Reviews
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Game Info:

BIT.TRIP Presents Runner2
Developed By: Gaijin Games
Published By: Gaijin Games
Released: February 26, 2013
Available On: Linux, Mac OS X, PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U
Genre: Action, Indie
ESRB Rating: T for Crude Humor
Number of Players: 1
Price: $14.99 New
Version Reviewed: PC

Bit Trip Runner 2 is a strange game. Even a cursory look at any of the flamboyantly colorful and imaginative backgrounds will make you laugh at it's inherent craziness. The creators obviously had fun with this game and after running, jumping, sliding, blocking, and kicking your way through every obstacle, you will too.

As you control hilariously designed characters ranging from a reverse merman to a giant pickle, you must hurdle, duck, and dodge your way through levels laden with bizarre enemies. While the first levels require only using the jump button, later levels integrate increasingly difficult combinations of acrobatics. Even though death is caused by one misstep in this game, the obstacles and enemies you must avoid are simple to understand so that you have time to react by jumping over them, ducking under them, or even reflecting them away with your shield. While the game steadily increases to a really difficult level, your deaths seldom seem unfair. With that said, there are several really frustrating levels that required dozens of retries to finally conquer. However, it should be noted that this sequel is much easier to get into than the original which did not contain the checkpoint system.

Beyond the side scrolling gameplay, there are many unlockable characters, character skins, and 'retro' levels to find that greatly increase the replayability of the game. While the new skins and characters are purely aesthetic, the retro levels are really difficult, have a chip-tune soundtrack, and have graphics that you would have found on a SNES. Finally, each of the worlds ends with a boss fight that provides an interesting variation to the platforming formula.

Highlights:

Strong Points: Responsive platforming, amazing and interactive soundtrack, goofy art style
Weak Points: Some spikes in difficulty
Moral Warnings: Crude humor in level names and other in-game descriptions and somewhat obscene design of one playable character

While the game's graphics are far from revolutionary, they are simple and charmingly effective. The characters you control react and animate immediately to your commands and the tight controls make every failure feel like your fault. The obstacles and track that you run on have relatively simple graphics, but they do a great job of communicating what action you must perform to conquer a given obstacle. The backgrounds are hilarious and can contain everything from dead sharks to a strange looking tree man that flamboyantly gallops behind you as you run. Finally, the menu has a great cartoony style that matches perfectly with the rest of the game.

The soundtrack to this game is amazing. Rarely do I find myself getting a game soundtrack stuck in my head, but I found that happening several times while playing Runner 2. More than being catchy, every jump, collected piece of gold, and ducked-under obstacle affects the music by adding notes or riffs to the background music. Larger plus sign collectibles change the music more dramatically when collected by adding a bass riff or drum accompaniment to the already exciting musical score.

Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 92%
Gameplay - 19/20
Graphics - 7/10
Sound - 10/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 78%
Violence - 8/10
Language - 5/10
Sexual Content - 8.5/10
Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10

Despite its childish exterior, I found several questionable pieces of content in this game. First, the names of the levels in the game are crude innuendoes. Additionally, some characters have crass names like 'Whetfahrt Cheeseborger.' One character, the reverse merman, has the impression of male genitalia bulging from his underwear. Violence in game is kept to a minimum and includes kicking mechanical bosses to destroy them. A dead shark is visible in some levels.

Despite those few questionable inclusions, Bit Trip Runner 2 is a solid game that successfully drives the player onward through skill based gameplay accentuated by a fantastic musical score. While some levels will take dozens of frustrating deaths to complete, the joy of persevering through the challenge will give you a feeling of accomplishment seldom felt in other games. I would recommend this game to teenagers and older who can accept the questionable moral content.

-ChanBearBeast

 

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Game Info:

Slender: the Arrival
Developed By: Blue Isle Studios
Published By: Blue Isle Studios
Released: March 26, 2013
Available On: PC (Mac version will be added in the future)
Genre: Survival Horror
ESRB Rating: Not Rated
Number of Players: 1
Price: $10.00 New

While I would consider myself a person who is not easily scared, several sections of this game had my heart racing. In fact, when I invited some friends over to play this game after I had completed it, they literally looked away from the screen in fear during some sections and flailed their arms during one part in particular (yes, they did actually flail their arms and scream). The reason for these reactions: the mysterious and freaky Slender Man.

The game begins in a beautiful meadow after you crash your car into a tree. You find yourself running toward your friend Kate’s house that you find strangely abandoned, despite the fact that Kate had invited you over to help sell it. When you arrive at the house, you find it deserted, disheveled and covered in strange markings. Something sinister happened to Kate and you proceed from her house into the forest to help her. However, these explorative parts are only half of the gameplay equation. The other half has you running from the titular Slender Man who stalks you in every level of the game. While running, you must find and pick up or activate objects in order to complete a level. In a level called “Into the Abyss,” the difficulty spiked to a frightening level and I finally completed it after a dozen tries. I suspect that many buyers of this game will literally not be able to complete this level because of its horrific difficulty, which cannot be lowered. Throughout each of these levels, there are also additional notes that can be collected to reveal more of the story of what happened to Kate and why the Slender Man is chasing you. One complaint with the gameplay is that doors must be manually opened and the mouse movements are not as easy to perform during a chase as I would like. After completing the five short but difficult levels, you unlock a harder difficulty that I wouldn’t dare try to beat. The aforementioned “Into the Abyss” level is the sole reason for that decision.

Highlights:

Strong Points: Tense and atmospheric atmosphere; genuinely scary; decent story
Weak Points: The last two levels (there are five levels total) are much worse than the preceding three; short game
Moral Warnings: Possession by the Slender Man is implied; Slender Man has supernatural, almost omnipotent powers; traumatic events happen when you are captured by whatever is stalking you; disturbing imagery

The game’s graphics are surprisingly good for an indie game, but are very demanding. Although my machine was able to run it without a hitch, I found several forums complaining about issues with computers that meet the minimum requirements not being able to run the game.  The art style is realistic and extremely immersive; I felt like I was exploring my friend’s abandoned house, a deserted national park, and the tunnels of a dark mine. Additionally, the monsters that chase you are well designed and extremely frightening. I found that the one normal human model you do see to be of slightly less quality than the rest of the game, but the modeling is still impressive for an indie game.

The sound in this game is really well done and definitely adds to the horrific situations your character must survive through.  Every time the camera experiences static caused by the Slender Man, the white noise sound is perfect and adds to the game’s intensity. The pounding of your heart after you pick up a note or the shriek-like noises in the background make your heart rate increase. In summary, the sound, like most horror games/films, drastically improves the ability of the game to scare you.

Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 80%
Gameplay - 16/20
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 9/10
Stability - 3/5
Controls - 4/5

Morality Score - 71%
Violence - 1.5/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 4/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

Obviously, this game is not for the faint of heart, but beyond that there are several questionable elements in this game. First, Kate is possessed by the Slender Man and is forced to attack you. Additionally, she writes notes that show the Slender Man’s influence over her. Some notes have creepy writing like “I WANT TO DO” scrawled over them. At the very end, a burned man’s corpse can be seen. While I did not notice any cursing in the notes, I did not find all of them as many are well hidden. The game’s entire premise is based on a supernatural entity that continually stalks you and can teleport. While no direct occult activities are shown (i.e. a pentagram), the possessed Kate is obviously obsessed with slender man and makes dozens of notes about him. Lastly, I want to emphasize that this game is trying to scare the player and does an incredibly good job. When the Slender Man catches up to you, you see a dark, shaking version of his face rather than him visually killing you (which is perhaps more frightening). However, when the possessed Kate catches you, it shows her attacking you with her arms and then running away (this attack doesn’t always kill you).

In the end, Slender: the Arrival did a great job of improving upon the scares of the original game by adding more levels, drastically improving the graphics, and employing a greater variety of scare tactics to strike fear in the player. However, this is definitely a game that will scare most players and has a definite possibility of inciting dark thoughts in impressionable gamers. Therefore, I would recommend this game to mature gamers that can accept the questionable content.

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Game Info:

StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm
Developed By: Blizzard Entertainment
Published By: Blizzard Entertainment
Released: March 12, 2013
Available On: Windows, Mac
Genre: Real-time strategy
Number of Players: 1 player offline, 2-8 online
Price: $39.99 New 


Minimum System Requirements:
StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty
OS: Windows® XP/Windows Vista®/Windows® 7/Windows® 8 (Updated with the latest Service Packs) with DirectX® 9.0c
Processor: Intel® Pentium® D or AMD Athlon™ 64 X2
Video: NVIDIA® GeForce® 7600 GT or ATI™ Radeon™ X800 XT or better
Memory: 1.5 GB RAM

Spoiler alert: This review assumes that you have played SC2: Wings of Liberty (WoL) and attempts to avoid spoilers for Heart of the Swarm (HotS) unless related to a content advisory.

StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty was a story ending in redemption, but Heart of the Swarm, the expansion, starts with revenge. After being restored partially from her Queen of Blades form, Kerrigan struggles with her identity as both human and Zerg. This identity crisis shows itself when Kerrigan reassumes her role as the leader of the Swarm and cannot act as cold-heartedly as her fully Zerg advisors would suggest. By almost any metric, however, Kerrigan remains the bloodthirsty commander she was supposedly redeemed from in the previous game.

Gameplay wise, little has changed from SC2 WoL except for the primary race you control: Zerg. Many missions require the base building and micromanagement that the series is known for. Thankfully, the single player game provides a wide variety of mission types; one mission involves sneaking around an enemy ship while another involves building up a base and throwing every available unit against the enemy. This gameplay variety greatly adds to the pacing of the game. In some missions, I even saw the influence of the MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) genre as continuously spawning allies help you to progress forward. Additionally, most missions have secondary goals and achievements that could greatly affect the approach you take to complete the mission, such as making you complete the mission's goals really fast or not taking damage as Kerrigan. Since completing the secondary goals increases Kerrigan’s power, they are seldom missed because of the huge benefit they provide.

Outside of the traditional StarCraft missions, HotS adopted a similar single player campaign structure as WoL: Kerrigan flies around the galaxy aboard her Leviathan (a huge, flying Zerg airship) and speaks with her advisors between missions. Besides conversing with your Zerg crew, you can also evolve your units to become more powerful in between missions. While some of the evolutions are unoriginal damage and health increases, some are far more substantial and can completely change how a unit is used. These larger evolutions have their own tutorial-like missions that showcase the power of the mutations. Once a decision is made on which substantial evolution to take, it is irreversible. Additionally, Kerrigan’s powers can also be chosen in between levels and can be activated abilities or passive boosts (like overlords, which usually take a while to create, can be built instantly). Even though many choices can be made, only a few are irreversible and so many players will be satisfied with a single play through of the single player campaign.

Highlights:

Strong Points: Great RTS game, high level of polish, fun story, long-lasting multiplayer
Weak Points: Most of the new content is in single player, limited single player replayability, large price tag for those not interested in the single player campaign
Moral Warnings: Many instances of gore and violence, Kerrigan wears extremely tight fitting clothing

However, most players will be buying HotS for the multiplayer. Many features of the multiplayer are carried over from WoL: three distinct races, macro-management through base building and resource allocation, and micromanagement through unit control in and out of battles. A few highlights of the changes from this time tested formula in HotS are as follows: new units have been added to each race, experience is gained from each match played that unlocks rewards, custom game finding has been enhanced, and replays can be interrupted and resumed from any point. Also, I found a bunch of really convenient little tweaks have been made to make it easier to see how many drones are mining minerals for a given hatchery or vespene gas from a geyser.

The best of the aforementioned multiplayer features is the inclusion of new units. From Protoss’ new mothership core to Terran’s widow mine, Blizzard added compelling units that add a great deal of new tactics to the game. Even in my relatively few matches played, I noticed how the new units refreshed the traditional SC2 experience for me. While the new units don’t shake up the SC2 formula too much, they didn’t have to. The other features may or may not be important to players. For example, the new experience system will be fun for those that love to get rewards (like new unit skins or dances) as they play more games, but meaningless for those that don’t care about purely aesthetic unlockables. Even though the “take-command” feature is innovative and cool, I feel that it will only be used in certain circumstances that many players will never encounter unless they deliberately try to. Therefore, SC2 HotS definitely iterates rather than revolutionizes the SC2 formula, but that is what many would argue an expansion should do.

I found the story of HotS to be really entertaining as long as I didn't take it too seriously. Even in my first playthrough of the campaign, I noticed a dozen plot holes and discrepancies but they don't really matter. While the story hits the note of revenge a bit too much for my taste, it does a good job of showing Kerrigan's progression as a character. It also manages to set the game up nicely for the 2nd expansion, Legacy of the Void, without feeling like it ended on a horrible cliffhanger.

Graphically, the game looks marginally better than WoL, but Blizzard’s legendary level of polish is evident in every small animation, cool psionic ability effect, and outrageously overproduced cutscenes (that's a good thing!). On the highest graphical settings, the game looks good for a real time strategy game, but is definitely not meant to directly compete with graphical powerhouses like the Crysis series. In fact, after seeing characters aboard the leviathan or in the CGI cutscenes, the graphics on the actual battlefield are a substantial let down. That being said, animations across the board are fluid and believable. I also found myself noticing the many subtle movements of the characters and creatures that really added to the immersion of the game. Finally, the CGI cutscenes were amazing and gave a great sense of scale to the game’s intergalactic conflict.

Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 86%
Gameplay - 18/20
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 7/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 41%
Violence - 1/10
Language - 5/10
Sexual Content - 6/10
Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 3.5/10

In the sound department, HotS is hit or miss. Some of the voice acting is over the top, but I personally enjoyed it. The voice work done for both Protoss and Zerg characters (not including Kerrigan) can feel a bit stereotypical and gimmicky. I would have liked to see more Protoss and Zerg characters that have compelling personalities or backstories to flesh out more of the vast SC2 universe. The lack of depth for the Zerg and Protoss characters was highlighted when any of the human characters showed up. The voice acting for the human characters was leagues better than the others. While I enjoyed Abathur’s evolve-and-optimize-to-the-extreme personality, his voice acting kept him at a shallow character and this sentiment carried over to most of the alien cast.

Kerrigan states early in the game that “there is no moral highground,” which perfectly describes her moral descent as she pursues her quest for revenge. As the queen of the Zerg army, the player directs an army that destroys Terran and Protoss settlements in order to evolve and progress in the game. While Kerrigan provides some “heart” and moral conscience to the otherwise vicious swarm, she can’t prevent them from capturing and experimenting on a Protoss woman. Additionally, some of the Protoss and Terran killed are colonists that were not directly posing a threat to Kerrigan. Abathur, one of Kerrigan’s allies, experiments on other living creatures with cold detachment. Cutscenes depict a variety of violence; one depicts a marine with metal pipes sticking through his body and is killed by Kerrigan’s psionic powers. Blood effects can be turned off in the options menu, but the CGI cutscenes are not affected. Magic-like psyonic powers are used by many characters in the game. Some dialogue is suggestive and contains phrases like “I thought you liked it rough.” Characters do say curse words like d*** and s**t, but do not say the f word. Lastly, Kerrigan wears a form-fitting ghost suit that greatly accentuates her curves. Another ghost, Nova, wears a similar outfit. Later in the game, Kerrigan transforms and has a new outfit that is made out of Zerg flesh and is very form fitting and could be considered partial nudity.

In the end, HotS was a greatly enjoyable ride with a lot of questionable content. The story of revenge was really dark, but it did a great job of showing how the Zerg think and gave them more personality than you would think they could have. Unfortunately, HotS has a large price tag for those that aren't that interested in the single player campaign. For those that can accept the moral content, I would recommend this game to real-time strategy fans.

 

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Game Info:

Bioshock: Infinite
Developed By: Irrational Games
Published By: 2K Games
Released: March 26, 2013
Available On: Microsoft Windows, PS3, Xbox 360, Mac OS X
Genre: First-person Shooter
ESRB Rating: M for Mature
Number of Players: Single-player only
Price: $59.99

Let's get right to the chase. From my point of view as a Christian gamer, it's impossible for me to say that I wasn't slightly offended while playing Bioshock Infinite. Coming into this game with no expectations or understanding of where the story would lead me, I was quite honestly surprised by the the way the game presented itself at first glance. However, the further I got into the game, the more I understood that it's much deeper than I would have imagined.

The game begins with our main character, Booker DeWitt, seated on a rowboat that is piloted by two unknown people and headed towards a lighthouse. The only information that you're given, is that there is a woman by the name of Elizabeth, who is needed to be captured and sent to New York for your debt to be paid off. That's all the information that is given to you at this point, yet it's enough to drive you forward and continue.

Once you reach and enter the lighthouse, you will find quotes that look to be written from The Bible planted on the walls, as well as a dead body of a victim who looks like he's been abused and killed in a very brutal fashion. Needless to say, this game starts off as the type of game that I'd personally try to stay away from. However, with my curiosity, I kept moving forward with hopes of finding Elizabeth. Eventually I reached the top of the lighthouse and found a chair that would lock me into place and shoot me off to the top of the sky.

What came then was quite possibly one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen in a video game. It was a utopia that was built in the sky. The first thought that came to my mind was “is this heaven”? And of course, I was dead wrong once my shuttle arrived at its destination. The building that I arrived at looked to be a  flooded chapel, as there was around 2 feet of water throughout the whole building. It looked like I may have arrived at the wrong time, as that day was the day for baptism. 

Highlights:

Strong Points: Enjoyable gameplay; Smooth controls; Excellent story; Jaw-dropping graphics
Weak Points:  Enemy AI tends to be unresponsive to the player; Gameplay feels like a step down from previous games due to the two weapon limit; Enemy waves become repetitive
Moral Warnings: Violence; Gore; Magic; Racism; Hate speech; Swearing; Cult behavior; Slight Nudity

The first thing you learn is that the people of this city worship a man by the name of Comstock. In their eyes, he is a prophet that was sent to them by God, who saved them from Sodom (earth). While you are wandering around the Church, you will see a man surrounded by people dressed in white, calling you over to receive baptism in the name of Comstock. Immediately I was forced to get baptized so I would be granted access to this floating city named Columbia. The priest then decided that I wasn't clean enough and attempted to kill me through drowning. After passing out, I finally awoke in a garden and immediately understood that I have been granted access to Columbia.

I know what some of you may be thinking, and yes, I agree that this isn't the type of game you'd recommend to your son or daughter, or someone who is having a faith crisis. Even though I disliked the portrayal of Christianity in this game, it was easy for me to understand that this is a cult, plain and simple. As someone who grew up in a church that had cult-like behavior, it was easy to identify that this game is not designed to put Christianity in a bad light, but instead to show how a cult could function if it was given this type of power. I found that the game started making more sense the longer I played.

Besides the opening sequence, you will find that the population of this city is racist, lustful, greedy and gluttonous. In fact, for a city that is supposed to be a heaven before Heaven, I found that it's just as worldly as it is in “Sodom.” The only difference being, that these people thought that they were in some way holier than others, and would brag about how Columbia is the greatest place to be. This is an obviously skewed portrayal of the conservative Christian population of the United States.

The game itself is extremely violent and gory, with a good amount of swearing, hate speech and racism. I recall a section where you go through a museum that displays racially insensitive images of Natives and Asians. There's another moment where a crowd is gathered around a stage, with a presenter giving you a baseball to throw at a couple for race-mixing, though you are also given the choice to throw the baseball at the presenter instead. Also, throughout the game you will find a lot of paintings and imagery that show Jon Wilkes Booth as an icon, and Lincoln as a satanic demon.

Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 89%
Gameplay - 16/20
Graphics - 9.5/10
Sound - 10/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 34%
Violence - 0/10
Language - 5/10
Sexual Content - 6/10
Occult/Supernatural - 4/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 2/10

Magic plays a part in this game, although it's not portrayed the same way as it usually would be in a typical fantasy setting. In this game, it is given to you by drinking a potion. The abilities that you receive are named vigors and are powered by salt (typically known as mana in other games). The vigors can range from ice and fire attacks, to possessing machines and monsters. One of the vigors is named “Devil's Kiss” and the bottle is shaped like a nude female devil. This also shows that the population of Columbia is definitely not as holy as they make themselves out to be.

As for the game itself, I found that the gameplay was quite entertaining until around halfway through. Even though traveling through the skyline with your skyhook is a very fun and interesting feature, the combat becomes a bit of a chore and loses its charm once you fight through the same waves of enemies every time you enter a new area. The fact that you're only able to have two weapons equipped during the whole game feels like a major downgrade from past Bioshock titles. I was also not fond of the AI, as there were moments where enemies would completely ignore me even though I was near them. Some of the elite enemies weren't very interesting and weren't much different from regular enemies. The only main difference being that these enemies have a built in hotspot that, when attacked, would deal massive damage. Also, weirdly enough, you're unable to save your progress manually in this game and have to rely on checkpoints that are pretty far apart. It really boggles my mind as to why this isn't a feature, since you were able to do this in the other Bioshock games.

The gameplay is your typical shooter but with special abilities. Health and salt packs are automatically used the moment you pick them up. There is a regenerating shield system that protects you for a certain amount of damage. To clarify, if you're taking a lot of damage and your shield breaks, attacks will then make you lose health until your shield regenerates back again. There are infusions found lying around in the world which are used to improve what you feel is your most important stat, such as: health, shields and salt. There is gear scattered around that gives you stat boosts and programmed random occurrences (70% chance for enemy to catch on fire, etc) for certain weapons. Finally, there are vending machines that sell you upgrades for your weapons and vigors, as well as ammo, salt and health packs. You can mix and match the way you see fit with your playing style, as well as make purchases for tight situations.

Elizabeth is found very early on in the game, and the focus will then be for you to try and escape Columbia with her. She will be accompanying you during most of the game and help you out with her abilities. Occasionally she will toss you some extra money that she's found, as well as salt, health packs and ammo. The main ability she has is the ability to tear holes in the universe and travel to another dimension in time. There are some areas where, during a firefight, you can open a tear to get some weapons and ammo from another dimension. Only one tear is allowed to be open during any given time. She can also collect lockpicks for you, as well as unlock doors and safes that contain secrets and goodies.

The sound and music in this game is brilliant, with a soundtrack that is just as memorable as the soundtrack from the first Bioshock. The sound effects don't feel out of place and make you feel like you're truly in this world. It really helped me feel immersed and made the experience much more enjoyable. Music is normally played through record players found throughout the game, and are able to be turned on and off. The voice acting is marvelous and the cast for each character really makes them come to life. You can find Voxophones lying around that give you insight and reactions from characters in the universe. They're very interesting to listen to if you'd like to have a better understanding of the lore.

The graphics are stupendous, with vibrant colours and beautiful scenery. While I was playing through, I couldn't help but take a screen shot at every beautiful vista I came across. Screen shots that were taken at random are good enough to be framed and put on a wall. Every area you enter looks and feels different, with a lack of recycled objects. Unfortunately, and this might come off as nitpicking, you can tell that a lot of models have been reused, and it doesn't take long to take notice of that.

Don't let the game score fool you, Bioshock Infinite is a great game. In fact, it's quite possibly one of the greatest games to come out this year. The story is unforgettable and the writing and presentation is definitely the best I have ever seen in a video game. Just like in the first Bioshock, there is a story twist, and trust me when I tell you that you will not see it coming. It completely blew my mind, and people all over the internet are still talking about it. I have yet to see anyone find any plot holes in the story because it's that good, but it's hard to say that this is a perfect game due to all of the small issues and repetitive gameplay that plagues first-person shooters.

I'd also like to point out that although I wasn't extremely offended by this game, I still had a few gripes with the way it portrays Christianity. One of the main things that I hope and pray about is that people wouldn't conclude that this is an accurate portrayal of what Christianity is, and instead look at this as Christianity gone wrong. Like I said earlier, cults are a very real and scary thing, and as someone who has dealt with a church in the past that was very cult-like, this game was very deep for me. We must pray every day for the people who are dealing with spiritual abuse, and for those who are lost but think they're on the right track.

God Bless.

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Game Info:

Final Fantasy VII 
Developed by: Square
Published by: Square
Release Date: January 31, 1997
Available on: PS1, PSN, Windows (reviewed)
Genre: RPG
Number of Players: Single-Player
ESRB Rating: Teen for fantasy violence, suggestive themes and mild language
MSRP: $22.50 on LeapTrade

Final Fantasy VII is Square-Enix’s bestselling video game with over ten million copies sold.   It debuted on the PlayStation and has been re-released on the PC twice. This review is based on the 2012 release that offers achievements, character booster (I never used it), and cloud saves.  If the cloud saves are a feature you’re looking for, you’ll be disappointed and I’ll discuss its short comings later in the review.    The story and game play are still memorable and I can see why many gamers consider this one of the best Final Fantasy games ever made.

Cloud Strife is the main character who turned Mercenary after working for the Shinra Company.  Shinra makes their money by extracting the planet’s energy (MAKO) that’s used for weapons and Materia (grants it’s wearer magical powers).  While this sounds harmless, the opposite is true; their refining is making the planet unstable and could destroy it if nothing is done.  Cloud's first job as a Mercenary is blowing up one of Shinra's MAKO reactors for an eco-terrorist group called Avalanche.   Their goal is to put an end to Shinra and save the planet.

At first Cloud is not very sociable and is only in it for the money.  His childhood friend, Tifa, is also in Avalanche and softens him up a bit. There are nine playable characters in this game but only three can be in a party at any given time.  Two of the characters are miss-able so reading a guide or a FAQ is highly recommended.  While every character can use Materia, each one has a unique weapon type and limit move.  A limit is a powerful attack that is earned by taking damage over time.  Like many RPG’s there are various stats like hit points, magic points, luck, strength and dexterity.  These adjust by leveling up and changing the armor or Materia they have equipped.   I like how the inactive members still gain experience and level up, though not as much as they would if they were in your current party.  The character limits also gain levels but you have to use the limits in order to unlock the next set.   If you want a powerful character, you have to grind, plain and simple.

Highlights:

Strong Points: Engrossing story and excellent character development; nice magic system where each character can learn every spell.  
Weak Points: Some of the graphics didn't age well, broken cloud save system.
Moral Warnings: Like many RPGs there’s violence and magic; with the language and blasphemy I won’t let my kids play this one for a while.

Enemy battles for the most part are random, except for a few bosses that are shown beforehand. Generally speaking, if you have a save point and a means to replenish your health and magic points, there’s a boss waiting for you around the corner.  You can save anytime in the overworld but once you’re inside a place, you’re limited to save points.  

The cloud save system in the PC version is unreliable to say the least.  If you launch the game with an active Internet connection you’re at the mercy of their server to allow you to save and load your progress.  There have been many times where I have played and had to leave but couldn’t save my progress.  Sometimes it’s available again within a few minutes but oftentimes it’s longer.  The only way to save every time is to launch the game without an Internet connection.  That way it will use the save files on your computer and synchronize them the next time it’s launched with an Internet connection.

Even with the broken cloud saves the PC version is still worth getting for the audio tweaking and improved graphics.  The antialiasing and improved character models look much better than the original PlayStation models.  There’s a wide variety of enemies and unique bosses.  The Materia summons and powers are fun to watch, though some of the animations take quite a while to complete and you cannot skip past them.    There are many mini-games including the ability to race chocobos, snowboard, fight in the battle arena and to defend the condor’s egg at Fort Condor.  The Fort Condor mini-game graphics are pretty crude and it’s hard to distinguish the units from each other. 

Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 86%
Gameplay - 18/20
Graphics - 7/10
Sound - 9/10
Stability - 4/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 64%
Violence - 7/10
Language - 1.5/10
Sexual Content - 6.5/10
Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

The characters have a lot of personality and their movements and animations compliment them nicely.  At the end of a fight, Tifa will stick out her (well endowed) chest with a stance that says “See! I did that.”   Cloud does a nice sword twirl at the end of every battle while Cid casually takes a puff from his cigarette.  Cid’s character is funny but his language is very coarse and says every word but the F-bomb.  Barret also has a short temper and a potty mouth.  It's also worth mentioning that the Lord's name is taken in vain here.  While I appreciate eco-friendliness this game, it does give the planet feelings and a consciousness.   

Fortunately the language is not heard in the cut scenes which are nicely rendered and aged pretty well.  The music in the movies, towns, caves and battles is simply breathtaking.  Each character has their own theme song that suits their personality nicely.  Nobuo Uematsu has composed another masterpiece here.  I used a program called Anxious Heart that allowed me to swap out the PC music for the better quality PlayStation music.  To add icing on the cake, I was able to change out some of the songs (Those Who Fight Further, JENOVA) to the Black Mages version.  This mod is of questionable legality since it's downloading music from the Internet, but we do own The Black Mages CDs and the PlayStation version of Final Fantasy VII.

The Battle music and songs like One Wing Angel sets Final Fantasy VII apart from the rest, not to mention the funny characters, awkward situations and humorous encounters.  I still recommend playing the previous Final Fantasy games but I can understand why Final Fantasy VII sold so well and still has quite the following.  I recommend picking it up if you haven’t played it yet.  Just keep in mind that it definitely earns its Teen rating.

 

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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