(Hawk Eye, The (Burlington, IA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 03--"Destiny" available for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC on Sept. 9 for $59.99. Not yet rated.
Since betas are nothing more than glorified game demos, I don't usually cover them in this column. But it would be downright foolish to ignore the beta for the most expensive video game ever made.
Sporting a $500 million budget that dwarfs even the most expensive "Grand Theft Auto" game, "Destiny" has been getting the kind of hype normally reserved for high-profile sequels. Both Sony and Microsoft are banking on the game to define next generation consoles in a way previous titles have not.
I've been looking forward to "Destiny" in a nonchalant, "I'll play it when it comes out" kind of way, so I really didn't have any emotional connection to the product. The developers at Bungie have more than proved themselves with the "Halo" series, so I trusted it would be good.
I just didn't know it would be this good. There were a lot of games on my mind before I started playing the "Destiny" beta. Now, it's the only thing I can think about.
Though the beta test was initially exclusive to folks who pre-ordered the game (I'm not big on pre-ordering), it eventually became open to everyone with a game console and an Internet connection. I've never been one to turn down a free game preview, especially when there are no strings attached.
Readers should note that the beta ended a few days ago. If you didn't play it last week, you'll have to wait for the September release.
At its core, "Destiny" is a massive multiplayer online shooter, which isn't that unusual. But the small group mechanics and role-playing leveling system feels a lot like "Borderlands," while the aesthetic and space travel are very similar to "Mass Effect."
To be honest, I'm not sure how to classify "Destiny." You know a game's innovative when it's nearly impossible to pigeonhole it into a genre.
Trying to blend multiple genres into a game that appeals to everyone is a common mistake for game developers, but the disparate parts of "Destiny" come together so naturally that it feels like an entirely new genre. Your constant search for loot leads to a variety of missions that may start off as single player, only to have random strangers join you in a battle when their help is most needed. You can play all the missions with online friends, but I had just as much fun forging ahead in single player and letting the computer pick my short-lived comrades. No need to sit around in online lobbies all day hoping someone will join you.
Though the seamless match-making is exciting, it's the incredible graphics, tight controls, and reflex-oriented battles that really make "Destiny" feel next-gen. I feared my slow, rural Internet connection might hamper the frame rate, but I didn't even notice a hiccup. Not only is the best-looking game I've seen on a console (an honor that previously belonged to the PS4 exclusive "InFAMOUS: Second Son"), it's the best performing game I've ever played. The consistent frame rate allows you to weave through packs of enemies with ease, and the wide open ranges encourage distance attacks before closing in. Instantly switching between gunplay and melee-based magic attacks is incredibly satisfying, opening up the kind of strategy normally reserved for role-playing games.
"Destiny" still will have a lot to prove in its final form, but so far, it's the best gaming experience I've had this year. It's the kind of game I used to dream about as a kid, back when a game's box art was more exciting than the graphics on the screen. It took 20 years for technology to catch up to my imagination, but I'm glad the day has finally come.
I would never give a star rating to a game demo, but I am giving "Destiny" a hearty purchase recommendation. My initial plan was to play it safe and just rent the game, but that was before playing the beta.
Now I plan on pre-ordering "Destiny" and standing in line for the midnight release -- something I haven't done since "Grand Theft Auto V" was released last September.
"Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty!" available for download on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, PC and OS X for $29.99. Rated "T" for Teen.
I swear I don't fall for incredibly difficult games on purpose.
Unfortunately, innovative game play and hard-as-nails challenge are not mutually exclusive.
I was 17 when "Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee" was released for the Sony PlayStation, and at the time, I had never seen anything like it. A cinematic platformer/puzzler in the vein of classic games like "Out of this World" and "Flashback," "Oddworld" had something those games didn't -- a sense of humor.
While comedy could be considered a distinct genre in this modern age of indie games, back then, most games took themselves way too seriously.
In "Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty," the player takes control of an adorable alien by the name of Abe -- a Mudokon slave who cleans the floor at the Rupture Farms meat processing factory. When he discovers that he and his fellow Mudokons are to be slaughtered and turned into tasty meals ("Soylent Green"-style), he decides to escape and liberate as many enslaved Mudokons as he can.
Abe may be one of the weakest protagonists in the history of gaming, which means every test you come across is a matter of brains over brawn. Armed guards can make mince meat of Abe in a matter of seconds, and the only way around them is to set up elaborate traps.
Since many of those puzzles and traps have been changed and expanded upon since the original release, it's more accurate to call "Oddworld: New and Tasty" a re-imagining rather than a remake. The original 2D graphics have been updated to a 2.5D format that makes beautiful use of background and foreground art, and the overall face-lift makes this one of the prettier downloadable games to be released this year. The annoying difficulty also has been toned down, which is a big plus for lazy gamers like me.
Like any game of this ilk, the puzzle-solving can be frustrating, which is why the humor is so important. You'll spend most of the game escorting fellow Mudokons to various level exits, and their back-and-forth banter is often laugh-out-loud funny. Best described as a cross between Eeyore from "Winnie the Pooh" and a sad-faced Bassett hound, the Mudokons often wax on about their life of servitude in the saddest, cutest fashion imaginable.
Don't take them too lightly, though. Anytime you kill a guard, they all giggle in unison. They do the same thing when Abe farts, occasionally adding a "P-U" as reprimand. I saw the same jokes 17 years ago, but my wife was almost in tears with laughter. It's nice to see Abe entertaining of new generation of casual gamers.
Though "Oddworld" never transcends the genre to become a must-play for every gamer, it's still one of the best puzzle-platformers on the market. And if you're leery about spending $30 on an indie game, just try out the free demo.
Nostalgia can only take you so far, and "Oddworld" breaks beyond the retro typecast and forges into intriguing puzzle mechanics that will keep every gamer on their toes.
Three-and-a-half out of Four Stars
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