DEVELOPER: From Software
PUBLISHER: Namco Bandai
SYSTEM: Microsoft Xbox 360 (PS3)
ESRB RATING: Mature
REVIEW RATING: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
In these days of instant gratification where defeating games presents little challenge, "Dark Souls II" is an outcast. No one gets rewarded just for trying. In fact, simply playing this game can be extremely frustrating for anyone who isn't patient and/or doesn't learn from their mistakes. However, the unparalleled feeling of satisfaction gained from defeating difficult enemies is much more rewarding than high scores or bragging rights.
Budding adventurers take on the role of an undead soul who's just been banished to the hellish land known as Drangleic. The only way to break the curse is through defeating deadly enemies and menacing boss creatures to gather their souls. As a result, there isn't one linear path from beginning to end, but rather a hub of sorts with optional branching pathways with dead ends.
Just like it's predecessor, "Dark Souls II" mercilessly punishes impulsive actions with an uncanny vengeance. Don't be surprised if you rush into an area and get killed by a pair of lowly skeletons or squashed by a gigantic boss. Unlike most games, however, dying is a natural part of progression.
Players are expected to learn from their mistakes so the next encounter will be less painful. Circling enemies while attacking works at first, but soon players will have to incorporate dodging and other tactics into their repertoire if they want to continue.
Newbies will appreciate re-spawning at bonfires when they die, but hardcore fans may think their close proximity to each other weakens the challenge. Also new is the ability to carry torches as a mobile source of light. Of course, blocking attacks with a torch is pointless, so players have to quickly switch to a weapon when they find enemies (or when enemies find them!).
"Dark Souls II" isn't for everyone, but it does provide a great combination of challenging combat and nerve-wracking exploration.
DEVELOPER: Blackpowder Games
PUBLISHER: Blackpowder Games
SYSTEM: Windows PC
PRICE: $19.99 Download
ESRB RATING: Mature
REVIEW RATING: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Colonial America has rarely been explored in the virtual realm, so Blackpowder Games decided to introduce a scary first-person action/stealth game titled "Betrayer." While it is extremely atmospheric, I never did get a sense of fear. However, it's still fun to play as long as I'm willing to disregard some questionable design decisions.
Having washed up on the shore of Virginia in the year 1604, players must figure out why their ship was sunk and what happened to the colony they had hoped to join. This is no easy task as the story is uncovered by finding items in the environment, and these items are usually surrounded by deadly enemies. With the aid of a mysterious girl in red, players are encouraged to explore the gigantic landscapes and uncover the mystery.
It's hard to miss the lady in red, because the visuals are mostly black and white. Anything in red usually indicates something that should be investigated, or weak points on enemies. This unusually cool visual style produces tension and atmosphere, so the ability to add color via the options menu seems unnecessary.
Fighting enemies can be extremely challenging due to the archaic weaponry provided, like slow-loading muskets. That's why the emphasis is on sneaking around and using stealth to my advantage. For this, the lethal tomahawk is key. It's also cool to mask my footsteps using the sound of the wind, but silent kills shouldn't always alert nearby enemies.
Too bad the large environments offer little variety. I found myself easily getting lost because nearly every area looks the same and there are no markers (optional or otherwise) to indicate where I should go next. It doesn't help that I have to fight enemies even when I'm simply trying to find my bearings.
"Betrayer" is filled with cool concepts and lots of challenge, but the bland environments and repetitive combat are a definite turn-off.
REVIEW SCORING SYSTEM
5 stars = Must Have
4 stars = Very Good
3 stars = Above Average
2 stars = Bargain Bin
1 star = Don't Bother
Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB)
E10+: (Everyone 10 and older)
T: Teen (13 and older)
M: Mature (17 and older)
To find out more about Jeb Haught and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.