Valiant Hearts: a hit with kids & dogs

Gamer Dude’s playing Valiant Hearts — released today on XboxLive and there’s a valiant dog protagonist that’s caught our dog Astrid’s attention. She’s watching the screen wagging her tail and offering her computer game dog friend the lacrosse ball she pinched from the ball bag! LOL

Valiant Hearts was released today for Microsoft Windows, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and Steam.  Powered by the same engine as Rayman Origins the game was developed by Ubisoft Montpellier. I’m already a fan. The game art, storyline and musical score is compelling and has a arty feel to it. It’s not an epic war game, but this game has plenty of heart. From the looks of things, the puzzles are satisfying too.

According to Hayden Dingman from PCWorld.com,

Far from a detriment, the silent-film nature of Valiant Hearts is one of its greatest strengths. The game is able to support a multicultural cast—French, German, American, Canadian—without any one culture dominating. And still, these are some of the best characters I’ve played in recent memory, thanks to some strong archetyping and brilliant animated cutscenes.

You also fall in with a trained war dog early in the game, and it’s this dog that most of the game revolves around. The story is the primary draw here, but play revolves around solving a cadre of puzzles more than actual combat.

I’m literally watching Dude play as I write. I’ll update later after the game’s done!

 

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Shank: Gorgeous animation, questionable narrative

Gamer Dude: Can I play Shank?
Me: No
Gamer Dude: Awww, why not?
Me: Because it’s a game called “shank,” I don’t think I need to elaborate.

As you can see from the clip above, it’s a beautifully animated game done in a dramatic comic book style. The story of Shank can be told from two different perspectives: single-player campaign and cooperative campaign. The protagonist, Shank, is a mobster hitman whose MO is avenging the death of his girlfriend, Eva.

Players control Shank and can choose from three different kinds of weapons: melee weapons (including a chainsaw — sigh), firearms (of course), and a pair of knives (to shank with, I imagine). The cooperative mode activates Shank’s able sidekick, Falcone. As in many multiplayer campaigns, this game requires players as the characters to collaborate and combine moves to complete “hits” and advance the story.

EA Games, who released Shank in 2010 calls the game “a side-scrolling beat ’em up” game and I say this is an accurate description. Designed by Klei Entertainment, the game is available for play on Linux, Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.

Some may call me hypocritical because, as you’ve seen in other reviews, I’ve allowed Gamer Dude to play similar storylines (eg. Assassin’s Creed). Maybe I am, but for me, it’s all about context for the violence. Also, Shank is no Assassin’s Creed. Case in point, the action of Shank seems to center exclusively on executing violent deaths as part of Shank’s revenge plot.

CONCLUSION:

Shank is a straightforward, one-dimensional game with graphic violence at the forefront. While I love the art and animation in Shank, I can see little benefit to having this game in my home, and no value in allowing my kid to play it.

VERDICT: NO DICE 

PewDiePie review of Thomas Was Alone: two thumbs up

Just watched PewDiePie’s recent gameplay of the indie puzzle platformer by Mike Bithell, Thomas Was Alone. Two words spring to mind: happy-making and visually-pleasing (OK, I cheated with the word count). It was first released as a browser game in 2010 but has recently been made to accommodate Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X in July last year. Playstation 3 and Playstation Vita versions were released in April this year.

If you’ve got a gamer of your own, you’ve likely discovered the playful, f-bomb-dropping Swedish YouTube gamer, Felix Kjelberg, better known as PewDiePie. He’s massively popular with GamerDude, and as of this week, with 12 million others who’ve subscribed to the 23-year-old’s unique brand of entertainment/game review. I could do without all the salty language, which honestly, doesn’t add anything to his videos. PewDiePie is very watchable — even for people over (ahem) 30. And often, as with Thomas Was Alone, he takes time to spotlight offbeat, visually unique indie games.

Here’s PewDiePie’s YouTube review. Check it out here:

Verdict: Controlled Yes on COD: Black Ops II

The victory for GamerDude is a bittersweet one (my WordPress friend, Bitter Ben would argue there’s no other kind of sweetness) — I’ve

Keep your cool while playing, ebayUK

Contolled playing, ebayUK

given him permission to play Call of Duty: Black Ops II, if he plays within the following parameters:

1. blood, gore, & language controls on, and

2. no online multiplayer gameplay

Of course, I believe this is a massive step for me in my relationship with video games, but in the time I’ve taken to reach a verdict on this game, the creators of COD: Black Ops II have released one DLC — a map: Revolution — last month. Further, this review/MOMmentary is being published the weekend before a gaming platform-wide release of the second DLC: Uprising (which includes a zombie setting called “Mob of the Dead”). Turns out, keeping up with this franchise is a full-time job.

A little background about COD: Black Ops II

It was released for PS3, Xbox 360, and Microsoft Windows November 2012, and it’s the first game in the COD franchise that features branching storylines influenced by players’ choices — these storylines/choices are called “Strike Force missions”. It’s also the first COD game to use futuristic warfare technology.

The game narrative is complex and compelling — in its single player mode, the campaign showcases two connecting storylines with Black Ops protagonist Alex Mason starring in the first section of the game and his son, David, in the second half. The game spans from 1986 to 1989 (the final years of the first Cold War) and then in 2025 — the onset of a second Cold War (this is where we see futuristic weapons and action). Soldiers in the game are tasked with — among other duties — preventing a terrorist attack.

Zombies

According to Patricia Hernandez (Kotaku), Zombie mode is a bit of a letdown. In her review of zombie mode for Kotaku, Hernandez writes:

There are three game types: the story-based “Tranzit,” the classic “Survival,” and, less excitingly, the maliciously spirited “Grief.” All overtly have the same premise: using teamwork, survive/kill the zombies.

Zombie mode is also very violent. Like, in a gratuitous way. I’ve banned it in our house because I haven’t found any evidence of zombie mode/maps being anything other than gross — and not in a cool, Super Meatboy way!

Violence and Gore (and Language — Oh My!)

COD: Black Ops II is a violent FPS (first person shooter) game, with and without the use of control settings. This review, and my verdict, have taken about two weeks longer than I’d hoped because of my inherent discomfort with the genre. That said, my decision to allow GamerDude to play the game is rooted in my the ability to control the level of gore, violence, and objectionable language in the game. With the content controls on, the screen literally goes black in places — to his frustration and my satisfaction. Also, in at least one instance, I’ve seen a cutscene that was appallingly horrific in the uncontrolled game — a man being burned alive — edited in the gore control mode.  The effect: a cutscene free of graphic visual and sound effects (preferable).

I’ve watched GamerDude play COD: Black Ops II — avec content controls — and, while it’s still intensely violent, the strategy, narrative, and decision-making aspects of the game really shine in this mode (as opposed to being outshone by violent, gory, and profane content). These are factors that contributed to my decision to allow the game in my home.

Closing

The ESRB rates the game Mature for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes, and Use of Drugs. The first four themes are controllable and the last two are (virtually) unavoidable. It should be noted that the suggestive themes entail your player entering a nightclub with exotic dancers — in silhouette — and it’s not a primary aspect of the game action or narrative. Regarding the use of drugs in the game, it’s limited to a mission set in a cocaine bunker. To complete the game players need to complete these missions, but if you don’t want to experience these worlds, you can avoid the missions.

I also want to add that the musical score for COD: Black Ops II is stunning. Composed by Jack Wall and Trent Reznor, it’s a powerful combination of classical and contemporary music that serves to enhance the gameplay and enrich what’s already a detail-rich world. Despite the fact that FPS isn’t my bag, I dig the task responsibility of watching GamerDude play this game.

VERDICT: RECOMMEND — with content controls ON — FOR SOME 12 YEARS PLUS

 

Machinarium: Soother of the Migraine

Machinarium

Machinarium (Photo credit: sakurapenguin)

Had a low-grade migraine that kept me and my son close to home the other day. The meds I take for relief are great, but I’m still left with sensitivity to light, sounds, and movement, and while they don’t sedate me, I don’t feel comfortable driving anywhere while they’re doing their thing. So we were both stuck at home.

After finishing his homework and home reading, my son wanted to play a video game. I was skeptical, but when he told me it was Machinarium he was looking to play, I was in full support — it’s got a gorgeous (gentle-sounding) soundtrack!

Tomáš Dvořák’s score for the game suits it perfectly; it’s a little melancholy, reflecting protagonist robot Josef’s grief at the kidnapping of his girlfriend robot. It’s also whimsical  and intricate which underscores the animation and the puzzles found in each level of the game. The first time I heard the soundtrack I was reminded of Hans Zimmer and Philip Glass’s work, so it wasn’t surprising to read that  Dvořák considers these composers to be influential in his music. I’ve thrown in a sample of the Machinarium sound if you’re interested:

According to the ESRB, Machinarium rates E10+:

Machinarium
Platform: Macintosh, Windows PC, PlayStation 3, PS Vita
Rating Category:

     Everyone 10+ Rating Symbol
Content Descriptors: Comic Mischief, Use of Tobacco
Rating Summary:This is an adventure-puzzle game in which players assume the role of a discarded robot (Josef) that must defuse a bomb and rescue its girlfriend. Players sometimes advance the storyline by playing tricks on other robots (e.g., scattering marbles to make one character slip and fall, electrocuting a robot cat); one cutscene depicts a character getting hit with a slingshot, resulting in a ‘dizzy-stars’ effect. During one extended sequence, players must construct a makeshift cigarette for another robot to smoke; another sequence depicts a character smoking a pussy-willow plant like a cigar or cigarette.
http://www.esrb.org/ratings/synopsis.jsp?Certificate=32356&Title=Machinarium

While the ESRB rates the game 10+ for the reasons stated above, I’d encourage this rating based on the complexity of the game. The puzzles are logic-based (so cool, learning and gaming), and even if your child is a logic wiz, the narrative of the game is more fully accessible to kids in this age-range.

Czech game designer Jakub Dvorský’s (Amanita Design) Machinarium is a beautiful game to play and to watch in play. As I recovered from my headache, I watched my son play the game from start to finish  — I felt transported into a Steampunk fairy tale. While I was happy about the conclusion of the game, it was a bittersweet happiness my son and I shared. Machinarium is a witty, cheeky, and beautiful game that neither of us wanted to end.

Closing

If you haven’t downloaded and played this award-winning indie game, DO! It’s a treat for the ears, eyes, brain, and heart and I’m 100% sure this is one game there won’t be any disagreements over…plus, it’s easy on headaches.

How many of your kids’ video games can you say that about?

VERDICT: RECOMMEND FOR KIDS 10 YEARS PLUS