Tag Archive: Santa Monica


It’s been a great summer for smaller titles and indie games. Right before the deluge of AAA games kicks off the impending fall rush, though, Sony was able to squeeze in one more heart-wrenching tale for us to play in Bound. What this game lacks in length, it more than makes up for in how long you’ll be talking about it after you’re done.

A large part of what makes Bound so interesting is its story. Players take on the role of a small girl who uses dancing to traverse and overcome the obstacles of a colorful world. I’d love to go into more detail about the narrative itself, but developers Plastic Studios and Sony Santa Monica specifically requested we don’t talk about the story so that my personal thoughts on the game’s overarching themes and metaphors presented here don’t potentially affect someone who hasn’t played just yet. Just know that it is a tale meant to be open to interpretation, with deep dramatic tones that should strike a chord with anyone with even a hint of empathy in their being.

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Part of what makes the story’s impact so meaningful is the game’s visuals, as Bound tells its tale in a minimalistic approach. The world itself is made up of simple shapes that move and vibrate to the dancing girl’s beat as she spins by, her ribbons twirling around her along the way. Few words of dialogue are ever spoken, with the game just shifting from its standard third-person platforming view to first-person when appropriate for certain scenes.

Because of the lack of spoken words, music also plays an integral role in setting the tone of each of the game’s few levels. You wouldn’t be much of a dancer if you didn’t have any music to dance to, and I could listen to the melody that plays at the end of each level—where the girl skates along what looks like a yellow brick road of sorts, possibly signifying her victory over previous trials—all day long if you’d let me. It expertly helps accent each and every scene in the best ways possible.

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For as moving as Bound’s story is, and as beautiful as the world is, the game stumbles in the gameplay department. Although a platformer at its core, there is no challenge at all to be found here. Occasionally you’ll need to time your jumps, or there may even be a fall-away platform or two, but for nearly the entirety of the game, the jumps are simple and really meant for nothing more than to give the dancer another maneuver to perform as she glides through the world. Even the game’s few hazards, like fire or vines, are never really a threat, shrugged off by the shield that the girl’s rhythmic gymnastic ribbons create as she pirouettes, serving up more symbolism than danger.

There’s also that lack of length I previously mentioned, with my first playthrough clocking in at just over 90 minutes. There are only a handful of levels, and while the length works for the story the game wants to tell, there’s very little to bring you back once you see the ending. A speedrun mode unlocks when you do complete it that first time, and there are shortcuts that allow you to cut each level down to only a few minutes each if you can find them. In the end, the lack of challenge presented by the pedestrian platforming means you’ll really have to fall in love with this tiny dancer to keep coming back to this sad tale again and again.

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Bound is a wonderfully-told story that uses heavy metaphor, minimalistic visuals, and a unique movement system to get its point across. Unfortunately, the gameplay lacks any sort of complexity, and while that is clearly a choice by the developer, it also leaves the experience as a whole wanting. It feels like the story of Bound could’ve been told through any other medium and been just as impactful and effective, but that the writers behind it chose a game as their vessel instead. If you’re looking for something dramatic, visually stunning, and a bit on the simple side, Bound is a fine pickup. If you’re looking for more game in your gameplay, however, then this one will likely disappoint.

Developer: Plastic Studios, Sony Santa Monica • Publisher: SCEA, Sony Interactive Entertainment • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and older • Release Date: 08.16.16
7.0
A powerful, poignant story that utilizes a brilliantly crafted world and movement mechanic to help get its symbolism across. Its short length and lack of gameplay depth hold the experience as a whole back, however.
The Good A sad story told beautifully through the design of the world, the music, and most importantly, the movement of the character.
The Bad The gameplay isn’t nearly as deep as the story.
The Ugly All the ribbon dancing kept making me want to hum the Olympics theme song.
Bound is a PS4 exclusive. Review code was provided by Sony for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

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Take me out to the ballgame

I’ve loved sports all my life, and while football and hockey have earned copious amounts of my attention over the years, my first love remains baseball. Many of my earliest sports memories revolve around playing, watching, and studying the game (my 1995 MLB Almanac that began my obsession with statistics still holds a special place in my personal library). So, it’s no wonder that I get an extra spring in my step when Opening Day begins to roll around once more. I start studying rosters, rotations, scouting reports, schedules, and more with the tenacity of an FBI manhunt for a most wanted criminal.

In recent years, my annual routine has slightly shifted to include playing MLB The Show. I’ve picked up every copy of the game since 2010, and have found it is a great way to prepare for the season—even if it’s never exactly been perfect. But each year I still return to the only true baseball simulation on the market to help take the edge off when I need a fix of America’s pastime.

This year’s entry into the annual franchise, MLB The Show 16, looked to enhance the game in every aspect and mode while also adding a bevy of new features, especially in their online suite. Some of these changes add a lot to the experience, and I can say Sony San Diego knocked them out of the park. Others, however, are clear swing and misses.

Visually, the game is stunning. More realistic lighting, and a whole slew of new hitting, running, and fielding animations makes this easily the prettiest entry in the series thus far. Even after putting nearly two-dozen hours into the offline modes, there wasn’t a glitch to be found.

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The core modes of MLB The Show—Franchise and Road to the Show—have also seen upgrades. Franchise mode, which gives you total control over your favorite MLB team, has more stats than ever before, and finally gives a player’s full career history when you look at their numbers. Baseball is a stats driven game, and it’s about time this was included.

Also, taking a page out of EA Sports’ NHL franchise, players now have morale indicators based on a variety of factors. These influence their performance, as well as the likelihood of them signing or re-signing a contract with your team. Whether your team is located close to their home, how much money you’re offering, the coach, your team’s position in the standings, and much more will affect the player’s happiness level, making contract negotiations a more involved process than just throwing more money at players.

Road to the Show, which gives you a chance to create a player and live out your own major league aspirations, has added even more new features than Franchise. One new aspect in particular hugely changes gameplay here, and it’s called “Showtime”. This special meter allows players to slow down time and focus on really big moments. Need to make a diving catch to save a run? Stepping to the plate, down by three with the bases loaded and wanting to walk-off in style? Slow down time, hone in on the moment, and come through in the clutch. It takes a fair amount of time to get used to—especially when you slow down your at-bats at the plate—but when you get the timing down, it’s a fun new wrinkle to help accelerate your player’s growth from AA-prospect to MLB-superstar.

Another way that RTTS accelerates your development is that you can play entire series after one load screen. Sitting down and fast-forwarding to each of your at-bats and moments in the field in three or four game clips really zips you through the minors if you’re good enough. I polished off my first month of the season in just a couple hours, a process that used to take much longer in previous years.

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Besides this, new training tools allow you to add perks to your players as they improve, like better contact when hitting to cut down on strikeouts in high-pressure situations, or increasing the likelihood of opponents making errors in the field so you always get on base. The mode even kicks off with a chance to play in the Bowman Scout Day, helping define your player the second you start down the path to a major league career.

The biggest changes that came to MLB The Show 16, though, easily fall under Diamond Dynasty, MLB’s online fantasy mode that lets you put together a dream team by collecting different player cards. More cards are available than ever before, and that’s because of a new category called “Flashbacks.” These cards feature superstar players who might be in the twilight of their career, but with statistics from different chapters of their MLB playing time. Texas Rangers MVP Alex Rodriguez, and Oakland Athletics rookie Kurt Suzuki are just a couple of the new cards featured, and Legend cards also return featuring the likes of Nolan Ryan, making it so you can turn your online team into a juggernaut in no time.

To help flesh out your rosters, there are also more ways than ever to get cards, using either the franchise’s traditional in-game currency earned by playing the game known as “stubs,” or the brand new ticket currency added to MLB The Show 16. When you start the game, you’ll be allowed to pick from one of six special captains from around baseball: cover boy and reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson from the Blue Jays; Mets pitcher Jacob DeGrom; retiring Red Sox slugger David Ortiz; defending world champion Royals first-baseman Eric Hosmer; Astros speedster second baseman Jose Altuve; and Cubs superstar first-baseman Anthony Rizzo. By playing different modes in MLB The Show 16, you’ll earn experience towards each captain. In a way, the six captains work as a form of prestige for the game itself, because by leveling up each captain to their max, you’ll have a chance to buy special cards associated with each one at higher levels. Each captain also offers unique challenges towards earning those award tickets, which can then also be redeemed for special reward cards.

I like the idea behind the captain system, but I think, as it is, it’s a bit too convoluted. Trying to keep track of what challenge you’re going for and introducing a second currency feels like a ham-fisted attempt at trying to jam more overarching content into the game. Plus, limiting the system to only these captains—instead of offering less levels to max each one out, but representing each team around baseball—feels like a missed opportunity. Not to mention, you can always find a lot of the cards being offered in random packs or the game’s online auction house. The inside track this mode offers doesn’t really expedite anything, considering the grind to max each captain out to get to the best cards available.

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There are also two new modes in MLB The Show 16’s online suite of games.

Diamond Dynasty is no longer limited to just playing people in head-to-head matchups, as there’s now also a weird RTS Risk-style game where you take your team online in an attempt to conquer all the other MLB teams across North America. By playing and winning repeated games, you’ll earn more fans and your influence will grow. When you completely absorb the fan base of another team, you’ll conquer their region.

I love the concept, but as is, even with each game being limited to 3-inning exhibitions, this mode is a grind to play. It might take you days to beat Conquest even once, and considering the game forces you to play on higher difficulties when you have fewer fans (or your fans are too spread out between multiple fronts), the reward for playing feels minimal compared to the time investment.

The other new mode is Battle Royale, which takes a page out of EA Sports’ Madden playbook in that it comes off a lot like their Draft Champions. You begin the mode by drafting a 25-man team from current and hall of fame baseball players. After setting your line-up, you have to hop online and play 3-inning games against human players. If you win, you’ll earn more player cards. The more you win, the better cards you get, and the stiffer the competition you’ll face as online rankings start being taken into account. If you lose twice, the mode is over and you have to re-draft and start over, trying to win crappy cards again before moving on up. The mode is also a gamble as it requires 1500 stubs to play. That isn’t a monumental amount, but it’s enough for most folks to take pause before jumping right in—and the rewards don’t feel like they justify the time sink.

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Unfortunately, I ran into one major issue with these new modes during my time with MLB The Show 16, and that’s the fact that they require you to be online in order to play them (unlike RTTS and Franchise). Lo and behold, just like almost every other year, the game’s servers have been completely unstable at launch. In fact, in the first 48 hours of playing post-release, I’ve had more full disconnects from MLB The Show’s online servers than I’ve been able to connect and finish a 3-inning game with people. And even when I do connect, the lag is atrocious.

Talking with friends and even the strangers I’ve played online, I’ve found they are experiencing the same issues. I’ve played other online games without a hitch, again pointing to the fact that just like every year, Sony San Diego could not get their online act together in time for launch. It’s a huge disappointment, especially considering these new modes are all tied directly to online play.

There also seems to be a tendency on Sony San Diego’s part to fix things that aren’t broken instead of fixing things that are. I’m sure the servers will get to a better point sooner rather than later, but minor things like UI changes to the menus and stat cards for players—including player stamina meters now being a circle bar instead of a more clearly readable long bar like in last year’s game—just seem wholly unnecessary when you have these sorts of netcode problems.

A part of me wonders if it all stems from the fact that MLB The Show 16 maybe tried to offer too much new stuff this go around. Had they focused on making a couple of the new features they included as polished and user-friendly as possible, and for once had a smooth online launch, this could’ve been a very special baseball sim. As it is, it is very good, with some solid ideas being added, yet you can’t help but knock them for botching online play again—especially when the majority of new features are connected to it. You can’t win the World Series in the first month of the season, but you can lose it with a slow start, and there’s no doubt that MLB The Show 16 at least stumbled out of the gate on that one. That said, if you need a baseball fix and find you spend most of your time playing RTTS and Franchise modes anyway, MLB The Show 16 delivers in spades on those fronts.

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Developer: SCEA San Diego • Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 03.29.16
8.0
MLB The Show 16 continues to find innovative ways to push the series forward by adding new features and improving on old ones. Some new problems have arisen, however, and old ones—most notably the horrendous stability of online play—continue to persist and hold the series back.
The Good Deeper Road to the Show mode, better visuals, and the concept of new online modes.
The Bad The online play itself is as atrocious as ever.
The Ugly Even with thousands of new lines of commentary recorded, Steve Lyons, Eric Karros, and Tom Vasgersian still started to repeat themselves after only a half-dozen games or so.
MLB The Show 16 is available on PS4 and PS3. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Sony for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Kratos goes through the motions

When Kratos arrived on the scene back in 2005, he quickly became one of my favorite gaming protagonists—probably because we had so much in common. We both have familial roots in the Mediterranean. We both have wicked-awesome goatees. And we’re both fueled by an all-consuming rage that the rest of the EGM crew can attest to me possessing when it’s my turn to drive during lunch break. (Stupid SoCal drivers.) Anyway, it’s been with great joy that I’ve played every God of War game to date.

But I’ll admit that when I heard about God of War: Ascension being a prequel, I was filled with more fear than joy. Personally, I can’t remember anything with that label that lived up to what came before it, whether it was a movie, comic book, or videogame. So, it was with much trepidation that I fired up Ascension, not really knowing what to expect.

This trip back in time finds Kratos taking on the Furies in an attempt to break his bond to Ares—and sets our bald, brawny antihero down the path of the main God of War trilogy. You see, before Kratos was to make his mad, one-man assault against Ares in the original God of War, he had to break the magical bond that tied him to the god to begin with. Otherwise, he’d be powerless in his quest for revenge.

Breaking a vow with a god, however, is not taken lightly. It’s here that we meet the Furies, whose sole purpose is to make those who would go back on their word suffer for all eternity. And it’s with great joy that this trio of underworld goddesses adds Kratos to their list of prisoners. He’s not into BDSM, though (at least when it comes to himself), and so the game opens with Kratos escaping his prison on the massive, 100-handed Hekatonkheires, a giant more powerful than even the Titans—and the first to break his word to a god. In his case, Zeus.

These opening scenes pull you back into the familiar button-prompt events and blood-gushing brutality that’s defined much of the God of War series. For fans of the franchise, this will feel like second nature, as the game keeps the action heavy from this opening confrontation with the Furies to the end credits. And you’ll immediately appreciate the cinematic quality of the camera movements that attempt to give Ascension that epic feeling we all expect.

The camera isn’t perfect all the time, though, and it provides the only real technical flaw I found with the experience. As Kratos begins his escape of the Hekatonkheires prison, the camera pulls out—this game actually found an even bigger creature than the Titans to have Kratos run around on. The detail and scope of this monster is exquisite, and it makes you wish that the action would let up for just a short while so you can take in the magnificent scene properly.

As the camera pans out farther and farther, the action continues on the ground as prisoners under the Furies’ control continue their assault. With the camera zoomed so far out in order to give a glimpse of the monumental levels, though, I couldn’t differentiate between Kratos and the enemies trying to attack him. And this continues throughout the game; you’ll find several instances where the camera flares out and Kratos is a mere speck against this gorgeous background. But the enemies keep coming.

Despite the occasionally wonky camera and segments where the action flows poorly, Ascension is still an impressive achievement on a technical level. The graphics and sound are both top notch, and the gameplay itself may well be the best we’ve seen from the series. The new combat system is the most elaborate yet, with seven brand-new powers, a new sub-weapon system that allows for a bevy of new combos, and a refined Rage meter that fills up and depletes faster than ever before, offering the best button-mashers multiple moments for Kratos to flip out.

But while the game shines technically, it stumbles creatively. While the variety here is appreciated, much of it’s simply borrowed from other franchises, making several sequences feel less like God of War and more like any old action-adventure title—such as the sliding sequences down slippery hills, a flavor of the month in game design right now. Meanwhile, the climbing segments through dilapidated ruins remind me more of Uncharted than God of War, while Kratos’ new time-control power screams Prince of Persia.

And this brings us back to the story. Whether you’re a God of War apologist or a stern critic of the franchise, it’s easy to see that this is the weakest story the series has offered yet. I understand that it’s difficult to craft an original tale when fans already know that no matter what happens, Kratos’ fate is sealed. That’s a motif central to Greek mythology, but it’s not a really a big bonus for a videogame.

The new villains are poorly developed and desperately try to fill the role that Ares—and, later, Zeus—provided over the main trilogy, and they fail miserably in this attempt. The levels, although definitely gorgeous and massive, are also the weakest in terms of ingenuity the series has ever seen. And the mythological references are so obscure that you’ll need Google open nearby at all times. It feels like Ascension tries to wring out the last few drops from a dried-out dish rag of mythos. Oh, and let’s not forget the plot holes left open by Kratos’ new powers that he obviously never had in the main series. So, what the heck happened to them? Oh, that’s right—you take them into multiplayer.

Yes, here comes my obligatory statement on that segment. I did indeed try every mode several times and poured a half dozen hours into the experience, leveling up my character and maxing out several pieces of equipment. Early on in the game, while Kratos is escaping his prison, you come across another prisoner who’s thrilled—at first—to be freed by Kratos. But elation sooner turns to fear, as the chaos Kratos has unleashed begins to wash over him. But before this random NPC can pay the ultimate price, he’s magically teleported to Olympus and becomes the basis for your avatar in multiplayer, where you’re tasked with choosing a god to champion from Ares, Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades (based off the four elemental powers Kratos acquires in single-player). Depending upon whom you choose, your powers and buffs change.

After a quick training session with your chosen abilities, it’s off to the arenas—and it’s nice to see familiar series backdrops here, as iconic locations like the Labyrinth Cube from God of War III are reimagined. You also have theGod of War take on your standard smattering of multiplayer modes like Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Point, Capture the Flag, and even a wave based co-op mode. Some of these play better than others, though, as the arenas are smaller (for the most part) in an attempt to jack up the encounter rates, since every battle is hand-to-hand. This works well in Deathmatch and even Capture the Point, but Capture the Flag is a mess—a team that works well together can win a match in only a couple of minutes with the flags so close together. The small teams—maximum 4-vs.-4—also put a limit on what could’ve been some truly chaotic-yet-fun multiplayer action.

Really, this multiplayer isn’t anything we haven’t seen before; it reminded me of BioShock 2’s in many ways, as it takes modern designs and conforms them to the God of War theme. But the gimmick wears out quickly, and I found myself bored far too often. It’s not a bad add-on, but for as much as it’s been hyped, it’s not something that was really necessary, either—and I doubt many players will put more than a couple of semi-enjoyable hours into it.

God of War: Ascension is a highly polished action-adventure game—and probably one of the strongest we’ll see from a  technical standpoint this year. But the soul of what made this franchise great is lost here, as this ultimately feels like a last-ditch attempt to squeeze in one last Kratos appearance this console generation. In the end,Ascension will be remembered as if Kratos’ legendary rage and anger simply faded out as an exasperated sigh of resignation.

Developer: Sony Santa Monica • Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 03.12.2013
7.0 A clear example of a studio going to the well with a franchise one too many times. Although highly polished and still entertaining for fans of the franchise, Ascension lacks the soul of its predecessors as it scrapes the bottom of the Greek-mythology barrel to try to deliver on a franchise that’s clearly run dry of fresh ideas.
The Good More elaborate combat system punctuated by a refined Rage meter.
The Bad The story is easily the weakest of the series.
The Ugly A parasite-infected Hekatonkheires.
God of War: Ascension is a PS3 exclusive.