First Impressions: Godus (iOS edition)

godusnewAfter learning of the release of Peter Molyneux's latest game for the iOS, via TechCrunch, I immediately downloaded Godus from my iPhone's app store. Molyneux has always struck me as a heck of a character, a sort of mad-creator, and his game designs are usually pretty imaginative and brimming with terrific ideas that do not always translate perfectly to a playable product. While I appreciated Fable and it's sequel (I've not yet played part three) at the time of their release, I found The Movies to be rather lacking despite a premise (a Hollywood sim-builder) that was exciting and right up my alley. I really wanted to love that game way more than I actually did, and I keep hoping for Molyneux to take another stab at it and try for a bit of course correction.

With Godus, a Kickstarter-funded God sim in the vein of Molyneux's earlier Populus, players are dropped into a rescue mission of sorts from the get-go. Two people are on the verge of drowning, and you are given the task of saving them via a brief tutorial that explains the game's concept of land sculpting. By tapping, holding down, and swiping up, down, left, or right you can control the depth of the terrain, the layers of which are color coded for easy discernability, and shape, or sculpt, the lay of the land.

Once rescued, these two figures recognize you, the player, as God and become your first followers. You continue following them around the map, sculpting the land and clearing it of obstacles in order to help them reach the Promised Land, where they can settle down, breed, build, and worship, all in your honor.

Image source: 22Cans (Facebook)

The initial game-play is pretty straightforward, and the opening segment revolves around building up your tribe's population and expanding their territory. There are certain goals you have to hit - like breeding 10 new people and building three more abodes - in order to get your reward, in the form of specialized power cards and tools or specialized goods (like animal furs), which can be found in treasure chests across the Promised Land. The cards appear listed in a timeline, which allows you to scroll forward and see what's coming up as the game progresses. It's a neat feature and provides a built-in level of anticipation to let you know there's a method to the madness and end goals to strive for, rather than just playing for the sake of killing time. You unlock more cards by reaching population milestones. The larger your population, the more belief your followers can generate - and it's the power of belief that allows you to perform many of your actions. There's a nice bit of interconnectivity to the game's mechanics that allows one system to naturally feed and supplement other systems.

One of the first important tasks is to repair a temple, which then opens the game wider and generates several prompts requesting players to rate the game and to sign-in with a Facebook or Mobage account. I suspect some may have a problem granting yet another application access to a social media account, though. The game promises to make it worthwhile, and although I didn't have a problem with logging-in via Facebook, I'm not sure how radical the differences will be for those who don't. Repairing the temple unlocks gems, which can be used to purchase in-game content, like the Primitive Sticker Pack. You can also make in-app purchases and buy additional gems (50 gems for $4 and up, up to 1400 gems for $99.99). These stickers interact with the cards and are used to unlock and harness the upgrade each card offers.

During the loading of one play session, I was told that followers will learn how to behave based on my actions, which should make for some truly interesting observational game play in the future. I'm not too deep into the game, yet, but the social development of followers promises to be intriguing. Already I'm seeing the initial development of a community as neighbors meet-and-greet one another, sit around camp fires together, or climb trees to harvest coconuts. Your actions do have a direct effect on the people in-world, though. One unfortunate fellow was a bit too close to the water during an accidental sculpting and got dropped into the drink after the land disappeared from beneath his feet. Another townsman saw what was happening and ran out, yelling for me to save him. I was quick to put the land back, and the gent found himself safe and sound again and went back about his business. I may have also made a few people homeless by accident... I'm really keen on finding out what kind of moral quandaries and ethical entanglements may arise from my virtual omnipotence (and occasional clumsiness) as the game develops, and how this will impact and shape the world.

Godus02

While constructing a civilization is a vital element of the play-through, the world opens up with the discovery of a sailing vessel. After building the docks, you can launch an exploration to other islands, which basically functions as a mini-game with a network of islands that you'll travel to and launch explorers. Once on land, you'll need to select how many explorers to launch and get them from Point A to the temple at Point B by sculpting the land around them to overcome any obstacles in the way. But, you'll need to hurry as the missions are timed! You also only have X number of explorers on your ship, so you want to be careful about balancing how many people are sent to an island, within the demands of a particular level for a certain number of required explorers. Your team of explorers are basically Lemmings, so you'll need to be mindful of their group-think habits and act fast to corral them into following the path you've devised.

The mini-games make for an enjoyable and thoughtful (and sometimes frustrating) break from the basic mechanics of building abodes, and completing them earns you lots of powerful stickers. The game play opens up a bit further with the realization that your Chosen Ones are not alone in the Promised Land, and with the introduction and growth of God Powers. Although I'm still early on in the game and my Godliness is pretty limited, I sneaked a peek at the timeline's future cards and there looks to be some very intriguing power sets coming up that should play heavily into the AI development of your tribes and their interactions with the world around them.

Godus is nicely designed and the focus, from graphics to sound, is high on pleasantry and fun. The game has a bright cartoonish feel to it, which is emphasized in the audio department. Send one of your followers to build a new abode and they cheerily reply, "Building!" The music is upbeat and easy on the ears, and the discovery of treasures is suitably ethereal and accompanied by a ghostly whisper when opened.

A supremely annoying aspect, however, and your mileage may vary, came in the form of push notifications. If you have multiple building projects going on, as I did, the game will send you notices when each one is finished. Because I had been building six abodes simultaneously, my iPhone spent quite a while buzzing and beeping to alert me of the status. At the moment I'm OK with logging-in and providing Godus access to my Facebook account, but I will be denying it access to my phone's alert features very soon!

I also wish that navigation were a bit less sticky. Earlier I mentioned nearly drowning somebody due to an accidental sculpting job on the landscape. Moving around the screen requires a two-finger swipe. This was a little too cumbersome for me, so I tried using both thumbs to travel across the Promised Land with mild success. It's an easy way to move, but not necessarily the most efficient. So, navigation could require a little bit of retraining of the old muscle memory.

After.

Ultimately, I'm enjoying Godus a hell of a lot. I think it's a really fun game, some minor navigation quibbles aside. The big question, as is often the case with mobile games and simulators in general, is how long it can keep my attention. Simulators like this are ridiculously easy to get sucked into and after a few hours (or days and weeks that only feel like a few hours...thanks for that, Civilzation!) it can start to feel like you've seen and done just about all there is to do before it gets repetitive. Mind you, repetition can be fun if there's at least some variability in the AI, but most of the time it just sucks. Molyneux and his team of developers at 22Cans will need to keep the updates and improvements coming steadily, along with introductions of new materials, resources, powers, and the like. It does seem like they have their eyes on the horizon and lots of stuff planned to keep the game running for a while, based on this page, although I'm not sure how much of their "Coming Soon" info is based on PC/Mac editions versus the mobile iOS version. After playing the free mobile edition for a while, though, I am deeply tempted to explore the Mac edition and see if I can discern any differences.

To top it all off, Godus is free to download, which makes trying the game out for yourself a nicely risk-free venture. I'm suitably impressed and suspect I've found a new addiction to help kill my phone battery. Go get it!

http://youtu.be/8RLyVjdbV-U


Don't forget to hit Like and Share!

Follow my reviews on Amazon and Goodreads

If you enjoyed this post or others like it here, and would like to help keep this blog running,
you can support High Fever Books with a small Ko-Fi donation.

Needed: A Cold-Hard Read

It's snowing, the wind is howling, and your skin, should you be foolish enough to brave the outdoors unprotected, grows numb with frostbite and the threat of hypothermia. It's wicked. Horrifying, really. The potential for disaster on icy roads, the dangers lurking in a white-out. The anxiety of cabin fever and nerves fraying as the winter months stretch on and on, an unrelenting grayness broken only by white and, maybe, the occasional glimmer of sun against hard-packed snow. You have no idea what's lurking out there, what sounds are masked by the shrieking winds and your eyes squinting shut against the blasts of cold flurries. But maybe you can sense it...that cold, reaching grasp...the stretch of something evil brushing against you, whisper-soft, sending a shiver down your spine and raising the fine hairs all along the back of your neck.

Winter is a time for horror. The Shining. Dan Simmon's The Terror. John Carpenter's The Thing and John Campbell's Who Goes There? H.P. Lovecraft's At The Mountains of Madness.

I need suggestions. Christopher Golden has a new title out that sounds promising, Snowblind. Anybody read this one yet?

What are your go-to winter-time horror picks? Could be anything - books, movies, TV shows. What are the ones that really creep you and turn your soul to frost? Sound off below!


Don't forget to hit Like and Share!

Follow my reviews on Amazon and Goodreads

If you enjoyed this post or others like it here, and would like to help keep this blog running,
you can support High Fever Books with a small Ko-Fi donation.

The Sims Freeplay

I've been playing The Sims in its various incarnations for most of the 14 years it's been around. When The Sims was first released in 2000, I became almost instantly addicted. The brainchild of Will Wright, of SimCity fame, The Sims was the first life-simulator: create a sim, give them a house, make them go to the bathroom, force them to eat, get a job, change their clothes. It was a video game based on all the crap we have to do in daily life, and it worked far better than the initial idea should have. After all, we already do all of these mundane things in our own life - who wants to play a video game about it? Yet, Wright and his team at Maxis were able to inject enough wit and playability into the idea to make it fun and rewarding. You could advance in your career and earn enough money to upgrade your home. Expansion packs came along that took The Sims into new, wacky, and sometimes strange territories, like witchcraft.

I became even more enamored with the series when it got its first major overhaul and launched The Sims 2. A third iteration and a number of expansion packs followed, leading to the release of The Sims 4, which is expected to hit retailers later this year.

In between all of this, though, came an interesting departure. With the rise of mobile devices and tablets, like the iPad and Kindle, a new arena of gaming opened up, and EA Mobile quickly realized that they could capitalize on a well-known brand. In 2011, The Sims Freeplay was released for iOS devices, and Android devices a few months later.

My wife started playing it on her iPad. I tried it briefly, a few years ago when it first released, and enjoyed it, but forgot about it for a while. It was fun watching her play and listen to her stories of what zany things were happening in SimVille, especially around Christmas, when Freeplay launched a holiday-themed mission requiring your sims to aid Santa Claus and the chance to win a reindeer.

After getting my Kindle HD for Christmas, I decided it was time to check back in on The Sims after an extended period of time away. I haven't played any iterations of the series since The Sims 3 launched, with the exception of some brief forays into the PS3 edition of Pets. After a month of playing, I've found myself quite addicted to Freeplay.

Like the PC versions of The Sims, Freeplay starts you off with a simple character creation and purchase of a home. The biggest difference between the mobile version from the PC series is the real-time aspect. In Freeplay, all actions are based on real-time, so when you send your sim to the bathroom it can take ten seconds to complete, then another five seconds to wash hands if you're a hygienic player. When employed (or in school, if your preteen or teenage sim is enrolled), the sims disappears for several hours a day and comes back home at the appointed time with some extra cash (Simoleons) and experience points. You can build up your town, adding structures like the town hall, a recreation center, schools, a fire station, parks, and so on. But, again, each structure takes a pre-determined amount of real-time to build, and can take anywhere from an hour to two days to complete.

As with previous iterations, Freeplay has that warm, familiar touch of humor. Sims can be insane and squawk like chickens when they are feeling fulfilled, and they can be tasked with a goal of turning a rival sim into a nemesis so that they can slap them. You can give your sims a villainous streak or make them a vigilante, or maybe a romantic, by choosing a personality during the character creation. Unfortunately, personality doesn't play into the game beyond some behaviors a sim will show off when left alone for a bit, and it certainly doesn't weigh in as heavily as The Sims 3. Having a villain in your town is rather meaningless since they aren't given any particularly villainous interactions or options, nor does personality make any inroads, or have any detriment, to particular careers. Tycoons won't make more in any given profession than any other sim, or be rewarded with anything extra. There are some slight differences in actions depending on a characters age, but again, nothing overly significant. Preteens can make prank phone calls, while teenagers get hungry and can spend an hour staring vacantly into the refrigerator.

There are a number of hobbies to explore in SimVille, with more to unlock as your sims progress. Sims who take up the fishing hobby are prone to being eaten by a big-mouthed bass. During a recent fishing challenge, hazardous waste was dumped into the park's lake and mutated the fish, which had to be caught. Of course, each mutant fish was named after the characters of Breaking Bad, like Blue Saulmon, Gustavo Finn, and the illusive Hi-Sim-Berg. But, sims can also figure skate or take up woodworking, and preteens can do either karate or ballet.

In some ways, Freeplay is a more stripped-down, back-to-basics approach of The Sims gameplay model, but it still works well and is surprisingly advanced, at least in comparison to the basic core version of The Sims prior to the addition of expansion titles. The developers, EA Mobile and Firemonkeys Studios, have been good about adding content and keeping the game feeling fresh. The real-time aspect of the game has even played in to real-world aspects, like holiday-themed missions. After the Christmas story, the sims had to prep for New Years and were rewarded with fireworks that they could set up around their house and help ring in 2014. As you collect experience points and level-up your sims, you are given new goals and missions to carry out in order to unlock new abilities, like having a baby, and then aging that child from an infant to a toddler, and up through the intermediary stages through adulthood. The game even periodically advertises upcoming missions when you level up, and gamers can look forward to The Island of Mystery, which adds it on bit of side-achievements to the game, or becoming a Ghostbuster at level 20! An update was recently issued that will allow players to turn their adult sims into elders, and added new hobbies and pet birds, and these additions should be unlocked for all on Feb. 5.

As a whole, The Sims family of games have been enjoyable to play, and Freeplay is little exception. It has all the customary essences of what Will Wright and Maxis developed and expanded upon over more than a decade, and it still feels fresh. The lite role-play aspects and the rewards that can be unlocked by gaining XP to advance through the levels offer enough gratification to keep one going, and the enticements of what future levels bring prevent the game from feeling too repetitive, even if it is a bit limited on options. The real-time nature of it works well, and to an extent even forces players to step away for a little while and check back later to ascertain the status and well-being of the sims. When you have an entire city of sims tied up in a 10-hour pumpkin pie baking spree, there's not much to do, but once you grind your way through to the next level, suddenly you have a plethora of activities to while away a few more hours with, or a series of goals to work through every week to earn keys to unlock surprise bonuses. More than anything, it's just easy fun and provides a very quick learning curve to draw players in rapidly, as a good mobile game should. The Sims Freeplay is a fun little life-simulator that lets you get away from the hectic routine of your daily life for a bit, and maybe even engage in a little wish-fulfillment. My reality may include a mighty fierce snowstorm and temps below freezing right now, so I can't go hang out in a pool and soak up the sun, but my sim sure as hell can!


Don't forget to hit Like and Share!

Follow my reviews on Amazon and Goodreads

If you enjoyed this post or others like it here, and would like to help keep this blog running,
you can support High Fever Books with a small Ko-Fi donation.

Initial Impressions: Kindle Fire HD

After receiving several holiday gift cards from co-workers, I decided to treat myself to an Amazon Kindle. We already have an iPad 2, which my wife has been using more frequently of late, thus preventing me from hogging it. Two or three years ago, I never would have thought I'd use, let alone enjoy, a tablet computer, but since getting the iPad I have found myself relying on it more than our MacBook for things like surfing the web, social media, and even started using it as an e-reader for books and comics. For Maureen, it's become a nice little gaming center that she can use to play The Sims on, in addition to the usual miscellany. With both of us now relying heavily on this single tablet, we (or maybe mostly just me...) were experiencing some growing pains. Enter the Kindle 7" HD.

After receiving it last Monday, I went through the usual first-day business: charging it, setting up the home wi-fi connection, and loading some apps. What struck me first was the vivid clarity of the display. I plugged the tablet in, powered it on, and was greeted by a very sharp, bright lock screen that had an almost 3D quality to it. Set-up was a breeze. The process was only a few steps involving entering my e-mail address and password for wireless. Very painless, very fast. Then I loaded on the Facebook and Twitter apps, as well as Comixology. I was disappointed at the lack of an app for Dark Horse Comics, but I may have to try to side-load their Android app onto the Kindle later. I'm hopeful that Amazon will approve their app soon (apparently, it's been in review for nearly two years now), as I am eager to read the forthcoming Serenity comic-book, as well as their new seasons of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel & Faith.

Much of my first night was spent trying to get used to the interface. Unlike the iPad, there is not a dedicated physical Home button on the tablet. Instead, it's an icon on the screen and is part of the navigation interface. The Kindle has a clean look to it, with a scroll bar at the top for books, newsstand, apps, games, documents, music, and video. Directly beneath the scrollable menu is a carousel for recently opened items or new Kindle e-book purchases, and beneath that are the installed applications, like the web browser, help guide, e-mail.

Getting acquainted with the Kindle was easy, and mostly a matter of overcoming the muscle memory of where and how things are done on the iPad versus my new toy. Upon start-up, there is a brief interactive animation to guide you through the swipe access for menus and notifications, and then you're ready to go!

I spent the first part of the night downloading all of my many unread books. Then, I downloaded a bevy of HD comics from Comixology. Unfortunately, the high-definition comic books ate up most of my storage space rather quickly. Although I had bought the 16 GB Kindle, only 11 GB were available for use after the pre-loaded applications and operating system. After only a handful of titles and a healthy number of issues, I used another 9 GB of storage. There is a definite trade-off here between HD clarity and hard drive space conservation, but if you don't mind only have a few issues on-hand, the benefit of seeing these books in HD is worth it.

The beauty of high-definition comics is remarkable, far more than I had expected. Having read through the latest issues of East of West, Velvet, and Saga, there is a noticeable increase in quality versus the standard presentation on the iPad 2. The colors are rich and well-defined, and incredibly vivid. Shadows are dark and inky. There's a terrific depth to the imagery, particularly in those panels where the artist took special care to separate the background and foreground, as Fiona Staples does in Saga, and the layouts pop wonderfully. I was once again struck by the nearly 3D quality of the art; it's absolutely mesmerizing. It also makes Amazon's feet-dragging on their app approval process for Dark Horse all the more painful. I love Comixology to death, but I have a nice collection of titles through Dark Horse Digital and would like to have to their approved app at the ready without having to go through the side-loading workaround. If Amazon continues to hold out on making the DH app Fire capable, I won't have much of a choice, though.

The HD clarity also makes reading novels a joy. The text is clear and crisp. My first official Kindle tablet title of choice was Haunted House by J.A. Konrath, aka Jack Kilborn. I tore through this book in three days. I read Konrath's earlier horror works a few months ago, and it was neat to see past characters return in this new horror novel. It was definitely a fun read to christen the Kindle with and help break it in. I also liked the various options the Kindle gives you in tracking your reading progress. You can view the page you're on, what percentage of the book you've read, and the device measures your reading speed to let you know how many minutes are left in the chapter as well as in the book. The information is kept unobtruviely to the bottom of the screen, and you can cycle through by tapping the progress indicators. I really like knowing how much time is left in a chapter, and find it to be a suitable replacement for thumbing through the pages of a physical book to see how many pages are left.

As an Amazon Prime member, I can browse and watch items from the retailer's instant video service, but I haven't explored it in in depth on the device. I'm familiar with the Amazon Video service thanks to regular use via the Playstation 3 app, but am looking forward to seeing how well the audio and video hold up on the small screen. I watched only a few minutes of a season two episode of The X-Files, but, oddly, found it to be far less impressive on the tablet than it is on my big-screen HDTV when watched through the PS3 app. On the much smaller Kindle device, "Bad Blood" definitely looked like standard definition circa early-90s television, with the text appearing fuzzy and the picture quality lacking sharpness. On the other hand, The Avengers looked beautiful in HD, as expected of a more recent blockbuster, and the sound quality was good through the dual stereo speakers. The dialogue was clear and distinct, even against the background noises of the operations center aboard the SHIELD helicarrier or the crowds panicking over Loki's arrival in Stuttgart.

On the morning of Christmas Eve, I spent time running down the battery. There was roughly 70 percent of a charge on unboxing, but I spent several hours after charging it on Monday wearing it down. On Tuesday, I wanted to run it into shutdown and get a fresh charge off empty to help exercise the battery. Although I wasn't paying particularly close attention, I'd estimate it took four or five hours to fully charge. Amazon's specs state the Kindle HD has a battery life of 10 hours mixed use, which I would say is fairly accurate. In an attempt to stretch out the battery life, I halved the brightness from the default setting, and did not notice any drop in display quality. Even at a lower setting, the image quality is still excellent and makes reading a more naturalistic experience to the printed page, and helps make it a bit more comfortable on the eyes. Over the last few days I've been using the tablet for reading, web browsing, and playing The Sims Freeplay. Gaming certainly eats up the battery life quickly, but despite having this app in heavy rotation in between reading, I haven't run into any undue performance issues with the battery life. Given how quickly I've absorbed the Kindle into my daily routine while on holiday break this past week, I've been able to get a solid 10 hours of use each day, and have been recharging it overnight while I sleep.

There have been a few performance snags, but nothing that's been terribly inconvenient. On occasion, the Kindle has been slow to respond, despite it's dual-core 1.5 GHz processor, and has gotten stuck a few times when I resume reading from the carousel. For whatever reason, it has had trouble loading the current page and seems to freeze, but if I swipe back to the previous page and then swipe forward to my current page, the text generally appears without any further issues. I've noticed this problem in the Kindle app for the iPad, as well. The Kindle has also been slow to respond while web browsing and attempting to navigate backward and forward to previously visited pages. As I said, it's not a huge inconvenience or a disaster in performance, but an odd kink that Amazon has yet to fully resolve.

Late in my first week of use, I had some trouble loading .mobi files onto the device via e-mail or direct download. In January, Ramez Naam was kind enough to provide a free Kindle copy of his non-fiction title More than Human: Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement to those who purchased his first fiction title, Nexus (which, as of December 30, appears to only be $2.99. I highly recommend it!). So, since January, I've had the e-mail attachment of this work in my in-box. I had previously downloaded it to my Kindle app for the iPad, but was encountering difficulty downloading it directly on the Kindle device. I ran into the same error downloading an e-copy of Chuck Wendig's Blackbirds (another book I highly recommend), which is free to download until Dec. 31, when the third title in this series, Cormorant, releases. I ended up having to download the .mobi files for both of these novels to my MacBook's hard-drive, and install an Android File Transfer program. Then, I was able to use the Kindle tablet as a USB drive and transfer both titles to the Kindle's "book" directory. Strangely enough, although Naam's book is listed in my collection of books, Blackbirds does not appear in that same listing, yet the novel is present on the Kindle under Docs and that amazing Joey Hi-Fi cover-art shows up in my carousel.

Another perk of the Prime membership is access to the Kindle Lending Library. Once a month, I can borrow a book from Amazon's collection of titles, which includes The Hunger Games trilogy, Kindle Singles, and lots more. This morning, I borrowed David Blum's Anthony Bourdain: The Kindle Singles Interview. I'm a huge Bourdain fan and have read Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw, and watch his series, No Reservations (also available on Amazon Instant Video with a number of free seasons for Prime members) and Parts Unknown, fairly regularly. The Kindle Singles Interview was a fun, brief read but nothing terribly earth-shattering or revelatory for Bourdain fans. Still, having free and immediate access to the Single was a nice bonus, and I have several other titles in mind for the future, including The Secret Agent: In Search of America's Greatest World War II Spy. I think I will be accessing the lending library frequently, but wish it weren't restricted so tightly to only a single title per month.

All in all, after a full week of steady use, I am incredibly happy with my purchase. And my wife is quite happy to be able to regularly use her iPad once again! Had I known how much I would like the Kindle HD, and if money hadn't been an issue, I would have happily sprung for the larger-sized, higher-end HDX tablet with bigger storage. Still, this 7" HD model is certainly a fine introduction to Amazon's line of e-readers and tablet devices, and already has me eager to upgrade to future generations in a few years time. While I'm curious how much of a difference there is between the HD and HDX, which has more than an additional 100 pixels per inch and a quad-core processor, there has been a clear upgrade in visual quality from the iPad to the Kindle. The HD presentation is noticeable, and glorious. Despite being a fair bit smaller than the iPad, I am definitely a true Kindle convert.


Don't forget to hit Like and Share!

Follow my reviews on Amazon and Goodreads

If you enjoyed this post or others like it here, and would like to help keep this blog running,
you can support High Fever Books with a small Ko-Fi donation.

Dead Space 2 Review

Three years have passed since the events of Dead Space, in which Isaac Clarke survived the bloody ravaging of a mutated crew and a slew of monsters called necromorphs aboard the USG Ishamura, a planetary mining ship that found itself stranded in space.  After escaping the Ishamura and being rescued by an EarthGov ship, Clarke now finds himself locked-up in an asylum aboard the Sprawl, a massive space-station orbiting Jupiter.  Sure enough, the Sprawl proves to be no safer than the Ishamura and is quickly filled with monsters and spilled blood. Dead Space 2 opens with a brief cinematic to get players caught up before dumping them into an insanely addictive game of survival-horror.  The game's opening moments are an exhilarating rush that underscores its mission statement well: hooking gamers with ripe moments of shock-value, intense action, and the primary aim of simply surviving against overwhelming odds.  When you first gain control of Clarke, he is manacled in a straight-jacket and trapped in a dark room filled with necromorphs.  The only way out is through, and players are tasked with running around a series of obstacles while avoiding the blood-thirsty ghouls around them.  It's a fun introduction to the dynamics of the game as players are naturally guided through the combat and control systems along the way.  As a tutorial, it functions organically within the game and is made compelling simply out of sheer necessity.  It provides a quick learning curve, but little breathing room.

The Sprawl, on the other hand, provides quite a bit more breathing room than the confines of the Ishamura with its expansive level designs.  Although it still maintains a sense of claustrophobia at times, the massive city is a beautiful change of scenery from the prior game's ship-based setting, but still rich with its unsettling dark tone and foreboding atmosphere of the original.  Lights flicker or extinguish themselves entirely, plunging rooms and hallways into pitch-black darkness; eerie noises and the sounds of screams, crying, and anguish burn through the walls and ceilings around Clarke, as he makes his way through bloody, corpse-strewn corridors and rooms.  There are also more diverse areas aboard the Sprawl as Clarke makes his way through residential blocks, a mall-like promenade, a religious center, and an awfully creepy preschool area.

Along the way, expect to combat a lot of necromorphs.  These multi-jointed monstrosities have to be dismembered before they even consider dying, so sweet headshots won't do jack against these guys.  Limbs have to be carefully targeted in order to blow off their arms and legs and put them down for good.  It also helps to save on ammunition, which can be hard to keep stockpiled given the storage constraints on Clarke's outfit since it's always a good idea to have a few extra med-packs and stasis boosters handy to keep him going against the very-many monsters within the Sprawl.  While Dead Space 2 has many familiar looking enemies wreaking havoc, there's a few new additions, including pale-white, bald-headed child-like monstrosities that move quickly and are every bit as lethal as their adult counterparts.  In addition to the dangerous necromorphs, Clarke is also being hunted by EarthGov's military, which wants to weaponize the alien demons.  Ever-present throughout is the fragile state of Clarke's psychosis and the ghosts of his past, which crop up in the form of some very dangerous hallucinations.  The multiple threats this time around are not only external, but internal as well.

 

Difficulty-wise, the sequel is about on par with its predecessor.  Those familiar with the first game will have a good idea of what to expect in this installment.  Newcomers should find the "normal" difficulty setting a fun challenge, although the final boss-battle during the game's climax is truly an exercise in frustration.  Some may also find supplies at a premium, and the increased emphasis on action will have the trigger-happy types hunting for more ammo, or at least loading up on plenty of rounds at the occasional store, along with health packets.  Upgrading Clarke's RIG (or armor) and weaponry remains unchanged from the previous game, as players will have to collect power nodes and install them in their equipment at workbenches to receive boosts in health and damage.  For those who cannot get enough of the game, or are simply looking to run themselves ragged, after the first play-through is completed gamers will be rewarded with the unlocking of a hardcore difficulty setting.  In this mode, players are given only three saves to use across the entire game's 15-levels, and if you die you are restarted from your last save-point, rather than the customary checkpoints of easier settings.  If ever there were a difficulty setting worth of the 'insane' title, this would be it.

The first Dead Space was a refreshing take on the survival-horror genre.  In a market saturated with numerous Resident Evil and Silent Hill sequels, it presented an original experience by melding the familiar genres of science-fiction and horror into a captivating experience.  Gamers were not simply controlling Isaac Clarke--they were trapped right alongside him, sharing in the trauma, frustrations, and random scares of that world.  With Dead Space 2, Electronic Arts and Visceral have upped the ante, bringing back everything that was great about the first game, while still providing fresh scares and unrelenting action.  You never know when a new batch of monsters will be hunting you down, and it's easy to be lulled into a false-sense of security as you clear through rooms unmolested, waiting for something to go wrong.  The dark atmosphere and unsettling tone of the game itself will be sure to keep the nerves wound tight and players on the edge of their seat.  While familiar and deeply connected with the first Dead Space, the sequel never feels recycled.  Rather than being tired and unwelcome, it instead proves itself to be a worthy continuation to a fledgling franchise.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FM7PTTBOQz0]


Don't forget to hit Like and Share!

Follow my reviews on Amazon and Goodreads

If you enjoyed this post or others like it here, and would like to help keep this blog running,
you can support High Fever Books with a small Ko-Fi donation.

Woe's and Whoa's

After an incredibly busy couple of weeks and lots of Thanksgiving goodness, I've found myself with a lot on my mind but little time to get to blog about it.  I needed a way to highlight some of the recent events, both good and bad, and am introducing Woe's and Whoa's to encapsulate it all. Woe:  Still no TV.  Since my Mitsubishi WD-60737 DLP went on the fritz Friday, Nov. 5, I've been stuck in TV-limbo with ABC Warehouse, Harvey Electronics, and Mitsubishi all giving me the run-around.  The repair guy for Harvey Electronics showed up nearly an hour late for the 1-5 p.m. appointment, for which I had taken an unpaid half day off work to come home and wait.  He told me it was a bad main board and they would have to order it, but I should be up and running again within a week.  After nearly a week goes by, I had to call Harvey to find out what the status of this part is, and was told it should be in by Wednesday or Thursday.  Wednesday and Thursday came and went, and I found myself calling them again on Friday.  After some more back-and-forth, they found out the part is on back-order and won't be in until mid-December, more than a month after I first reported the problem to ABC Warehouse.  They couldn't seem to explain how they didn't know the part was back-ordered when they ordered it, and I found myself dealing with ABC Warehouse's Warranty Service center yet again and was given a line to Mitsubishi to call.  And call I did, but since nobody answered I left a message detailing the problem and asked for a call back.  Although I never received one, I was informed this past Wednesday from Harvey that the part has shipped.  Since this is the second time I've heard this line from them, I find myself a bit hesitant to get excited.

Mitsubishi gets a second Woe for building and selling a television set that I have now called for a warranty repair service on twice in less than a year.

My parents were kind enough to lend my wife and I a television until the repairs come through, which means I was able to break into the new Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood over this long Thanksgiving Day weekend.  I've been a fan of AC for a while, and Ubisoft gets a Woah! for putting out another great iteration in this franchise that picks up directly after Assassin's Creed II and is just as much fun.  With only a year in between releases, I was worried that Brotherhood was a rushed-to-market cash in off its successful predecessor and would act more like an expansion pack.  After clocking in at least a dozen hours so far, that is certainly not the case.  This is a full-fledged title in its own right that introduces some interesting new wrinkles to the franchise, like recruiting and training other assassins into the guild.

A second Woah! for some interesting cross-marketing and social media usage with the development of Assassin's Creed: Project Legacy, a Facebook app that links directly into Ubisoft's U-Play network, which offers gamers rewards and goodies for completing in-game challenges.  Legacy takes it to the next level by creating a button-clicker game that can be used to provide some additional training to gamers' Brotherhood assassin recruits and rewards for the console-based game, with both titles being synchronized to each other across the Internet and through Facebook.  It's an innovative, and largely successful, premise that will no doubt become standard among the gaming industry giants in short order.

The borrowed TV set also meant I was finally able to get caught up on AMC's The Walking Dead.  My dead Mitsubishi left me high and dry after the pilot premiered, but I got to marathon to the majority of the season yesterday.  Episodes 2, 3, and 4 of the series were great, with the finale of episode four getting a giant Woah! Penned by the comic's creator, Robert Kirkman, the final moments of this most recent episode saw lots of carnage as the zombies attacked the survivor's base camp and claimed two victims.  It was an intense and violent climax, and with only two episodes left for this first season, I cannot wait to see what happens next.

Woah! A new trade collection of PowersPowers, Vol. 13: Z hit store shelves not long ago, providing a welcome return to the world of Detective Christian Walker and his crime-ridden, seedy metropolis.  I'm writing up a review for it now, and it should be making its way onto Graphic Novel Reporter in the coming weeks.

Woe to Iain Banks and his new book Surface Detail.  I was new to Banks and had never read any of his Culture books before.  Unfortunately, I just could not get into this massive, labyrinthine book.  I tried to give it a fair shake, made it through about 200 pages, but found myself unable to go any further.  The longer it went on, the less interested I grew, despite some promising details along the way.  Maybe one day I'll give it another shot, but for now I will be moving on to other novels.

Thanksgiving invariably means Black Friday, which gets its own share of Woe's and Woah'sWoe to my budget, but Woah! to some great, geeky deals.  I was able to get the 80s-era V: The Complete Series and both miniseries for under $30, seasons 2 and 3 of Mad Men for $10 each, and Fable 3 for $30 during Amazon's promotions.  I also got a 50%-off coupon from Borders and picked up the first three volumes of The Boys by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson.  I had heard about this series a week or two ago, and being a fan of Ennis' depraved genius I am really looking forward to diving into this batch of graphic novels.

Although I haven't had a chance to check out the disc's themselves, I have to give one last Woah! to HBO's packaging for the Blu-ray release of Deadwood.  This is one beautiful looking set, and the collection of discs are housed in a book-style package with some stunning, glossy photo pages.  It's really eye-catching and classy.  Here's to hoping The Soprano's gets a much-deserved Blu-ray series release soon.


Don't forget to hit Like and Share!

Follow my reviews on Amazon and Goodreads

If you enjoyed this post or others like it here, and would like to help keep this blog running,
you can support High Fever Books with a small Ko-Fi donation.

Call of Duty: Black Ops review event, press gifts detailed

Ars Technia posted an insightful article this week (Call of Duty: Black Ops review event, press gifts detailed) about the lobbying efforts video-game publisher Activision deployed for reviewers of their latest Call of Duty title.  It's safe to say that reviewers were treated very well, with Activision footing the bill for helicopter rides, gifts, and splendid accommodations in which to test out the new game. It's troubling, but unsurprising, that a publisher as large as Activision, with a title as well-known and profitable as the Call of Duty franchise, would essentially lobby video game journalists in order to ensure reviews for a sure-fire moneymaker.  It would also be unsurprising that such attentions and affectations levied upon such reviewers would go unrewarded and unmentioned in their published reviews.  Kudos, then, have to be given to GamePro for maintaining high ethical standards in fully disclosing the circumstances under which the game was reviewed.

"The Ojai Valley Inn and Spa," writes GamePro reviewer Tae Kim, "sits in the tiny town of Ojai about two hours north of downtown Los Angeles. Built in 1923, it features a full 18-hole golf course, a luxury spa, and 308 deluxe suites situated on a 200 acre plot with picaresque views of the surrounding forest and mountains. It’s hard to top in terms of amenities and creature comforts, and it seemingly offers everything you could ever want in a vacation spot. ... the lavish surroundings were no doubt meant to lend a measure of sex appeal and ‘wow factor’ to the proceedings...."

He also openly discusses the gifts and amenities he was given by Activision as part of the review junket.  Kim is very upfront in illustrating that the game was played "under ideal circumstances," which is certainly a policy more reviewers should adopt in order to avoid any appearances of impropriety.  If it looks like reviews are being bought by game publishers, and the argument could certainly be made this Activision is attempting to here, there can be no basis for trust between the reviewer and his audience.

Video games take time to build, usually requiring the input, dedication, and work of several hundred people; it's a large, laborious effort.  If a game is good, it doesn't need to be reviewed in a luxury suite in order to determine that.  Likewise for a bad game.  Yet if a bad title receives high marks and becomes decried by the community, one has to wonder how such glowing reviews were received in the first place, and under what circumstances the reviewer was placed under to create such a positive assessment.  If perfect scores are for sale, with reviewers willing to sell them to game publishers eager to buy them, there's a very large systemic flaw that undermines not only the trust between reviewers and their readership, but between game players and game publishers.   The final product should stand on its own merit, good or bad, not the bought-and-paid-for luxuries that surround it.


Don't forget to hit Like and Share!

Follow my reviews on Amazon and Goodreads

If you enjoyed this post or others like it here, and would like to help keep this blog running,
you can support High Fever Books with a small Ko-Fi donation.

Lots of reading ahead

Now that the TV repair man has come and gone and I still do not have a functioning set, it looks like I'll be digging into lots of books until they've devised a remedy for a broken mainboard on the Mitsubishi. In no particular order, I've got the new Iain Bank's "Culture" novel, Surface Detail, about ready to crack open.  The new collection of Stephen King novellas, Full Dark, No Stars, arrived from Amazon today and was promptly added onto the pile, along with Vince Flynn's latest.  I'm backlogged on my Lee Child and Brad Thor series, so maybe I can work on getting caught up with those, too.  Comic-wise, I need to start digging in on X-Force.  I've leafed through some of them and the art looks phenomenal.  I am sure that Craig Kyle's and Christopher Yost's stories are going to be terrific, and it looks like there's going to be lots of great twists and turns in store for me there.

Once the TV is back up and running, I've got a backlog of Blu-rays to sit through.  There's lots of box-sets, like the Alien Anthology, Back to the Future, and the forthcoming Deadwood series set.  I'm hoping for a quick price drop on Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, which I missed in theaters but have heard so many fantastic things about.  It's been raking in very good reviews from the various sites and reviewers I trust, and story-wise it sounds right up my alley with its blend of creative energy, high imagination, comic book sensibilities and video game culture.

So back to hitting the books for now.  Sound off below with recommendations!


Don't forget to hit Like and Share!

Follow my reviews on Amazon and Goodreads

If you enjoyed this post or others like it here, and would like to help keep this blog running,
you can support High Fever Books with a small Ko-Fi donation.