Video Game Reviews – Geekshow Your hub for geek related podcasts. Home of GeekiNtertainment, The BuffCast, Two Geeks, True Believers, MeteorGEEK!, and the AngelCast. Fri, 08 Jul 2016 05:00:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 DC Universe Online Beta Review Wed, 01 Dec 2010 16:55:03 +0000 A listener had a chance to check out the beta for Sony’s DC Comics based MMORPG and took the time to let us know what they thought of it. Read their extensive review after the break.

Considering they’re breaking their NDA to tell us anything about the game our source must remain confidential, but thanks to them for their review anyway! Here’s what they thought:

Alright first off I’ll take you through the character creation fine
points of the game, some is a little disappointing but for the most
part I’d put it more then City of Heroes, less then champions online.
I’ll explain, first step is your server, we have a choice between two
PvE servers and a PVP. After this step you get the cinematic trailer
they release a while ago, after the battle is over and it cuts to Lex
talking to sups, bats, and wonder woman. He releases the “exobytes” he
stole from Braniac that he had gathered from all the fallen heroes in
the future. Now on to the character creation portion of our story lol.
Male or female, for this i’m going to go male, no differences except
in looks of course. From here we get Large, Medium, and Small, body
type. Large would be normal Bane before Juicing up, still huge and
bulky but not outrageous, medium is every Joe shmo super hero and
villain, and small is Robin size. After you pick your size you get a
choice, Custom designed, or Inspired by, if you pick inspired by you
get a choice of Batman, Superman, Catwoman, Lex Luthor, The Joker, The
Flash, Wonder Woman, Deathstroke, Bane, Circe,Beast Boy, Mister
Freeze, Green Arrow, Steel, or Martian Manhunter. This is your costume
design, and your allegiance step if you don’t change it in your
character sheet before you finish. For fun i’ll list off the the
custom steps

Step 1
Hero or Villain

Step 2

Step 3
Mentor(the guy giving you alot of your orders and steering the
direction of your gameplay.
Hero Side
Wonder Woman
Villain Side
The Joker
Lex Luthor

Step 4
You select your Power

Step 5
Movement Type

Step 6
Pick your Weapon
Dual Pistols
Dual Wield
Hand Blast
Martial Arts
Two Handed

After this your brought to your summary step(Final Character sheet
where can change anything,including you costume design, I won’t list
everything about the costumes because there is a lot to choose from,
I’ll say the categories you can change, Helmet, Face, Emblem, Shirt,
Back Slot, Hands,Waist,Pants, Feet. Once you are Happy click next on
your character sheet and put your name in and hit Start.
You start out disoriented on a Braniac Hive ship, if your a
Hero, Oracle will begin talking you through who has to happen to get
you off the ship, if your a villain, its Calculator. I won’t ruin
anything more about this part, other then tell you its basically your
training area where you learn basic controls.
Once off the hive ship, once again if a Hero, you end up in a
police station, and if your a Villain, a night club. You get your
missions from your mentor busting in over your coms, or from
Oracle/Calculator, or any other random hero or villain that decides
they need you and some point. You’ll either pick some up like quests
in any other MMO, exclamation point over a head, or the mission will
come in over the coms.
As you level you get Power Points, or you will get Skill
Points. Power points go toward that power you picked, so I’ll give you
the break down of the Sorcery tree because its what I have in front of
me at the moment, I’m not going to describe every little power, I’ll
just say think Diablo 2 still tree, or World of Warcraft, or basically
any RPG with a tree system. For Sorcery there is a Destiny Tree and a
summoning tree, and the destiny tree is more spells oriented, where
the summoning three is more geared toward a few pets that follow you
around, one that is a damage dealer and one you can tell to heal you,
but both you have to tell what to do all the time, as far as I can
tell there is no automatic. At level 9 or 10, can’t remember you get
your upgrade to your movement type, I’ve only tried Flight and
Super-speed, not sure on the Acrobatics, basically for your movement
speed you push F on the keyboard for it to be turned on, and then when
you want your locked “supermovment” you hold number lock,(all keys can
be remapped). its basically just your main movement power only you
triple the speed. My favorite thing to do with super speed, and
unfortunetly might be a bug, is to run up a large building and just as
im about to crest the top, jump, and all the forward upward momentum
gets channeled into the jump and you end up jumping what feels like a
2 or 3 blocks. Also at level 9 or 10 you get access to the Iconic
Powers tree, Heat Vision, and “Non-Venom growth”, and batterang, to
name a few.
On to skill points, these get put into your Weapon tree or your
Movement tree. Your weapons tree are basically the combos you can
preform through combinations of mouse clicks and mouse button holds.
Your movement tree consists of things like tornado if your a
speedster, where you pull your enemies to you grounding them
On to the Gear gathered in game. You will get equipment it will
be better but look ridiculous on you, unlike other games this is not a
problem because of two things, one you can say no I don’t want this to
change the way I look and two because you have the ability to go back
over all the different styles of looks on everything and mix and match
how ever you please. This in my opinion is awesome.
PvP, in open world is just like free pvp in any other game. If
you are on a PvP server, and you see somebody this opposite you, Hero
vs Villain you can hit him and he can hit you, and if you are level 8
and he is level 30 it is going to hurt…
The arenas are a blast, I’ve done a 5 man on Gorilla Island, it
was a blast. I haven’t been able to do to many of the PVP things
because there is never anyone on when I am on.

These are the basics I can think of got any questions that might make
it easier for me then writing a book like I just did, and sorry for
grammer/spelling slash horrible writing, just got off a 9 hour shift
and about to crash.
All and all my verdict on the game is I’m having a blast, I’ve played
through to level 20 on a hero and now I’m at level 18 on my villain.
It is way more fun then Champions Online was to me.

DC Universe Online will be released in 2011.

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Review – Red Faction: Guerrilla (Xbox 360/PS3) Thu, 23 Jul 2009 03:05:31 +0000 Would you like to blow stuff up and smash things with a sledgehammer? Yes? Then Red Faction: Guerrilla is tailor-made for you.

Alec Mason has come to Mars looking to start his life over. All he wants to do is meet up with his brother and work hard. Unfortunately for Alec, things don’t go exactly as planned, and he quickly finds himself caught up in events when his brother is shot by the Earth Defense Force (EDF), the ruling government on the planet. It turns out that Alec’s brother was involved with the Red Faction, a band of colonists fighting to disrupt the EDF’s control of the red planet. Left with little to no choice, Alec becomes the newest member of the Red Faction.

Red Faction: Guerrilla - Explosion 2

The objective of Red Faction: Guerrilla is to free several different sectors of the Martian colony from EDF control. This is done by completing several different types of available missions. All of the main story missions must be finished before completely ousting the EDF from an area, but their control must be sufficiently lowered before the final story mission of any given sector becomes unlocked. Colonist morale in a sector is also affected by Alec’s actions. Different types of missions will either cause morale to go up, EDF control to go down, or a combination of the two. When the morale of the citizens is raised high enough, they will join you in firefights and supply crates will contain more ammunition.

The currency system that is used in Red Faction: Guerrilla is salvage. Certain missions have a salvage reward for completing them, but most of Alec’s money is gained by destroying EDF property. After causing a ton of mayhem by blowing up vehicles and knocking down buildings, it literally pays to run around and pick up all the pieces of junk that are left lying around. Collect enough salvage, and Alec will be able to purchase better weapons that allow him to cause more destruction, in turn letting him collect enough parts to buy even better weapons. This cyclical system works very well, and it makes a lot of sense within Red Faction’s story as well.

So what kind of weapons can Alec expect to use against the EDF and bothersome walls that stand in his way? Well, he begins the game with a simple sledgehammer and some remote detonators. While these two things may not sound very exciting, they are actually two of the most fun weapons to use in the entire game. The sledgehammer is especially entertaining as it can smash through almost everything you come across. Need a quick exit from a building? Smash a hole in the wall. Pesky soldier getting in your way? Knock him aside. The remote mines are also really versatile, especially when combined with explosive barrels or fuel tanks. Despite the many different weapons collected while freeing Mars, I always found myself returning to these two basics.

That isn’t to say that the other weapons in the game are horrible. Nothing could be further from the truth. Thermobaric rockets are a particular standout due to their huge destructive potential. Hit a medium-sized building with one of these, and half of it will instantly be vaporized in the resulting explosion. The nano rifle is equally effective against real estate and personnel. Its rounds contain a swarm of nanobots that disintegrate just about anything they touch. Among the other weapons are a gun that shoots saw blades, an arc welder that can electrocute people (even those inside vehicles), and an assault rifle with heat-seeking bullets. Alec’s explosive arsenal offers a lot of choice in how to go about tackling missions.

Red Faction: Guerrilla - Mayhem

The physics in Red Faction are what makes the game special. There are no canned animations here. Buildings collapse, walls break apart, and fuel tanks explode in a realistic manner. Seeing a large tower collapse under its own weight after you have taken out it’s supports never gets old, and it never happens the same way twice. Taking the time to set up an elaborate chain reaction, blasting away with a rocket launcher, or smashing walls with Alec’s sledgehammer are equally viable ways of destroying a target. Of course, it can be just as much fun taking out a building with a dump truck.

Apart from the main missions, there are several types of side missions to choose from. All important EDF structures are marked on your map, practically asking to be destroyed ASAP. Specially marked vehicles need to be driven back to different safe houses. Kidnapped colonists require extraction from EDF hands. Faction members want help in assaulting EDF bases. Attacks by the EDF need to be repelled. Supply convoys need to be hit and traitorous informers need to be tracked down and dealt with. The variety of mission types offers many options in how to deal with the EDF, keeping the game interesting throughout.

Red Faction: Guerrilla also features different things to search for while traveling around Mars. Hidden radio messages from deceased colonists can be found. Every few messages that you find will reveal the location of a large bomb that can be attached to a vehicle. Hundreds of crystal ore deposits are scattered throughout the Martian landscape that provide a small amount of salvage when smashed with a hammer. Finally, several dozen billboards of EDF propaganda can be discovered and destroyed.

As if all of this wasn’t enough, Red Faction: Guerrilla also includes robust multiplayer modes. Wrecking Crew is a local “pass the controller” mode in which players take turns trying to cause the most amount of damage in a limited time frame. There are many different online multiplayer modes to take advantage of as well. Even traditional deathmatch games take on a slightly different flavor when you find yourself in a collapsing building with chunks of the ceiling falling all around you. Destruction is the name of the game in other modes, such as Siege in which the goal is to destroy the opposing team’s buildings within a time limit while they try to defend it. When the time runs out, the teams switch around and you will find yourself defending your own structures. Adding to the replayability of Red Faction’s multiplayer is an experience system that unlocks new characters and uniforms to play with as you gain levels.

Red Faction: Guerrilla - Safehouse

Red Faction: Guerrilla is an open-world game done right. It offers a lot of freedom to play the way you want to, and there is enough variety to keep things from ever getting boring. Enough cannot be said about the physics system that allows every structure to explode, implode, teeter, and collapse in a realistic fashion. A lot of fun can be had in finding different ways to convert buildings into rubble. The single-player campaign offers enough to be a complete game by itself, so the well-constructed multiplayer components are the extremely tasty icing on a scrumptious cake.

Finale Grade: A-

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Review – The Conduit (Wii) Wed, 08 Jul 2009 01:37:34 +0000 High Voltage Software has been hyping their new game, The Conduit, as the title that will make “hardcore” gamers dust off their Wii and give them a reason to play the system again. Should you grab a dust rag or continue using your Wii remotes as paper weights?

The Conduit tells the story of Michael Ford, a secret agent of some type working in Washington, D.C. when the city comes down with a slight case of alien invasion. It isn’t long before Ford is swept up in the events, taking you along for the ride. Conspiracies are unmasked, allegiances are betrayed, and the capitol is turned into a shooting ground.

The Conduit - Aiming Pistol

The presentation of the story doesn’t do it any favors. Most of the plot is revealed through scrolling text (accompanied by cheesy voiceover) between missions and radio communications in-game. This simplified way of presenting the story makes it hard to connect with the characters and what happens to them. Most likely, you won’t really care why you have to shoot everything that moves, you just will. The game also features the All Seeing Eye (A.S.E.), a device that basically reveals invisible things such as hidden messages on the walls and explosive mines. The potential of the device is pretty much wasted, and you will rarely find that you need to bother with using it.

While the story behind the single-player is fairly generic and lackluster (feeling somewhat like a Perfect Dark clone), The Conduit is still fun to play thanks to the excellent control scheme. If you have ever played Metroid Prime 3, you’ll have an idea of how the controls in The Conduit are set up. The pointer function of the Wii remote is used to aim your weapons, and Agent Ford’s movement is mapped to the nunchuk. Firing is as easy as pulling the B-trigger, making shooting intuitive and fun. Be warned however, that you will most likely have to tweak the controls to find something that feels perfect. Luckily, just about anything you can think of (and some things you probably didn’t) can be adjusted to your heart’s content. Things like pointer sensitivity, dead zone, turn speed, and whether you turn when the pointer is off-screen can all be tweaked until they are “just right”.

Once you have the controls exactly how you want them, it will take about 6-8 hours to play through the single-player campaign. Once you’ve finished it, there is little incentive to play through it again, despite the existence of hidden messages and data disks to find. The story isn’t compelling enough to entice a second go-around. The plot is wafer thin, even for a shooter. Just about the time that things start to get interesting story-wise and you think the game is about to crank it into high gear, the main campaign abruptly ends shortly after it began, leaving things wide open for a sequel.

If the single-player campaign were all that The Conduit had to offer, it would be pretty disappointing. The game also includes the option of online multiplayer that does a lot towards making the overall package a worthwhile one. The Conduit makes the most out of Nintendo’s online setup, despite the system’s inherent flaws and difficulties. In fact, The Conduit has many features that are found on FPS games on other systems. You will still need to enter friend codes if you want to play with people you know, but the matchmaking system in place makes it really easy to jump into a game with random players, up to twelve total.

The Conduit - Soldiers

Each of the three main game types (deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture the flag) has several different variations available to play. Every player is given the opportunity to vote on game type, map, and weapon set in the game lobby before each match. Once the votes are tallied, the mayhem begins. Personally, I had the most fun with the Explosive weapons set on a level called Streets. The map is a small one, making the action very chaotic and fast seeing as how everyone is armed with rocket launchers. The available options seem pretty standard when compared to shooters available on other systems, but it’s nice to see these things on the Wii.

On a technical level, what High Voltage has been able to achieve with The Conduit is rather impressive. The game features many advanced graphical effects and techniques not commonly found in a Wii game, including bump mapping and animated textures. Unfortunately, all these effects are wasted on generic corridors and bland characters. Most of the time, the art design for the game is severely lacking in originality. There are a few moments that rise above the mediocrity of the rest of the game. Unsurprisingly, each and every one of these moments happens when The Conduit briefly lets the player outside of the generic offices and hallways and into the great outdoors.

The Conduit may be on par with Metroid Prime 3 (or even slightly better) in the controls department, but High Voltage could learn a thing or fifty from Retro Studios about level design. All of the Metroid Prime games have a great sense of “place”, really pulling you into the world. Every nook and cranny looks unique, something that isn’t the case for The Conduit. High Voltage’s world often feels copy/pasted. There were several times during the campaign that I went through a set of corridors, went around a corner, and got a huge sense of deja vu when the new area looked exactly the same as the one I had just left.

Despite its flaws, The Conduit still manages to be quite a bit of fun to play. It’s too bad that the customizable controls, graphical technology, and robust online multiplayer modes get bogged down by the poor story and bland art direction. Future Wii shooters should take note of the technical things The Conduit does right and incorporate them into a game with more creativity in the visual department.

Final Grade – B-

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Review – Prototype (XBox 360/PS3) Wed, 24 Jun 2009 02:35:57 +0000 It’s not every day that you wake up on the coroner’s table, interrupting your own autopsy. For most people, that would be a strange occurrence, but it’s only the beginning for Alex Mercer.

In Prototype, you play as a character that wakes up on an autopsy table with no memory of how he got there. Alex Mercer has been infected with a strange virus that has the side effect of giving him a ton of super powers. Alex is a little upset about his new condition, especially since the military seems to be out to kill him, so he sets out to find those responsible for infecting him and the outbreak that is taking over Manhattan.

Prototype - Claws

Prototype is the latest in the run of open-world games to hit store shelves recently. Like most sandbox games, Prototype aspires to offer the player a lot of freedom in how to play the game, and it succeeds for the most part. Prototype offers several things to do on the side as well as a healthy helping of core story missions to complete.

The game begins on the eighteenth day of the city’s infection. Alex Mercer has a fully upgraded set of powers, letting you get a taste of the things to come before the narrative flashes back to the beginning of the infection. Even though Alex only has a few powers available after this, the game is very generous with upgrades, both in quality and quantity. The full list of Alex’s powers is massive, with so many combo moves and abilities that you will be hard-pressed to remember them all in the thick of battle. However, the game lets you upgrade as you wish by spending “evolution points” on whatever powers you would like, provided you have enough EP to do so. Doing just about anything will net you points to spend, so you will rarely find yourself on the poor end of the gene pool. Destroying infected water towers is a particularly good way to quickly earn large amounts of EP.

Arguably, the thing that Prototype does the best is freedom of movement. From the beginning, Alex can easily run up the sides of buildings, run at high speeds, jump long distances, and fall from great heights without penalty. It isn’t very long before the Glide and Air Dash powers are unlocked, allowing Alex to soar great distances between rooftops. Once all of Alex’s movement abilities are unlocked, traveling from one side of Manhattan to the other is a joy. It is so much fun that hijacking helicopters or tanks just to get around becomes almost pointless, despite the fact that helicopters are technically the fastest way to get around. However, hijacking vehicles for extra firepower is another story.

As the infection spreads through the city, the military is working to suppress it. This back and forth struggle is represented by different zones that pop up around Manhattan. Red zones are overrun with the virus, often housing an infected building called a hive at the center of the zone. Military bases are found in the center of blue zones throughout the city. Despite the large number of powers available to Alex, he will need a lot more firepower if he wants to take down a military base or an infected hive. This is where hijacking tanks and helicopters comes in handy.

Prototype - Whipfist

So how does a super-powered amnesiac learn to fly a helicopter? The answer is Alex’s absorption ability. The virus running through Alex’s system gives him the ability to rewrite his DNA to the point that he can “absorb” anyone he runs into and take on their form, sort of like a deadly human copy machine. Alex gains the memories and skills of everyone he absorbs, allowing him to pilot helicopters and handle various military weapons. This ability also ties into Prototype’s Web of Intrigue feature. While the game has several hidden orbs to find (in the same vein as Crackdown), the Web of Intrigue is a much more compelling collection-based activity. Basically, there are several different people scattered about Manhattan with knowledge of the outbreak. Each time Alex absorbs one of these people, he unlocks another piece of the puzzle about what is really going on. Finding these people is completely optional, but not doing so means you will miss out on a lot of the game’s narrative. The main storyline is very well done and completely understandable on its own, but the Web of Intrigue provides a lot more plot details utilizing an interesting piecemeal presentation. It gives the feeling that you are piecing things together just like the main character.

At first, Prototype doesn’t seem all that impressive visually. However, whatever it lacks in textures and polygons, it makes up for in numbers. At any one time, you can find yourself in a fight with several helicopters, a few tanks, squads of soldiers, and hordes of the infected all at once. Prototype is able to throw a ton of enemies your way and fill the screen with mayhem with very few hiccups to be found. When you are fending off several infected hunters while running up a wall to elbow drop a tank or kick a helicopter out of the sky, you won’t be thinking about anything as mundane as a blurry texture.

Another thing I should mention is that Prototype is out to paint the town….in red. Blood and severed body parts flow freely when Alex Mercer is around. There is nothing to stop you from carving crowds of people into bloody chunks, whether they are enemies or not. If innocent civilians get in the way, Alex won’t think twice about chopping them in half to get to his intended target. Prototype is tailor made for those who prefer games that revel in causing epic amounts of gory mayhem without any apologies.

Prototype is far from a perfect game. There are only a few different character models for the military, making large groups look like clones. Enemy AI seems to be unimpressed when somebody drops into the middle of the street from several stories up or runs along a wall, yet they freak out when you pick up a random person on the street by the collar. Computer-controlled helicopters will sometimes run into the side of a building inexplicably. Absorbing a base commander in full view of all the soldiers will raise the alarms, but coming back a minute later wearing that same commander’s form as a disguise doesn’t raise any suspicions. The difficulty of certain missions suddenly jumps up to a much harder level than those immediately previous to them. There are a ton of little nitpicks like this that I could bring up, but none of these things got in the way of having fun for me.

Prototype - Tank2

Despite all of its flaws, Prototype still manages to create a large sandbox that is a lot of fun to play in. Tossing cars about, slicing tanks apart with a giant blade for an arm, and unleashing a barrage of tentacles on your enemies never gets old. Prototype is a perfect example of a game that is more than the sum of its parts.

Final Grade: B


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Review – Plants vs Zombies (PC/Mac) Wed, 27 May 2009 03:36:10 +0000 There are zombies on your lawn. What are you gonna do about it? Set out some plants, of course!

Those pesky zombies are at it again. They’re shuffling across your yard, intent on eating your brains. Luckily, nobody hates zombies more than the plants around your house. They’ve taken it upon themselves to protect your home from an endless assault of the undead.

PopCap is the undisputed king of addictive casual games. Bejeweled has been cloned more times than you can count, and other games such as Peggle and Zuma are free-time vampires. Plants vs Zombies is a fairly simple concept on the surface, but the title also has more depth than you might expect at first glance.

Plants vs Zombies - Yard

Plants vs Zombies is an example of a tower-defense game where you place a bunch of offensive and defensive “towers” in a limited area in order to defend your base from an onslaught of enemies of differing types. Each variety of plant has a different skill to bring to the strategic drawing board, but nothing comes for free. Each plant has an associated cost for placing it on your lawn, measured in “sunshine”. You have to continuously gather enough sun to pay for all the flora you wish to plant. In addition to the initial purchase cost, each type of plant has a set recharge time before you can place another one. In general, cheaper plants recharge much faster than more powerful, expensive plants. Your yard is divided into a grid with a limited number of spaces in which to place plants. The zombies will shuffle towards your house in one of five different lanes, and your plants will only attack zombies within their range, which usually means they must occupy the same lane.

Tower defense games are all about finding the balance between different types of defenses in order to repel differing enemies. Plants vs Zombies offers up a fairly large roster of pesky zombies to defend against. Apart from the generic type, there are zombies with bolstered defense, zombies with extra speed, zombies with excess strength, and zombies with a host of other special traits. As large as the roster of zombies is, it still pales in comparison to the list of plants that becomes available over the course of the game. There are more than enough kinds of plants to defend against every type of zombie, day or night. Some plants can only be used during the day, while others, such as mushrooms, are nocturnal.

So how can a bunch of plants stop all those zombies from entering your house and eating your brains?

Sunflowers are used to generate sunshine, which also randomly falls from the sky during the day. If you don’t take the time to gather all the sun that you can, you won’t be able to build enough defenses. You start out with a basic arsenal including Wall-nuts to stop the zombies in their tracks and Peashooters to take them down. Over time, the number of available plants becomes rather large, and you must choose which of them you will take into battle for each level. My personal favorite plant type is the Kernel-Pult that lobs kernels of corn and slabs of butter.

The zombie horde has several tricks to try and make it across your lawn. Normal zombies merely shuffle forwards, but other types are a little more devious. Pole Vaulting Zombie can jump over the first plant he comes to, and Newspaper Zombie gets really angry and charges across the yard when you destroy his paper. The Dancing Zombie, which resembles a certain pop star, is my favorite.

If this were all that Plants vs Zombies had to offer, it would be a pretty solid game. However PopCap has stuffed this thing to the gills with a goofy sense of humor and more extras than you could shake a severed limb at. Each character in the game has a cartoony feel from the way they look to the way they move. Guiding you through the game periodically is Crazy Dave who wears a pan on his head and speaks in garbled grunts (helpfully translated into speech balloons on-screen). As you encounter different plants and zombies in the game, they are added to an almanac that lists strengths, special moves, and an often hilarious brief description. There is also a shop where you can buy new plants types and a few other defenses. You also unlock a “Zen Garden” where you can grow several plants that earn you rewards when they reach maturity. Apart from the regular Adventure mode, Plants vs Zombies also includes several fun mini-games including Wall-Nut Bowling and a Slot Machine mode in which you must use a slot machine to win different types of plants to defend your lawn. Additionally, there are several puzzle modes such as one where you play things from the side of the zombies trying to fight your way through a group of plants (actually cardboard cutouts so no actual plants are harmed). Finally, you will unlock the Survival mode which ups the ante a bit, making things much more difficult for your spirited band of plants.

Plants vs Zombies - Zombies Ate Your Brain

Plants vs Zombies is a deceptive little title. It sneaks by your defenses with a cute presentation and goofy charm. You start out by putting down a few waves of shuffling zombies, and you start to think that this might be an easy encounter to win. Soon enough the game gets its hooks into you, and you’ll find yourself neck deep in a horde of zombies with tons of flaming peas flying through the air and snorkeling zombies swimming under your defenses, muttering curses under your breath as the zombies eat yet another one of your precious plants. It’s only then that you’ll realize hours have passed you by in the blink of an eye and too many utterances of the phrase “just one more”. Plants vs Zombies wears the guise of a “casual” game, but it has just as much depth, polish, content, and thoughtful strategy as any “hardcore” game. Perhaps the term “casual-core” should be invented, if it hasn’t been already.

Overall Grade: A-

And now a reminder from the NPA (Neighborhood Plant Association):
There’s a zombie on your lawn…

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Review – Bully: Scholarship Edition (XBox 360/Wii/PC) Wed, 06 May 2009 03:28:36 +0000 Rockstar Games is most famous for making the Grand Theft Auto series, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make other games. With Bully, Rockstar leaves the world of GTA behind in favor of one with wedgies, swirlies, and “kick me” signs. In addition to overhauling the graphics engine, the Scholarship Edition of Bully adds several extra missions, a few extra classes, and some other minor tweaks to the original PS2 game.

Bullworth Academy is home to snobby rich kids, oppressive teachers, and more bullies than you can shake a stick at. Enter Jimmy Hopkins, a rebellious teen who has been kicked out of several different schools in the past. He is dropped off at Bullworth by his mother and his brand new stepfather on the way to their honeymoon cruise (that just happens to last an entire year). Jimmy is soon working towards taking over the school in between going to (or skipping) class and getting on the principal’s bad side.

Bully - Chemistry

There are two classes every day at Bullworth, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Classes cycle through every few days, so you won’t be slogging through the same English class every single day. Of course, you can decide to skip classes entirely, but it will have several consequences. First, the school prefects will try to bust Jimmy if they find him being truant. Get caught, and you’ll be sent straight to the class you were supposed to be attending. This isn’t as big of a deal once the gates of the school open up, allowing you access to town. The cops there will also bust you, but there are a lot more places to hide outside Bullworth Academy’s walls.

The second consequence to skipping out is missing out on key skills that are learned during class. Gym class will teach you additional fighting moves, and Shop class unlocks better bicycles for you to ride around town. Each type of class is passed by completing different types of mini-games. English consists of a word scramble game, Chemistry has you pressing buttons to mix chemicals together, and Gym class will either be a wrestling match or dodgeball. Most of the things earned by completing classes have tangible benefits during the rest of the game.

When Jimmy isn’t attending class, he’ll probably be completing some sort of task for somebody else. It seems like he is a magnet for people that want something. New tasks are always popping up, some of which progress the story, and some of which are optional missions that net you some cash. There is a nice mix of things that Jimmy ends up doing, like sneaking into the girl’s dorm, escorting nerds across campus, collecting miscellaneous items, and pulling various pranks, among other things. Every mission is fairly short, so the game rarely gets frustrating due to failed tasks.

Bullworth feels like a living place due in large part to the interesting and humorous characters that populate the school. In fact, each character is so memorable that you will quickly begin to recognize the different students roaming around the campus. Bullworth is far from a realistic place with everyone falling somewhere between caricature and satire. For example, you will meet a fat nerd named Algernon who’s pants are always unzipped, the ultra grungy lunch lady who chain smokes and spits in the food, and the perpetually drunk English teacher.

Bully - Nerds 3

The school is divided into several cliques that each have their own hangouts. Depending on your actions, the respect that each group has for you will go up and down, causing them them to become more hostile towards you if their respect goes down. During your time at Bullworth, you will encounter the Bullies, Preppies, Jocks, Nerds, Greasers, and Townies. Teachers fall into their own group, but each one has tendencies for one group or another, such as the coach falling in with the jocks.

Another unofficial group at Bullworth are the girls. Pulling pranks on guys is frowned upon, but harassing girls will instantly get the prefects after you. So if you’re planning on throwing a stink bomb into the middle of a crowd, it might be a good idea to make sure there aren’t any girls in the group. Jimmy is quite the ladies man on campus, and there is a tangible benefit to kissing as many girls that you can. After completing some Art classes, kissing girls will give you a health bonus, something that is a major help if you get into any big fights against multiple opponents. The more art classes that you complete, the bigger your health bonus. Of course you must get the girls to like you before they will even think about kissing you. If you’re not careful, you might just get a kick in the crotch for your trouble.

You might expect to find fisticuffs in a game called Bully, and you’d be right. Jimmy has several different fighting moves to help him deal with the more antagonistic citizens of Bullworth. More moves are unlocked through gym class, but if you want to unlock the really good moves, you’ll have to talk to the homeless vet that lives near the school. In exchange for transistor radio parts, the hobo will teach you secret moves he claims to have learned in the military. In addition to his fists and feet, Jimmy will acquire many different weapons throughout the game including a trusty slingshot. Many are classics used for pranks such as eggs, stink bombs, marbles, itching powder, and firecrackers. You will also come across some more powerful projectile weapons later in the game that pack more of a punch than your slingshot, however they lack the infinite ammo that makes your slingshot a “go to” weapon. Jimmy can also temporarily pick up disposable weapons such as baseball bats, trash can lids, and wooden planks.

Bully - Carnival

So what if you just want to tool around town instead of going to classes or doing things for people? There are plenty of options in town to keep you busy. Simply riding around on your skateboard or bicycle is fun in its own right. You can also visit the several different stores in town to procure new clothes, a new haircut, or even a new tattoo. The Preppies have a boxing club in town where you can spar against several opponents. You can also find your way into the local carnival to play several different games including a shooting range and a dunk tank. The carnival also has a go-kart track with several different races to beat.

If you want to do all these things, you’ll need copious amounts of spending money. Certain missions will net you some cash, but there are also a few different jobs in town that are also a good way to make money. You can start a paper route or mow the grass in the park. Eventually, several bike races show up around town that are a good way to earn money while having a bit of fun at the same time. Bullworth also has a ton of collectibles to track down including rubber bands, “Grottos & Gremlins” trading cards, and smashable garden gnomes.

Now with all these different things to do, you might think that the quality of each activity might not be up to snuff, but you’d be wrong. Each task, job, and mini-game is well-polished and fun to play. I tip my hat to Rockstar for making a ton of disparate parts come together into a cohesive whole where everything feels like it belongs with everything else.

As a kid, almost everything has the potential to feel like an adventure, and Bully does a great job of capturing this vibe. A large contributor to this feeling is the excellent use of music in the game. In particular, the music that plays when you are riding your bicycle around captures the spirit of running off on random escapades. Additionally, different “chase” music will play depending on what clique is trying to run you down. Bully’s score also helps to set the somewhat tongue-in-cheek tone of the game. The world containing Bullworth Academy isn’t to be taken very seriously, and the music definitely fits within the humorous atmosphere.

Bully - Principal Crabblesnitch

Bully overcomes some of the inherent problems with sandbox-style games by providing a more focused experience in a world that isn’t quite as sprawling as some open-world games. The world is big enough to feel pretty open, but it is also small enough that you won’t be getting lost and it doesn’t take forever to get to your next objective. The game gives you enough freedom to play it like you want to, and there is enough variety in the missions that you’ll never get stuck doing something you don’t like for very long. Pretty soon you’ll be back on your skateboard, causing mayhem, and having a ton of fun.

Overall Grade: B+

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Review – World of Goo (WiiWare/PC) Wed, 29 Apr 2009 02:32:02 +0000 World of Goo oozes wit and charm from every pore. The game’s imaginative puzzles, rousing music, excellent sound design, and a unique art style all add up into an experience that should not be missed. 2DBoy’s World of Goo is much more than just another puzzle game.

Each level in World of Goo requires you to move a certain number of goo balls across the level into a suction pipe. Initially, getting to the pipe is as simple as building a tower made of the goo balls to reach it. However, the puzzles become much more involved after the first few levels are solved. Building bridges and towers soon becomes second nature, and figuring out the best way to reach the end of each stage is a lot of fun. The levels are grouped into five different chapters, each corresponding to a season of the year, beginning with summer. The art style evolves with each chapter, giving each set of levels a unique visual identity.

World of Goo - Balls

You’ll be seeing a lot of the basic type of goo. These little, blobby fellows wander around until you use them, preferring to crawl around goo structures. Each piece of goo can be attached to your structure one at a time, but cannot be removed once they have been added. The structures that you build have their own weight and other physical properties that can make things a bit more difficult at times. Being able to build stable structures quickly is the name of the game here. There will be many times that you can save yourself from death with a few quick additions to your contraption before it topples over the edge of a cliff or collapses on itself. The goo balls are also very charming and cute, due in large part to the excellent sound design. They will squeak, scream, and let out many a “Yippee” as you guide them through levels.

While the normal goo is plentiful, they have more than few different friends. There are many unique types of goo out there including balloons, explosive goo, green goo that can be attached and detached at will, and even drool. Each of them have different physical properties that you’ll have to take advantage of to reach the level exits.

Now if you think you know exactly what to expect from World of Goo, you are probably only somewhat correct in your assumptions. Just when you think you have a handle on things, the game throws a new monkey wrench into the works. Whether it’s a new type of goo ball or a different kind of level, World of Goo does a great job of continually mixing things up and keeping you on your toes. The pacing is excellently done, keeping things interesting throughout playing the game and remaining innovative while it does so. The game keeps pulling out the surprises until the very last level is finished.

The storytelling in World of Goo is another high point. “What’s that,” you ask, “This puzzle game actually has a plot?” It most certainly does. The story is fairly simple, but it is told in interesting ways. There are a few cutscenes in between chapters, but most of the story is found in the levels themselves. Each level has at least one sign left behind by the mysterious Sign Painter. Each one has a short message that slowly reveals the plot as you play through the game. Also, the design of each level is also integrated into the story. In essence, you are actually playing out the story as you rescue the goo balls. The writing in the game is very smart. Some of the messages left by the Sign Painter had me laughing out loud at their dry wit. There is more character and personality in these messages than some games give their main characters that you can actually see.

World of Goo - Froggy

Another large part of World of Goo’s unique identity comes from the excellent soundtrack. The music in the game ranges from epic tracks to smaller, introspective ones. The main theme is reminiscent of something from a Tim Burton movie, but other tracks have different feels to them. The best thing about the soundtrack is that despite having a large variety, everything still fits into a cohesive whole that is great to just listen to. In fact, there were a few times that I booted up the game just to listen to the music. Thankfully 2DBoy has made it much easier to listen to World of Goo’s music by making the soundtrack available on their website for free.

World of Goo also features a few small extras if you want to keep playing after finishing all the levels. Each level also has a set of more difficult secondary goals to complete in order to earn an OCD flag. This sometimes means you need to get more goo balls to the exit or complete the level in a super-fast time. Earning these flags can be very hard, so you’ll be spending a lot of time perfecting your goo-building techniques if you want to get every one. Additionally, the balls of goo that you rescue from each level find their way into the World of Goo Corporation. You can then use the goo to build a tower, trying to get as high as you can. As you build it, scores from other players will appear, motivating you to try to add that little extra bit of height to your tower. The more goo that you rescue in the normal levels, the more goo that you have available to build your tower at the World of Goo Corporation.

World of Goo is all the more impressive when you consider that it was created by only a couple of guys. It wasn’t made by a huge team of programmers and artists, and yet it has more polish and flair than a lot of its larger cousins. World of Goo is innovative, unique, and definitely worth playing.

Overall Grade: A



Review – Chronicles of Riddick: Assault On Dark Athena (Xbox 360/PS3/PC) Wed, 22 Apr 2009 03:31:24 +0000 Richard B. Riddick is the universe’s biggest badass and a perfect example of an antihero. Both a revamp of Escape From Butcher Bay and an entirely new adventure, Assault On Dark Athena has a lot to offer for those who want to strap on Riddick’s cool shades, lurk in the darkness, and knock off a bunch of bad guys.

Even if Starbreeze Studios had merely decided to re-release Escape From Butcher Bay with a high definition graphical upgrade, it would have been worth it. Riddick’s first video game adventure is perhaps the best adaptation from a movie license ever made. It tells the story of Riddick’s incarceration in the prison colony of Butcher Bay and the subsequent events that lead to his escape. Inside, Riddick meets several colorful characters and stirs up enough mayhem to cause the establishment to have a very bad day. Vin Diesel provides the gravely voice of Riddick for the game, and Cole Hauser also makes an appearance, reprising the role of Johns from Pitch Black.

Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena - Abbott

Fortunately Starbreeze decided to continue the story of Riddick after his escape from the prison colony by creating a brand new adventure. Soon after leaving Butcher Bay, Riddick’s small vessel is boarded by a group of renegade mercenaries from a ship called the Dark Athena. Riddick is able to sneak aboard and find out that the leader of the mercenaries, Captain Revas (voiced by Michelle Forbes), is an old enemy. There is a bit more going on in the depths of the Dark Athena than is first apparent, revolving around the Borg-like drones that patrol the ship. Riddick must prowl the vessel and fight his way through the mercenaries to once again make his escape.

Riddick may be a badass, but the tank top he wears doesn’t provide much protection from bullets. Therefore, it is usually best to stick to the shadows and take your enemies by surprise. The game uses a combination of regenerating health and health bars that must be restored by medical stations. Once you start taking damage, you can regenerate it fully if you take cover and stand still, but once you lose a square of health, it can only be fixed by using any of the NanoMed stations found throughout Butcher Bay and the Dark Athena. Lose all of your health squares, and it’s lights out for Riddick. Gunfire can quickly tear you apart if you’re not careful.

There are several times during both adventures that you will find yourself face-to-face with an enemy armed only with your fists or a small shiv. For most, this would be a cause to panic, but as Riddick, these are moments to relish. The melee combat in Escape From Butcher Bay is still just as good this time around the block. In fact, I would be hard-pressed to think of any other game that throws you into a fist fight in the first-person perspective any better. Recently, Mirror’s Edge attempted first-person hand-to-hand maneuvers, but the five-year-old system from Butcher Bay is much more immersive and satisfying than anything Mirror’s Edge was able to accomplish when it comes to fisticuffs. The system works well enough to remain unaltered in the Dark Athena section of the game.

When in a fist fight, you have several options to help defeat your opponent. Holding the left trigger will cause Riddick to raise his arms into a defensive blocking position while pulling the right trigger will initiate a swing at your opponent. Riddick can throw quick jabs, uppercuts, and powerful crosses, determined by the position of the left control stick when you pull the trigger. Good timing also comes into play when countering enemy attacks. Push the button at the right time, and Riddick will perform a devastating counter move such as grabbing his opponent’s arm and punching them repeatedly in the face. Completely wearing an opponent down will also result in a final blow that is always brutal and satisfying to pull off. Every fight is to the death, so you’d better be prepared to deal out some punishment. This system works similarly when you have a weapon in hand, providing options for several types of slashes, stabs, and swings.

Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena - Riddick With Ulaks

While there are several opportunities for staged fights, the melee combat also comes into play when you are being stealthy. Creeping up behind an enemy unaware of your presence will allow you to perform a stealth kill. These are just as devastating as the counter moves in a straight up fight. The tamest by far is merely snapping an enemy’s neck with your bare hands, but why would you want to do that when you can attack with a variety of melee weapons? Each weapons has an assortment of kill animations associated with it, so dispatching enemies from behind never gets old. The most brutal of the melee weapons are the curved ulak blades found in the Dark Athena section of the game (also seen in the Chronicles of Riddick movie). The ulaks are particularly effective because you have one for each hand, as opposed to a single combat knife or club. Unfortunately there is no tea cup.

Now if you want to get the drop on your enemies (sometimes literally), you’ll have to stick to the shadows. Make no mistake, a majority of the game is spent in areas drenched in pitch black darkness. Partway through Butcher Bay, Riddick recieves his eye shine ability that lets him see in the dark. Eye shine brightens even the darkest corner, but stare at a light and you’ll be blinded. Enemy weapons are equipped with flashlights, so you aren’t completely safe in the shadows, especially when they find you and shine their lights in your face. Luckily you are able to toggle eye shine at will. I like to think of it as pulling Riddick’s shades on and off.

“What’s with all this sneaking around?” you may ask. “When do I get to shoot somebody already?” Assault On Dark Athena is technically a first-person shooter, so don’t worry, you’ll have a wealth of opportunities to fling bullets at your enemies utilizing several different weapons. You’ll find everything you’d expect in a shooter like an assault rifle, sub-machine gun, shotgun, and a pistol. You can even find a sniper rifle if you search off the beaten path a little bit. Personally, my favorite weapon is the stun gun with infinite ammo. Shocking an enemy allows you to run up for a close-quarters kill, and it is insanely useful for blowing out lights.

On a somewhat related note, wouldn’t it be useful to hijack one of those mechs that have been hassling you the entire game? I bet that would be an insane amount of fun! I will only say that Starbreeze has you covered and leave it at that.

When you aren’t sneaking around or shooting some guards, you’ll be interacting with other characters. Prisoners in Butcher Bay have things they want Riddick to do for them, and doing so will earn you small rewards such as getting your hands on a shiv. Some requests are required to move the story forward, and some are completely optional. The Dark Athena also houses several characters for Riddick to interact with.

Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena - Jaylor

Every character that you encounter in the game is very well realized, brought to life by good animation and excellent voice acting. Even the minor characters are interesting to talk to, and everyone feels completely different. Several of these characters will stick with you despite showing up for a limited amount of time. The main characters are just as well done with Michelle Forbes’ Captain Revas being a particular standout. Of course Vin Diesel’s portrayal of Riddick is the cornerstone of the performances, and he does not disappoint. His dry delivery of Riddick’s dialogue is a treat to hear, making you wish he would talk more often.

The graphics in the game are also especially impressive. Butcher Bay’s hi-def upgrade helps it to stand up to the graphical quality level of more recent games with only some lip-synching problems and a few blurry textures giving it away. The level design is still great, making the prison feel like a real place. The Dark Athena segment looks just a little bit better, even fixing most of the lip-synch problems in the process. The environments may be dark, but that doesn’t mean they look drab or boring. The lighting in the game is done very well, effectively setting mood and tension. When you finally escape from Butcher Bay to see a beautiful red sunset, it feels like a relief after all the dark passageways of the prison.

Assault On Dark Athena also adds multiplayer modes into the equation, something not included in the original release. All of your requisite modes are here including deathmatch and capture the flag. There are also a couple modes that put a slight spin on things such as the Pitch Black mode that has a bunch of mercenaries trying to track down Riddick in the dark. All of the modes are fairly fun to play, but you won’t be finding anything special here. It is pretty much a throwaway feature that is kind of nice to have, but you won’t be missing anything if you skip it.

The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault On Dark Athena is a great game. It is very immersive, has an interesting story to tell, and makes sneaking around in the dark a blast. The revamped Escape From Butcher Bay segment is well worth the price by itself, especially if you have never played it before. The new Dark Athena section is an extremely solid continuation of the story, picking things up right where Butcher Bay left off. The multiplayer modes seem almost like an afterthought, but their inclusion doesn’t hurt anything in the least. If you like playing a game that makes you feel like a badass, then Assault On Dark Athena should be right up your alley.

Final Grade: A-

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Review – Bioshock (Xbox 360/PS3/PC) Wed, 08 Apr 2009 03:54:15 +0000 One glance makes it readily apparent that Bioshock is a game steeped in atmosphere. From the opening sequence, the game pulls you into the environment until you are fully immersed in the underwater world of Rapture, in both the literal and figurative sense.

You start in a plane over the mid-Atlantic, smoking a cigarette and gazing at a gift in your hands. As the Bioshock logo fills the screen, you hear the sounds of your plane crashing into the ocean. After the logo disappears, you find yourself underwater and swim to the surface as debris from the wreck sinks past. It is at this point that you take control of your character, swimming through the burning wreckage to find a set of steps leading out of the water to a tall lighthouse in the middle of the ocean. Making your way inside, you discover more stairs that take you down to a small submarine. Activating the submarine takes you back below the surface, and after viewing a short tourism video from an individual named Andrew Ryan about his vision of a perfect society where “the great would not be contained by the small”, you arrive at the underwater city of Rapture.

Bioshock - Altruism Banner

It turns out that Rapture isn’t quite the utopia promised in Andrew Ryan’s video during your ride down from the surface. There are very few normal humans left in the city after it was ravaged during a failed revolution. Most of the people are dead, and those that aren’t have lost their minds. The populace of Rapture became a little too enthralled with commercialized genetic modifications, going insane after one too many “splices”. A man going by the name of Atlas contacts you soon after arriving in Rapture, telling you that he is trying to escape with his family. Unfortunately, he has been cut off from them, and he asks for your help. In order to do that, you’ll have to fight through the many enemies lurking in the dark of Rapture, including Andrew Ryan himself.

Bioshock could be described as a first-person shooter, survival horror, role-playing game. Most of the gameplay involves finding and shooting your enemies, but there are also several character attributes that can be improved over the course of the game, similar to any RPG. The dark setting and creepy atmosphere also invoke many of the same feelings found in a survival horror game. This blend of attributes comes together in a unique recipe that is a lot of fun to play.

Prowling in the shadows are several varieties of Splicers, the insane former citizens of Rapture. You will run up against a large number of these general enemies during your stay at the bottom of the ocean. Some will shoot at you while others will simply try to bash your head in. Splicers usually aren’t much of a threat individually, but you can quickly find yourself in trouble when attacked by a large mob of them. There is also a security system set up in Rapture to help keep you on your toes. You will find that a fair number of automated gun turrets just happen to be in your way, and setting off an alarm (usually via a security camera) will bring a swarm of flying bots after you. By far, the most imposing of the enemies waiting for you in Rapture are the Big Daddies, lumbering hulks in deep-sea diving suits. And just like the Incredible Hulk, you wouldn’t like them when they’re angry.

If you want to survive your trip to Rapture and make it back to the surface, then you’ll have to take advantage of the genetic modifications that drove most of the city insane. These come in two different forms, Plasmids and Gene Tonics. Gene Tonics are passive upgrades to your character’s abilities that don’t require any “ammo” to use. Tonics can affect many different things including your movement speed, resistance to damage, and engineering abilities. Plasmids are “active” upgrades that do require ammo to use, in this case a blue substance called EVE. When you use up all your available EVE, you must “reload” by injecting yourself with more of the substance using a syringe. Most Plasmids are used as offensive weapons, including such abilities as Electroshock and Incinerate. Only a small number of Tonics and Plasmids can be equipped at a time, although this number can be upgraded throughout the game.

So how do you go about acquiring all these upgrades? While you will find a few tonics lying about, most of your upgrades must be purchased from a Gather’s Garden vending machine. However, these machines don’t take money. That would be too easy. No, the currency of choice for these machines is the raw genetic material known as ADAM in the Bioshock universe. Unfortunately, you can’t just go out and find ADAM for yourself. The only place to find this valuable substance is within the bodies of the Little Sisters. These little girls wander around Rapture, harvesting ADAM from the dead. In turn, you must find a Little Sister and harvest all the ADAM from her body, killing her in the process, or you can take just enough to free her from the grip it has on her mind.

Bioshock - Big Daddy

Oh yeah…did I mention that each and every Little Sister is guarded by a Big Daddy? When you happen upon this unusual pair, they will go about their business, leaving you alone. The rumbling brute only attacks when provoked or when his small companion is in danger. If you wish, you can choose to leave them be, but sooner or later you will have to come face to face with the Big Daddies in order to get the precious ADAM from the Little Sisters. Unlucky for you, each Big Daddy is a force to be reckoned with, packing an effective arsenal of weapons, not the least of which is the giant drill on one arm. Their diving suits also function as very effective armor, so it’s going to take a lot of firepower (and perhaps a little bit of planning) to take one down. On the plus side, if you are killed, you’ll be able to pick up the fight where you left off once you are resurrected by one of Rapture’s plentiful Vita-Chamber devices.

Remember those engineering abilities I brought up before? These skills will help you take advantage of the many mechanical devices lying about Rapture. Just about any turret, vending machine, health station, locked safe, or security camera can be hacked, making the machines work for you. In order to do so, you must bypass their circuits by completing a hacking mini-game reminiscent of Pipe Dream. You must swap differently shaped pipe pieces on a grid in order to redirect to flow of water to the exit on the other side. Some machines are harder to hack than others, placing alarm and short circuit tiles in your way and increasing the flow speed of the water. You can also utilize special machines to invent new ammo types, hacking tools, and even a few gene tonics. Additionally, several “Power to the People” machines are hidden throughout Rapture that allow you to upgrade the capabilities of your weapons.

Bioshock’s unique setting is the game’s strongest asset. Rapture feels like a once thriving place that has fallen into disarray. The art deco visual style and underwater location combine to create something completely different than all the shooters set in WWII or sci-fi environments. The water-drenched graphics are absolutely gorgeous. I often found myself exploring every nook and cranny just to look at all the well-crafted objects I could find. Bioshock also features some of the best water I have ever seen in a video game. All of the water in the game looks great whether it is lying in a pool on the ground or bursting through the cracks in a glass porthole.

As much as the visuals contribute to the look and feel of Rapture, it is the excellent sound design and eerie soundtrack that create most of Bioshock’s moody atmosphere. The sound effects are excellent across the board from the dripping water noises to the powerful thuds of the Big Daddy footsteps. The voice acting from the main cast is very well done, as are all the one-liners from the Splicers and the many audiotape diary entries lying around that help to fill out the back story and world of Rapture from before you arrived. Bioshock’s music also goes a long way towards creating mood and emotion throughout the game. The soundtrack is tense and creepy when it needs to be, sentimental in spots, and rousing and exciting when the action kicks into high gear. I particularly enjoyed all the jukeboxes and record players around Rapture that were still playing jazzy Big Band tunes as they helped to cement the picture in my head of what the city would have been like in its prime.

Bioshock - Plasmiquick

Bioshock is not the kind of game that comes around every day. Compelling gameplay elements, a unique setting, top-notch level design, gorgeous graphics, and an excellent soundscape all came together to create an atmospheric adventure that is a blast to experience. While I felt the overall story wasn’t quite as successful as it could have been, it is still several steps ahead of what is usually offered in most other shooters. If you are late to the Bioshock party like I was, don’t hesitate to take the journey to Rapture. You’ll be glad you did.

Overall Grade: A-

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Review – Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (DS) Wed, 01 Apr 2009 01:52:40 +0000 Hotel Dusk is what you get when you put a mystery novel, stylized pencil sketches, and the Nintendo DS into a blender. The game features a great story, complex characters, and puzzles that take advantage of the unique control options of the DS.

The first thing you will notice about Hotel Dusk that sets it apart is the sideways screen orientation. The game requires you to hold the DS on its side like a book, helping to create the interactive novel aesthetic the game is reaching for. For the most part Hotel Dusk is very successful in this respect. In fact, the game has enough nuance and story layers woven throughout its narrative that it could easily be adapted into an actual novel.

Hotel Dusk - Opening

Hotel Dusk begins with a series of flashbacks. The game’s protagonist, Kyle Hyde, remembers an unfortunate incident with his former partner on the NYPD, Brian Bradley. Kyle found out that his partner had betrayed the department, and he was forced to shoot Bradley at the city docks. Bradley fell into the water and was presumed dead. As time passes, Kyle begins to suspect that Bradley isn’t quite as dead as he previously thought, a theory seemingly confirmed when Kyle receives a phone call from his former partner one day. Distraught over the incident, Kyle left the police force and started working as a traveling salesman for the Red Crown company, mostly as an excuse to search for Bradley.

Years later, Kyle is sent to a place called Hotel Dusk by his boss at Red Crown. He is told to check in and pick up a package at the front desk. On the way there, Kyle catches a glimpse of a mysterious girl standing alongside the road. She later shows up at the hotel after Kyle has checked in, and figuring out who she is is just one of the mysteries that are waiting for Kyle Hyde in the halls of Hotel Dusk. Kyle soon meets several interesting characters (including an unexpected old acquaintance) and eventually unravels the many different connections between them all.

Is Bradley really still alive? Who is the person that used Kyle’s name to check into the Hotel Dusk a few weeks before Kyle himself actually arrived? Does room 215 really grant wishes to its occupants? Its your job to find the answers to the many questions brought up throughout the game, and the various threads come together in the end, just like any good mystery novel.

If you don’t like to read, Hotel Dusk is probably not for you. As you might have guessed by now, there is a heavy amount of text to be found in Hotel Dusk. A large portion of the gameplay involves talking to different people and asking questions to find out information. You even have a notepad to write notes on, taking full advantage of the touch screen. You’d better write neatly if you want to read them later on! There are also a ton of item descriptions for just about every object you might come across.

Walking around the hotel is accomplished by dragging a character symbol around an overhead map of whatever room you happen to be in. The other screen shows a 3D view of the room as you move. Whenever you move next to an interactive part of the environment or another character, an icon will light up, allowing you to take a closer look at things or engage in conversation. When looking around, the 3D view switches over to the touch screen, allowing you to click on things that you wish to look at. Some items will only give you a text description of the object such as “Hey, there’s a mini-fridge under the TV. How’s that for class?”. Other items will zoom in to a closer view for further interaction.

Hotel Dusk Iris

When in conversation, the person you are talking to shows up on the touch screen, and Kyle is displayed on the other screen. Each character is shown in a pencil sketch style that is constantly shifting, even when the characters aren’t moving. As a conversation goes on, you can see how each character reacts to what is said. As you communicate, different dialogue prompts appear to push the conversation forward. If someone says something that Kyle wants to pursue further, a yellow hand icon shows up. You can choose to ignore this prompt, but it is usually well worth your time to try an pry as much information out of everyone that you can. Touching this prompt causes Kyle to say “Hold it!” and follow up on a character’s previous statement. Once a conversation has reached its ending point, you have the opportunity to ask any questions Kyle has thought of throughout talking to the person or from previous conversations with other characters. Sometimes you can even show an item from your inventory to a character to find out what they think of it.

Every so often, you will come across a puzzle to solve. Most of the time these puzzles are pretty straight-forward and take advantage of the unique features of the DS. Early in the game you use the touch screen to literally put a jigsaw puzzle together by dragging and rotating the pieces around. Most of the puzzles use the touch screen, but other features of the DS, including the microphone, aren’t ignored. A few puzzles left me stumped for a while, but once I figured out the proper solution, it almost seemed like it was staring me in the face the whole time.

Forward progress in the game is measured in chapters, just like a book. Each chapter encompasses a certain period of time during Kyle’s one night stay at the hotel. Each chapter usually ends with a conversation or event that is important to the storyline. Before a chapter can end, Kyle goes over the important information, turning it over in his head. This takes the form of a quiz where you must choose the proper answers before moving on. These segments aren’t very long, featuring about half a dozen questions, and they are a good way to keep track of the pertinent information from the preceding chapter. The questions are usually pretty easy to answer, but there isn’t really a penalty for getting them wrong other than having to go back until you pick the right answer.

Hotel Dusk has an overall noir feel to it that is created partly through the visuals and smart writing. However, the mood is helped along by the fun soundtrack. The track that plays during the end-of-chapter quizzes is particularly memorable. All of the music tracks from the game are unlocked on the jukebox found in the hotel bar once you encounter it in the game. The minimalist approach to the audio is probably due to the restrictions of the DS cartridge space, but it also fits into the aesthetic of Hotel Dusk quite well.

Hotel Dusk - Rachel

Hotel Dusk begins rather slowly as it takes some time for the different mysteries to take shape, but after a little while the pacing picks up as events and revelations start to snowball. Despite the slow buildup, the plot remains compelling, and the quirky characters help keep things interesting throughout. Hotel Dusk was meant to be played while curled up on your couch or recliner, like relaxing with a good book.

Final Grade: B+

]]> 5
Review – Mirror’s Edge (XBox 360/PS3/PC) Wed, 18 Mar 2009 03:28:34 +0000 Mirror’s Edge is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, the game provides an exhilarating sense of movement and momentum, but on the other, certain design choices keep Mirror’s Edge from being a complete success.

Mirror’s Edge is set in a world of totalitarian rule, conspiracies, and underground organizations. The game’s protagonist, Faith, is a Runner, someone who uses the rooftops to travel “between the gloss and the reality”, delivering clandestine messages for clients who wish to remain under the radar. Early in the game, Faith’s sister on the police force (known as “Blues” in the Mirror’s Edge universe) is framed for murdering a promising candidate for mayor. Faith sets out to clear her sister’s name and track down the real killer, hassled by the Blues at every turn. Along the way, she discovers that the truth is much bigger than what she initially suspects.

Hey!  Who put me in an E-Surance commercial?!

Hey! Who put me in an E-Surance commercial?!

The story sounds much more interesting on paper than it comes across while playing the game. Most of the cutscenes are presented in a Flash animation style that fails to live up to the quality of the rest of the game’s visuals. These sequences pull you out of the action when the rest of the game seems focused on keeping you firmly inside Faith’s running shoes. The few scenes that unfold using the in-game engine are much more effective at helping you experience things from Faith’s point of view, making me wish the entire story was presented in this fashion.

The rest of the game looks absolutely gorgeous. Faith lives in a city that looks like something Apple would create if the company got into urban development. Glossy white surfaces are prevalent, accented by splashes of bright, saturated color. While this somewhat simplified visual style gives Mirror’s Edge a unique look, it is also functional in helping you navigate the environment. The “Runner Vision” system causes certain items such as ladders or pipes to become red as Faith nears them, identifying proper routes across the rooftops. Early on, Runner Vision is very abundant, showing you exactly where to go. However, the system backs away a few levels into the story becoming more of a confirmation that you are going the right way rather than outright showing you where to go. However, getting lost is rarely a problem as levels are usually fairly linear. There are usually only one or two correct ways to get to your destination.

On the surface, Mirror’s Edge appears to be a first-person shooter, but it has much more in common with a platformer. Throughout the game, you are running from one end of a level to the other with plenty of drop-offs, enemies, and other obstacles getting in your way. A majority of the time, Faith is required to navigate from one platform to another, oftentimes while being chased. However, sometimes getting up close and personal with your enemies is necessary.

Kick to the face?  Yes, please!

Kick to the face? Yes, please!

Faith has the option to pick up dropped weapons, but the game actively encourages you to use non-lethal means to achieve your objectives. To this end, you have several options that allow you to disarm and incapacitate your enemies. When Faith gets close to someone, they will attempt to hit her with their weapon. For a split second, their gun will flash red, indicating when to attempt a disarming maneuver. A successful disarm results in impressive animations where Faith grabs the weapon and uses it to knock out her adversary. Different weapons result in different take-downs. For example, Faith disarms a shotgun-wielding enemy by kicking their gun into the air, catching it, and cracking them upside the head with it. The window for disarming enemies is pretty small, but Faith can also slow down time momentarily, provided that the ability is fully charged, giving you a bit more time to react properly.

Taking on multiple adversaries without a weapon is a big no-no and will quickly get you killed. However, sometimes you don’t have a choice, and you need to take out enemies quickly. Walking up to them and throwing a lot of punches will eventually get the job done, if you don’t get shot to death beforehand. It is much more effective to run up to an enemy and attack them from the air or from the ground. In general, the more momentum you have going, the more effective your attack will be. A few areas even lend themselves towards literally getting the drop on someone by jumping down from above and landing a well-placed kick to the head. The places where you are able to combine acrobatics with combat are much more enjoyable than taking on enemies in more open areas. For instance, running along a wall and jumping off to kick a guard, spinning them around in the process, never gets old.



While Faith has many avenues available to her for engaging enemies, sometimes the best option is to run away. Running is what she does best, after all, and this is where Mirror’s Edge absolutely shines. The game does an excellent job of simulating movement to the point that it is a joy to navigate the environment, and it becomes a hassle when you have to slow down just to take out a couple of guys in your way. Unlike most games shown from a first person perspective, Mirror’s Edge does not merely feel like a floating camera. Faith’s arms and legs are visible when she is pulling off spectacular maneuvers, and the camera bobs and weaves to her every movement. The game even goes as far as flipping your view over when Faith performs a forward roll. At first, the immersive style can be a little disorienting, but the simple control scheme goes a long way towards making you feel comfortable in Faith’s shoes.

All of Faith’s acrobatic moves are divided into two simple categories: up and down. Upward moves are assigned to the top shoulder button on one side of your controller, and downward moves are triggered by the bottom shoulder button on the same side. The shoulder buttons opposite these trigger Faith’s melee attacks and a 180 degree spin. Placing all of the major functions completely on the shoulder buttons helps give Mirror’s Edge a unique feel while playing. There aren’t many games that allow you to almost ignore the face buttons. Using different combos of shoulder buttons allows you to perform different moves, creating a surprisingly deep system of movement.

In order to be successful in pulling off proper moves, you must keep up Faith’s momentum. For example, hurdling a medium-sized obstacle will give Faith a small boost while sliding under it will slow you down. It doesn’t take very long to get the hang of things, and keeping Faith at full speed becomes second nature. Part of maintaining your rhythm and momentum is learning to recognize different features of the environment and how to best take advantage of them.

See a couple of small boxes stacked next to each other? Use them to get a large boost in height when you jump off them. Need to climb to a platform above you that is too high to jump straight up? Run up the opposite wall, spin around, and jump to it with ease. Falling from a ledge slightly too high up? Trigger a forward roll just before you hit the ground to break your fall.

Neo said it best: Whoa.

Neo said it best: Whoa.

Despite having plenty of moves available for almost any situation, you will find yourself missing plenty of jumps and falling to your death. Luckily Mirror’s Edge has a very good checkpoint system, so you will rarely have to replay large sections of the game over again. When you are running full tilt across rooftops, making death-defying leaps, or hitching a ride on a subway train, Mirror’s Edge is at it’s exhilarating best. The times when you are forced to stop and take out enemies are where the game can get somewhat frustrating, especially if you are attempting to play through the game without using any weapons. The game is made much easier when you actually use the guns taken from your enemies, even though they are only good for a few shots before becoming useless. There are no boxes of ammo lying around, so once the clip goes empty, you’ll have to acquire another weapon if you want to continue shooting. Holding a weapon also restricts Faith’s speed and her ability to climb, adding a little extra incentive to get rid of a weapon quickly.

Apart from the main story, there are several other modes to play through. Each story level has three hidden messenger bags to collect, and speed runs for every segment become available after your first play-through. Additionally, there are several videos, music, and pieces of concept artwork to unlock, but the meat of the extra content is found in the time trial mode. The time trials feature several courses running through bite-sized chunks of the different levels in the game. Depending on how fast you complete a course, you will earn a rating of one, two, or three stars. It is very likely that you will fail to meet the base time your first few times through a course until you discover the optimum route, something that isn’t always obvious from the get-go. To help with this, you can download and race against a ghost of any of the one hundred fastest times from the online leaderboards. Doing so will reveal the fancy moves and routes through a course that others have used, provided you can stay close enough to their ghost to see what it is doing. The good thing about the time trials is that you don’t have to worry about any enemies bringing your momentum to a screeching halt, but a lot of the courses can be fairly difficult to finish with even a one-star qualifying time, so expect to spend a lot of time trying to shave few seconds off your best time.

This should be easy...

This should be easy...

Mirror’s Edge is difficult to pin down. It does so many things right that should add up to something great. In particular, the freedom of movement in Mirror’s Edge is unparalleled by any other first person game out there. Despite several aspects of the game bogging it down from being the free-flowing experience it should be, the game is still a lot of fun to play and well worth checking out.

Final Grade: B-


]]> 16
Review – Burnout Paradise (XBox 360/PS3) Wed, 18 Feb 2009 04:23:21 +0000 Welcome to Paradise City, home of blistering speed, insane stunts, and bone-crunching wrecks…

I tend to gravitate towards arcade-style racing games. If I wanted to experience reality, I’d just go drive my own car. I like playing games where I can crash into things and generally drive like a maniac without having to worry about tinkering with my virtual ride to improve performance. Burnout Paradise fulfills these inclinations in spades. If you aren’t burning through traffic, flying off ramps, and crashing through billboards, you aren’t experiencing all of the addictive fun that Paradise City has to offer.

Multiple Cars + High Speeds = Car-Flipping Fun!

Multiple Cars + High Speeds = Car-Flipping Fun!

It’s a good thing that the collisions in Burnout Paradise look really great because crashing into buildings, trees, signs, fences, and other vehicles is a frequent occurrence. The physics system in place assures that every single crash looks completely different, so it never gets old seeing the carcass of your former vehicle bounce and hurtle down the street. The game achieves a great sense of speed as you race down the street, making collisions that much more thrilling when they occur and avoiding crashes just as nail-biting. You will often find yourself flying through traffic, jockeying for position among a group of cars racing for the finish line, and having a blast doing so.

The entirety of Paradise City is there to explore from the beginning of the game, and it takes a long time to find every single nook, cranny, and shortcut. The city is a very large and varied place containing many different areas including downtown high-rises, beach front property, curvy country roads, railroad tracks, and a packed freeway. Some areas of Paradise City seem to be perpetually under construction, providing many ramps, drop-offs, and shortcuts to take advantage of.

There are many ways to experience Paradise City. Each stoplight hosts one of five different types of events to participate in, should you choose to activate it. The Race event is fairly self-explanatory, although there aren’t any set routes. Instead, each race ends at one of eight different landmarks throughout the city. How you get there is up to you as long as you cross the finish line first. Marked Man events are a variation on a normal race in which several cars are trying to take you down before you can reach the finish line. The goal of a Road Rage event is to take down a certain number of cars within a set time limit without totaling your car in the process. Complete as many tricks and jumps as you can for big points in Stunt Runs, and race against the clock using a specific car for each Burning Route.

Discount airlines can be a little scary at times.

Discount airlines can be a little scary at times.

The open world design of Burnout Paradise lends itself towards cruising around the place looking for things to do. Paradise City is chock full of events and challenges to complete, but the game is still fun to play even if you are just speeding around from street to street. Burnout Paradise encourages this by letting you “own” every individual street in the game in two ways. It will keep track of your fastest times racing down a road and your highest scores in Showtime mode on each street. In Showtime mode, your car is sent careening down the road, and the object is to cause as much damage as possible to other cars and the environment before your car comes to a rest. Using your boost will keep your car twisting and flipping down the road, making it possible to crash for several minutes at a time. Once you have the fastest time and the highest Showtime score on a road, you “own” it. This feature of the game is especially fun when you have several friends that also own the game because all of your scores are uploaded to Burnout’s online servers. This means you will get a fast time on a street only to find that one of your friends has beaten it the next time you boot up the game. Every time you turn onto a new street, the game displays who owns the road, setting up competition with your friends, even when you are technically playing offline.

If you don’t want to participate in any events or compete against your friends’ best times, there is still plenty of fun to be had in Paradise City. There are 400 gates to smash down, 120 billboards to crash through, and 50 Super Jumps to discover. These things are hidden all around Paradise City, oftentimes in places that lie off the beaten path. Finding all the gates, billboards, and jumps is an especially good way to learn the ins and outs of Paradise City, giving you more of an edge during events. There are also about a dozen parking garages throughout the city that provide several opportunities for catching big air.

Sometimes a single wheel is all you need.

Sometimes a single wheel is all you need.

At any point while driving around the city, you can bring up the online menu with a quick tap on the right of the D-pad. Regardless of what mode you choose, you seamlessly jump into an online game wherever you are on the map. You can choose to join a specific type of event such as a race, but the real fun comes from Freeburn Challenges. As the name implies, Freeburn allows a group of players to cruise around Paradise City doing whatever they like. The mode includes a long list of challenges for everyone to attempt based on the number of players available. Some challenges are competitive, pitting everyone against each other in a race to be the first to perform a task such as taking down a number of other cars or drifting for a particular distance. Other challenges are cooperative, tasking the entire group with completing objectives. All of the online features in Burnout Paradise are well-implemented and fun to play.

There are three different classes of cars in Paradise City that cater towards different types of driving. Speed cars are good for getting somewhere fast, but they also crash much more easily than the other two types. The boost for this type of car cannot be used until it is filled entirely, but boosts can be chained together by holding the boost button down. Aggression cars are tough vehicles that are good for knocking other cars around, but their top speeds aren’t as fast and they generally don’t handle as well. This type of car gains boost by taking out other cars and knocking things down, usable as long as there is boost left in the tank. Stunt cars lie somewhere in the middle, traveling faster than aggression cars and taking a bit more of a beating than speed cars. As the name implies, flying off ramps and performing other stunts will gain you boost to use whenever you like. Each car in your junkyard is rated according to its speed, boost, and strength abilities. As you progress through the game, you will unlock better and better cars, soon finding a few favorites that you will rely on for most of the heavy lifting.

When this baby hits 88 miles per hour...

When this baby hits 88 miles per hour...

If the original game wasn’t packed enough for you, Criterion Games is raising the bar for studios supporting their game after it hits retail. After it was released early in January 2008, Criterion released several free updates for Burnout Paradise throughout last year that added a ton of content to the game. The Bogart update fixed several early bugs with the game. The Cagney update added several new online challenges and made Stunt Run, Road Rage, and Marked Man events available to play online, along with several other tweaks to the game. Later in the year, Criterion released the Bikes pack which added a dynamic weather system and a customizable day-to-night cycle to Paradise City in addition to adding four motorcycles available to ride and several new challenges based around the new vehicle type. Soon after, trophy support was added to the PS3 version of the game. Recently, Criterion released another free update that further tweaks the game, including the ability to restart events, the most requested feature since the game was released.

This year, Criterion is beginning to release premium content for Burnout Paradise, continuing their support of the game. The Party Pack has already been released, featuring a “pass-the-controller” party mode for people playing the game together on the same console. The Legendary Cars pack will be released soon, making four different vehicles based on famous cars available to drive. These new cars were based on the DeLorean from Back to the Future, Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters, KITT from Knight Rider, and The General Lee from Dukes of Hazzard. Criterion has already announced several other premium content packs planned for release throughout 2009 including Toy Cars (another car pack), Big Surf Island (a new playable area added to the game), and Cops and Robbers (presumably a new event type).

It’s hard to find another game that offers a better value than Burnout Paradise. The original game was packed with features, and Criterion Games continues to support their game long after it hit shelves by providing a ton of new downloadable content. Paradise City is a fun place to play, and it should continue to be so for a long time to come.

Final Grade: A

]]> 8
Review – Metroid Prime (GC) Thu, 12 Feb 2009 04:46:41 +0000 When a video game franchise makes the move into 3D, it doesn’t always turn out very well. The elements that make a game great in two dimensions don’t necessarily transfer properly when the third dimension is added into the mix. Metroid Prime is an example of a developer finding the magic formula that retains the feel of the original side-scrolling games while creating something that also stands on its own merits. It is an adventure worth experiencing, even if you aren’t familiar with the previous exploits of female bounty hunter Samus Aran.

At the beginning of the game, Samus tracks a distress beacon to a derelict spacecraft in orbit above a planet called Tallon IV, landing her ship on the outer hull before making her way inside to investigate. She discovers evidence of biological experiments gone wrong, culminating in a battle with a giant parasite at the center of the ship. Defeating the creature has the unfortunate side effect of further damaging the vessel, sending it hurtling towards the surface of the planet below. Samus is forced to evacuate back to her ship outside. She is able to escape in time, but not before her equipment and armor is severely damaged by an electrical explosion on the way out.

Let it snow, Let it snow, Let it snow...

Let it snow, Let it snow, Let it snow...

As she is escaping the wreck, Samus sees a large dragon-like creature emerge from the smoke and fly towards the planet. Those familiar with Metroid history will recognize Ridley, but those who aren’t only know that Samus decides to pursue an “enemy” to the surface of the planet. Samus loses track of Ridley and lands her ship on the rainy surface of Tallon IV to investigate things further on the ground. Samus soon discovers a hidden operation run by her old enemies, the Space Pirates. The pirates are using a volatile substance found on the planet to biologically alter their test subjects to create super-powerful soldiers. When she discovers their intentions, Samus sets out to defeat her enemies once again.

Metroid Prime may seem like a first-person shooter at first glance, but several differences give Prime its own distinct flavor. First and foremost, Samus Aran has the ability to lock onto her targets, taking aiming almost completely out of the equation. Being a skilled bounty hunter has many perks, locking onto enemies being one of the most useful, along with unlimited ammo for your beam weapons. Second, most normal enemies aren’t a big threat to Samus, especially after you have collected a few armor and weapon power-ups. While there are many enemy encounters throughout the game, there are also plenty of times when Samus is completely alone, exploring her surroundings. Finally, the planet of Tallon IV is a large interconnected place, and you will travel to (and through) many of the same locations several times, especially if you attempt to collect all the hidden power-ups in the game. Bottom line, shooting at enemies is certainly a part of Metroid Prime, but it is not the sole focus of the game.

Metroid Prime - Morph Ball

Progression through Prime is made by recovering your lost equipment and discovering new abilities during the course of your investigation into the Pirates’ operations on the planet. Each upgrade you find allows you to reach previously inaccessible areas. You begin on Tallon IV with your weapon’s default Power Beam and a visor for scanning items of interest to enter into your log book. By the end of the game, you will have four different beam types, four different visors, a missile launcher, upgraded armor, and Samus’ morph ball ability, among other things. Samus’ suits allow her to roll up into a ball, letting her roll through tight spaces and activate certain switches. There is an amusing computer entry partway through the game describing the Space Pirates’ attempts to reverse engineer this technology and the unfortunate results of these experiments.

A grand adventure isn’t complete without a few boss fights, and Metroid Prime features several iconic encounters that you will still remember long after you’ve played through the game. Each boss is designed very well, and the methods for defeating them are sometimes rather clever. You must use all of Samus’ abilities to exploit their weaknesses and take them down. Some of these fights can be rather difficult, even if you know exactly what is required for defeating your foe. The Omega Pirate (a giant, super-powered version of the normal Space Pirate enemies) is my personal nemesis as it is the boss I have the most trouble beating every time I play through the game.

Are you lookin' at me?

Are you lookin' at me?

From the moment Metroid Prime begins, it exudes a strong sense of atmosphere and “place” that sets it apart from most other games. Every single area is completely unique down to the cracks in the walls and overgrown vines. The game has an astounding amount of detail in every nook and cranny that is still very impressive, even when compared to more recent games. The detail isn’t limited to just the environments, however. Samus will slightly recoil from nearby explosions, raising her arm in front of her visor, and you can briefly see her face reflected in the glass from the bright light. Raindrops will bead on her visor and steam vents will fog up the glass, temporarily obscuring your view. Part of the immersiveness of Prime comes from these different effects that place you squarely inside the armor of Samus Aran.

The atmosphere of Prime is enhanced by its moody soundtrack. The music perfectly complements the environments and situations you will find yourself in. Each area in the game has a specific theme tied to it from the floaty tones and lilting piano in the snowy Phendrana Drifts to the driving percussion of the lava-filled Magmoor Caverns. Each area has its own unique sound, yet all the tracks fit together into a cohesive whole that I think is one of the best video game scores ever made. The excellent soundtrack is a big part of what propels Metroid Prime into classic territory.

Metroid Prime pulls you into its world and does a great job of keeping you there. You can spend hours exploring Tallon IV trying to find every last item and still want to continue playing the game after the final confrontation. Samus Aran’s first foray into the third dimension is a compelling adventure where all the ingredients came together to create a near-perfect experience.

Final Grade: A+

You might say that Metroid Prime rocks!  *rimshot*

You might say that Metroid Prime rocks! *rimshot*

My nemesis.

My nemesis.


]]> 11
Review – Prince of Persia (XBox 360/PS3) Wed, 14 Jan 2009 04:21:10 +0000 Prince of Persia is back with a brand new adventure. Does the new Prince run along walls and leap chasms with ease? Or does he fall flat on his face?

Reboots are all the rage these days, and Prince of Persia is no exception. Instead of trying to continue the Sands of Time trilogy, Ubisoft decided to create a brand new adventure starring a completely different title character. The result is a game that is sort of a semi-related cousin to the previous titles.

The new Prince, who is really just a glorified thief instead of actual royalty, finds himself lost in a desert searching for his gold-laden donkey. He soon runs into a princess named Elika and becomes entangled in her plight. Long ago the god of light, Ormazd, was forced to trap the god of darkness, Ahriman, and his corrupting influence inside a sacred tree. Thousands of years later, Ormazd is long gone, and Ahriman is trying to escape from his prison.

Freddy ain't got nothing on me!

Freddy ain't got nothing on me!

The Prince follows Elika to the temple in the middle of the desert that houses the sacred tree. However, when they get there, Elika’s father chops the glowing tree in half with his sword, releasing Ahriman’s corruption and darkness upon the land. The dark god is still trapped inside the tree, but his prison is weakening. Elika and the Prince set out to cleanse the land of corruption in order to keep that catastrophe from happening.

To pull off this monumental task, the Prince and Elika must find several “fertile grounds” and purge the corruption from each area by unleashing Elika’s magic. Once all of the fertile grounds have been cleansed of evil, their combined power will allow the pair to go back to the temple and reseal Ahriman inside his prison.

Prince of Persia’s story is fairly simple but well-told. There are several cutscenes during the game that explain what is going on, but the tale especially comes to life if you take advantage of the “on demand” dialogue system. At any point during the game, you can hit a button to talk to Elika. She will describe the history of the land, convey points of interest from the area you are in, or reveal information on your enemies. Sometimes the dialogue has nothing to do with what you are doing, and the Prince and Elika will get into a sparring match. It is all completely optional, but it goes a long way towards developing the two characters and their relationship.

Standing in the Prince’s way are four of Ahriman’s henchmen, each with certain strengths and weaknesses that you need to exploit in order to defeat them. Rather than throwing you into battles with multiple enemies at a time, Prince of Persia focuses on head to head duels. You are able to trigger several different attacks with simple button presses, combining them into impressive combos that cause more damage than a single attack. You can use the Prince’s sword, gauntlet, and Elika’s magical powers to attack your foes as well as taking advantage of your acrobatics to lengthen combos. You will have several encounters with each of the henchmen throughout the game.

Cool kids use an underhanded grip.

Cool kids use an underhanded grip.

Making your way to all the fertile grounds requires some fancy moves on the Prince’s part. Running and jumping through the environment has always been the strength of the Prince of Persia games, and this one is no different. You are able to run along and up walls, climb cliffs using special rings mounted to the wall, jump between giant columns, and use your gauntlet to slowly slide down vertical surfaces. Elika can even help you to leap across longer distances by giving you a magical boost, effectively giving you a double jump.

Elika will rescue you any time you are about to fall to your death by pulling you back to the last stable surface you were on. This is a clever way to handle a checkpoint system, and it effectively keeps you in the action and prevents things from getting too frustrating. Moving through an area can become very rhythmic once you get used to how the Prince moves and start to recognize the visual clues in the environment that tell you where to go. You will have the most success when pressing the right button at the right time.

Each time you cleanse one of the fertile grounds, glowing orbs called “light seeds” are scattered throughout the area. Collecting these seeds causes Elika’s power to grow, eventually unlocking four different special powers. These powers help you reach previously unreachable places in specific areas. Each power is tied to a specially-colored plate. Triggering Elika’s magic on one of these plates will allow you to soar through the air or run long distances up walls. You can unlock these powers in any order that you choose, somewhat giving you the ability to pick your path through the game.

After you unlock the last of Elika’s powers, you will find that there are still a few hundred light seeds left lying around. Collecting these can be a lot of fun, especially because doing so takes you to many different nooks and crannies that you might not have bothered to find otherwise. Collecting every single orb isn’t necessary, but it is great to have if you like to compulsively collect things in video games.

I'll take the Express to the ground floor please.

I'll take the Express to the ground floor please.

Prince of Persia has a slick art style that the developer describes as illustrative cel-shading. I would describe it as more of a living watercolor painting. Regardless of what you call it, the art style is beautiful and unique. There are many places in the game where I paused for several moments to admire the scenery. Everything looks very good in its corrupted state. However, after an area has been cleansed, the colors become really vibrant and the world seems to pop off the screen. I found many of these places to be rather breathtaking.

The Prince’s new adventure is a worthy one. Unfortunately it comes to an end far too quickly. Prince of Persia isn’t very long, even if you take the time to track down every single light seed before finishing the game. It can be a good thing to leave your audience wanting more, but not when it detracts from the experience at hand. When the journey was over, it felt like it had only just begun.

Final Grade: B+

]]> 15
Retro Review – Shadow of the Colossus (PS2) Thu, 08 Jan 2009 04:08:47 +0000 Often cited in “games as art” discussions, Shadow of the Colossus uses a minimalist approach to create an experience that is simultaneously gloomy and epic in proportions.

The game opens with a bird flying high over a valley with sheer cliff walls on either side. As the bird soars through the valley, it flies by a young man on a horse slowly making his way along a narrow path. The pair continues along the cliff face, through a dense forest, and along a grassy plain until they come to a large structure built inside a gap in the mountain. Passing through the opening reveals an enormous bridge that leads to some sort of temple after traveling many, many miles over a desert far below.

The two enter the temple to find a large hall at the bottom, lined with massive statues on either side. At the far end of the hall, the man dismounts and carries a large, blanket-covered bundle to an altar at the top of some steps. He whips off the blanket to reveal the body of a young woman. At that moment, a voiceover explains about a forbidden land where “it is said that if one should wish it, one can bring back the souls of the dead.”

Several dark, shadowy figures rise from the floor only to be dispelled when the man draws his sword. A disembodied voice speaks to the man, expressing surprise that he possesses the ancient sword. The voice reveals itself to be called Dormin, and the man asks if it can bring back the soul of the woman who “was sacrificed for she had a cursed fate.” Dormin declares that “it may not be impossible”, but “the price you pay may be heavy indeed”. Dormin then tasks the man with defeating sixteen Colossi represented by the idols along the walls of the temple. Raising the ancient sword into the light will gather a beam of light pointing in the direction of the first Colossus the man is to defeat.

A Horse and His Boy

A Horse and His Boy

Shadow of the Colossus uses a very minimal approach to storytelling. After this introduction, there are no more story details revealed until near the end of the game. You are left wondering about the exact nature of the Colossi you are sent to destroy, who or what Dormin is, and for that matter, the name of the character you are playing as. Some of these questions are answered by the end of the game, but you are never told your character’s name or the name of the woman he is trying to save.

From the moment the game begins, you feel a deep sense of loneliness and melancholy, due in large part to the haunting score. There are other games, such as those in the Metroid series, that use a sense of isolation to help set the mood, but Shadow of the Colossus takes solitude to the next level. Your only companion is your horse, Agro, and apart from the occasional bird or lizard, the only creatures that you will find in the vast landscapes of the game are the Colossi themselves. There are no other characters to interact with, and there are no regular enemies to fight along the way.

You have a bow and arrows to go along with your sword, but that is all the equipment you will have for the entire game. There are no hidden weapons or new special abilities waiting to be discovered. This helps to accentuate the feeling of being alone as you won’t be getting help from anyone. It’s just you and your wits taking on giant monsters with a little help from your horse along the way.

Colossi get very cranky when woken from a nap.

Colossi get very cranky when woken from a nap.

It may sound like Shadow of the Colossus is a boring, empty game, but that is not the case. There is a surprising amount of variety in the environments throughout the world, and nothing seems carbon copied. Every section of the world feels entirely unique. There are a ton of ruins and ancient structures to discover, some of which are off the beaten path and seemingly exist only to flesh out the world. There are some places that you won’t see if you just blindly track down each Colossus, never exploring anywhere else.

The game does a great job of portraying scale and distance. You will have to travel a long way to track down most of the Colossi, some of which take a little effort to discover. Once you find one, it will take some time to learn the weak points of the enormous beast in order to take it down. The game never gets stale, and once you think you’ve figured out the pattern of what these creatures are and how to defeat them, the next battle will throw you a curve ball. Each Colossus looks and acts unique, and the methods required to defeat each one are progressively more satisfying.

In general, you must find a way to climb onto a Colossus, discover its weak point(s), and hang on long enough to stab them with your sword before you are shaken off. Sometimes you will be on your own for a battle, and sometimes you will require the help of your horse to defeat the creatures. Finding the way onto a Colossus is not always obvious, and can take quite a bit of time to figure out. Once you decipher the proper way take one down, it is usually a fairly straight-forward procedure, but not necessarily an easy one to pull off. Each battle feels very epic with the score providing a lot of energy to the encounters. After a Colossus is defeated, your character absorbs the dark energy that is released, sending him back to the temple to start the search for his next foe.

All those times watching Raiders of the Lost Ark finally came in handy.

Who knew? All those times watching Raiders of the Lost Ark finally came in handy.

Shadow of the Colossus is a beautiful game for the eyes and ears. The visual design of the environments, buildings, and the Colossi is unique and all but flawless. Everything has a worn look to it, like it has existed for hundreds of years. There is a staggering amount of scope and detail, especially for a PS2 game, and the moody lighting adds a little bit of magic and atmosphere to the surroundings.

Like the story, the sound design uses a minimalist approach, only providing sound when it is most needed. There are many times that you will only hear the sound of Agro’s hoof beats and a slight hint of music, but once a battle starts, the score kicks in and the rumbling footsteps of the Colossus amp up the tension. The music to each battle evolves with the action, becoming much more energetic and intense when you are hanging on for dear life.

As good as it is, Shadow of the Colossus has a couple issues that hold it back from being a perfect game. You will often find yourself wrestling with the camera just as much as the colossal creature you are fighting, and controlling your horse is a little tricky and could be a bit more responsive at times. Despite that, Shadow of the Colossus is a game well worth playing because it is a unique experience that you won’t find anywhere else.

Final Grade: A-

A trailer for Shadow of the Colossus featuring some of the game’s magnificent score.

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Rise of Legends Review (PC) Thu, 18 May 2006 11:39:38 +0000 Rise of Nations was a game I never played, and in fact never really heard much about. However, I checked out the trailer for Rise of Legends after a friend recommended it, and eventually grabbed the demos for it. From those few things alone, I decided to grab a retail copy of the game the moment it came out. Now, it’s important to note that I am a major fan of playing games with friends. Any chance I get to play competitively or cooperatively with a friend, I’ll do so. So that gave a lot of power to the idea of picking this game up. It wasn’t so much that I was floored by what I saw in the demo.

Rise of Legends, for those that are not aware, is an RTS sequel to 2003’s Rise of Nations. The two games share a similar name, some similar game engine concepts, and…. well that’s about it. Rise of Nations was a very realistic RTS game. Rise of Legends is an amazingly imaginative piece of work. Where rise of nations stuck to a set of “Nations” that players could choose between, Rise of Legends instead offers 3 very distinct races to choose from.

The races are where the heart of the game lies. The first, The Vinci, is a technologically advanced race that use robots for just about everything in life. They have a very Victorian Steampunk feel to them. All the robots are built in a Clockwork style and powered by steam. If you need a reference, think of the giant spider from Wild Wild West(The movie). In fact, they have their own giant mechanical spider.

The second race, The Alin, takes a heavy magical tone. They based around an Arabian Night theme with a major Djinn presence. The entire race revolves around three “magic styles”, Sand, Fire, and Glass. This makes the Alin one of the most varied races in the game. It’s all very spectacular.

Finally, we have the Cuotl. They are aliens that have crashed on the planet in which this war takes place. Few survived, but the ones that did are so powerful, that they took up a God-like role. They use a combination of Technology and Magic. They use shield generators on their troops, and at the same time, their units are all related to the Mayan religion. So for instance, one of their heroes is heavily influenced by the Mayan Sun God. This race is probably one of the most difficult to use properly, but they feel strong.

Now, the interesting thing about the game, is that it was seemingly influenced by Starcraft. All the races bear a resemblance in play style to a Starcraft race. The Vinci play like the humans, the Alin play like Zerg, and the Cuotl play like Protoss. Since I loved Starcraft, it is great to see such similarities in a game that looks this good.

If I had to pick a major weakness of the game, it would be the single player campaign. I’m not big into single player campaigns in RTS games, but I still know what I like and what I don’t. I haven’t gotten past the Vinci part of the story yet, but so far I find the story somewhat weak and not very engaging. Instead of laying the story line out in a linear path, you are given a tactical map with choices on which way you wish to move to try and get to the end of the story. You may choose to cover the entire map, which would make you stronger, or you could make a dart for the last area.

Even ignoring the somewhat weak storyline, I don’t like the method of progression. As you play more into the story, you gain resources with which you can “Purchase” unit types, hero powers, etc. In addition, you can by up your starting army, have it so that bordering friendly natiosn will send support during a battle, etc. I like the idea of buying a different starting army, or sending support. However, I just don’t care for the idea of having to buy up the unit types and hero powers. It made me feel like going to play to multi-player campaign where I would have access to it all.

Which brings me to my main point. This game is Multiplayer heaven. I am not even kidding here. When designing the game, the designers focused much of their attention here. Anything you could ever have dreamed about in an RTS game is present here. Options for everything, Stats out the wazoo. Everything. Seriously.

I love Warcraft 3. It has become a standard by which I measure all RTS games.But its not perfect. If there is one area in which it lacks, it would be the options for the multiplayer campaigns. RoL easily corrects these mistakes, and more. If you want to choose a starting base for each player, you can. If you want to setup “No Rush” rules, you can. If you want the game to be Sudden death, there is an option for that. All kinds of victory conditions, map randomizers, Player Race hiding, etc. There are literally a dozen options to set for each game that will drastically change how you play. It doesn’t stop on the outside either. Once you get in, you have over 50 pre-recorded voice taunts that you can use in your games. Type 5 and you tell your allies that you need minerals. Type 6, and you say that you need gold. While this list can be pretty difficult to memorize, the fact that it is there for your use is good enough for me. It certainly helps to hear “I need Gold!” rather than seeing something pop up on your screen in the middle of the fight and have to take the time to read it.

The uniqueness of the game adds so much to the multiplayer matches. So far, I haven’t even touched the strategies available to me. Every game has played out completely differently. There is so much to try, and so little time to try it in. Everytime I think I’ve picked my favorite race, I am pleasantly suprised at something I see with a different one. It’s all very fun, and exciting.

Overall, the little things that are wrong don’t take too much away from the game. This is the stuff that will be ironed out at the game goes along. The game still isn’t running as smooth as I would like it, but it isn’t terrible. There are minor bugs here and there. However, I have yet to crash, and possibly more importantly, the game seems to be pretty well balanced for week 1 of release. This is huge in an RTS. There are going to be some things that are stronger than others, but on the whole, it all seems very tight.

If you are the type of gamer that loves multiplayer games, then this is the game for you. Check out the demo, and then make a purchase. If you are more interested in the single player campaign, then you may want to give things a closer look before you rush out and get it. Everything in the single player game is unique, but you may not enjoy some of the play mechanics. Either way, I suggest that if you think you may even be a little interested in playing something like this, that you give it a look.

I rate RoL for the PC a 9.2 out of 10