A year after release, BioShock Infinite is finally winding to a conclusion. With the downloadable expansion Burial at Sea — Episode 2, series sidekick Elizabeth finally takes the central role. Also fresh is BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma, the latest entry in the excellent under-the-radar fighter series, and a relaunch of the indie sensation Fez, which started off on Xbox 360 but now debuts on Sony’s systems. And if quirky Japanese RPGs are your thing, you can feast on Ragnarok Odyssey Ace or The Witch and the Hundred Knight.
Reviews by Phil Villarreal. Phil is an author, blogger and Twitterer. Publishers provided review copies.
Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea — Episode Two
(PS3, 360, Mature)
The downloadable story expansion comes as a bittersweet goodbye to one of 2013’s best games because developer Irrational Games laid off most of its staff in February, just after they put the finishing touches on the DLC. Having been stripped of her dimensional rift-tearing powers, previously A.I.-controlled Elizabeth is in control of the tale, leaving her dream life in Paris to descend into the dystopian abyss of Rapture, where she finds an impaled version of herself and unwraps layer upon layer of mysteries and conspiracies.
While it’s a jolt to move to an underpowered character after the trigger-happy antics of the main game and the first Burial at Sea episode, it’s a refreshing one. A mix of stealth and strategic combat combines with Irrational’s typically excellent storytelling to flesh out the series saga. There will surely be more BioShock games, but the glory days of the series have most likely come to an end.
BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma
(PS3, $50, Teen)
A subset of fighter fans swears by the intricate combos and flashy theatrics of the BlazBlue 2D fighter series, and Chrono Phantasma works efficiently not only to satisfy that smallish group but provide an entryway for newcomers. There’s a slate of 24 diverse, wacky characters to choose from, including the 19 base characters from the previous game and a few new additions, with a pair of downloadable characters on the way. Most have wildly different fighting styles, but all seem to be more or less balanced, judging from the way I got worked by almost everyone on the roster when I played online.
There’s a zany, impossible-to-follow story mode you can play through to get acquainted with the cast, as well as a classic arcade mode on which to hone your skills and nail the tricky specials. The real, brutal action takes place online, where people who really know what you’re doing will ruin you to the point where you question your manhood.
Deception IV: Blood Ties
(PS3, Vita, $60, Mature)
The devilishly clever action game has you dash through hallways, setting up sadistic traps such as swinging axes and falling maces to slay unwitting enemies. As tense as the game of lure-and-trap can get, there are also plenty of laughs to be had. Some traps, which make your enemies slip or stumble around, exist just to let you humiliate them for your sadistic pleasure before you off them.
The object is to not only survive, but do so in the most efficient and stylish ways possible, racking up high scores for elaborate and efficient takedowns. Online play is minimal, but you can upload your favorite trap combos and create and share your own missions. The purchase price comes with both the PS3 and Vita versions, and you can transfer save files between the two.
(PS4, PS3, Vita, $13, Everyone)
Two years after blowing minds on the Xbox 360, Phil Fish’s legendary garage-built puzzler — popularized in Indie Game: The Movie — finally makes its way to the Sony stable. A single purchase nets you the game — as well as share saves — on the PS4, PS4 and Vita, letting you guide the blocky hero through two-dimensional, 8 bit-style environments, which you can rotate to change perspectives and open up hidden or impossible-to-reach areas.
Spend any amount of time winding your way through Fez‘s brain-melting levels and you’ll appreciate the genius of the design. Stiffly challenging without plunging into frustration, the game is well-worth another play-through for PS4 owners who have put their Xbox 360 out to pasture. Those who haven’t played Fez yet are in for a treat worthy of sinking dozens of hours into.
Ragnarok Odyssey ACE
(PS3, Vita, $40, Everyone 10+)
ACE refreshes a 2012, Viking-themed Monster Hunter clone that focuses on leveling, upgrading equipment hunting down and slaughtering giant beasts. Controls, interface and character/weapon balance have all undergone serious overhauls, rendering the original game obsolete and making it seem as though this was the version the developers always intended. New bosses and features are there. And while the game isn’t exactly bursting with new content, there is a cool addition in the form of a roguelike tower that randomly generates dungeons
Although this ACE is far more user-friendly than the original, it still suffers from the dull grinding and general malaise that kept it mediocre. It’s also disappointing that ACE is sold separately on the PS3 and Vita, eschewing the cross buy promotion that makes the Vita worthwhile. At least the framework allows players on either system to hook up online.
The Witch and the Hundred Knight
(PS3, $50, Teen)
An anime-style RPG that works its tail off to be as weird and unique as possible, The Witch and the Hundred Knight lacks in execution what it packs in ambition. You play a grunt who does the bidding of a condescending, mean-spirited sorceress. You ravage villages, hunt down beasts and collect treasure for her, only to bear the brunt of dismissive, bitter verbal assaults from your master.
I found the mission design to be ambiguous and confounding, forcing me to hunt down walkthroughs in order to progress. Sometimes even those weren’t enough, and I had to stumble around and talk to the character or burn the building the game wanted me to do but wasn’t clear about telling me so. There are tons of stinging one-liners in the game, and the art is something to marvel at, but the gameplay tends to be a chore to get to the good stuff.