Demon’s Souls vs. Dark Souls

I’ve wanted to compare these two games for a long time, and with Bloodborne coming out, it seems like the perfect opportunity to look back on it’s heritage.

When I played Dark Souls for the first time, I couldn’t stop comparing it to Demon’s Souls (the apostrophe in “Demon’s” is so annoying when typing on your phone). This didn’t prevent me from enjoying Dark Souls, as it truly is a remarkable game. But I wanted to write this, and may continue to do so in greater depth in the future, because I often hear people talk about how transformative Dark Souls was. Edge Magazine (the reigning king of video game magazines, if there is one), rated Dark Souls the greatest game of the previous generation. This doesn’t surprise me, however throughout their article, it’s as if it’s immediate predecessor Demon’s Souls had been completely forgotten. Which is a shame, because regardless of Dark Souls, I would consider Demon’s Souls (and it’s stupid apostrophe) one of the greatest games of the previous generation.

Dark Souls is an amazing experience, an improvement in most ways on the original, but it was still only a natural incremental improvement. It was Demon’s Souls that revitalized my faith in gaming. At the time I first played it, it was the best game I had played in nearly a decade. In true genius form, From Software had given me what I was looking for, before I even knew what I wanted.

the bosses that started it all

Demon’s Souls had a simple premise, everything could kill you

Despite the overall improvement in Dark Souls, there were several things that have never reached the same heights. The difficulty curve had a finer balance to it in Demon’s Souls, and Dark Souls implements what is perhaps the biggest detriment in the later entries: the ability to call in outside players. Multiplayer could be done amazingly. Instead, a fight against Smoug goes from world class challenge to laughably easy. Like any good cheat though, this is limited by a player’s willingness to abuse the system.

Don't want to wait? Just bring in a couple friends and ruin the curve.

Don’t want to wait? Just bring in a couple friends and ruin the curve.

What’s perhaps even more glaring is the fact that Dark Souls has ignored some of the more obvious improvements that could have been made. There were only a few cinematic moments in Demon’s Souls, but they add a lot of flavor (think Scraps pushing you into a pit). At first, each Dark Souls game appears to recognize this, as they both pull you into their worlds’ through their opening scenes. Unfortunately, this is about the last until the end of the game. You never want to replace action with cinema, but there are times when it can push forward the story.

great intro

Every intro is beautiful, every intro is the last

The other missed opportunity has been the open world. That was the most glaring thing missing from Demon’s Souls. Yet the way Dark Souls handles the open world makes it feel like long winding paths, rather than a single connected ecosystem. Traveling between points is a chore, a fact that was recognized in Dark Souls 2 with the fast travel. But this is only part of the problem. Until it feels like a complete world, instead of grafted on individual levels, the design will be hardly improve upon the hub system from Demon’s Souls.

In reality though, these are mostly lateral complaints. Not degradation, but simply a missed opportunities for improvement. There is however one way in which Demon’s Souls clearly surpasses its successor: the story, and the characters that live in it. There’s little than can be said without spoilers, but both make you piece the world together through isolated dialogue, but it was only in demon’s souls that the lore carries weight. Both endings are anti-climatic, but Demon’s Souls is intentionally so and beautiful for it. That’s not to say I wasn’t interested in the lore of Dark Souls. It simply becomes an after thought, a little flavor text to flesh out the experience. I beat it twice, and I can’t even tell you how it ended. Demon’s Souls on the other hand was subtler and darker in its story. Each character a tragic figure, and you’re often asked to destroy those that are hardly different than yourself.

maiden in black

In terms of game-time, it’s probably a wash which one I actually played more. There are dramatic improvements in Dark Souls: the graphics are vastly better, it did away with a frustrating light/dark alignment system, and implemented a streamlined covenant attribute. The gameplay itself, which was the most transformative thing about Demon’s Souls, is somehow made tighter. And the level design… Demon’s Souls had two perfectly designed levels, two well designed levels, and one horribly designed level. In Dark Souls, all level design is a high note. It’s overall an improved experience, and as a result to the easier game to recommend.

Dark Souls is without a doubt an amazing experience. It might actually be the best of the previous generation (The Last of Us being a strong counter-argument). But to not recognize where it came from, and to fail to acknowledge that Demon’s Souls provided the most reinvigorated gaming experience of the past ten years, is to do a tremendous disservice to the apex that came after it.


Dark Souls 2, Days 1-3

Day 1
I’ll keep this travel log spoiler free as best I can, and instead discuss the ebb and flow of a game whose earlier entries I’ve enjoyed a tremendous amount.

My biggest complaint from the first two games, is how beautiful the world was created, while the story was left undeveloped. This is especially true for the DS1, which leaves an insane amount on the table. In DS2, the opening scene is phenomenal, and I watch it several times as I let the controller charge (and because I like the mood it puts me in).

Dark-Souls2_opening

Alone and forgotten, you need to choose a character. This is usually one of the most enjoyable parts of any game for me. In DS2 you have a number of choices, all with a decent amount of experience under their belts. Except for the last, the depraved, soul level 1 (the second lowest is 10), nothing equipped. But I like he description- “Has nothing to fight with, except life-affirming flesh.”  I pick the Depraved, because if you’re going to play a game known for its difficulty, you might as well do it right.

Unknowingly I skip the practice area, which when I finally go back and play it, gives me a weapon (a dagger). But for the first hour or so I’m punching and fleeing from most enemies. I also appreciate how the series will give you access to monster at the beginning that can instantly kill you. This training area is no different, and after I go down I think to myself, “Ah, I should know better!”
Things_Betwixt

At the bottom level, and with a low damage dagger, I have to spam the beginning level a bit. If the last two games have taught me anything, you dump your souls into endurance so the first soul level choices are cut and paste. It is nice to see that the feel of the previous two games has translated well, and I can dance around avoiding damage pretty well. Nothing’s changed, and hours run by quicker than I can remember.

Day 2

Even though most of its familiar (the gradual progression from bonfire-to-bonfire, descending platforms, alternative paths), when I wake up the next day, I’m generally excited to keep playing. I found the beginning world of dark souls disappointing, and all the backtracking grates, and while many people will cry foul with the instant traveling between bonfires, it seems like a perfect alternative to the constant sprinting between already traveled areas.

Forest of Fallen Giants 2

I finally figure out how to light a torch halfway through the first area, not that I’ve realized the value of it yet. It was more the fact that all the unlit pyres were starting worry me. At the boss I’m killed quickly. He’s harder than the first boss in the previous two entries, and  I realize I’m underleveled.  My play style is shield-and-sword, but I’ve avoided putting points in strength, because I had the urge to go for a dex build. But either I need to learn how to parry, or give up the ghost, and just accept the way I actually play.

Day 3

I push if off and decide not to make a decision about the strength vs dex and just keep dumping points into endurance and vitality. The first boss goes down but it takes a couple tries, and a NPC controlled summon. You can fly through the game by summoning live players, but I always felt guilty when I did it in the first Dark Souls.  I would always wind up forcing myself to play without the aid the second time around.
You can stumble on this guy early.  And it's a quick battle when you do.

You can stumble on this guy early. And it’s a quick battle when you do.

There’s significantly less linersity this time around. Bosses come almost immediately when entering areas, so that everytime you enter a fog you run the risk of immediate death. Thanks to fast travel, you can also slowly work your way through multiple areas. Stopping with one, and picking up where the other left off.  You tackle things in bits and pieces. In many ways, the progression has more in common with Demon’s Souls than Dark Souls- skip from world to world, eventually coming back to progress in the ones where you started

The Last of Us Review

Title:  The Last of Us
Maker:  Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony
System: PS3
Cost: $59

Better than Cormac McCarthy

Last of Us Hotel Last of Us infected

It’s tough to begin talking about The Last of Us because you have to compare it to something, and the wasteland of humanity has been covered so many times in games.  So I’m not going to compare it against other games (that’s a post for another time), because The Last of Us draws it’s inspiration from other media, specifically, The Road for ambiance, and Children of Men for plot.  Both excellent in their own right, The Last of Us exceeds them.  It’s the best story I’ve ever read, watched, or experienced about the end of civilization.

So let’s jump into it.  The graphics are phenomenal and the combat tight.  In the ravaged world you run into two distinct enemies, the infected, and other survivors.  Both are challenging, and they require completely separate strategies, which helps to vary the combat.  But all of these positives pail in comparison to the writing.  It’s by miles the best dialogue I’ve ever encountered in a game.  You keep expecting some cliche movie (or worse, game) dialogue to slip out, but it never does.  It’s so far ahead of anything else, I can’t even think of what would be second.  On top of this the voice acting is superb, especially protagonists Joel and Ellie.

About the protagonists, have you ever played a game where you didn’t hate the character that you needed to protect?  Of course not, they’re a pain in the ass.  Except in this Ellie is phenomenal, and her personal growth drives you forward.  Joel is complicated yet simple (in his drive), and both come off as humans, neither good nor bad, in a way that games can almost never provide.  My biggest fear is that they churn out a sequel and destroy everything they’ve created here.

Minor things like a few annoying puzzles, and your companions near invisibility to enemies are not enough to break or ruin the experience.  This is a game that will be dissected and compared for years, a template for story-driven creations.

Review: 5 stars (out of 5)

Memory:  Too many to list


Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon Review

Title:  Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
Maker:  Ubisoft
System: PS3
Format: PSN
Cost: $15 DLC

Neon Snake

The year is 2007

The year is 2007

Guess what part you have to shoot

Guess where you should shoot

First, I never played Far Cry 3.  Not on principle or anything, just never got around to it.  So while I can’t be sure, Blood Dragon is what I imagine play-wise a mini-version would be like.  And as you probably already know the premise is to ooze 80’s ridiculousness, which works more often then not.  The cut-scenes nail it, while the in-game jokes are more hit or miss.  The “sound” is great, period (or colon):  voice acting works all around, and the soundtrack is pretty killer.  As testament, I let the intro screen run for about 20 minutes while I banged out some emails, and even though it loops about every 60 seconds I never had the urge to change it.

Gameplay is for the most part enjoyable, but also switches to autopilot after a certain point.  And while the premise of clearing out bases is genius, after 2 or 3 you can pretty much steam-roll the rest.  There are also minor things that grate, for example, “pilfering” has a ridiculously long animation.  Realistically, in terms of actual enjoyment you’ve got the story to go through, and an additional 3 hours of wandering the island before it runs out of steam.  It’s not a ton, but for a stand-alone DLC it’s more then enough.  It has rough edges, and the fact that it’s a DLC, and not a full game, becomes apparent.  Several times I had a problem with a loaded save sending me back about 15 minutes from when the game had “autosaved” last.

In the end though, Blood Dragon succeeds at pretty much everything it sets out to do.

Review: 3 stars (out of 5)

Memory:  The Dino-Riders influenced ending


Dishonored Review

Title:  Dishonored
Maker:  Arkane Studios
Publisher:  Bethesda
System: PS3
Cost: $23 Used

Probably not the most over-rated game ever

Ugly People, Inside and Out

Ugly People, Inside and Out

The game tries to pitch that creativity can help you overcome any obstacle, but in reality everything derives from two choices:  You can be an overpowered monster or a tip-toeing nobody.  In one you steamroll every obstacle, in the other you save-game your way through each tiny part because strangling someone is touchy as hell.  This leaves you with a black and white morality system where half of your possible experience becomes unbearable.

You could also make a case for character design being intentionally ugly as an art style (they do ugly things after all).  But the distortion is so far removed from anything human that you feel nothing as you slide your knife from one person to the next.  Even what could be considered “bosses” hardly cause pause before you choose to murder them.  It’s a shame because the world aesthetic is beautiful decay, filthy and colorful.  You can sense the prosperity lost.

There are also a few missions that periodically redeem the experience.  The twins and the dinner party stand out.  But then you’re back to swinging your sword around like a drunk mad-man, or dumping piles of unconscious guards into the same out of the way room.

When it works, it works beautifully.  It just doesn’t work often enough.  If you’re going to play it, then don’t hold back.  But even then, so what if you can use super powers to murder everyone?  There’s dozens of games that let you do that.

Review:  2 Stars (Out of 5)

Memory:  Branding a face

 


Deus Ex: Human Revolution Review

Title:  Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Maker:  Eidos Montreal
Publisher:  Square Enix
System: PS3
Cost: $23 Used

Visceral Yellow Polygons

Never Gets Old

Never Gets Old

Perhaps the only thing that really needs to be said is that it feels good.

It’s your play, more than your augmentations, that turn you into a killing machine by the end.  Movement is fluid, and sneaking, takedowns, and firing an extension of your hand.  The act of killing is visceral to the point that it remains uncomfortable.  Murdering someone, even at the end (especially at the end), has a moment of tension before the brutality.

And it does this all without a black and white morality system.  So it never feels like your being funneled down one play style or another (i.e. psychopath vs pacifist).  You might violently clear out one area and then sneak through the next, all determined by what seems appropriate at that moment.  Graphically it’s beautiful.  It looks better than every new release I’ve played recently.  The world is well fleshed out: augmentations, a detroit renaissance, dysutopic and enviable.

Not everything is perfect however.  The voice acting is on the wrong side of distracting.  The difficulty can be uneven, which leads to either frustration or disappointment.  And while the story is serviceable,  it’s mostly because of the journals you find laying around which expand on the original Deus Ex.  And yet all that would be fine if the endings were better…

So in the end I’m not sure if having the name Deus Ex in the title makes this game better or worse than it would be otherwise.  It’s hard to compare anything to original, but Human Revolution also benefits from the world it exists in.  Regardless, it’s up there with the best of this generation.

Review: 4 stars (out of 5)

Memory:  The yellow haze in the elevator


Reasons why the world of Deus Ex is better than the real world

In Deus Ex:
Detroit is the world’s coolest city
I would live here

I would live here

I wouldn't walk by here

I wouldn’t walk by here

You can literally hack anything
Hacking
Helicopters can fly you anywhere in the world
Helicopter
Bionics look awesome. I would have robot arms
Sarif Eye
One thing that’s worse:  It’s either night or the weather sucks, constantly (same with Blade Runner)
night blade runner

Yakuza 3 and the Art of Fishing

I once read that the first Yakuza was a Japanese version of GTA3.  I never played the first, but if its’ anything like the third, than I wonder how much that writer was paid by Sega to say that.  It’s about as far away, while still being in the same genre, that a game can be.  You could even make the case it has more in common with Max Payne 3 than any grand theft auto.

One of 10+ mini-games

It’s about winning with style

I’ve developed a pattern with Yakuza 3.  I play it when I don’t want my games adding any drama to my life.  When I don’t have the mental space for long-term x-com ironman strategies, or meeting up with friends on Borderlands 2.  Because despite what the name says, Yakuza 3 has about as much to do with fishing as it does gangster life.

I don’t know what engine it’s running on, but the game looks damn good, especially considering it’s almost 3 years old.  * Just checked – it’s the Magical V-Engine from Cyberware Inc.  It’s also used on Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2.


Singularity Review

Title:  Singularity
Maker: Raven Soft
Publisher: Activision
System: PS3
Cost: $9 Used – Gamestop

Like a moped…

Rapid Aging – best power

Positives:  The game for the most part feels good.  There aren’t a lot of guns, but what they do have feels a hell of a lot better than anything in a game like Killzone.  And on top of that you get some superhero powers that aren’t really necessary, but add to the overall appeal.  It also does small thing right, like automatically putting you into a crouch when you walk into a vent.  Crouching in general is handled well in the game (I actually never realized how much I hate most crouching mechanisms until playing Singularity).

Negatives:  This is the small stuff, but it’s on the big stuff that Singularity gets absurd.  First, it can’t make up it’s mind if it’s scary or camp.  The first area has some legitimate ambiance and unease to it, but this is completely unsettled by the character models and the gung-ho gameplay that eventually replaces it.  In this change, the resource management that exists at the beginning is also thrown out (naturally, as run and gun gameplay doesn’t lend itself well to ammo conservation).

There are multiple endings to Singularity, and together they sum up all the problems of the game.  They run the gambit from darkly logical and intriguing to stupid and hole-ridden (oh, the main one is so bad).  It’s a two that I want to be a three, but it’s still a two.

Review: 2 stars (out of 5)

Memory: The Soviets speak to each other in English (with obligatory horrible Russian accents).


How to enjoy yourself playing Borderlands 2

I never played the first Borderlands.  I’m not sure if that’s a regret or not.  But unintentionally I started playing the second.  My brother and I were home, he bought a new PS3 on a whim and we lost about a day and half to the thing before I had to leave.  The experience was more enjoyable than I would have guessed.  It was beautiful, twisted, and even if at it’s core it’s not all that complicated, it was unadulterated fun.

When I made it home I bought a copy of Borderlands 2 for myself.  I started a few new games, tested out the different characters, and even though I was playing alone really liked it.  But then I played it the other night, and I realized I wasn’t having that great of a time.  What had changed?  The most obvious thing was the lack of coop.  But it wasn’t even that.

I had started playing the game all wrong.  Borderlands isn’t an MMO, but I began treating it like one.  I did online research trophies, I looked up where vault symbols were before even clearing areas.  I tried to get everything, maximize my “efficiency” in gameplay.  And when you do that with Borderlands, it starts to come apart at the seams.  The enjoyment of the game comes from exploring the crazy beautiful world and the psychotic characters.  If you’re completionist, it could be a big problem, because it’s a long grind.

So I shut my computer, closed the iPhone browser, stopped looking at the trophies and “badass” ranks (cool concept, stupid name), and just played the game again.  If I’m waiting on my brother I will still go back and clear out areas we’ve already gone through, but it’s only a nice side distraction, not the main show.