Monthly Archives: January 2016

VNVDVD: The Fruit of Grisaia

Hello all!

Today I’m going to be starting a new category of review, which I like to call Visual Novel versus DVD (or VNVDVD for short). For this, I’ll play a visual novel – or game of whatever genre – and then see how it measures up to its anime adaptation.

This time, we’re going to be tackling The Fruit of Grisaia.

The Fruit of Grisaia is the story of Yuuji Kazami, a high school student with a dark past newly transferred to Mihama Academy, a prison-like school attended by only five other people. And they’re all girls.

As Yuuji’s normal-ish high school life goes on, he gradually uncovers the reasons why these girls are attending the school. The branching routes of the visual novel consist of Yuuji wining, dining and refining them, romancing them and solving their problems along the way.

It’s a fascinating slow burn in each case, with each route skilfully blending heartbreaking, dark themes with uplifting, inspiring redemption. To say more would be a spoiler, but suffice to say I was impressed with the quality of writing and likeability of the main cast.

Amane Suou, the token boobie girl, treats her friends like family, acting as the mother of the group. She cooks for Yuuji, constantly makes passes at him, and is notably tall for a Japanese girl, at 5’6”. The game constantly mentions this.

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Sachi Komine, the loyal-to-a-fault girl who dresses like a maid, is lovable in her mousy yet determined way, and gets some of the best lines in the game.

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Makina Irisu somehow manages to avoid the “baby-faced and baby-talking girl” annoyances and actually ends up being a totally serviceable character, particularly when Yuuji takes her under his wing.

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Yumiko Sakaki, daughter of the man who built the school, is also surprisingly likeable despite the her tropey “icy rich girl” manner, and some of the best sight gags and moments in the game are directly tied to her, like any time her not-so-secret internet porn habits are brought up, or she tries to kill someone with a box cutter.

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And Michiru Matsushima – aka Best Girl™ – is 100% comic relief. She’s dumb, clumsy, obnoxious and absolutely hilarious to watch. Her sub-plot of being a fake tsundere with bottle-blonde hair is one of my favourite character traits ever.

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Yuuji himself is also an interesting character. It’s clear from the get-go that he is not an ordinary student, with his encyclopedic knowledge of military protocol and extensive combat training, but despite being the badass that saves the day in most cases, the game manages to avoid making him an omnipotent Gary Stu. He’s arrogant, blunt and generally unpleasant to be around, but manages to knuckle down when the time is right. And hey, he’s the protagonist, so you gotta like it or lump it.

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That’s him in the back, looking all cool and stuff.

Even Yuuji’s guardian/superior JB and the principal of the school, Chizuru Tachibana, are fun characters, though I find Chizuru falls on the “annoyingly squeaky” side of things. JB, aka Julia Bardera, aka Yuria Harudera, is apparently German-Italian but speaks fluent Japanese, which is about as “anime” a character as it gets.

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But hey, German efficiency.

Now, to the important details. The Fruit of Grisaia, taken as a visual novel, is extremely lengthy. Like, 50+ hours lengthy. I started reading it on the 22nd of December, and finished it around the 26th of January – and that’s reading it at least a couple of hours every day. That’s around 70 hours worth, likely more, that I spent going through every route.

The anime adaptation is 13 episodes long. Ohh boy.

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So, it’s time for the key question. How does the anime measure up? Well…

Not great, if I’m being honest. This was never going to be a perfect adaptation by any stretch of the imagination with so few episodes to cover so much. And yet, even knowing this, it’s a bit of a disappointment.

Let’s break down the series into component parts and see just how fairly it was constructed:

Episodes 1, 2 and 3: The “common route” of the game, introducing the main cast and some slice-of-life comedy.

Episodes 4 and 5: Michiru’s story.

Episode 6: Yumiko’s story.

Episode 7: Sachi’s story.

Episodes 8 and 9: Makina’s story.

Episodes 10, 11, 12 and 13: Amane’s story.

See the problem emerging here? In the game, pretty much every route is equal in length and complexity. In the series, Yumiko and Sachi have their stories told in roughly TWENTY MINUTES.

And if that doesn’t sound too bad – maybe they just cut out a lot of fluff? – then here are a few pictures, created by DeadlyFatalis for his own take on the series. Using Best Girl™ Michiru as an example, here is a list of all the scenes in her route of the game, marked with all the scenes they included in episode 4 of the anime:

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Twenty five scenes, and the series covers three in one episode. To do this, it skips eleven.

And in skipping all this content, Yuuji basically becomes the perfect human being who helps these girls through their problem for no real reason other than the plot demands it. In the game, the reason is slightly different.

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Yeah, something like that.

What’s more, the series adds an ungodly amount of unnecessary fanservice at seemingly random intervals. Now, I don’t have much of a problem with fanservice in general, but there’s a time and a place for such things, and it’s not “clumsily inserted whenever”.

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In this scene, Michiru grabs a bag from Sachi. There are two pantie-shots for absolutely no reason.

At this point, I don’t really know who the anime adaptation is for. It doesn’t feel like it’s for newcomers, because so much is left out that the plot and characters feel incomplete and rushed.

It’s also evidently not for people who played the game, because all it does is make me annoyed by how much I know they left out.

Now, I’m being extremely harsh on the series. I acknowledge that it would have been exceptionally difficult to adapt this game, especially in thirteen episodes. But there were some things that I actually think it did pretty well! It’s kind of a “sweet sour” stance.

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But mostly sour.

Firstly, the art in the series is great. They very faithfully recreated the characters and locations from the game, and it helps to be able to clearly see some scenes that were not fully shown in the game, such as Michiru before she was blonde, some fight scenes, and JB’s control room. Though I suppose “good art” is a prerequisite considering the source material, which included one CG I literally stopped to stare at for a couple of minutes, in awe of how pretty it was. And totally not because of what was happening in the picture.

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What are you doing get out of there she’s gonna eat youuuuuu

All the original voice actors returned to play their parts in the series, and music from the game is used effectively, giving the series a comfortable, familiar feeling.

The animation itself, while mostly relatively basic, has some moments of impressive fluidity, and everything is presented in letterboxed widescreen. I’m not really sure how I feel about the letterboxing, but it does lend things a cinematic feel. I suppose with the game constantly using Dutch angles, it was only fair.

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No seriously, look at the other pictures, 90% of them are at this crazy angle.

The series also takes several artistic liberties in order to tie together all of the stories, resulting in several scenes completely different from the game. Yumiko’s route in particular is almost completely changed – though I suppose they’d have to, to make it fit into one episode.

Now, here’s the most impressive and disappointing part of this analysis. Angelic Howl, the final arc of the series, which focuses on Amane’s story, is the longest by far and easily the best part of the series.

Spoilers are ahead, so be warned.

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“Get back, spoilers! Back, I say!”

Amane’s backstory is that she was part of a high school basketball team who, while on a trip, crashed their bus off a cliff, leaving them stranded in the wilderness. The team band together in order to survive, but with help nowhere to be found slowly begin to succumb to starvation and madness. Amane is the sole survivor of this incident.

It’s an extremely long, detailed part of the game, but astonishingly the series manages to adapt it effortlessly, cutting out all the unnecessary fluff while still telling the story properly. It even surprised me by leaving in certain unpleasant details, such as the various skin afflictions, wounds and bodily functions the girls have to endure while stranded. Even the most shocking scene of all – in which the sole teacher and the captain of the basketball team, in a fit of madness, have sex in the forest surrounded by corpses, is left in, and the scene is all the more effective for it.

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No, I’m not showing that. Principal Tachibana would be upset.

The finale of the series, loosely adapted from Amane’s route’s ending, while perhaps not as well written as the game’s, manages to tie together every heroine’s routes in such a way that is arguably better than the source material. It even manages to set up the characters for the sequel in a way the game could not. So my question is this:

Why wasn’t the rest of the series given so much attention?

I don’t like to throw out hyperbole, but The Fruit of Grisaia would undoubtedly have benefited from a 26-episode runtime. Angelic Howl proves that with the proper amount of care and time, the stories can be told efficiently without sacrificing important details.

But in the end, we got a Majikoi rather than a Steins;Gate. Sigh.

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VERDICT

While The Fruit of Grisaia remains an excellent and exemplary visual novel, the anime adaptation is a rushed jumble of scenes which only comes into its own in the final arc, too little too late. While a serviceable companion piece to the game, it only serves to highlight what could have been achieved with just a little more time and effort.

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There were far too few Best Girl images in this article, so here’s one to end on. Aww.

 

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Ace’s Games of the Year 2015

Happy New Year!

Ah, 2015. What a year. So much has happened in the past twelve months, it’s hard to know where to begin. The political climate has changed, wars have been waged, and humanity continues to stumble down the path to its inevitable destruction. Oh, and some video games came out! So let’s talk about those.

Please note that these rankings are entirely subjective and made in no particular order. I have, however, separated them into three categories: The Hall of Fame, in which I have placed my eleven favourite games of the year (Why top eleven? Because I like to go one step beyond. Hahaha references); the Hall of Participants, in which I have placed games I enjoyed very much this year but for whatever reason have not placed in the Hall of Fame; and the Hall of Shame, in which I have placed this year’s biggest disappointments.

So without further ado, let us open the pearl-encrusted gates into…

THE HALL OF FAME

Reserved for only the finest experiences of the year

Dying Light

This one came as a complete surprise to me. Hailing from Deep Silver, the creators of Dead Island (a passable zombie game) and Dead Island Riptide (a mediocre retread of a passable zombie game), it looked as if this would jump straight onto the bandwagon of “meh” games with nice trailers Deep Silver were in a habit of producing. But no! What was given to us was a fantastically fun fusion of Mirror’s Edge parkour gameplay and meaty zombie clobberin’, sandwiched between two pillowy slices of a reasonable story, with some genuinely creepy moments sprinkled in for zest (Screamer zombies… nuff said). On top of that, us poor folks in the UK who got the boxed version late received the season pass absolutely free, meaning the next – huge – expansion, The Following, will be absolutely free. I’m excited to see what the future holds for a game with such an admirable business strategy, particularly one that I don’t think got the recognition it deserved upon release.

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Hotline Miami 2

What is there to say about Hotline Miami 2 that has not already been said about Hotline Miami? It’s a winning formula – the plot stylings of Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive, a grimy 80s aesthetic and soundalike soundtrack by awesome synth artists like Perturbator and Carpenter Brut, and ultraviolence. It’s a walking paradox – ugly, yet beautiful. Short, bloody and confusing as hell, but made with such panache and confidence that it stands out as one of the best THINGS I’ve been exposed to in 2015.

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GOTTA GET A GRIP

Tales From The Borderlands

Oh, Telltale. We worried about you – stretching yourself so thin over two huge games. And while one suffered as a result, this one blew everyone away. Building off the established universe of Gearbox’s Borderlands series, TFTB manages to tie each story together in a meaningful way that doesn’t trample over existing plots (though it could be argued the previous games’ plots weren’t all that important in between blasting skags and raiders). Riotously funny, featuring an all-star cast of voice actors who all get stuck into their roles with charm and passion, and an ending that will make you grin from ear to ear, Tales From The Borderlands earns a worthy place in anyone’s game library.

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Bloodborne

From Software are not a company to be taken lightly. With their pedigree of freakishly-hard-but-somehow-fair Souls series, there was every opportunity for them to rest on their laurels and pump out another sequel. But not From Software, oh no. In Bloodborne, From took all the best parts of Dark Souls and combined it with a new, gothic Victorian environment and a more exciting and active combat system, rewarding players who face their problems head on, while still battering newbies into a bloody pulp. And yet it’s somehow still hugely fun to play! The very epitome of the phrase “git gud”. What a horrible night to have a curse, eh?

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“Aw, crap, not again.” – Every Bloodborne player ever

Wolfenstein: The Old Blood

We’ve come a long way since 1992. The global climate has changed, and World War 2 shooters have become passe, let by the wayside to make way for the “modern warfare” craze ushered in by Call of Duty. But sometimes, all we really need is a big shirtless muscular man with a big gun killing zombie Nazis and robotic dogs. 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order showed us that old-school shooters can be just as fresh and exciting as the new breed, offering a fantastic, well-told, pure single player shooter. There was no tacked on multiplayer, no fat to trim, just lean, mean raw gameplay. The Old Blood expands on the story of The New Order with great set-pieces, even more insane enemies, and a handful of cheeky nods to the elder Wolfensteins. It becomes the delicate icing on the already delicious cake offered by The New Order. Man, I’m hungry.

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The Witcher 3

I love CD Projekt Red. There, I said it. They are quite possibly the finest example of how not to be Konami in the gaming industry today – focused purely on making the customer happy in achievable ways. Game is bugged? Patch it. DLC ideas? Make them free. Big expansions? Make them worth the money and have cool physical bonuses (damn I love Gwent). Considering the base game is already filled to the brim with gorgeous, fully-voiced, extremely ambitious content, it’s a wonder CDPR haven’t collapsed into fatigue. But no, they’re still going strong, and their next game, Cyberpunk 2077, looks even more exciting. All hail CD Projekt Red, the saviours of gaming, and all hail The Witcher 3.

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Fallout 4

I have seen a brahmin glitch on top of a house at least five times now and I don’t care. Fallout 4 is exactly what I wanted and more. It’s huge, filled with content, features great performances from its main cast, and gunplay that isn’t RNG based, which in my opinion was a godsend. Sure, a lot of sidequests are repetitive, and the plot kind of loses steam in the third act, but there’s no wasteland I’d rather wander with a faithful dog (or journalist) by my side.

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Piper is best girl.

Until Dawn

These days, it’s hard to be spooky, and even harder to make a good Quantic Dream-esque interactive movie-game. That said, holy crap did Supermassive Games deliver with Until Dawn. Beautiful graphics, mind-blowing performance capture technology that somehow manages to steer clear of the uncanny valley (or maybe not, it IS a horror game after all), and featuring a story that has genuinely surprising twists, Until Dawn is a jumpscare you won’t complain about to your friends later.

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Mad Max

I am of the opinion that a game can be judged based almost solely on how good it’s shotgun is. And hoo boy, this one is a doozy.

A controversial choice, to be sure – Jim Sterling, thank God for him, dubbed Mad Max “Sandbox: The Game”, but for me it struck every note it needed to in order to make me nerd out in a big way. Maybe I’m just easy to please, but the opportunity to play as Max Rockatansky, beating the stuffing out of wastelanders and partaking in road wars, was too cool to pass up. And Mad Max doesn’t disappoint on that front, offering an authentic movie experience. The cars are loud, the crashes are meaty, and that shotgun? It epitomizes the word “BLAM”.

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Metal Gear Solid V

Konami’s sins may never die, and MGSV may be, in many ways, an unfinished mess of a game, but it still stands tall as an example of excellent game design. The Fox Engine is a fantastic piece of hardware, capable of rendering huge detailed environments at 60fps without sacrificing fidelity, and MGSV utilizes this to great effect. Sneaking through and eliminating outposts feels so natural and fluid that MGSV isn’t just one of my favourite games of the year, it’s one of the best stealth games ever, period. It made me laugh, made me cry (for more reasons than one) and made me accept once and for all that yes, maybe David Hayter being replaced by Kiefer Sutherland wasn’t the biggest mistake they could have made in this game.

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Persona 4 Dancing All Night

Not a day goes by without me thinking ’bout
The way the world stopped mid-motion
When you walked into my life and we connected
Like we shared the same mad potion
Couldn’t help but move
The threads of fate had spun us
Into each other’s lives by chance
All this energy’s got us inspired now.
We couldn’t stop it, just set it free, and
Dance!

Who saw this one coming? It’s so gleefully, wonderfully silly – something that has no right to work but dammit, it’s just so great. Great music, colourful graphics, a genuine sense of joy and good times, and more Persona 4 in general. If this is the way we’re saying goodbye to our favourite characters to make way for Persona 5, then I think I’m okay with that.

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Naoto is best girl.

HALL OF PARTICIPANTS

For experiences considered for the Hall of Fame but were excluded for one reason or another

Life Is Strange
High school angst + time travel = weird writing + actually pretty good game.

Mortal Kombat X
Best fighting system in the biz in my opinion. Let down by awful DLC. Warner Bros strike again.

Shadowrun: Hong Kong
Cyberpunk is my jam, but like the previous Shadowrun I didn’t get around to finishing it due to the ridiculously difficult final act.

Soma
Bonkers undersea horror from the makers of Amnesia. Good spooks, interesting story and ideas, but ultimately not all that scary in the long run.

Grim Fandango Remastered
A true adventure gaming classic. But it’s just a remaster. Exempt!

The Escapists
A cute little prison break game with some nifty gameplay. Still haven’t finished it though, so it’s exempt from the Hall of Fame.

Resident Evil Remake
A cracking remake of an already classic horror game, a 9/10 easily from me – but it’s still a remake of a remake from 2002. Exempt.

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Jill is best girl.

Apotheon
An unexpected Metroidvania-esque gem, but ultimately didn’t have enough to draw me in till the end.

Hand of Fate
A truly original game, and one I really need to get back into.

Resident Evil Revelations 2
A return to Resident Evil‘s golden age of good spooks, ammo shortages and running like hell. Nothing particularly spectacular, but I may have spent a little too much time playing Raid Mode.

Oddworld New N’ Tasty
A wonderful remake of the PS1 classic. Still a remake though – exempt!

Assassin’s Creed Chronicles China
A serviceable platformer that somehow manages to be about thirty times better than Assassin’s Creed Unity.

Shovel Knight
A very fun platformer that harkens back to classic NES games. Originally released in 2014 though – exempt!

Ether One
A quirky little puzzle game with interesting ideas and great voice acting, slightly let down by atrocious framerate issues and confusing gameplay.

The Fruit of Grisaia
A consistently entertaining visual novel, and the first part of three. Unfortunately, this game was originally released in 2012 – exempt!

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Michiru is best girl.

Yakuza 5
This one hurts to put in the Hall of Participants – no other game this year has quite “got” me like Yakuza 5. I shall say only this: fistfighting a bear is amazing. Shame this game is actually from 2012. Maybe step up the localization game, Sega?

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Skullgirls 2nd Encore
A solid, satisfying fighting game with fantastic characters and sound production. Haven’t really played enough of it to put it in the Hall of Fame though.

The Fall
A really interesting puzzle/platformer/shooter. But there’s just not enough of it – this is just act one! Still waiting on part two guys, chop chop…

Steins;Gate
One of the best visual novels ever made finally gets an official English release in the UK. Just because it’s not in the Hall of Fame doesn’t mean it’s bad – just that it was originally released in 2009.

Danganronpa: Another Episode – Ultra Despair Girls
I love me some Danganronpa, and this game scratched my itch. Sub-par gunplay can’t hide the impressive graphics for a Vita game, and an excellent story which gives series favourite Toko Fukawa ample screen time.

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Grow Home
An intriguing little almost-indie game from Ubisoft. Basic graphics belie a calming, addictive game, but I didn’t play enough to put it in the Hall of Fame.

Star Wars Battlefront
Yes, it was overhyped. Yes, it has its fair share of issues. Yes, EA’s business policies are perhaps not the best (A FORTY POUND SEASON PASS?). But the fact remains that Battlefront is an instant good time – fast action, nerd service up the wazoo, and simple mechanics. It’s also one of the few triple-A releases in recent memory that has worked properly straight out of the box, so I think that deserves some respect.

HALL OF SHAME

For the experiences that should have been good, but failed

Evolve

Left 4 Dead is one of the finest multiplayer experiences of the last generation of consoles. It was fast, fun, had direction, charismatic characters, and an attitude all its own. Most important of all, it was a rare breed – a multiplayer game entirely fun and playable on your own. Turtle Rock Studios, the creators of Evolve, also created Left 4 Dead, before they split from Valve. What could possibly go wrong with their spiritual successor? Er, turns out quite a lot. It’s almost as if they unlearned everything they used to great effect in L4D: boring characters, lifeless gunplay, frustrating mechanics, godawful framerate issues, rubbish stories tying maps together, no sense of progression, crap unlocks and, worst of all, boring monster gameplay. ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS SMASH THINGS AND MAKE IT FUN, IT’S NOT HARD. Never have I felt quite as betrayed and insulted by a game.

Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series

When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die – and House Forrester, the main house of this game, never wins. Losing is not fun. And no matter what you do, you will always lose. Never has the phrase “Your choices will have consequences” seemed more cynical, more tacked on, than in this game. At least Tales From The Borderlands worked – guess we know where all the effort went.

The Order 1886

Quite possibly the only game I’ve ever sold within a week of buying. I paid £40 for this game, and received about £5 worth of content. Say what you want about Quantic Dream and the like’s “movies disguised as games”, but at least they actually had gameplay. The Order 1886 is a four hour game masked by lengthy cutscenes and mediocre cover based shooting, along with one of the most pathetic excuses for an ending in recent memory. Pretty graphics can’t save this one.

Battlefield: Hardline

Battlefield, at it’s best, is a shooter series so intense you can practically feel the dirt in your mouth during a particularly involved multiplayer session. The main series may have sacrificed plot integrity to focus on multiplayer and nicer graphics, but it’s anything but boring. Now take that, remove the big explosions and vehicle combat. Remove the great feeling guns, and instead have pea shooter pistols. Make the plot even worse. That’s Battlefield: Hardline. Released at a time when police-civilian relations were already rather fragile, this crooked cop deserves to be locked up, and the key conveniently lost.

Batman: Arkham Knight

This game is practically the definition of the word “disappointing”. It’s a solid enough game – it’s part of the Arkham series, for goodness sake – but it’s utterly, painfully by the numbers. The plot isn’t all that interesting, the awesome new Batmobile sections soon becomes a slog through endless boring tank battles, the antagonist is utterly predictable, and the FORTY POUND season pass consists entirely of skins, lifeless fifteen minute missions, and MORE TANK BATTLES. And this isn’t even going into the wretched PC port, which didn’t even work properly on release, was removed from sale on Steam and then rereleased. The rerelease also does not work. Ridiculous.

Zombi

How do you make a zombie game boring? Port a Wii U game that ran poorly on it’s home console, and make it run just as poorly. Remove all the things that made the Wii U version unique, and change literally nothing else. This game is 5 hours long.

Dishonored: Definitive Edition

Hey guys, maybe our remastered game should run at a steady 60fps and maybe include some kind of incentive for people to buy it? No? Okay then…

Just Cause 3

Just Cau[LOGGING INTO SQUARE ENIX SERVERS]se 3 would hav[LOGIN FAILED]e been a lot better if Square Enix hadn’t implemented a ridiculous on[LOGGING INTO SQUARE ENIX SERVERS]line DRM sch[LOGIN FAILED]eme for a single player game, and hadn’t wri[LOGGING INTO SQUARE ENIX SERVERS]tten t[LOGIN FAILED]he story like a sodd[LOGGING INTO SQUARE ENIX SERVERS]ing 8-ye[LOGIN FAILED]ar-old. Stick to Mad Max.

So there you have it! The best (and worst) of 2015, in my opinion. Now, being primarily a console player, I’m sure there are dozens of games I’m not giving their due – Undertale being one that I’m sure will crop up time and time again – but maybe some day I’ll be blessed with the opportunity to play them. Until next time, that’s all folks. Good fortune to you in this new brave year of 2016, and may this year be just as filled with cool games.

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WHY ARE YOU SO FAR AWAAAAY