself and favor and remedy that. Whether you play on PS3 or 360, play this game. It's fantastic.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Golf Story (Switch)
Golf Story is a unique sort of game especially in today's gaming landscape. It's a sports game - golf, specifically, as the name suggests - but it's a story drive sports RPG. That's what's relatively unusual about it. That sounds to may like a bit of a tough thing to pull off, but I gotta admit, Golf Story did it superbly. I never thought I'd find a sports game with a compelling story let alone one that also has well done RPG mechanics, but lo and behold, here it is, and it's a Switch exclusive, no less.
You play as some dude who decides to be a professional golfer to make his presumably dead dad proud of him...or something. The "why" of his little quest wasn't explained as thoroughly as I might have liked, but regardless of why, he heads back to his old childhood golf course to work on his game and start working his way up to the pro tour. His first step on this road to golfing betterment is to convince the old man serving as the course's official coach to give him lessons.
So the actual gameplay is pretty reminiscent of Earthbound to me if you swap out the JRPG combat with golf matches and challenges. Some characters will have you hit a ball into a certain area X number of times, some folks will have you sink a series of challenge holes, some will flat out challenge you to a best-5-out-of-9 match, but it's all about golf. When you finish a challenge or play a round of golf on your own, you're rewarded with experience and money. When you level up, you can upgrade stats like your power, accuracy, etc. With the money, you can buy better clubs from the various courses' pro shops to get bonuses like higher loft, lower loft, a farther drive, etc.
As far as golf mechanics go, it's not as intensely simulator-esque as some of the more realistic golf games are. You still have to take wind and slope into account, but it's not nearly as brutal as some of the Tiger Woods PGA games can be with wind and slope. There are a handful of different golf courses in the game most of which culminate in a tournament. To win the tournament, you have place first; second or third place finishes don't cut it, and not even tying for first is good enough. For most of them, this isn't too tough. That changes when you get to the professional tournament at the end of the game. That one is BRUTAL. You have to average par at the MINIMUM on each hole, and these holes don't play around. Narrow fairways surrounded by water, high winds, obnoxious slopes, and merciless AI opponents all make it so that you have ZERO margin for error in this tournament. At this point in the game, it honestly started feeling more frustrating than fun which is a total 180 to how the game had felt to me up until this point.
Visually, the game takes a retro aesthetic with an even-more-retro looking mini game called "Galf." I know a lot of folks really seemed to enjoy that minigame, but it just felt like a mediocre NES game to me. Like, why would I want to play a bad golf game within a good golf game? I'd rather just keep playing the good golf game. But hey, it's there if subpar minigames are your cup of tea. The music is a really nice touch, though. It's lively and cheerful in the bright courses, foreboding on the haunted themed course, and intense when you're trying to sink a putt on the green. The whole soundtrack sounds great and perfectly fits the action and atmosphere of the game. The game has a couple of bugs, most noticeably an issue I encountered a couple times (mainly on the last course) where my ball would land on what was clearly a bridge or fairway but splash as if it had hit water and count as if I had landed in a water hazard. Super annoying on a course that's already REALLY tough, but it wasn't a common issue, so it's workable.
Golf Story was a definite surprise hit for me. From the reviews, I knew it would be good, but since I'm not a sports person in general and ESPECIALLY not a golf person, I really wasn't sure how I'd feel about it going in. I found myself unable to put down the controller, though, as I had to see what the next course would be like, who the next opponent would be, how difficult the next challenge would be. If you're into golf games or a Switch enthusiast, you NEED to check this game out given that it's exclusive to Nintendo's console/handheld hybrid juggernaut, but even if you're just somewhat curious about a story driven sports game like I was, it's totally worth checking out. I promise that you won't regret it.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Fire Emblem: Archanean War Chronicles, more commonly known simply as "BS Fire Emblem," was a short series of four maps taking place in the two years preceding the events of the first Fire Emblem game that were available only via the Satellaview satellite download service in Japan. Because of the limited time workings of the Satellaview broadcasts, it's a serious pain in the ass to find a working ROM of these four maps, but with enough stubborn determination, it can be done. If you don't feel like dealing with that stubborn determination, however, you can also play them on the (sadly Japan exclusive) Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem on DS.
Because these were intended as bonus challenge maps, they're significantly more difficult than your normal Fire Emblem maps. These are basically late game challenge right from the get go. Compound that with the fact that you don't have the benefit of having a whole game to train up characters' experience and stockpile some better weapons, and yeah, you're in for some challenge. Patience, careful strategy, and the favor of the RNG gods are absolutely required for success here. Visually, they look pretty much exactly like the other three Fire Emblem games that saw release on the Super Nintendo, so expect that level of sprite detail.
The first map has you play as Princess Nyna and a small handful of loyal knights as they struggle to escape from Archanea Palace when it falls to Dolhr's troops. The second map sees Minerva team up with her enemy, Hardin, and save a village near Aurelis from attacking bandits (although Minerva doesn't know that the man she's working with is Hardin). In the third map, Lena and Rickard, accompany by Castor and Navarre, sneak past Dolhr's soldiers into Archanea's palace and look what treasure they can. The fourth and final map show Nyna's escape into Aurelis with the help of Grust's famed General Camus just prior to the events of the first game.
BS Fire Emblem is a nice ride if you want a good challenge that really pushes you to plan carefully (but mainly be freakishly lucky), but unless you're a hardcore Fire Emblem fan, there's nothing here really worth seeking out. If you want a brutal challenge, just play Fire Emblem: Fates - Conquest. If you want to flex your SNES muscles, play the cheap and easy to find Mystery of the Emblem or Genealogy of the Holy War. With how much of a pain it is just to find a working ROM let alone one in English, if you REALLY want to play through these maps, you're way better of playing the versions included with New Mystery of the Emblem. It's a solid little map pack, but there just isn't a whole lot if incentive to jump through the hoops required to play it on original hardware or a SNES emulator.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on Xbox, Xbox One, and Windows
Metal Wolf Chaos is a bit of an odd story in the history of gaming. It's a game that was released fairly late in the life of the original Xbox - a system that only really saw success in the United States - about an American vice president who ousts the president in a coup, it takes place almost exclusively in the United States, it's voice entirely in English, and yet was only released in Japan. Everything about this game screams "American release" if not a release exclusive to North America, but it never saw a release outside of Japan....UNTIL NOW.
The game starts with you, playing as the president of the United States, fleeing a large coup force from the White House. Fortunately, the president has his own personal mecha mobile armor, Metal Wolf complete with the presidential seal and massive armament of weaponry. You have to fight your way through the White House lawn, into an underground escape tunnel, and to Air Force One to escape to the west coast where you begin your one-man war to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN. It's weird how much the coup forces and treasonous vice president remind me of Trump. You know, if Trump were at all competent or even moderately intelligent. They describe Metal Wolf and the budding resistance as a "great evil" and a threat to American freedom and justice. It's eerie.
The game plays as an admittedly rather clunky third person shooter. You have a SUPER limited boost ability (technically it lasts a good while, but it starts draining your health after a couple seconds), but other than that, you're pretty much just trudging through the levels on foot. You can have two weapons equipped at a time unless you're using a sniper cannon or multimissile launcher as those require both hands. There is a part or two that require a little bit of platforming above some instant-death pits, and since there are no checkpoints, death means doing the entire level over again (as I found out when I got knocked into a pit with the boss of a level almost dead), and the controls are NOT conducive of platforming, so that's not tight at all, but by and large, the controls are workable, and the game's campy tongue-in-cheek humor makes it worth playing through.
With its visuals as with its controls, Metal Wolf Chaos shows its age. This is not a remake or a remaster; this is a straight re-release with no real changes made aside from translated menus and upscaling to modern resolutions. The textures are the same, and the frame rate is still 30 fps. Personally, I'd have liked to see a bit of polish on the aging textures and polygons or at least a frame rate bump to 60 fps, but the game is still perfectly playable and enjoyable, and at $30, it's a fair asking price.
Metal Wolf Chaos XD is a game that Americans (or at least a few of us...the weird ones) have been wanting to play for fifteen years, but aside from emulation or importing (and then bypassing the Xbox's region lock), it's been out of our reach. At long last, we have available to us a game that truly does let us MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, and this time without the concentration camps or catastrophic tariffs! Truthfully, Metal Wolf Chaos isn't an amazing game especially by today's standards, but it's a solid game for those who just want a fun, goofy robot blasting time. I'd recommend giving it a play for sure.
My Rating - 3 Neps
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.