Monday, March 27, 2017

Mass Effect: Andromeda review


    Well, that was definitely a Mass Effect game.

    That's probably the best way to describe my experience with Andromeda, which is a game that I had mixed feelings going into. Like many fans of the series, I felt burned by the ending of Mass Effect 3. I wasn't one of the people who believed it was worth naming EA one of the worst companies in the world and it didn't kill my children or anything but it felt dissonant to have an uncertain ending when I'd put literally years of investment into my Shepard's relationships. I, really, felt like i was done with the series afterward and wasn't sure if I was ever going to look back.

Sara Ryder, commander of Krogan.
    Still, I had a lot of fun in the Mass Effect universe and was intrigued by the possibility of returning to it. Unfortunately, it felt like the newest game's premise was going to side-step the ending of the original trilogy rather than address it. Your character is a colonist in a cryo-ship which has made a six-hundred-year journey across the void between galaxies until they reached Andromeda. When you awake, the events of the original trilogy are long in the past and you are surrounded by favorites of the original series without the third game to "sully" it. At least, that's how I felt.

Salarian bureaucrats are awesome...and racist.
    Really, I have to stress the game isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination. It's a game I'm going to enjoy playing all fifty or so hours of content it provides and which gave me a satisfying, if slightly generic player experience. The characters were likable, if not especially memorable, and the graphics were lovely except for the faces. The gameplay was fun but mostly a return to its roots. This is a game which is fun and I highly recommend but it's also a game which is going to be perhaps a little disappointing if players were expecting something truly epic.

    The premise of the game, as mentioned, is you are Sarah (Fryda Wolff) or Scott Ryder (Tom Taylorson doing a Nolan North impression) and you're the son of Alec Ryder (Clancy Brown) who is the Pathfinder a.k.a Chief Scout for the Andromeda Initiative. The Andromeda Initiative, despite being amazingly well-equipped for a private enterprise, ends up hitting dark matter pockets and scatters across the Helius Cluster. Many of the Initiative's leaders are killed and you discover the worlds you were going to settle have all been rendered uninhabitable by six-hundred-year-old alien tech. Worse, a hostile alien race called the Kett take umbrage to your presence. You are forced to step up and become the new Pathfinder who will find a way to colonize this cluster despite the fact it's a post-apocalypse hellhole.

Yeah, the giant snake monster has no chance.
    Weirdly, this game feels like it's riffing from a bunch of other popular sci-fi video games. The Remnant's ruins feel very distinctly like the Forerunner ruins of Halo and the fact they're referred to as "Vaults" plus the fact much of the game takes place on desert scavenger worlds in a giant Mako-esque dune buggy evokes Borderlands. There's also the fact the Kett turn out to be what might charitably be called an "Evil Empire" which is opposed by a plucky resistance. Given the original Mass Effect trilogy was a fusion of Star Wars and Star Trek (which made it, effectively, Babylon Five), that's not surprising but the references are rather notable. The fact the majority of aliens you'll meet are ones from the Milky Way also feels somewhat cheap.

The Nexus is the center for your adventures.

    Despite this, I actually state I feel like the game succeeds in reminding me why I liked Mass Effect. Liam, Cora, Drack, Suvi, and the others don't have anything on Mass Effect 2's cast but they're all pleasant people I enjoyed hanging around with (as much as you can enjoy spending time with fictional people). They're sort of all blandly pleasant at worse (ala Kaiden and Ashley) and archetypically endearing at best. The romances feel a bit weak and I can't help but think fans will take them too personally. It strikes me Bioware may have been onto something just making everyone bisexual ala Dragon Age 2. Certainly, you just need to sacrifice realism sometimes for player enjoyment.

Cora is my favorite character in the game.
    Gameplay wise, the game plays like, well, Mass Effect. It's a shooter with RPG elements as well as a return of the Mako (in all but name). The only real complaint I have about it is the absence of the Renegade and Paragon system which was really something I loved. The Ryder twins feel a little more generic without their option to be outstandingly noble or ruthlessly psychotic. Still, the writing is crisp on that end too with both of the siblings having a Nathan Drake-esque adventurous spirit, awkward dorkiness, or a cool professionalism depending on how you want to play them.

    In conclusion, this is a fun game and I'm going to continue playing it until I've done just about everything but it's a very "safe" sort of game too. In terms of genre, I'd say this is the Star Wars: The Force Awakens of the franchise. There's a lot of the same beats of the original and very little risk taking but it washed a lot of the bad taste out of my mouth too.

8/10

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Agent G paperback released and The Science of Supervillainy pre-order available!

Hey folks,

I'm pleased to say AGENT G: INFILTRATOR is now available in paperback format and the ebook as well as audiobook version (narrated by Jeffrey Kafer) will be released on April 1st, 2017. I really love the cover to this book and everyone who has purchased a copy is enjoying the book so far. It's my hope Agent G will be one of my two on-going series along with the Supervillainy Saga.


“Black Technology has made murder a billion dollar industry.”

The International Refugee Society has twenty-six cybernetically enhanced “Letters,” and for the right price, they’ll eliminate anyone. They’ve given up their families and their memories for ten years of service with the promise of a life of luxury awaiting them.

Agent G is one of these “Letters,” but clues to his past are starting to emerge while he’s on a dangerous mission to infiltrate the Society’s most dangerous competitor. In the midst of all the violence, subterfuge, and deceit, he’ll need to keep his wits about him and trust sparingly.

After all if an organization will kill for money, what would they do to keep the truth hidden?


Speaking of the Supervillainy Saga, I'm pleased to say the SCIENCE OF SUPERVILLAINY is going to be available on April 15th! Best of all, it'll be the paperback, ebook, and auidobook copies as well.  You can now pre-order the Kindle version now!


Gary Karkofsky a.k.a Merciless: The Supervillain without MercyTM returns in the fourth volume of the popular Supervillainy Saga. Having discovered the world's greatest superhero slain by his doppelganger from another reality, Merciful: The Supervillain with MercyTM, and the arrogant President Omega, Gary dedicates himself to overthrowing both. 

Unfortunately, this is harder than it looks since Merciful has all of Gary's genre savviness while President Omega has the entire brainwashed United States military behind him. In the end, though, there can be only one ruler of the world and two of these three feuding villains will have to go. 

Pre-Order your copy of Agent G: Infiltrator today!

Purchase your copy of Agent G: Infiltrator's paperback today!

Pre-Order your copy of The Science of Supervillainy today!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Star Wars: Aftermath: Empire's End by Chuck Wendig review


    Chuck Wendig had a pretty hard road ahead of him when he took upon the Aftermath trilogy as he, essentially, had to replace the entire Star Wars Legends Expanded Universe by creating a history that replaced the 100+ books which chronicled the period from the Battle of Endor to when the Empire finally surrendered in Timothy Zahn's Visions of the Future.

    Wendig's task was somewhat mitigated by the fact that instead of a twenty-year guerilla war by the Empire's remnants, it's a much more sedate six months between the death of the Emperor to the Battle of Jaaku where the Imperials are defeated. Still, his three books received a good deal of criticism for their focus on new characters rather than Han, Luke, and Leia as well as minor interludes. Still, I was looking forward to how the book wrapped up the plots and what hints they'd give toward the rise of the First Order.

    The premise of the book is Gallius Rax, agent of the deceased Emperor, has successfully scuttled attempts by the New Republic and Empire to make a peace treaty. He has also withdrawn all of the Imperial fleet to the planet Jakku in hopes of setting up a massive conflict between the two sides. Grand Admiral Rae Sloane, stripped of her position, now hunts him with ex-Rebel Brentin Wexley. Huntin them both is Norra Wexley and her crew who believe Sloane masterminded Rax's terrorist attack on the New Republic Senate. Meanwhile, Mon Mothma fights an attempt by a rival Senator to seize her position after the attack makes her look weak. Eventually, they will all meet up at Jakku to decide the final fate of the galaxy.

    Ultimately, I think the book did a decent enough job of fulfilling its primary purpose in explaining how the Empire was brought to its knees. Gallius Rax has been suspected of running a con against his own troops for some time and the realization he's been working for Emperor Palpatine the entire time in order to initiate a "scorched Earth" policy similar to Hitler's is a neat bit of storytelling. It also fits that Palpatine would set things up that no one could inherit his throne save, perhaps, a Sith Lord like Darth Vader who would suspect such a thing. This truth is revealed early in the story and a pleasant surprise as I was of the mind Rax would turn out to be an agent of the still-mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke.

    I also like the examination of the trouble the New Republic is having in defining itself beyond being against the Galactic Empire. Mon Mothma is determined to make the Empire's existence almost incidental to them while her opponents believe destroying it is their primary concern. Honestly, I think Wendig is a bit harsh on the side which believes you can't build a new government until the old one is completely dismantled. Indeed, the ending to that plotline with Mothma's rival leaves a lot to be desired. I think the heroes' position also changes several times in order to accommodate whatever is convenient for the story and keep our sympathy. Ditto, the "villains" operating on Chandrilla.

    Of all the story arcs in the book, I have to say I liked Rae Sloane's the best. Mostly because it doesn't go in directions I expected. Continually, she's confronted with the Dark Side (*rimshot*) of the Empire only to try to make excuses like it was Gallius Rax's doing or that Palpatine was the real problem. It's interesting, also, to see how Imperial ideology has twisted her even when she's one of the more "sane" Imperials. Indeed, that sanity blinds her to the faults of other members of the organization. How it ultimately resolves leaves me thinking about her character in ways I don't normally with Imperials.

     I have to say I actually liked the character of Norra Wexley as a protagonist far more than I expected to since I considered her story somewhat boring in previous books. As the unwilling single mother with a teenage son turned guerilla fighter, she's a character who has had her own emotional journey throughout the story. Norra isn't a Jedi, determined to do the right thing, nor is she a bad person. It makes her story all the more personable. I even started liking her romance with Wedge Antilles, even noting that she's probably about fifteen years older than him. Which, hey, isn't a big deal. Love where you will.

     There's a couple of areas I didn't much care for: the aforementioned handling of Mon Mothma's rival (you, sir, are no Borsk Fey'lya) as well as the fact Wedge Antilles seems to be written as a midle-aged man versus a man barely older than Luke Skywalker. I also think Sinjir, a former Imperial interrogator, getting a position as high as he does at one point is straining credulity. Still, I overall liked everything in the book and enjoyed quite a few moments I wouldn't have expected to. For example, Jar-Jar Binks makes his first cameo in years and it actually fits as a final fate to the character. That, alone, was worth the price of purchase.

    In conclusion, I have to say this was a very entertaining book. It's not really a great substitute for the Legends Expanded Universe but it fulfills its purpose in saying, "So, what happened to the Empire after Endor." Gallius Rax was an excellent villain, Grand Admiral Sloane was well-written, and we got to see all of the arcs of the series' characters wrapped up. Could it have been better? Maybe. Maybe a series centered around Han, Luke, and Leia would have been better but I enjoyed this for what it was.

8.5/10

Friday, March 17, 2017

Resident Evil 5 review


    I actually completed Resident Evil 5 a while back and got caught up advertising my upcoming books (AGENT G: INFILTRATOR, THE SCIENCE OF SUPERVILLAINY) so I didn't get a chance to do up my review. As I've mentioned elsewhere, I'm basically going through all of the titles available on Xbox one-by-one and seeing how I enjoy them. I'm either going to play Resident Evil 6 or the original with Resident Evil 0 next, depending on what my mood is.

    Resident Evil 5 is a game which gets a lot of flack among hardcore fans while remaining one of the highest selling and critically acclaimed games of the series. The reason for this is pretty simple: it's an action game rather than a horror game. Yes, zombie-like creatures are present but they're no more threatening than any number of aliens or enemies you might slaughter en masse in another shooter. There's also the racism controversy which I'm going to address using elements from the excellent Unraveling Resident Evil essay collection.

Chris and Sheva slaughter a small nation for it's own good.
    The premise is Chris Redfield is a seasoned Biological Security Awareness Alliance (BSAA) agent who has been dispatched to Africa in order to investigate the possibility of terrorists getting access to Umbrella's former stock of biological weapons. Hooking up with local agent, Sheva Alamar, Chris finds himself way over his head as much of the Kijuju region has been converted into Plagas-infected Maijin.

    Slaughtering his way through the victims, Chris discovers another company has taken up where Umbrella left off and is allied with his oldest foe. To which, given this is a ten year old game, I gleefully point out is Albert Wesker. There's also a subplot about rescuing Jill Valentine that Chris thinks is dead but is actually brainwashed by the Big Bad. This would be a spoiler if not for the fact it's abundantly obvious she's the new villainness working for Wesker from the opening cutscene.

    This game has a lot of big Michael Bay-esque action set pieces in the game, turret sequences, and huge bosses which are taken from other games which are the opposite of survival horror. Indeed, provided you upgrade your weapon capacity properly, you won't even have to worry about ammo despite the fact the game store refuses to sell it. Heck, there's even an immersion-breaking option to replay levels over again to get access to treasure and special weapons you may need again (like the rocket launcher).

This guy seems familiar.
    Honestly, I had a really good time playing Resident Evil 5 and am torn between playing it over again versus moving on to the other games. It has the same gameplay as Resident Evil 4 but with the addition of a useful co-op partner who provides you fire support as well as healing items. Admittedly, I wish she'd been a tad more circumspect with using said healing items but that's the limits of A.I. I also enjoyed the turret sections, which I almost never do, because they gave a sense of catharsis after getting my ass kicked repeatedly.

    Storyline-wise, Resident Evil is about as good as Resident Evil 4, which is to say it works well as an over-the-top melodrama. Chris is tormented by his loss of Jill Valentine, Wesker has inexplicably become Ra's Al Ghul mixed with Agent Smith, and Sheva exists to play the plucky sexy sidekick to our antihero's quest for revenge. There's also some fun short-lived support characters with Irving being delightfully hate-able for as long as he's onscreen and Exella, a character I wish we'd seen more of as she could have been a good recurring enemy in the franchise.

Sheva continues RE's trend of ass-kicking fanservicey females.
    While there's some interesting set pieces in the game like the tanker level and marshlands, I'm going to say it feels SLIGHTLY less entertaining than Resident Evil 4 overall. Much of the game is set in Kijuju slums and laboratories that don't really feel as fun as the castle in Resident Evil 4 or decayed Spanish village.

    There were only a few times I really felt the claustrophobia for which the series was famous for and that was when I had to deal with an army of Lickers trying to invade both my elevator as well as a small building I'd tried (and failed) to fortify. The final part of the game takes place in an active volcano which is completely ridiculous but hilariously over-the-top in ways which blow the rest of the game out of the water, though.

I give an extra point to any game with a marsh boat.

    Now onto the controversial element of the game where it was accused of racism for the fact it is a white male American and his light-skinned (possibly mixed race) African partner fighting against hordes of black enemies. Hordes of black enemies which, mid-way through the game, suddenly include a somewhat caricature depiction of grass skirt and mask-wearing warriors who are the ancient guardians of a temple straight out of Indiana Jones.

    While culturally insensitive, the game always makes it clear these individuals are victims of the white-owned Tricell corporation and Wesker. Indeed, the most racist character in the game is Chris Redfield himself as he dismisses Kijuju as a haven for terrorists and ignores rescuing its citizens for Jill while his partner focuses on saving the world. Indeed, white corporate interests exploiting Africans for experimentation is a real-life horror perpetuated by several major US and European firms. Resident Evil 5 doesn't really touch on that since it's about as deep as your average James Bond movie crossed with the Evil Dead but it's nice to know it drew inspiration from real life events.

This is not what it looks like!
    The Xbox One version of the game comes equipped with all of the game's DLC, including Lost in Nightmares, which is a very effective short little horror game that could have been part of the main game, IMHO. Desperate Escape is more of a shoot-em-up with Jill Valentine and a new partner. There's also Mercenaries mode which isn't my cup of tea but something a lot of gamers absolutely adore. One thing which should be noted is that a number of alternate costumes and the DLC can only be unlocked by advancing in the main game.

    Gameplay-wise, the majority of the enemies you'll slaughter are all variants on the same Plagas-ridden locals. The re-use of the Chainsaw Man from Resident Evil 4 is particularly notable. Still, there's a few other variations on the Maijin and use of other enemies like dogs as well as Lickers to keep things Fresh. I also like the fact Wesker is a character who possesses moves wholly unlike any other character in the game. While giving him Matrix dodge powers is a bit on the nose, it works well.

Wesker with a woman? Impossible! All the fangirls will go mad!
    I think there's an abundance of quick-time events in this game but not so much that I was overwhelmed, unlike Resident Evil 6, and the puzzles are fairly decent. During the "hidden temple" section of the story, there were a number of mirrors which had to be angled just right to get the doors to open and I liked the brief cerebral challenge. The game also deserves credit for the amount of scene-chewing the villains do, which is deliciously over-the-top. Wesker, in particular, may have been reduced to a one-note comic book villain but it's a role his voice actor (DC Douglas) excels at. 

    A lot of die-hard RE fans will state that while they think Resident Evil 4 is where the series went off the rails (despite being an excellent game), Resident Evil 5 is where the seasonal rot set in that climaxed in Resident Evil 6. I disagree. Yes, there’s nothing remotely horrifying about this game save the Lost in Nightmares section and maybe the Lickers overwhelming you but that doesn’t mean it’s not awesome. I just accept Resident Evil is a flexible universe which can accommodate both action as well as survival horror. I mean, how many RE-themed shooters were done before this game? Quite a few of them.

These guys look familiar.
    In conclusion, Resident Evil 5 is a great game. It's not necessarily a great Resident Evil game, unless you associate the series with big action sequences. I had fun playing it all the way through and I gave it another playthrough afterward. The story is ridiculous, the characters underdeveloped (particularly Sheva), and the set pieces over-the-top but that doesn't detract from a lot of really good moments mixed with excellent action gameplay. So, if you keep your expectations appropriate then you'll have a great time with it.

9/10

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Assassins Creed (2016 movie) review


    Assassin's Creed is a series I have great fondness for. I love conspiracy theories and alternate history, which is what the franchise survives on. I love the idea of an Atlantis-like precursor culture that created humanity via genetic engineering, only to be overthrown by their slaves until a natural disaster wiped them out. I love the millennium-long war between the Knights Templar and the Assassins which predates the actual orders in history. I also love Michael Fassbender and was really looking forward to this movie.

    Unfortunately, the first mistake I believe this movie made was the same one which was made with the Resident Evil movies: stray too far from the games and you lose something. Basically, Michael Fassbender was originally supposed to be Desmond Miles (the protagonist of the games) but got re-envisioned as "Callum Lynch." It turns out, instead of an adaptation of the first Assassins Creed, we were going to have an adaptation of an entirely new set of characters which just happened to closely resemble the games.

The Suicide Squad-esque opening could have been shortened.
    I understand the need to change things up and compress: both Desmond Miles and Altair have distinct arcs spread across the original game that would be hard pressed to put into one single movie. You have Desmond's imprisonment by Abstergo Industries, the search for the Apple of Eden, and the larger story about how Altair is forced to learn what it means to be an Assassin after screwing up a mission. Still, I was disappointed and the fact so much of the movie tried to exposit through these details didn't help.

    The premise is Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) is a death row inmate who is "rescued" by Abstergo Industries/The Templars before being put in an Animus. His father Joseph (Brendon Gleeson) was a Assassin who murdered Callum's mother as a child for reasons unknown but seems to be related to his capture by the Templars. Callum is greeted by Sophia Rikkin (Marion Collitard) who informs him he's a descendant of an even older Assassin named Aguilar (Fassbender again) who hid the Apple of Eden during the Spanish Inquisition. Sticking Callum in the Animus, he relieves his ancestor's memories until he comes to the point where he must decide to side with Abstergo or his ancestors.

I like the new Animus at least.
    The movie's major flaw is it wants to deal with a lot of the exposition in the story without any real way of knowing how. It even has an opening placard, which doesn't really help the story much. Also, none of the characters really take a moment to react to the strangeness of the premise, which would have helped ground the story. This lack of economy of storytelling really weighs the story down. I mean, yes, Assassins Creed is a profoundly weird setting but you can sell even the most bizarre stuff if you have the right sort of actors--look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

    The movie also hurts from the fact the best sections of the film are clearly the ones actually set in the past which are filmed like they're straight out of the games. Aguilar doesn't get much in the way of personality or exposition but he manages to impress by the way he slaughters hundreds of Templars. We also get to see a real-life Leap of Faith that more or less justifies the movie's existence by itself (especially since it was done without CGI). Even so, with as many parts as the movie is juggling, there's still more elements added by the Animus sequences with a kidnapping plot of Spain's prince as well as the question of love vs. duty.

Unfortunately, Aguilar seems more interesting than Callum despite his limited screentime.
    Speaking of love vs. duty, the Assassins and Templars don't do either side much in the way of service with their presentation in the movies. The Assassins really do come across as a bunch of closed-minded fanatics even though the movie is entirely on their side. The Templars are on their usual crazy psychotic "world domination" patrol but Marion believes eliminating violence from humanity is worth the cost (unaware the cost is the goal). Again, I miss Ezio and Edward Kenway for the fact they had big personalities independent of their Assassin status.

     There's a good deal to like in this movie if you're a fan of the series. The cast needs to be commended as no one gives a bad performance. Jeremy Irons adds a stately presence to the movie and is the perfect Knight Templar Grandmaster/Corrupt Corporate Administrator. Marion Collitard does an excellent job as Sophia Rikkin, selling she really thinks altering human biology to remove free will is a good idea despite how horrifying it is. Fassbender also does an amazing job with his limited material, making me wonder how he would have done playing a character closer to Ezio. I also loved the production values and new Animus.

Some really great action sequences in the past.
    The movie has way too many moving parts from the game while adding more to provide character beats that don't have room to pay off. Callum Lynch hates his father for murdering his mother and being a closed-minded fanatic, Sophia dislikes the fact her father perverts her work for his own gain, and Aguilar never once mentions his father but wants to be with Maria who only cares about Assassin business. That's in addition to the quest for the Apple of Eden which is never adequately explained as being valuable but could have been if they'd had time. I actually wish this movie would get a sequel as some of these plots feel like they could have paid off if they'd had time to.

    In the end, I think the movie is okay but suffers from taking the material way too seriously while removing much of its energy. There's a distinct need for a Shaun-style character to lighten things up and give context to the setting. Marion Colitard is a great actress and beautiful but they should have gotten Kristen Bell to show up as she would have sold better the idea of the Templars not being all bad (except not). While I love the modern sections in the games, I also think this would have worked much better if 75% of the movie had been in the past and the present-day sections were the remaining 25% versus the reverse.

7/10

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

AGENT G: INFILTRATOR is available for Pre-Order!

 

    Hello my wonderful fans,

    I have great news that my science fiction assassin series, AGENT G, is now available for Pre-Order from Amazon.com. We've got a lot of faith in this story and we'll be doing a simultaneous release on Audible, Kindle, Kindle Unlimited, and in paperback form for those who want to check it out. Jeffrey Kafer will, once more, be doing the voice work for my series and I can tell you it's probably his best work yet.

    What is Agent G about? Well, let's share it's blurb.

“Black Technology has made murder a billion dollar industry.”

The International Refugee Society has twenty-six cybernetically enhanced “Letters,” and for the right price, they’ll eliminate anyone. They’ve given up their families and their memories for ten years of service with the promise of a life of luxury awaiting them.

Agent G is one of these “Letters,” but clues to his past are starting to emerge while he’s on a dangerous mission to infiltrate the Society’s most dangerous competitor. In the midst of all the violence, subterfuge, and deceit, he’ll need to keep his wits about him and trust sparingly.

After all if an organization will kill for money, what would they do to keep the truth hidden?


    The Agent G series is set in a pre-cyberpunk world in the far off future of 2018. The world is full of dueling spies, assassins, and mercenaries who are all for sale to the highest bidder. These groups have access to Black Technology which allows them to test and use it for their employers but comes with the cost of a ticking clock until it all comes out in the open.

    Eventually, the world is going to change in this series and transition to the kind of cyberpunk dystopia found in stories like Ghost in the Shell and Deus Ex. The question is whether G will manage to survive it and protect those few people he cares about. Also, whether he deserves to be able to. Expect to see the sequel story, Agent G: Infiltrator in June. Yes, only two months from the first novel's release!

    Pick up your pre-order today!

Deus Ex: A Criminal Past review


    This is going to be a bittersweet review since A Criminal Past is probably going to be the last Deus Ex game in this continuity and almost certainly the last game starring Adam Jensen. For those of us who were hoping for a third game as an appropriate send off to the second most famous cyborg from Detroit, A Criminal Past is a disappointment but it's still a solid game addition worth playing.

    Those who wanted a resolution to all of the outstanding Deus Ex plots covered in the main game like the Illuminati, Juggernaut Collective, and Augmented Rights will be disappointed. This DLC is an independent story set in a maximum security prison. Adam Jensen has been assigned by Task Force 29 to infiltrate an Augs only Federal penitentiary called "The Penthouse."

Who will you befriend? Who will you antagonize?
    There's a rumored terrorist attack occurring against the United States and they need to make contact with an undercover operative who can confirm or deny the truth. Adam soon finds himself neck deep in a conflict between the corrupt prison guards and the riot-minded inmates who are ready to tear the prison apart. Interestingly, all of this is told via a conversation with underdeveloped Task Force-29 psychologist Delara Auzenne.

    As indicated by my above description, this is an entirely self-contained plot which doesn't forward the main plot of the games in any real way. It expands on the character of Doctor Auzenne but she was a minor character to begin with who the "shocking revelation" about the at the end of the main game provided almost no shock value for. Players didn't really have an attachment to her but this does do a lot of setting up for her in a future project which will, sadly, never come to pass. Still, as a self-contained plot it's pretty damned good as I've mentioned and now I'll explain why that's the case.

    The big appeal of A Criminal Past is it really puts Adam in a hostile and unpredictable situation. While I complained about Adam missing his Augmentations in System Rift and Desperate Measures, it makes perfect sense here since all prisoners are afflicted with a virus to keep them from making use of their superpowers-granting cybernetics. The fact there's multiple treatments for Adam's condition spread throughout the prison is a major boon.

This is a really nice prison.
    A Criminal Past also has a colorful cast of characters, too, which is good after the somewhat dull collection in the main game. In addition to the corrupt Warden Stenger and sketchy undercover agent you're contacting, there's also the too-smooth Flossy who is running the prison after the death of its previous boss. There is the autistic Fixer, who seems harmless but is somehow working with every faction in the Penthouse. Figuring out which of these characters is on the level, which can be trusted, and which are irredeemable forms a majority of the plot.

    The prison is full of security devices to hack, power-armored soldiers, and heavily armed forces who have the potential to tear you apart. Moving slowly and carefully through the prison may not be enough for some players with the question of killing your enemies a severe one. I was actually tempted to turn the drones on the guards despite being a nominal pacifist due to how many times I'd been killed trying to complete the DLC. Much like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Doctor Auzenne corrects you every time you die since that can't be right as you're telling her the story in her office.

Things kind of go sideways for the Penthouse. Really.
     A Criminal Past isn't a very long story and I completed it in about four and a half hours but it was an entertaining one with a decent length. I suspect it could have been as long as six hours if I'd spent more time exploring. Speed runners might actually get it done in a much shorter time period with some having managed to solve it in around two hours but that's ignoring the sidequest objectives as well as just ploughing through all of the threats Adam Jensen faces.

    One small bit of irony to this DLC is that it makes it clear the Penthouse is run by the state of Arizona and is neither a corporate-run or federal prison. I found this amusing since so many prisons are run by corporations in real-life and you'd think they'd be even more so in charge of the penal system in a cyberpunk dystopia. Still, I appreciated the fact the villains were small-time criminals and corrupt officials versus the Illuminati this time around (albeit, it's implied they're involved somehow--because of course they are).
Poor Adam is way out of this depth this time.

    There's a few places I think the game could have benefited from changes. I think the character of D-Town could have been used as an actual boss fight rather than a one-off meaningless encounter. I also believe we should have found out why the Illuminati were interested in this case to begin with since it's not like we're ever going to see them brought to task in the main series. There are also a few places where there's only the option to shoot out your enemies that I think could have been handled with a bit more subtlety.

    Overall, I really enjoyed A Criminal Past and if it's not the high point of the franchise which Adam's missions should go out on, it's certainly a solid piece of characterization, gameplay, and writing.

9/10