Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Destiny XBOX 360 review

Destiny, the video game, has been out for more than a couple weeks now. The game developed by Bungie, the guys behind Halo, is one of the most hyped games in years due to its pedigree and new manner of playing it. It's new to a degree since it's an online first person shooter that has RPG and MMOG elements. Certainly, this form of gaming is not trail blazing for the XBOX, as Defiance (2013) came out first. Bungie didn't want day one reviews because they claim the game must have thousand of players for it to gestate. I've played the game through campaign mode and multiplayer. Time for this blog's review. So , the question is does Destiny live up to the hype or at least live up to the aspirations of the kick ass live action commercial for it? (Embedded below.)

"Destiny! Destiny! No escaping that for me." Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) in Young Frankenstein (1974)

The prologue to Destiny starts with the introduction of the Traveler, a big spherical living being, at least I think it's alive that comes to earth. It's benevolent and helps man to achieve a new Golden Age where man is able to colonize the planets of the solar system. But hundreds of years later after the Traveler's arrival comes the pursuing Darkness . Okay you know with a name like that you can guess it's evil. What else are they going to call it? The Pinkness? But I digress. The forces of the Darkness causes a collapse of human society. You wake up in a ruined Russia by your Ghost (Peter Dinklage) who is kind of a cross between Guilty Spark from Halo and Bit of the Tron film. It's a good performance by Dinklage as he must be part machine and sentient life form. He informs you that you are a Guardian with a smart ass raccoon as your only friend. Um... okay that's Guardians of the Galaxy. Anyway, this leads to you exploring the planets and blasting bad guys.

That premise would be great assuming Destiny will enlighten us with exposition. But that's one of the major problems of this game. There's no explanation of anything. You just take the word of your Ghost or Guardian "supervisors" that certain aliens are bad and they need to be blasted. I didn't care about my character other than the fact I got to create his face which by the way is always a cool feature. But I also didn't care the other people in this half baked story. I can't even remember the other characters in this story. Mass Effect, this is not.

And here's another thing that bothers me about the story. It's supposed to be science fiction. But you got plants and buildings on Venus. Really? In real life, Venus is a hellish place. Temperatures there reach 788 degrees F. The atmosphere is composed of carbon dioxide, nitrogen and sulphur dioxide. Yeah, I get the concept of terraforming but Destiny's story doesn't tell you about that. So, how about a little science in the science fiction?

You will be treated to some gorgeous graphics. And I'm talking about the XBOX 360 version of Destiny. Yeah, the XBOX One version has more detail but you really won't notice the difference. I mean you spend most of your time killing aliens. Regardess, the colors of the planets are rich. There's much detail for them whether it's the rocks, plants or pools of liquid found on Venus. I felt like I was on alien worlds. Human and alien structures are all interesting though some of the buildings are repetitive since they're almost all ruins. Yet, they are rendered so well they beg you to explore them. You will love the look of your character and his or her costume. Helmets are kind of goofy though. How does a Warlock see through his helmet without eye sockets?

Interesting sound is what you would expect from a science fiction shooter. Weapons make futuristic sounds. Enemies sound quite foreign. But what I love about the sound is the soundtrack by Martin O' Donnell and Michael Salvatori. If you remember Halo's distinct themes you get more of the same. Destiny's music is lush, mysterious, heroic and dramatic. It adds to the conflict.

The future of video games?

The first thing about Destiny's gameplay that grabs you is the gun mechanics. This is certainly where Bungie has learned quite a bit from its Halo games. Firing a weapon is a joy whether you are aiming or free firing. Aim. Put your bullets on target. Melee is fun too. Finally a melee attack that instantly kills lower level enemies or ones that have very little health left.

But maybe Bungie should have just stuck with guns. Because Destiny introduces superpowers kind of like Mass Effect but with much less success. First you can upgrade the superpowers but since they don't explain to you how to do that, you're stuck having to research this. And the superpowers kind of stink. They regenerate every four or so minutes. And unlike Destiny's glossy ad below they are not so powerful that they wipe out a boss with one blow. You've got to degrade an enemy boss to a sliver of armor for one power, one kill. Then there's the armor. It's confusing since each piece has stats for regenerating grenades, superpowers or melee powers. And there other things or items that improve your lot in life but since nobody explains this stuff, you're just going to be confused on what they mean. Spinmetal? Hadronic Essence?

What about the missions? Extremely repetitive. Most of the time you are guarding your Ghost as he hacks something and you get attacked by bad guys. Then there are the boss missions. Kill alien boss while he spawns minions to harass you. Speaking of spawning, aliens will spawn in areas you have cleared. Kind of discourages going back to explore areas. Okay, there is fun as you and your buddies take on missions. The questions is how long will this fun keep your interest in the future.

The Social Network

Destiny is supposed to be a social game. But everybody is not talking at me and I can't hear a word they're saying. I mean you see random players and nobody talks or maybe they can't talk? For example, the Tower is an area where players upgrade weapons, get bounties, equipment etc. I've tried to talk but get the silence of outer space. I get more social interaction from the mean streets of Grand Theft Auto V. And speaking of the Tower, there's nothing to do there. You can dance outside but who cares. Meeting some interesting NPC (non-player character) or even have a mini-game would be welcome. Since you can dance how about a dance game?

The multi-player aspect of Destiny comes in two flavors. Co-op or player versus player. Going against other players is enjoyable since your weapons fire as well as they did in the campaign. In other words you have a chance here. Finding your opponents on the map can be difficult. And chances are you're going to get whacked and humiliated by an eleven year old. Co-op is great since your buddies can help you with a difficult boss. And trust me, you don't want to play missions on the Hard Diffculty setting by yourself. You will end up taking two hours to bring down a boss.

Being a game that must exist online creates a new set of problems. If you have trouble with your home network, or Internet connection, you're screwed. And this happens to everyone in online gaming. You're about ready to take down that alien boss when you lag out or get disconnected. That's already occurred to me while playing Destiny. Doh!

Hype and Glory.

You've heard me compare Destiny to Mass Effect specifically I should say Mass Effect 3. Mass Effect 3 gets it right. The online multi-player works with the single player campaign. From a plot aspect, Mass Effect 3's online gaming is consistent as you join forces to fight the aliens threatening the galaxy. That being said you can play the campaign without going online. And one more thing. Mass Effect's story is rich, smart and emotional. I cared about the NPC characters in the game.

A great video game should have two components. A rich single player game which does not require online access. And a fun multi-player that is online and can also be done as a network. Bungie did well with Halo 3. And as I have pointed out, Mass Effect 3 works perfectly. I think the video games that will stand the test of time and be successful will be like Halo 3, Mass Effect 3 and Grand Theft Auto V.

Destiny does not live up to the hype. It's an uninteresting but well made first person shooter. To really enjoy it, you will have to put in more effort to get into it than a great video game. The grade is B.

Too bad Destiny is not as cool as its live action trailer.

Monday, September 15, 2014

John Oliver explains Scottish independence for you and begs for Scotland to stay with England

It's going to take an Englishman to explain Scottish independence to us Americans. So luckily for us, John Oliver of Last Week Tonight is here to do it. Very funny stuff. I especially like the joke about Mel Gibson. Courtesy of HBO.