Gamebox 2.0: World War South Park Edition

We’re deep in the big fall releases and we checked out some of the bigger releases for this edition of Gamebox 2.0 like Call of Duty: WW2, South Park: The Fractured But Whole and Assassin’s Creed Origins along with a few smaller but still cool game releases.

South Park: The Fractured But Whole: (Zach) South Park never had any luck as far as game adaptations go in the early days as anyone who played the infamously bad N64 games can attest but the two most recent takes on South Park from Ubisoft have been incredible and The Fractured But Whole improves on pretty much everything from the already great The Stick of Truth.  Still playing as the New Kid, who you can customize in a wide array of looks and superhero costumes this time around, you join Coon and Friends to find a missing cat in order to claim the reward and start funding their superhero franchise but, in typical South Park fashion, things go insanely and hilariously out of control as the missing cats are just the tip of the iceberg for a web of criminal activity.  The biggest improvement over Stick of Truth, besides the super fun superhero milieu, is the combat system.  Stick of Truth had a fairly static, old school Final Fantasy combat system but Fractured But Whole features a much dynamic and fun style where you can move your team around a grid that gives you a ton more strategic options and allows you to setup combos and outflank enemies and there’s fun additions as you progress like incorporating your time manipulating farts or getting a free hit whenever an enemy uses a microaggression. You can also customize your team with usually 3 other heroes and part of the fun is figuring out who is best for each encounter and there’s also fun banter between everyone that changes depending on who you have on your team.  The game also still feels like you are literally playing an episode of the show and it has tons of great cameos and references to both super recent things like PC Principal and Memberberries to some deeper cuts.  Overall, The Fractured But Whole takes the already great The Stick of Truth and improves everything that could have been fixed and puts the always fun Coon and Friends skin over it and if you’re a fan of South Park, it’s a must play.

Call of Duty: WW2(Zach) Although the multiplayer community rejected it, I thought last year’s Infinite Warfare was one of the best CoD campaigns ever and a huge recovery after the dumpster fire of Black Ops 3 and Call of Duty: WW2 keeps up the strong campaign momentum even if it gets a little insane and over the top at times for a game set in the 1940s.  Playing as Private Red Daniels, you are part of the 1st Infantry or the Big Red One and your platoon is part of the D-Day invasion and then presses into Europe, helping to liberate Paris and fighting in the Battle of Hurtgen Forest and the Battle of the Bulge as they press into Germany.  The game looks incredible as you might expect and the character animation is especially great; it’s almost creepy how much the characters played by actors like Josh Duhamel look exactly like their flesh and blood counterparts and the squad, while maybe not the most fleshed out characters, are given enough personality to make you care, especially about your buddy Zussman.  There’s an interesting mechanic where each squad member can give you a perk on the battlefield, like more ammo or med packs (there’s no regenerating health this time around so med packs are incredibly important) but I felt it never really gelled into something I was using constantly and there were whole levels where I forgot it was even a thing.  Also a cool idea but not fleshed out fully is “hero actions” where there will be things like injured soldiers on the battlefield that you can optionally drag to safety but it didn’t seem like it had any effect besides checking off a post-level checkbox.  The missions themselves are overall pretty great, with the actual battles like D-Day being incredibly intense and satisfying but some of things that happen are so insanely over the top it reaches Uncharted levels of craziness, like an entire German train crashing and exploding all around you or ridiculous jeep chases that feel out of place for a World War II set game.  I think my favorite mission was the awesome espionage level in Paris where you control female resistance fighter Rousseau as you infiltrate the Nazi garrison in the city and you have to do some light memorization and detective work to reach your contact and provide Nazi soldiers with the correct information about your cover ID.  Call of Duty: WW2 is an impressive looking and exciting return to the franchise’s’ roots and, at least on the single player campaign side of things, it’s one of the stronger entries in recent memory.  I did also try Zombies briefly and it’s fine, it feels the same as it’s always been with two levels to start out with and I’m sure more coming for DLC in the future.

(Joe) This game is gorgeous, brutal, and fast-paced. Like the best games in the series, the campaign is a bit short, but it keeps you engaged the whole time. I beat the campaign in three sittings, and I was sad each time I had to power down. Unlike some of the more recent installments in the series, I thought the story was very compelling. I don’t think it’ll win any awards, but even some of the more stereotypical elements (“Farmboy!”) are done well enough to be overlooked. Part of the reason this works is that the game is thankfully simplified. No rocket jumps. No laser cannons. No Kevin Spacey.

One of the only knocks on the game is that at times, things go super FUBAR. I don’t mean “Oh no, so many Nazis!” I mean Family Guy chicken fight levels of insanity. For some people, this won’t be a problem. But for a game that paints a picture of the brutality of WWII with such accuracy (heads explode in front of you from time to time in spectacular, disturbing detail), sequences like the end of the “train level” cheapen the experience. It’s like splicing action scenes from Death Wish 4 into the original movie. It looks kinda like the same movie, but these sequences don’t quite belong.
Long story short, I’m not an online multiplayer guy. (Though I did love the two-player co-op missions from previous installments, shout out to Chris Cheng.) So I can’t see myself owning COD: WWII. But for the $6, it was a heck of a weekend.

8-Bit Adventure Anthology: (Zach) Originally developed for the Apple Macintosh by ICOM Simulations, a trio of old school point and click adventure games have arrived for modern consoles and PC thanks to Abstraction Games’ new 8-Bit Adventure Anthology Vol. 1.  Deja Vu, The Uninvited and Shadowgate were all ported to various computers in the 80s as well as to the NES, which is probably where the most people played them (I distinctly remember having an issue of Nintendo Power when I was a kid that walked through the first few parts of Deja Vu).  Deja Vu was a noir adventure where you play as a private eye who develops amnesia and needs to piece together what happened to him, Shadowgate has you entering a castle to defeat an evil warlock and The Uninvited (probably most famous for it’s box art) has you investigating a creepy haunted mansion.  The games are all great, well written with charming if out of date graphics but the gameplay may be a bit tedious for gamers used to more modern adventure games.  Like a lot of 80’s adventure games, you have a series of actions like “Talk” or “Take” and you have to click on that and then click on the thing you want to perform that action on and these three in particular require some precision as far as the order of what you do.  In Deja Vu, for example, you have to make sure you check under the hood of your car before you drive off early on because there’s a bomb that needs to be defused and if you just get in and turn the key, it’s game over.  The game overs are kind of part of the fun though, as there’s lots of creative deaths you can succumb to in each game.  You can actually go to http://8bitaa.com/ and try out a demo of the games in Flash to get a feel for what they are like but all three are somewhat forgotten gems that are definitely still worth checking out.

Hide and Shriek: (Zach)  From Funcom, the company behind Secret World Legends, Hide and Shriek is a Halloween themed, free to play, 1v1 online game that has you trying to outscare your opponent.  You play as a student from one of two rival high schools, which compete with each other every year in a competition based around scaring each other and gathering magical orbs.  You are placed in a horror themed high school and you and your opponent are both invisible to each other and you have to seek out orbs in cabinets and lockers that match your color and bring them back to altars and you can also collect runes that have a power by themselves but can also be combined for different powers that let you place traps, summon creatures or hinder your opponent.  If you can find your opponent in the world (there’s clues and slight “Predator” esque shimmer to their invisibily) you can also try to scare them, which launches a jump scare of your avatar on their screen and you can win by scaring them three times before the round ends, otherwise whoever has the most points wins at the end of the round.  You level up and can get modifications to your chosen avatar and unlock new rune powers.  It’s definitely an interesting change of pace from most FPS multiplayer games as it doesn’t involve shooting but the gameplay is not the most compelling as most of your time will be opening cabinets and lockers and looking for things instead of hunting your opponent.  As mentioned above, it’s free to play and it seems to be a modest hit with Twitch streamers, who can freak out on camera when they get scared by their opponent and if you want to keep the Halloween spirit going, it’s worth at least checking out on Steam.

Shattered Realms: (Zach) Being shepharded by Free Lives, the guys who brought us one of our favorite games of all time, Broforce, Shattered Realms comes from Kopskop and it’s an old school side scrolling brawler with a fighting game style combo and fighting system.  The version of the game right now is an Alpha demo, so the story is not fully fleshed out yet but there’s some sort of evil group invading a world and trying to gain the power to rule and a trio of heroes are the only ones who can stop them.  Elf warrior Lynx is the only character available in the demo and she is a super fast fighter with pistol and a giant arm she can use for slow but heavy attacks.  The game is highly influenced by classics like Final Fight but the look calls to mind recent indie darlings like Hyper Light Drifter and it’s a style of look that I haven’t really seen applied to a beat em up before.  The combo system is great and you can really rack up some crazy combos between the light, medium and heavy attacks and you can build up a special meter for powerful special moves.  Check out the link above and you can pay what you want for the demo and that helps them move forward with developing it but what’s here is already pretty awesome.

Assassin’s Creed: Origins: (Joe)

**First, a disclaimer. I spent a few hours with the PS4 version of this game, completing about 10% of the story missions. At best, half of this time was devoted to serious gameplay. I did not complete the story missions, nor did I play after they released the first major update with patches.**
I’m a big fan of Assassin’s Creed as a series. For all of its shortcomings, I will always hold running through the streets of Renaissance Venice, diving into haystacks, and taking in a good amount of quasi-interesting history in the process, among some of my fondest Christmastime memories. But it’s a long time since Ezio Auditore and the Assassin’s Creed II saga.
With Assassin’s Creed Origins, it’s impossible not to be impressed by the graphics. Everything is gorgeous. From sunlight and shadows to sandstorms and glistening waters. And pyramids because, you know, history. This is why about half of my time was spent climbing random cliffsides and exploring gnarly desert ruins. With such a beautiful and ginormous sandbox to play in, it’s hard not to be enticed by the sexy candy. The problem is, at some point the game itself has to be good.
Now, I’m not talking about the story. Though I did not complete the story missions, I can tell you that nothing about it feels compelling. Bayek is fine. But everyone else you encounter or are otherwise supposed to care about feel flat. Moments that are supposed to take the wind out of you with their emotional impact feel like they’re just holding you back from climbing on stuff. So, that’s a problem.But I can forgive a bad story if the gameplay is outstanding. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with AC: Origins.
Now to be clear, I respect the fact that they tried to update a series that arguably was getting more and more tired with each subsequent release. But the RPG-style management system is not for me. Nothing against RPGs. This just feels forced.
Pelt me with tomatoes if you must, but I preferred the more simplistic “find better weapons, level up, use said better weapons” system from AC: Syndicate. With Origins, you’re constantly changing weapons. There’s no such thing as being a “sword guy,” because you’re jumping ship anytime you happen to come across a weapon with a higher ranking.
Is this enough to ruin the experience? No. But it’s enough to keep me from wanting to own it. That said, I look forward to having a couple of days with a Redbox copy come Thanksgiving. To sum it up, AC: Origins is beautiful. It raises the bar for what can be done visually on PS4. But digital tourism is very clearly its lone strong point.

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