ABZÚ: Submerging you in the serene waters of pause, reflect and great white sharks

ABZÚ, a new underwater exploration game created by Giant squid, is calm and it’s peaceful. It gives you a chance to put down your respective swords & gun’s from other games and explore the sea and all its creatures. 

Many reviews and comments about ABZÚ bring up three important points and while I don’t disagree with them, I have a slightly different take on why I enjoy/dislike them. The list comprises of; Similar to Journey/Flower, relaxing/calm, and tank controls that can be hard to control.

I have not played flower so I can only compare to Journey, but I find that both Journey and ABZÚ share one major aspect. They both instill you with a sense of in-world wanderlust and wonder. That hook, which sinks in so quickly, sets the pace for your adventure; YET, that pace is still as fast or slow as you want it. Do you blast through to get to the end or do you explore every nook and cranny of each section to find all the hidden items and images.

What I find compelling about my time with ABZÚ is how it pulled me in and away from games like DOOM, Brut@l and Grand Kingdom; all of which were frequent plays for the last month.

It’s calming pace, simple but enjoyable puzzles, and the ability to literally sit on a rock and watch the fish swim by, broke so many of my librarys normal ‘style’, which revolve around combat and killing.. Couple this with a light and breezy, albeit slightly devoid of content, story and you have the recipe to find yourself with two or three hours of inner calm.

These waters are not completely calm however. While not impossible, the tank style controls can be frustrating if you are trying to be precise while swimming.  It is quite easy to get twisted around, especially if you are moving vertically near an entrence to new areas. 

The control scheme carries over to your ‘ride’ as most of the aquatic life you see can take you for a go around. While not critical to the game, the task of leaping from the water ala echo the dolphin, can be either super easy or frustratingly difficult to pull off.

As mentioned above, there isn’t a solid story to ABZÚ, and if my opinion means anything I think it revolves around man’s industrial tendencies are destroying the world, and all it takes is one person to start the wheel of change. However I could be missing the forest for the trees and it could be about robots trying to take over the world.  Lastly on the negative side, the collectables are not overly difficult to find if you want to, but the aspect of tracking them and figuring out which ones you are missing.

Those few issues aside, there is a lot of good to be found in this game. It takes you an evening to get through, and it makes a perfect cap to a hard days work or a great way to kick off your weekend. I recommend picking this title up on PS4 when you can.

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Kill Strain is true to its name as you struggle against mutants and mercs and more mercs

With the MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) genre is still quite popular in today’s game market. With titles like Heroes of the Storm, Smite, Paragon, League of Legends, DotA2 to name the bigger ones, Sony San Diego Studio brings a unique entry to PS4 in the form of Kill Strain.

 I will the first to admit, I am not one hundred percent sold on this game. It is not a bad game by any means, it just seems like it conflicts with its own core mechanics and game play. You can choose from one of Merc’s on your list, which you purchase with real money or in-game currency, then select a mutant who follow the same rules. Both Merc and mutant follow the same type of combat, ability, and upgrade tree’s which make navigating your characters much easier once you get the basics down.

Killstrain 5

Once you select your characters you get put into the queue, much like any other MOBA or shooter currently on the market, with the notable exception of forming a team. Once you get into a game, you are randomly assigned to either the blue Merc, yellow Merc, or the red mutant team and once that is set, all semblance of “team” really fly’s out the window.

To clarify, you still have your teammates and the tenants of every competitive game still apply; Don’t die if you can help it, fight when its advantageous, etc. However above these commonplace rules, the game doesn’t really enforce or entice you to do so as your real goal is to be at the top of the leaderboard’s by the end of the match as rankings dictate how much of experience and credits you get for that match.

Killstrain 8

Let’s back up a second though and go over the basic layout. Each team starts with their own base, which has its own defenses. The base structure has a slow but fairly powerful auto attack which you can dodge. Forking out from each Merc base are two lanes. One towards a drill, which allows them to pick up canisters to clear the infestation; think Zagara’s creep from Heroes of the Storm, while the other fork goes towards the mutant base and a middle power plant which helps either merc team call down their mech suits faster.

As the game progresses you gain levels, becomes stronger and learn more about the attack combo’s which are optimal. You also learn attack ranges for each character you come across and figure out how your character uses movement, stun, and other lockdown abilities to get away from fights you are losing. One such way is the aforementioned mech suit. You call down these behemoth weapons to not only protect you from the infestation and allows you to do significant damage to both Merc’s and mutants. One important thing that I didn’t realize until my first game as a mutant was how powerful the mech’s were on attack, because I could no longer retreat through my creep, as there was none to be found.

Killstrain 2

The mutants, as mentioned above, roam around on infestation, which cloaks them, and rapidly heals them. each mutant has various combat abilities like the Merc’s, but they also have the ability to lay down a smaller plant/node thing (no idea what it’s actually called) which generates a small portion of creep for them to stand on. This is how they expand their territory/retake lost ground. It is also how they transform mercs into other mutants, a little twist I had forgotten about until it happened to me. Dragging a recently slain mercs onto the creep near the node will cause said Merc to be impaled and transformed into the mutant they had selected at the beginning of the match.

With all this explained, let’s go back to why I think this game struggles against itself and the core mechanics it seems to hold. Kill Strain puts so little emphasis on the group dynamic. Your teammates are both frivolous and often inconsequential; your enemies are either abundant and constantly and your doorstep or your game feels vacant and your stand mostly alone against automated turrets. If you couple this with an average duel stick controls and a sometimes finicky hit detection, one has to ask how far this game will go as it’s a ‘free to play’ title.

In the end, games are moderately quick, character diversity is fairly decent and even without using real money, you gain credits at a decent rate. The real question for players will be how often do the updates happen, how much will the updates improve the game and how will its free to play nature keep it in the mind share of PlayStation’s fairly flush store of indie titles.

**SPOILER** Suicide Squad – Missing out on how good the bad guys can be!

I had a good time watching Suicide Squad. I want to get that out-of-the-way because as I talk about this movie, it will seem like I am heavily criticizing it/bagging on it. Much like my time with Batman v Superman the movie is pretty good but has its flaws, and those flaws are what really stand out after the drive home from the theater.

What grabbed me about this movie initially was its colour palate. I liked its dark and gritty nature, which keeps in theme with DC and Warner Bro’s previous entries, and how it splices that look with its vibrant neon flash’s and panels of white light. I thought that they helped bring a visual levity to the movie and help emphasize the “light-hearted” moments that were sprinkled throughout. These colours also play out across the characters costumes to bring it all together.

Full Suicide Squad

Speaking of characters, I have to say that my favourite characters in this movie were Deadshot, El Diablo, and Harley Quinn. This may seem odd, as I leave out the other “comedy bit” character, a samurai, a near super soldier and the man-beast known as Killer Croc, but I will touch more on those characters a bit later. Deadshot and Harley Quinn, in my opinion, steals the whole movie as they embodies all of the elements this movie tried to hit on; humor, action, sinister, and heart (Go Planet!) Will Smith plays Deadshot as a collected assassin who only loses his composure when it comes to his daughter, while Margot Robbie is the other side of the acting coin by being a sociopath until the, seemingly, final moments with the Joker.

Both actor’s form the pillars this movie stands upon, with a support structure from the rest of the Squad. El Diablo, again in my opinion forms the strongest of these support beams as he is a flawed character, who doesn’t fall into the “generic Mexican/Spanish gang member” tropes. Yes he is a gang member but the story, as disjointed as it was, puts him on the path of redeemer and remorseful. Throughout the course of the movie his powers are there for him to show others about the consequences for lack of control, and strives to attain a redemption right up until the end.

A special shout out to Mr. Jared Leto, as I enjoyed his interpretation of the Joker. From the oddball laugh, to the intensity in seemingly passing comments, right up to obsessed level of devotion he has for Harley. The way his character interacts not only with the world but how the world in turn reacts to him is, to me, a great way to progress from Heath Ledger’s performance, which is what everyone talked about when Leto first took the role.

Suicide Squad Cereal logo

Now we get to the criticism, which again should be taken into account that I had an enjoyable time with the movie and overall liked it, much like my thoughts on Superman v Batman. The first major issue I had, was the music and not because it was bad, because I grew up on that music and really enjoy it, but because seemed to be fired off like a shotgun blast. Everyone got a snippet of a song, yet no song really stood out for me as memorable due to them being used in both the trailers and the movie.

A second major gripe I have is the story. . . <insert laugh track here>, no but seriously, what a mild story told in such a blasé way as it had most people in the theater I went to checking the time rather than engrossed in the movie. This lack of good story telling goes hand in hand with how poorly the rest of the cast is used, but more on that in a moment. It boggles the mind how DC/WB could nay-say and cast shade at “the Marvel way” of doing movies, yet fall into the same pitfalls Marvel has been repeatedly called out on in many of their properties: poorly fleshed out villains and ‘horde mode’ minions. Couple this with poorly cut together scenes and jumps right out of a Sliders episode (that was 1995 kids) you almost feel bad for not remember she was the “big bad” and thought DC had crossed over with the Power Rangers universe because of all those grey putty monsters (1993, yes I am old)

To kick the hornet’s nest even further, lets start with Enchantress as we discuss poorly used characters in greater depth. Not only did her story arc fail to give the viewer any reason to invest in her, but the turn around of her needing her heart to live, then having it stabbed, then not dying because she consumed her brothers power (maybe?? who knows) only to have her heart then broken again AFTER an idiotic hand to hand fight scene which, I might add, was maybe the dumbest thing in the movie for a deity level character to do, when every other time she uses magic/power to remove and get things. The cherry on top of this disaster piece sundae? The woman possessed by the Enchantress spirit, whose name I cannot bother to look up, DIDN’T DIE! *throws a stack of blank paper in frustration* Also, as I pick up my papers, why the hell did she twitch about like a nurse from the Silent Hill movie . . . anyone?

suicide-squad top down

As to the rest of the cast it seems like they were merely background players, much like marines sans Rick Flag. I think my biggest disappointment with the rest of the crew was how they didn’t live up to their comic book adaptations. I was expecting Killer Croc to be significantly larger than the rest of the crew, as that is what the comic’s portray. Obviously not a giant, but he is a giant Croc-man and his body, strength, and hunger didn’t match up to what I wanted, also he didn’t eat as many people as I thought he would which also kinda sucked. Slipknot was. . . well we know he was going to die, so who cares. Rick Flag had an interesting role in the movie as a potential weakness to Enchantress and the actor portrayed him very well in my opinion, but much like his ‘back up’ Katana he didn’t get to really throw down like the comic’s version did. Speaking of Katana: what a wonderful waste of a character; be it the crying in the subway (seriously what the fuck guys) to the lack of  significant screen time in combat scenes, really does a disservice to the character; who only had a smattering of dialogue  We finally land on Captain Boomerang, the beer swilling Aussie who was about as useful in this movie as the downed helicopter’s. There was a single use of a tech boomerang, Jai Courtney was left with so little to do besides drink a few beer, hide a pink unicorn and cut up a couple of minions on the brief chance the camera was looking in his general direction. Out of all of the characters in the Suicide Squad his should have been one of prominence and flare, not mediocrity and sparse interaction.

A quick note should also be used for Viola Davis. I found her portrayal of the character pretty bang on, and while I think shooting her subordinates later on in the movie was a weak attempt at a “look how bad ass I am, don’t fuck with me” on the scripts part, I thought she knocked it out of the park every time she was on-screen.

The one final thing I want to talk about, and it’s on a high note as to get a bit of levity and positive feels back into this review, is the cgi for powers and combat scenes. I thought the power sets for Enchantress and her brother while mechanically stupid, looked pretty good; as was the effects for El Diablo, especially when he went all ‘hell mode’ near the end. While fairly uninspired fighting, for what was going on, the fights themselves were done with a solid eye on keeping our villains in the lime light. While this is by no means a perfect movie, and the latter half of this review seems negative, I will reiterate that I had a fun time watching this movie. The actors stepped up, even in the small roles, and we got to see the first entry into a team based movie from DC. This isn’t Guardians of the Galaxy. but if it does well, maybe we will see the Suicide Squad make an assault on  Arkham in their next outing.

suicide squad animated