Showing posts with label review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label review. Show all posts

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Puzzle Quest 2 Thoughts

I may do a full review for the game once I have spend some more time with it, but I thought I would throw a few thoughts down on paper after maybe 10 hours of play (I haven't been able to play much of anything these last 2 weeks, and what little time i have had to play was split between PQ2 and Crackdown 2).

Right off the bat, I'll say that the game is absolutely a worthy sequel, and it erases the bitter taste left by the disaster that was Puzzle Quest Galactrix.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Alpha Protocol Xbox 360 Review

Alpha Protocol Xbox 360 Review-
Choose Your Own Adventure

Alpha Protocol is a 3rd person Action RPG developed by Obsidian Entertainment and published by SEGA. The game has you assume the role of Michael Thorton, a newly recruited secret agent working for the top secret organization known as the Alpha Protocol.

Note: This Alpha Protocol Xbox 360 Review can also be found HERE.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Nightmare On Elm Street 2010 Remake Review

Note: This review is going to structured a bit differently (okay, a lot differently) than one would expect a movie review to be structured. I am going to compare my pre-viewing assessment of this film with my post-viewing assessment to see how they compare, and then I will offer a list of pros/cons and good sized summation, both pertaining directly to this film.

Anyone reading this, please, if you wish, let me know how this novel (to me, at least) format works for you compared to a more traditional reivew, and of course, feel free to agree or disagree with my assessment of this film.

Initial Thoughts on the ANOES Remake: How Accurate was I?

Well, I have now seen the A Nightmare on Elm Street remake. I did not spend any money on it, but I got the chance to see it free and so I jumped at it. I had struggled with my resolve not to give in and pay to see this (I didn't want to support it, or the general remake trend) and I am sad to say my resolve was faltering, but, serendipitously, I got the chance to see it for free, and so, as I already stated, I jumped at that chance, and have now, for better or for worse (we'll soon find that out muahahaha....lame, I know.....muaahahah- okay, I'll stop) seen the movie.

So, what I am going to do here is post the impressions I'd had of the remake going in, based upon the large number of reviews and tons of viewer feedback that I had read online (and also good old fashioned inference based upon previous works of the people involved and the current state of American horror), and then after each point, add my present standing on that point, since I have now seen the movie.

And so, what we will find out is how accurate I was in my initial (negative) assessments of the merits (or lack thereof) of this new 2010 version of a 1984 genre classic.

Note: I will put the original statements in black, and my accuracy assessments in red.

1) Freddy's look. I know that's more realistic, but he lost the demonic look that I loved. However, I am willing to admit a part of this is likely nostalgia.


I still hated it at first, but by the end I merely disliked it.....strongly. Okay, perhaps mildly. If they do make 2 more sequels, and I do see them, I suppose by the end of it I'll have gotten to the point where his new face is at least no longer distracting.

2) HIS VOICE!!Freddy sounded demonic. Now he sounds like a breathless Rocky Balboa. Not scary in the least and this alone is a huge dealbreaker for me.

Absolutely fucking horrible. A slow talking, mouth breathing, Dark Knight sound alike. No, I refuse to budge on this point even a millimetre. Oh, wait, save for one redeeming quality. The laugh. Haley approximated Enlgund's exquisite balance between sinister and maniacal and he did so without trying too hard to sound like Englund. In doing so, I'd say he did a great job with the laugh. It immediately called to mid Englund's, as it was similar, but not in a way that made you nostalgic nor angry for him trying to copy it. Well done on that one!

3) Based upon several reviews and viewer feedback it seems as though the ''scares'' were pretty much the loud BAM sound followed by a sudden appearance of Freddy. I HATE the overuse of jump scares. It's cheap, cheesy, manipulative and indicative of the fact that these guys are creatively bankrupt and don't understand shit about horror or what Craven did with the original ANOES.

This wasn't quite as bad as I expected, but still bad and indicative of the things I said it would be. It wasn't AS bad, but definitely, definitely over relied upon.

4) I read that the nightmare scenes are always telegraphed via musical and aesthetic changes. Part of what I loved with the original series is you often weren't immediately aware that you were in 'dream world' if you will. There were some surprises. Some.....unknown. Some...suspense.

Every single one of them, save for maybe one (can't recall for sure) was telegraphed via aesthetic changes, as I said. The dream sequences themselves were also unimaginative and unoriginal.

5) The footage I have seen features a very wooden Nancy. Langenkamp might not win any awards but at least she had expression and depth.

She actually wasn't that bad. Not great, but certainly not horrible, and the way her character was handled sort of approached (but did not match) what Craven did with his Nancy. One of the better elements of the film, I thought.

6) The people involved do it solely for money, and they are hacks. They didn't even care to try and involve any of the original people. No Craven, no Saxon, no Lagenkamp and no Englund.

Now, this is a 'reboot' so this makes some sense. Well, Englund could have played Krueger but the rest make sense. Except for one: Craven. They didn't bother to get input from the one man who truly understood Krueger, and the one man who had vision. Idiots.

Not much to add here, although I guess I can say that, while I would never pick Bayer to direct another one, his direction wasn't the main issue here.

7) I don't want to support this remake bullshit. They fucked up FF13, they destroyed Halloween, the are fucking up Krueger (although I can't fully say this until I see it, which of course I'll end up doing at some point, let's be real, but hopefully for free after my brother buys the DVD) and they have completely destroyed so many others. Black Christmas, Prom Night, Psycho (not that I'm a huge fan of the original), Dawn of the Dead, etc etc etc

Saw it free, so I can still feel that I did not betray my sensibilities on this one.

8) WHERE THE FUCK IS THE ORIGINAL SCORE?? It's the best damn horror score EVER.

True, and a damn shame. The only element that was present from it was the little piano melody, but it only made it into the film for a brief moment or two.

9) CGI. The clip of Freddy coming out the wall looks so fucking fake now, whereas the budget shot with no CGI from 1984 still looks better today.

Absolutely true. In fact, the few scenes that they did copy from the original both felt out of place (they were just haphazardly thrown in) and sucked in this one. I won't describe them all for the sake of brevity, but the scene in the original with Tina in the bodybag and the ensuing boiler room scene were fucking destroyed in the new one with a limp, shitty, weak ass approximation of only half of the original scene, and even then, it sucked.

The one good one was the bedroom scene involving Kris (Tina) and whatever his name was (Rod) which I thought actually matched the original. They did i a bit differently, and I'd say they did really well with it. The few omissions where made up for by the new way in which Kris/Tina is physically manipulated by Freddy in that small space. Evocative of a classic Poltergeist scene, without feeling like a ripoff of either that or the NOES scene from which it drew inspir- well, copied. Kudos to them on this one.

10) They all know what's going on way too early, and they come to know it way too easily. The original had a slow, suspenseful buildup where Nancy and co. tried to piece together what was happening.

Yes and no. They don't get the whole story right away. But the whole ''let's piece together this mystery'' thing starts like 5 minutes in to the movie, which does destroy a lot of the tension and pacing.

Maybe I'll end up liking it, but I doubt it. The guys behind the project just don't see horror the way I do, and I don't think I'll enjoy what they did to ANOES. Still, I admit I may be wrong. There's .000003% chance of it :)

Well, I don't love it, but, surprisingly, I don't hate it. It's....okay. Ho hum. Here are just a few (again, for the sake of brevity) of the hits and misses that I have not mentioned thus far:


1) Haley's Freddy not only looked and sounded worse, he moved in a more boring manner, and he did not do anything creative. He stalked his victims in a slow and linear fashion, typical of more mundane slasher villains. His mannerisms and actions were just bland, and Haley brought nothing new, save for one small tick, a swishing sort of thing he did with the blades, conveying Freddy's anxiousness and desire to slice and dice (this was a decent little tic, I thought). Other than that, nothing, and he lost so much.

2) He lost that 1950's spaghetti western swagger, the running (he never ran once, for fuck's sake he's not Jason or Michael!), the toying with his victims in ways other than the slow approach/oh I'm gone/boo mechanic so often utilized in this one (remember the amazing alley scene, or the jail scene with Rod? Ya, none of that) and of course the voice. Another thing that sucked where his lines, but that was the damn writers' fault. Man, for the most part, they wrote some shitty dialogue for everyone, not just Haley, but his especially....ugh. And they stole lines straight from Nightmare 4 and FvsJ, but they were shitty and out of place lines.

3) The kills were terribly uncreative. The best one was one lifted directly from the original. That right there should tell you something.

4) They did not develop the character of Nancy's mother at all, nor did they really develop her relationship with her daughter. Thus, they lost one of the strongest and central elements of the original film: the mother daughter relationship, and how the dynamic shifted as the film progressed, so that by the climax and subsequent denouement, Nancy had become the parent in the relationship, and consequently, had learned to take care of herself.

This not only set up the final confrontation with Krueger, but it was also a statement regarding the changes to the so called ''nuclear'' family that had been rapidly progressing during that decade. Nancy's father was nowhere to be seen (not a statement, I assure you).

5) The pacing. Much too quick, and far too many dream sequences/too much Freddy.


1) The supporting cast wasn't that bad. Some rough moments here and there, but really, not that bad.

2) The last 15 minutes or so, up until the HORRIBLE last 2 minutes, were quite good, and in those 12-15 minutes, I saw some actual damn passion, or at least, some glimpses of it, a bit of creativity, and hell, even a genuinely creepy couple of moments. This, Kris' (Tina's) bedroom scene (although the preceding outdoor sequence SUCKED SO HARD compared to the amazing alley sequence in the original) and a few other moments were pretty good.

3) They did NOT make Freddy innocent, as I had heard they had considered doing (and had in fact even done, in early script drafts). This is crucial. You make pre-dead Freddy an innocent victim, you make Freddy Krueger a sympathetic character. You make him sympathetic, suddenly you feel sad for him rather than afraid of him.

4) Freddy had a few genuinely good lines amidst his mediocre and downright bad ones. Of course, one of his very best was stolen from Nightmare 1 (and the still managed to miss a word) but a few of the new ones were good, and creepy).

5) Very good one here: Freddy was menacing, dark, and serious. No clowning around here, and that's how I like him. He toys with his victims, but in a deliberately malicious, evil way. No flying around on a broomstick in a witch costume shouting out ''I'll get you my pretty, and your little dog, too!'' like in Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare. While that was an admittedly funny and fun, campy moment from a cheesy, campy, fun (but not scary) 5th sequel, I'm very glad they avoided going in that direction for this film. This was the ANOES 1, 2 and 7 Krueger, and that's good..

6) Along the same lines as the last point, the entire movie maintained a serious tone, or at least tried to (some of the shitty lines nearly killed it). It was dark and dreary, and almost 100% sans jokes, which was great. The teens weren't partying it up and telling stupid jokes, and they weren't even heavily stereotyped. Both of these things were refreshing, and demonstrated that the producers and Sam Bayer had at least enough knowledge of the series to realize that this is not your typical ''kill the sluts and drug users and have your virgin be your ''final girl'' slasher movie.

Summation:Old comment: So, a note to Platinum Dunes: I want my fucking childhood back, you assholes. I don't recall putting it on the market, so I have no idea how you fuckers bought and sold it, but I want it back. Now, give it back, or I'll......I'll......kil- no, no, that's not it......I'll, I'll, beat- no, no, that's not it either.....I'll I', no that's not it.....Ah, Hell. I'll keep blogging about you!!! And you don't want that, trust me. I have a HUGE audience and immeasurable influence. I can get people to boycott your ass, and let me tell you, you'd lose at least $23.00. You want to test me? You want to test me motherfuckers? Go ahead, if you think it's worth $23.00, go right the fuck ahead, you childhood stompin fart brains!!!!

New Comment: Well, Platinum Dunes did not completely destroy this movie, but they truly and honestly made a movie that need not exist. It did not contribute to the series in any meaningful way, it will never be heralded as a genre classic, it was almost entirely unable to upstage the 26 year old original, and in fact, even (mostly) failed when it tried to directly copy it.

However, they did treat Freddy with the right idea, keeping him serious and sinister, and at least the scenes all didn't take place in the light of day. I also thought that the introduction of micronaps made for a great, and logical plot device, which served to increase the tension (what little of it there was) although they predictably fucked up the science of it somewhat, and of course, they also mostly used it for jump scares.....*sigh*.

The Nightmare on Elm Street Remake is like a glossed up version of the original classic with most of the originality and nuance removed, and in is place was too quick of a pace and too much standard genre fare. It was also rushed, as I already alluded to several times, and crucial elements like Nancy's absent (in different ways) parental influences were completely absent, which took away from the significance of her eventual resilience and finding the courage to fight back (which actually sucked in this one compared to the original). Also, the kills were mediocre and not particularly interesting , horrifying, or visually arresting, save for one ( of course a copy from ANOES 1) and Freddy was a heavy breathing, slow talking, almost lisping weirdo who exuded no real personality. Not like Englund's Freddy did.

Still, the bones of a Nightmare film will, or at leatst, shold, always make for a good horror story, and I guess I can say that, technically, this one was probably better than The Dream Child and Freddy's Dead, although those ones at least had campiness to them that lends itself to repeat viewing over the years. This one, on the other hand, lacks both that factor AND the impact and resonance of the perfect mixture of deeper thematic undertones and excellent, nuanced horror, leading to an average at best Nightmare flick, and a pretty good horror flick in general.

I can say this: I enjoyed this more than any other horror movie I have seen in the last few months, although even my love for all things Freddy could not elevate this higher than the last few greats I have seen in the last year or so, both coming out of France: Haute Tension (High Tension) and A L' Interiur (Inside).

Both of those are absolutely excellent horror films that I recommend anyone reading this who loves horror to try and get their hands on and eyes in front of, although they are VERY brutal films that will require a strong disposition and a strong, healthy heart to be able to handle literally an hour and a half of solid tension and suspense. Those two movies are frightening and disturbing, and I absolutely loved them. They were the two best horror films I have seen since the seminal horror film coming out of the UK in 2006, the absolutely effective The Descent.

I will be looking towards France for the next while to get my horror fix, as this movie, while perhaps better than most of the other American ones I have seen as of late (thanks mostly to the characters created by Wes Craven and not much of anything these guys did themselves, save for a select few cool scenes) just will not cut it for me.

I guess they can be commended for making a good horror film at a time where good American horror films are few and far between, and this movie is probably their best remake, which isn't saying much, since, save for the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake (which might actually be better than this one, but I haven't seen it since 2003, so I need to rewatch it before making a verdict on that one) the rest of them, from what I have seen ad heard, have fucking sucked ass.

Ah well, I have only spent actual money on two of them (TCM and F13th) and one of those was actually good. The Friday the 13th remake blew chunks, and I will say that I am soooo glad that they didn't give this movie that treatment...yuck. At least this one is somewhat competent, on some levels.


I will score the A Nightmare on Elm Street 2010 an underwhelming but competent 6.5/10 when assessing it as a standard horror film (decent acting, cool villain, medicore scares, not particularly inspired, pacing issues).

When compared to the film it so unnecessarily 'remade.' I feel that I must rate this film a disappointing 4/10.


Perhaps it's just me, but shouldn't a movie be remade if it's warranted, and if the remake surpasses/improves upon the source material? If it doesn't, I have to ask, as I find myself doing since seeing this movie......


Thursday, April 29, 2010

Earth Defence Force 2017 Review


Earth Defence Force 2017 is a low budget Japanese third-person shooter developed by Sandlot, and published by D3 Publisher, for the Xbox 360. The game is the sequel the to the game Global Defence Force. Earth Defence Force 2017, or EDF 2017, as it is commonly referred to (and will be for the remainder of this review) is the first game in the Defence Force series to be released to North America.

As stated, EDF2017 is a low budget game, released for a budget price. This is something that is imperative to keep in mind when both playing and reviewing this game, as to compare it to its high budget, large development team brethren, including such obvious comparisons as Lost Planet and Gears of War, is to do both the game, and the developers a disservice. Going forward, this is something that should be kept in mind. Also, due to both this fact, and how much fun this game really is, at least to the subset of gamers to which it appeals, I feel compelled to break one of my own self imposed rules and speak from in first person, at least during certain moments of this review.

I have reviewed from the first person a few times in the past, but generally try to avoid doing so, as I find it to be somewhat distasteful for a review, as I like reviews to maintain some semblance of professionalism, and this can quickly be lost if too much subjectivity and personal experience is injected into the review. However, for games that a reviewer truly holds dear, or for certain games for which the reviewer finds it imperative that he or she convey certain ideas, I believe it's often the only real recourse.

I truly believe that EDF2017 is a game that is easily misunderstood, or shrugged off due to either its premise, graphics, budget status, or some combination of the above. I also firmly believe that a strictly objective review would do this game a great disservice, as from an objective standpoint, this game is a complete and utter turd. The thing is though, the game is actually far from that, as a number of gamers will attest to, myself included. This game is so damn fun, and to review it categorically and with no other insight, would just be plain unfair, to both the game and its creators, and also any prospective players, who may miss out on dozens of hours of silly and somewhat inexplicable fun. All of this being said, let's turn to actually assessing the game's qualities.

Here's the premise of the game in a nutshell: Aliens are attacking Earth, and the Earth Defence Force is tasked with being a welcoming party of sorts. A welcoming party armed with 150 different weapons and a slew of vehicles to pilot. And the aliens that are attacking? Giant acid spitting ants, gigantic web slinging spiders, gigantic, several stories tall laser shooting robots, and cybernetic dinosaur mech....things. Think an organic/robotic hybrid that resembles Godzilla.

You are a part of the EDF, and as a member of this elite group, you are tasked with aiding your brothers and sisters in arms in taking on these giant monstrosities across 53 stages and several difficulties, ranging from as easy as could be to so hard you might be able to tackle it if you spend 50-80 hours levelling up enough (although the term levelling up is used loosely, as all that really denotes in this game is picking up enough health pickups, for some reason named armor, to increase your total hit points). Well, that, and attaining the proper firepower.

The gameplay structure is as follows: you choose your weapons (you can carry two) and head into battle. Then, all you do is shoot. The only objectives you have are to shoot.....and shoot some more. You are, for some inexplicable reason, gifted with infinite ammo, for every single weapon in your possession, whether it be a lowly shotgun or a fire-20-missiles-at-once missile launcher. You do most of your travelling on foot, but on occasion, you will encounter various other methods of transport (and attack) such as mechs, tanks and helicopters. All of which should be avoided like the plague, as they control so terribly it's not even worth bothering. I'll get to that later, however.

So, basically, you're on foot, you hold down the right trigger, and take on hundreds of gigantic enemies at once. The enemies, upon death, which has them explode into piles of green goo/blood, drop really cheesy looking 2D powerup icons by the dozen. These powerups come in the form of health boosts, the aforementioned armor tokens (which add to your hit point total, as you'll recall) and weapon icons which grant you a randomly selected weapon unlock (you don't even find out what you got until you complete the level). As you complete levels, you gain HP and weapon unlocks, so there's a tangible sense of progression which fuels the desire to carry on.

The game should last a good 15-20 hours on a first playthrough on the Normal difficulty. Less if you're playing co-op (the whole campaign can be played in 2 player splitscreen co-op). Once you complete Normal, you can, if you're so inclined, then start to tackle the higher difficulties, which require you to unlock more and better weapons, and to also add to your HP total. This of course means level grinding. Weapon unlocks, while random, do have some deterministic element as well, as there are differing possibilities for each level on each separate difficulty, which means it's somewhat random, but the weapons are tied to a few select levels and difficulties, so it's not entirely as random as it may seem.

This design encourages the player to attempt later levels at harder difficulties in order to unlock better weaponry, which will enable them to tackle the challenges that lie farther ahead. It's a system that encourages multiple playthroughs and, if the game grabs you, will keep you going and going and going.....It's the classic carrot on a string game design.

The weapons that you unlock, while incredibly numerous, do come in specific categories, which include things like shotguns, assault rifles, snipers, grenade launchers, missile launchers, rocket launchers, and special weapons, which include things like acid guns, flamethrowers, firecracker bombs, and some others that will not be spoiled here. If you manage to complete the game on Inferno, the highest difficulty, and unlock every single weapon in the game, you are granted the ultimate weapon. I will leave this for you to discover, but suffice it to say that if this game were more popular, it would go down in history as one of, if not the, craziest video game weapons of all time.

While newer weapon unlocks are generally just stronger versions of your current weapons, the weapons on display are still a huge standout, with such things as automatic rocket launchers that shoot several rockets in rapid succession and can level entire skyscrapers in one shot (note that the rubble disappears into the ground within seconds).

The bosses in this game are completely humongous and over the top, which fits right in with the rest of the game, seeing as how it's all humongous and over the top. The aforementioned dinosaur mech....things are one example of what types of bosses you will face in this game. Another boss type are skyscraper sized robots, and gigantic spaceships that are equipped with turrets and give birth to flying robots.

So, for those of you who happen to be so called old school gamers, you're probably recognizing the fact that the label of old school very much applies to this game. Completely over the top, B movie plot and elements, enemy drops, ridiculous weaponry, no objectives other than kill, gigantic enemies and humongous bosses. This game is completely old school, and makes no apologies for it. This would have fit right in in an early 1990's arcade, or on the Genesis or SNES. In 2D of course, but the game design would be exactly the same.

If the previous few sentences appeal to you, or stir up some latent old school gamer feelings within you, then this game is probably for you. Of course, there are some (several, really) caveats to mention. As previously stated, on a technical level, this game fails miserably. If you you can look past this (being aware of the games budget status certainly helps) or that things like this take a backseat to fun for you, then the following statements likely won't dissuade you from playing this game, but I would suggest reading through the criticisms to try and be sure (or to try and approach whatever level of certainty reading a review affords you).

As mentioned earlier, the vehicle controls are horrid. They're so clunky, it seems as though the team ran out of time, and had to leave them unfinished. The animations are really bad. Your characters' run/walk animations are so incredibly strange, you really have to see it. It looks as though the characters' midsection is comprised of a Jenga tower that has sustained a massive blow to its' structural integrity.

The graphics are poor. The sound design is screwed up, in that the 5.1 mix doesn't work properly, and the crude music is mixed too far into the background (which isn't too much of a negative, in retrospect). The physics and collision detection are completely screwy. There are major framerate issues present. When things get really hectic, the slowdown is absolutely horrendous. The powerup icons look like Doom 1 quality sprites. Your dead allies still somehow speak, apparently not appraised of the fact that they are in fact dead. The gameplay basically defines repetitive.

And yet, despite all of that, the game actually rocks. The framerate issues somehow don't matter, and in some way, add to the fun, as you see 20 rockets flying towards a group of 50 or so ants climbing buildings, and running towards you, spitting acid as they do so, all in slow motion. Also, the framerate issues aren't infrequent, but they're also not constant.

The 2D sprite icons spur nostalgic feelings in the veteran gamer. As does, well, everything. I experience major nostalgic feelings when I play this game. The weapons you can toy around with are simply ridiculous, and very fun to both unlock and wield. The enemy designs are really fun, and reminiscent of cheesy B science fiction movies. The action is nonstop, and the infinite ammo means that o matter what weapons you choose to bring with you into a mission, you'll be able to use them from start to finish. No matter if it's an acid gun, a blockbusting claymore type bomb, or the Air Tortoise, which is an agonizingly slow missile that is incredibly fun to watch slowly fly towards its target, which it misses as often as it hits for devastating damage. The co-operative play with two like minded gamers approaches the level of sublime. One could say it's gaming nirvana.

Basically, if you're into mindless fun, love over the top enemies and weapons and B movie plots, and basically don't require every game you play to be a big budget, flashy effects laden so called AAA masterpiece, then this game may very well be the most refreshing thing you have played in a long time. You really have to be able to look past technical issues though. That's the key. I can, and do, and I have put over 60 hours into this game, and I don't plan on ever shelving it for good. I think this is going to be one of those games that I will play sporadically throughout the years. This may not be on anyone's best of lists, but damn it, it's on my most fun list.

I have thought long and hard about the score I assign to this game, and I am absolutely torn. Truly, absolutely torn. My brain wants to simultaneously award this game a 9, 7, and 3. The problem is, I am trying to review, and subsequently score, the game for several types of gamers. This is a game that will really divide gamers. If you only play the ''best'' games, if you don't like mindless fun, but rather, more coherent and at least somewhat cerebral gameplay; if you need a compelling narrative and/or if you didn't grow up with the 8 and 16 bit systems, it's quite likely, although certainly not necessarily a given, that you will think this game to be an absolute piece of junk, to be categorized with the likes of Superman 64 and Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing. A 3 out of 10 would be a fitting score for you, perhaps even too generous on my part.

Ya, try rating me a 3!

On the other hand, if you are me, you really, really love this game, despite being absolutely cognizant of the fact that it's kind of a piece of crap. You know you probably sound like an EDF 2017 apologist, but you're really tempted to score the game a 9, because, damn it, games are about fun. Games are about entertainment. And this game entertained the hell out of you. It provided you with an amount of fun that's nearly unquantifiable (it is, in numbers of hours, but it's a really high number, damn it!). The technical issues really, honestly, and truly don't matter to you, at least not for this game. It's charms absolutely won you over.

However, this also puts you in the awkward position of scoring this game as highly, or very close to as highly, as something like a Gears of War or a Metal Gear Solid. And that can't be right, can it? I mean, okay, if gaming is about fun, then it makes sense that for you , at least, this was subjectively a ton of fun. But don't game designers deserve to be credited for their technical mastery, artistic vision, innovation, etc? If Kojima and co. really busted their asses to make MGS4 as fantastic as possible, do they deserve to be rated around the same as a technically horrendous game?

Then again, EDF2017 had an absolutely miniscule budget, and amount of other resources, like actual developers, so perhaps it's not fair to score them lower than these other games based on those particular variables. Especially since the game not only costs less to make, but is actually selling for less. Doesn't that mean the gamer should expect less? Or should games be judged solely on their merits, independent of such concerns? I mean, a 9 for a game with literally broken mechanics and such glaring technical flaws, plus the repetition.....

Okay, and so gamer number three pipes in and says that it all should be factored in. The game is fun, fun, fun, but also very, very flawed, and even has some broken mechanics. However, it's a budget title, selling for a budget price, and it really is quite fun, despite the issues. So, we factor it all together, and objectively, the game deserves that 3, but then you factor in the budget status, and the subjective assessment of its entertainment value, which is very positive, and you meet somewhere halfway. You can't give it a terrible score, as it really does rise above its problems (depending upon the type of gamer you are, of course) but you also can't give it a really high score, as you're then telling people, at least on the face of it, that the game is as good as those so called AAA games you so adamantly say it's not fair to compare it to.

And so, after a lengthy internal debate, and the several paragraph long, incredibly informal and non traditional section of this review, which not only breaks but demolishes my self imposed but cherished rule of keeping personal comment out of reviews, a decision has been reached, although not without mixed emotions. I hereby award Earth Defence Force 2017 a seven point five out of ten.

Overall Score: 7.5/10

Friday, April 23, 2010

After Burner Climax Review

It's Called Climax for a Reason.

After Burner Climax is the fourth game in the popular After Burner franchise, owned by Sega. The game was developed by Sega-AM2 (published, of course, by Sega) and released to arcades in 2006. Climax was the first new title in the After Burner series since 1992, ending a fourteen year long wait by fans. At least, for those fortunate enough to have access to an After Burner Climax arcade cabinet. Many fans did not have such access, and, as such, were left unable to play the new title. That is, until now. Fast forward to April 21, 2010, and owners of both the xbox 360 and Playstation 3 can now download and purchase a port of the arcade title for a fee of ten dollars. The xbla and psn versions of the game are identical.

After Burner Climax follows the formula of the original games. It's largely an on rails shooter, meaning your forward movement is controlled for you and you fly in a straightforward path. All you need to concern yourself with is moving and shooting. You move along the X and Y axises, meaning that you can move the plane horizontally and vertically, in order to dodge enemy fire and environmental obstacles. You can execute barrel rolls as another evasive option. Similarly to After Burner II, you also have throttle control, meaning that you can control your speed. Anyone who has played Star Fox will be familiar with this formula. The game removes the view options added in After Burner III, and has the player play only from the original After Burner view, which is comprised of a behind the back (or in this case, plane) perspective. This is a move that aids the game in really retaining the feel of the original two games.

In terms of shooting, it's classic After Burner. You have a machine gun, which has infinite ammo, and you also have a large store of missiles, which you can fire at after first locking onto an enemy. The locking on process is very straightforward. You simply move your reticule over an enemy, and they are marked. Once you are locked on, you can launch a missile and enjoy the ensuing explosion. Missiles replenish over time, removing the docking for missiles (and refuelling) seen in some other versions of After Burner. This serves to keep the action moving, which works well for a game of this nature. It's a pure arcade title, and fortunately, it plays to this with no remorse. It's usually to an arcade title's detriment when the developers try to inject simulation aspects into it. Ask any NHL Hitz fan, and they will tell you that Pro basically killed the series, as it lost the magic of the excellent formula found in 20-03.

The one major addition to the formula, and from where the game derives its name, is the Climax mode. It's basically bullet time, for anyone familiar with that concept. For those who are not, time, for a set period, slows down, allowing you to easily target and destroy enemies. In addition, your reticule greatly increases in size, allowing even easier targeting. You can enter Climax mode, target everything on screen, and, upon returning to normal time, watch them all explode in a very impressive display. This feature adds to the formula in a significant way without drastically altering it, and without changing the balance. For those worried that it detracts from the challenge, it doesn't. The climax bar takes time to recharge, and the developers compensated for this feature by building enemy formations around it. You will notice that there are moments which seem to have been implemented specifically for the feature. It's also optional. You can play the game without ever once utilizing Climax mode.

The gameplay takes place over 20 odd stages, some of which are hidden, only accessed by meeting certain conditions. This brings us to the one of the two main complaints that could be levied against this game: it's incredibly short. True to its arcade roots, After Burner Climax can be completed in ten to fifteen minutes. However, like the arcade games of old, fans of the game do not just complete it once and move on. You play it over and over, earning all of the accolades possible, including the special stages and being rated AAA in the three ratings categories that the game scores you on (enemies killed, longest combo, and completion speed). And of course, any arcade gamer will know, you also go for the holy grail of arcade gaming: the high score.

After Burner Climax feeds into the quest for the high score, providing a score attack mode in addition to the default arcade mode. The score attack mode is where the hardest of the hardcore will spend most of their gameplay time, as this mode tallies your score over the course of the playthrough, and uploads it to the online leaderboards upon completion, allowing you to compete with both friends and people around the world. Score attack mode can be completed by anyone, as, unlike the arcade mode, you are granted infinite continues. It's all about the score in this mode, as opposed to the arcade mode which you play more for completion.

For those who do not concern themselves too greatly with attaining a high score, do not despair, as After Burner Climax may still be for you. The developers have seen fit to allow gamers of all stripes the ability to play the arcade mode, which caters to many different playstyles. By default, the game gives you 3 continues, and 3 planes per continue. The arcade mode presents a fairly decent challenge, and may take several tries to beat with the allotted continues. If the player chooses to stick to the default. If they do not, they can play around with a vast array of options, known as EX Options. These are unlocked throughout the game, and more are granted with successive playthroughs, giving players other than the high score hounds incentive to continue playing.

The EX Options allow one to change many different aspects of the gameplay, and allow for one to make the game much easier, or much harder. You can increase or decrease the continues and lives granted. You can have your gun and missiles autofire. You can choose to remove particle effects, which means no smoke trails emanating from missiles and explosive effects, increasing visibility. Some options allow you to play around with enemy fire rates, even allowing you to remove the ability for them to attack altogether. You can increase the size of your reticule, enabling much easier targeting, you can allow infinite climax mode, and on and on. Basically, you can make After Burner Climax play to your personal specifications, greatly increasing the amount of people to whom the game will appeal, and increasing replay value by a large degree.

The original arcade version of After Burner Climax had a feature called dual play mode, which allowed for cooperative play. Two arcade cabinets could be linked together to allow for this. Unfortunately, this mode is absent in the home port, which represents the second drawback to the game. It's quite likely that this was due to lag, as any lag would kill the experience for a game of this nature, but there is no system link option for this either. However, it may not be all that prudent to lament the absence of this feature, as the co-op, from anecdotal accounts, consisted mainly of kill stealing, as the nature of the game, being one hit kills and all, does not play to a cooperative experience all that well. It seems to be the case that After Burner is much better suited to a solitary affair, although not having the option to try this for myself is somewhat regrettable.

There are three planes to choose from this time around, although the differences seem purely cosmetic. You can customize the paint scheme for each plane prior to take off, although these are preset. The last thing you get to select prior to starting is the soundtrack that plays over the game. You can play with the default soundtrack, or, for those who prefer the classic After Burner tunes, the classic After Burner I/II soundtrack can be selected, which provides a very hefty dose of nostalgia while you play through a new After Burner experience. Personally, this option has greatly increased the enjoyment experienced while playing this game, as the classic soundtrack has resonated with me for 20 years.

Graphically, the game is gorgeous. Great looking environments are coupled with excellent particle effects. Seeing missiles leave trails across the sky en route to exploding planes into bits, all taking place over beautifully rendered oceans and landscapes, through canyons, and even indoors, is thrilling. And all of the action does not hinder the smooth, consistent framerate one iota. The game is an aural and visual treat.

After Burner Climax is a no brainer for After Burner fans. It will also appeal to fans of fast, frenetic arcade action. It's an adrenaline fuelled, gorgeous rush, and for someone like myself, who loves the series and has very fond memories of the NES game, playing a gorgeous, updated iteration of the franchise while listening to the classic tunes in all their glory is absolutely thrilling. This is very much an arcade game, and it makes no apologies for that. If you are into arcade games, and you know that they are very short but very replayable, this game is for you. If you're not sure, well, download the free trail and give it a shot.

This game represents the perfect modern addition to a retro series. It maintains the formula while employing a few additions that do not in any way detract from the game, and it maintains the series structure of fast, frantic, fun, short, and replayable. A six hour After Burner would probably not work. This game is meant to be played in bursts. Keep that in mind, and, if it works for you, you cannot go wrong with this game. It knows what it is and it is brilliant at being just that. Kudos to Sega on bringing a fantastic new addition to the After Burner series.

Overall Score: 9/10

Monday, March 29, 2010

Then and Now: Xbox 360 Hardware Review (I laugh at myself)

Let's go through and dissect my 5 year old, amatuerish xbox 360 hardware review, shall we? Keep in mind, i don't mean dissect the review in terms of review quality (which was piss fucking poor......MAN I have improved tremendously in the ensuing years), I simply mean how much of what I said still holds true today, and if I made any predictions, how did they hold up? New comments will be bolded and in red text for easy reading.

"If Only it Could Cook...."

Note: I have a premium xbox 360, which included a 20GB hard drive, microphone, remote control, component inputs and a wireless controller.

And sound the buzzer!! That premium 360 was 4 xbox 360's ago. Fucking piece of shit console......

External Design 10/10

The system looks really nice with a sleek, concaved design, all in white with removable and interchangeable faceplates (Sold seprately). It is made to sit either horizontally or vertically. The drive is a dual layered DVD drive, which some say is limiting. The worst case scenario would be 2 disc games down the road, which should present little to no problem.

And Sound the Buzzer Again!! There are now 3 and 4 disc games. Is this a major roadblock? Not for gamers, no, but it is for the publishers. Would I mind having to swtich discs every 15-20 hours for the odd game? No, of course not.

It's power supply is external, and it is really huge. It looks like the Ghostbusters trap. If there's ever a Ghostbusters game they shouls include a decal for the power bar to make it look like the trap. Anyways........

Wow, original joke is original!!

The Controller: 10//10

Similar to the Controller "S" except the black and white are replaced by two shoulder buttons, and the guide button was added, which gives you access to the dashboard (operating system/desktop type thing) at any time without leaving the game. This lets you access Live or custom sound tracks,a mong other things.

This isn't terribly offensive to the modern gamer. The controller really is excellent, save for the lacking dpad (which of course Mr. Blinded by new console joy failed to mention/notice).

Internal Design: 10/10

The operating system is a modified Windows OS that uses a "blade" system which essentailly is a series of menus that reside side by side on the screen, and can be switched between merely by pressing left or right on the controller or remote. This setup is terrific. It lets you seamlessly and flawlessly switch between menus for both online and offlien content, acessing videos, music, friends list, game demos, the xbox Live service, etc.

The console has a profile system that lets you set settings for all the games you play, for example if you play FPS games they will all now recognize your aim settings (inverted or not). Like racing games? It lets you decide whether the games will use the buttons or triggers for gas/brake. These profiles also tie into your Live account and store game data such as achievements, which are different goals in each game that allow you to score gamerpoints, which are just points used to compare yourself to other gamers.

The dashboard can be accessed at any time by puishing the guide button on the controller, so you can turn on custom soundtracks, check messages, etc.

Speaking of custom soundtracks, now your music can be streamed from your PC or played off the xbox hard drive in ANY GAME. I wirelessly stream music from my PC downstairs during games, it's really a great feature.

The tech specs are well known so I won't go into it but needless to say this harware is an absolute beast. As far as graphics are concerned, it will literally be up to the developers, as this thing is powerful. It shouldn't limit anyone in any way, at least not for a few years.

Well, no one could have forseen the onset of the NXE revolution (my ass) but other than that, this pretty much holds up. YAY magx01!!!

Xbox Live: 10/10

I can now play Smash Tv online. That alone seals the deal for me. But you are not me, so I will expand further.

Games support 32 players onlien now, 50+ in the future.

WAIT WAIT WAIT WAIT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Funny, because just the other day, my buddy and I were excited to be able to play with 20 people in a Blur race.


You can play custom music while online. There is a private chat feature, this is really neat because you can chat with someone over the mic while you are both doing different hings like watching a dvd or playing a game.

Poor, naive magx. Didn't realize they were going to KILL your favourite feature to appease Infinity Ward, did you? Actually, buddy, it's okay, it's not dead. It's disabled on a game by game basis, and it's up to the developers whether or not they want a silent community who's cheating with their teams in private chats or.......YES, EXACTLY!! IT'S FUCKING DEAD!!! THANKS YOU STUPID FPS PLAYERS :(


I used to love playing an arcade game and chatting with a friend while he played an FPS. Well, not anymore.

There is now an xbox Live Marketplace which is an area that hosts download content, both free


and not,

Got that part right, bub!!

including the traditional download content like maps, guns, characters, etc, and also now free game demos, trailers, and more.

EW, did I actually say preface the word demo with the word FREE? Man I was either blinded by fanboy newness or I have really changed in the last 5 years. OF COURSE THEY ARE FUCKING FREE!!! THEY ARE ADVERTISEMENTS FOR FUCK'S SAKE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Later on users will be a ble to sell their custom content creted in a game, for example create a map in Halo3 or Timesplitters 4 and sell it for 100 Microsoft points. (explained soon)


Xbox Live Arcade has been very well integrated now, a free game (Hexic HD) is pre-loaded on the hard drive and all games have a free trial to download. If you want to purchase anything, you do so by purchasing the aforementioned Microsoft points which are then redeemable for hatever it is you fany on Live. These points are like online currency, you buy a bunch then spend them on various things, some games like SMASH TV are 400 points while others are 800 or 1200.

Features: 10/10

Already mentioned are the custom soundtracks, provate chat, xbox live, achievemnts, and music streaming.

Also included is:

the ability to act as a DVR if you have a Windows Media Center PC.

UH, CAN IT? I don't think it can, can it?

Wireless gaming and PC connection.

DVD playback with progressive scan

Whoa!!! Welcome to the future!! The Flux Capacitor is the Power!!!

5.1 Dolby Digital Output

HDTV optimization

My personal best moment thus far:

I played SMASH TV online co-op while chatting with a friend of mine in a private chat (he was playing Perfect Dark at the same time) and streaming music wirelssly from my PC. While doing this, no lag or hiccups at all, it's all so seamless and perfect.

True, still true (save for the fact that the cross game chatting it going to go the way of the dodo......

Runner Up: Online Co-op in Perfect Dark Zero tied with sneaking up on the enemy team in COD2 without them seeing me and killing all 4 in roughly 3 seconds.

Wow, online gaming is exclusive the the 360?

Overall this system is truly amazing and is definitely next gen. Teh (who the fuck proofread this review?) graphics, sounds, features, lineup, looks all of it. Almost Perfection. Being able to downlaod game demos is huge, the lIve interface is tremendous, and it will be getting hAlo 3 (disappointment) and Ninja Gaiden 2 (another disappointment). The upcoming games like the Outfit, (ahahahahahaha)  Elder Scrolls: Oblivion (true, amazing fucking game) and especially the aforementioned amazing looking Gears of War look exceptional.

The future looks bright for Microsoft

Reviewer's Score: 9/10, Originally Posted: 12/02/05

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Perfect Dark XBLA Review

Perfect Dark XBLA Review

Note: a more aesthetically appealing version of this review can be seen at

Development studio 4J Studios has teamed up with Microsoft to give us a touched up port of the classic N64 shooter Perfect Dark. This latest version of the game was released on March 17th, 2010, and is available on the xbox live marketplace for the very reasonable sum of 800 MS Points ($10).

Perfect Dark is set in the year 2023. Upon starting the game, you find yourself embroiled in an interstellar war between two races: the Maians, who look like the typical "greys" you see in science fiction media, and the Skedar, which are a reptile-like race who have the ability to disguise themselves as humans. On Earth, there is an on-going rivalry between two factions. The Carrington Institute, founded by Daniel Carrington, is officially a research and development center that secretly operates an espionage group who is in cahoots with one of the alien races (the Maians).

The second group involved in the earth based conflict is DataDyne, a defense contractor, who, predictably enough, has ties to the Skedar aliens. The player assumes the role of Joanna Dark, a Carrington Institute agent who is codenamed "Perfect Dark" due to her exemplary combat abilities. You are tasked with both investigating the activities of DataDyne and rescuing a Dr. Carroll from DataDyne HQ. The story then takes off from there, and I'll leave the rest for you to discover.

The single player campaign consists of 17 missions (as well as three bonus missions) and three difficulties: Agent, Special Agent, and Perfect Agent. The different difficulty settings not only change the difficulty of the enemy AI, but also the number of objectives that need to be completed during the course of each mission. This leads to a much varied experience as you progress from difficulty to difficulty. These objectives must be completed without the aid of maps, indicators or waypoints, so, true to classic gaming standards, the player must find their own way. This, in addition to the sometimes repetitive corridors and rooms will certainly lead to a new player getting lost from time to time.

Also, the mission objectives tend to be fairly ambiguous at times, and so, if you are not familiar with them, you can expect to find yourself restarting missions due to failed objectives. This trial and error sort of gameplay was quite common when this game was released, and as such, wasn't much of an issue then. It very well may be to newer gamers who aren't quite experienced with this sort of thing, as newer games tend to hand hold the players a bit more (not necessarily a bad thing, mind you.

The aforementioned navigation issues, in addition to the sometimes ambiguous mission objectives and the obviously dated graphics (even with the texture updates implemented by 4J Studios), present three of four caveats that any potential buyer faces when considering a purchase. Of course, these caveats only apply to newcomers, as gamers familiar with the game will likely know their way around the game and already be familiar with the graphics. Actually, any newcomer who has experience with games a decade old or older can remove the graphics from the complaint list as well. This just leaves the navigation and objectives issues, and of course, this is assuming you're not just purchasing this title for the rather famous multiplayer. If so, then the campaign issues do not apply.

The fourth caveat is the fact that the game utilizes a bounding box style of aiming for the so called manual aim (zoom mode, basically). This means that your reticule can only move within a set space on the screen, which stays stationary (as opposed to the screen moving with your aim), and you must revert back to the non zoomed mode (called free aim in this game) in order to move your aim beyond this specific area of the screen. Basically, if you zoom in to fire on an enemy and miss, and the enemy continues running by, you will have to zoom out to re-track them. Also, the sensitivity adjustment found in the settings menu, while it changes the sensitivity of the free aim (non zoomed), it does not seem to affect the manual aim, and, unfortunately, the manual aim is far too sensitive. Luckily, the manual aim is not really a necessity, and there is a hefty dose of auto aim available to you to make free aim quite sufficient (you can turn it off if you so desire).

These issues aside, everything in this game is as great as you may (or may not) recall. The notoriously bad framerate found in the Nintendo 64 version is now silky smooth. The amount of weapons available for use is staggering, and each has a secondary fire mode in addition to the standard mode. The weapons range from the usual pistols and assault rifles to rocket launchers and snipers, as well as some real oddities like a rail gun that allows you to see, and shoot through, walls, and a so called laptop gun whose secondary fire feature consists of it attaching to surfaces like walls and floors once thrown and acting like an automated turret. Another gun turns into a proximity mine. And so on and so forth. The guns are truly a spectacle, and a huge part of what makes this game so special. These guns are all available for use during both single player, co-operative, and multiplayer modes.

In addition to playing the campaign solo, there is a co-operative mode, which allows two players to play through it together. The second player assumes to role of Joanna's sister, and the two of them work together to uncover the conspiracy unfolding over at DataDyne. In what is a recurring theme with this incredibly innovative game, there is an original mode called counteroperative, which is the antithesis of the cooperative campaign. Rather than work together, one player assumes the role of Joanna, while the other takes on a role as an enemy. If Joanna kills the second player, that person respawns in control of another enemy AI. This patter continues until either Joanna or all of the player controlled enemies are killed (or the objectives are completed). This mode can be played both locally via splitscreen and online, as can the co-operative mode.

Rounding out the non versus multiplayer modes are the challenges and the weapons training events. The challenges are essentially multiplayer scenarios that find the player against bots with specific requirements to be met in order to achieve completion status. This mode, in addition to providing practice, is also the method through which additional weapons are unlocked for use in the multiplayer. The weapons training mode is self explanatory. It's a shooting range with goals to meet for each weapon.

Before moving on to the multiplayer, it should be mentioned that there are a substantial number of cheats that can be unlocked. The method of achieving this is to complete certain campaign levels within specific time limits. These range from quite doable to seemingly impossible, and will provide the non seasoned player with much extra challenge, if they so seek it.

And now, the aspect of the game that many of you are likely most interested in, the multiplayer. The multiplayer is fully intact in this version of the game. A multitude of maps, including the remakes of 3 maps originally found in Goldeneye are present and accounted for. The multiplayer is fast, fun, and furious, as well as varied. Bots can be added into games to fill out the roster of the amount of human players is lacking. All of the modes, including classics like King of the Hill, Capture the Base, solo and team combat (deathmatch) and Hold the Briefcase, are here, as well as two modes the were much more original at the time of release: Pop a Cap, and Hacker Central.

In Pop a Cap, one player is the target, and the other players are tasked with taking them out. If the target kills the pursuing players, he receives a point bonus. If the players kill the target, they receive a point, and the person who killed the target then becomes the new targeted player. Hacker Central tasks players with locating a data uplink, which they must then use to hack a computer system. Both of these items are randomly placed in the map at the start of the game. If the player carrying the data uplink is killed, it is moved to a new location. Once a player carrying the uplink reaches a terminal, they must initiate the hack and remain stationary while it progresses. It is always a wise idea to have other players providing cover during this time.

Multiplayer can be played both locally via splitscreen, which accommodates up to 4 players (who can also play with bots). As for the online, up to 8 human players and 4 bots can be present in a match at once, resulting in 12 total bodies available for you to dump bullets into. The only real issue with the multiplayer is the fact that, at least at present, there seems to be some lag present. This has been reported by many players, and while it is certainly not game breaking, it is worth mentioning. Whether or not this clears up (or is addressed via a patch) remains to be seen. As it stands, the lag is not in any way a serious hindrance. It seems to crop up in spurts, and then it dissipates, only to return minutes later, but it is only ever present for a few seconds.

Perfect Dark was an excellent FPS in 2000, and it remains so today. The gun selection is staggering, the modes available numerous and innovative, the options endless, the replay value unquantifiable. The framerate is now perfect, and perhaps best of all, it's ten dollars. Aside from the dated bounding box style of manual aim (and the far too high and unchangeable sensitivity) and the spots of lag that people, including myself, seem to be encountering, this game is nearly perfect, and frankly, upstages most modern FPS games. Perhaps not in terms of mechanics, and certainly not visually, but the options, customization, replay value, and the odd mix of simplicity and complexity make this one hell of a fun, old school game.
Oh, and no expansion pack required (N64 PD fans will know what this means).

Overall Score: 9.5/10

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Gears of War Campaign Review

Gears of War is a third person shooter, developed by Epic Games, of Unreal fame, and published by Microsoft Game Studios. The game was released in November of 2006 for the Xbox 360, and was later ported to the PC (November of 2007). The game is renowned for its high fidelity visuals, powered by the third iteration of the Unreal Engine.

Gears of War details the activities of a band of soldiers known as Delta Squad on the fictional planet Sera. The game follows Delta Squad as they fight to save the human inhabitants of the planet Sera from the Locust Horde, a subterranean, alien enemy. The player assumes the role of Marcus Fenix, a former prisoner and Delta Squad soldier. Gears of War, as mentioned, is a third person shooter, or TPS. The game is commonly referred to as an "over-the-shoulder" third-person shooter, as the camera is positioned in such a way that when firing, the perspective is literally over the shoulder, as opposed to the myriad of alternatives, which all share in common a more panned out camera view. This view is used to enhance the visceral and immersive nature of the combat.

The combat in Gears of War places a heavy emphasis on the the use of cover, which the enemy and friendly AI make liberal use of; the player is expected to follow suit, and in fact, must do so if they desire to survive the onslaught of he relentless Locust Horde.

The game features a number of weapon types, including standard weapons such as shotguns, pistols and grenades. One interesting weapon is the Hammer of Dawn, which is a COG Imulsion-energized satellite weapon. Essentially, it's a laser weapon that uses satellite tracking to locate, and target enemies. Use of the Hammer requires that an orbital satellite first be aligned with the general area of operation, and that it have a line of sight to the targeting unit (thus limiting most uses of the Hammer to the outdoors). Once a visual link between the targeting unit and satellite has been achieved, the user must point the hand-held unit's laser at the intended target, at which point the orbital satellite will lock onto the laser's point of termination and begin a sustained particle energy blast on the site. The Hammer is a very powerful weapon, but limited, by its satellite tracking, to specific environments.

Perhaps the most used, and unique weapon in the game is the Lancer. The Lancer is an otherwise standard assault rifle with a twist: it has on it a mounted chainsaw bayonet that can be used to inflict a gruesome and gory death on the enemy once they are within melee range of the player. This use of this weapon in close range leads to some particularly visceral and exciting kills. Another particularly noteworthy weapon is the Torque Bow, which is a Locust weapon, which the player is eventually able to wield, to great effect, as the Torque Bow is a bow that fires deadly explosive arrows.

The game features an innovative twist on the old reload forumla. The so called ''Active Reload'' is a technique that, when used successfully , allows one to reload faster and also achieve a temporary damage boost. The ''active reload'' is performed by initiating a reload, and then, in the middle of the reload animation, hitting the button a second time at the correct time, indicated by an onscreen marker. If the player fails to execute the technique properly, by mistiming the second button press, the gun will jam, extending the original reload time. This feature is more useful in the single player portion of the game than it is in the multiplayer portion, as it is rather easy to execute, which means virtually anyone can do it, basically negating the intended advantage.

Health in Gears of War is regenerative. When the player takes damage, a red mark in the shape of a cog, referred to as the ''Crimson Omen,'' appears, starting out faint but filling in darker and darker with increasing amounts of damage taken. Once the player is hurt, they must seek cover to recover their health. If too much damage is taken before the player can find cover and initiate the regeneration process, the player is killed. If, however, you are playing the campaign with a co-op partner, and they are in the vicinity, they can actually revive you. Rather than immediately dying, in the co-op mode, the downed player enters a bleed out stage. If their partner can get to them in time, they can revive them and they'll be back to full health and ready to fight. Of course, if the partner cannot get to the player, or both are downed, the team must restart from the last checkpoint, as the death of one of the teammates results in punishment for both. This serves to increase the focus on teamwork, which is vital to a successful an fun co-op experience.

The campaign in Gears of War stretches out over five acts, each themselves broken up into various chapters, totalling 36 Chapters in all, which can be beaten in about 10-12 hours or so, depending upon difficulty and familiarity, of course. All in all, it's a decent length, and it can be played both as a solo effort, and in co-operative mode with one other player. The basic template for the game is fairly simple. You engage in one firefight after another, many of which are part of a larger and usually fairly impressive set piece battle. There are some moments that take a sort of survival horror light approach to things, but generally, it's all about the action.

The actual firefights are based around the idea of taking cover, as previously stated. This mechanic works fairly well, but can also start to feel a bit stale by the end of the game, and it also leads to predictable fights both in the sense that you know how they will play out, but also, when, as you'll be walking, and suddenly you'll see a clearing punctuated with, most frequently, slabs of chest high concrete, but also burned-out cars, piles of scrap metal, huge stone columns, fountains, and, stairways, among other things.

Certain sections of the campaign features divergent paths that attempt to add a bit of non linearity to what is a strictly linear game. In the single player campaign, these sections offer little in the way of any real impact. These moments are more interesting in co-op play, however, as you and your partner are separated, and can no longer rely on eachother, save for a few of these moments where the game will have one player covering another from a specific vantage point. One of these moments in particular has one player using the Hammer of Dawn to cover their partners' back, and this moment, along with a couple of others, serve to offer a fresh change of pace in an otherwise great but stagnant co-operative experience.

Also adding to the change of pace offered by these moments is the fact that, as a consequence of being separated, there is no chance to revive your partner. This results in both players needing to play more cautiously, more strategically, and more intelligently to get through a few tough spots present in the game. If they do not, they will be stuck having to repeat the section over and over until they formulate a workable strategy.

The routine combat sections are also broken up by a few boss fights, as well as an interesting vehicle section, which, rather than have you drive a vehicle or shoot a mounted turret, has you using a mounted......something.......which will not be spoiled here, but suffice it to say it's fairly original, and this idea is actually expanded into a bit of a gameplay mechanic as it appears in another particularly memorable sequence. These moments are framed around the appearance of and subsequent battles with a particularly memorable enemy, whom nothing more will be said about to preserve the surprise new players will encounter. It's not a mechanic that is utilized through the whole game, but when it does appear, it changes the tone of the game somewhat, as actually hinted at earlier in this review.

Speaking of enemies, the enemies in Gears of War are not terribly varied, as the majority are humanoid with slight visual differences, but the weapons they utilize and, consequently, the tactics they employ, actually do serve to make them feel somewhat distinct from one another. However, despite the use of varied tactics, the method of dispatching them is almost always always the same: wait behind cover, while they crouch behind theirs, waiting specifically for them to pop their heads out and then engage. As the game progresses, enemies other than the humanoid type prevalent through much of the game do make appearances, including those alluded to, but not detailed, above.

There are a few issues dealing with the cover system that warrant mention, especially given the fact that the cover mechanic is so integral to the Gears experience. If you shoot a part of an exposed enemies body while they are still crouched behind cover, you won't get a reaction. For example, sometimes an enemies' back is just ever so slightly exposed over the lip of the cover he is hiding behind. You can sit there and shoot their exposed backside, clearly making contact, and have it be to no avail, as you get no reaction. This is a rather jarring thing to encounter, and while some may downplay this as not of any particular importance, it seems to be a pretty fundamental problem to have in a game based around hiding behind cover.

A second issue present is related to the controls. The A button has too many features mapped to it, and this cannot be changed. The A button is used for clinging to cover, as you do not automatically take cover by just walking, running, or crouch walking into a piece of cover. You actually have to press the A button to take cover, which results in what is often referred to as a ''sticky'' cover system, and may be an apt description. In addition to the cling function, however, the A button is also used for the so called ''Roadie Run'' which is Epic Games version of an in game sprint. The roadie run differs from a regular sprint in that it's a quick sprint where the camera takes an embedded-journalist perspective, narrowing and focusing the field of view (but taking the camera control away from the player), with the aim of increasing the tension as you try to escape from danger. The problem lies in the fact that you'll often be sprinting, done by holding down the A button, and inadvertently take cover against some piece of the landscape you just brushed as you were running.

One last issue that bears mention is the fact that the story, while derivative, could still have used some fleshing out. As it stands, it does little more than to serve as fodder for driving the action along. There's no real depth, no emotion, and the characters are all flat, one note brutish thugs. Macho bravado is the order of the day. It's like an 80's action movie on steroids with the one liners cranked to the max. This won't be an issue to many gamers, who are only concerned with the action, and in fact, the genre isn't particularly known for engaging narratives, but it bears mention, at least, as there will be a certain subset of the target audience who will be miffed by this.

In terms of extras, there are present throughout the campaign, the cog tags (which are Gears of War's version of dog tags) of fallen comrades, which the player is tasked with collecting, which they can opt to do or not. It's at the player's discretion whether or not they do so. The ones who take this small but not insignificant extra challenge will find themselves rewarded with the pleasure of the hunt, for those to whom collecting items is attractive, and also a set of achievements, which ups the ante in terms of motivation to partake in the search. Unfortunately, there is a missed opportunity here, as Epic games could have used the cog tags as a lunching pad to extra character development. It would have been neat had they given the player a small flashback cutscene, or some text, to provide some information on the specific soldier who's tag was being recovered.

The campaign can be played at three difficulty settings. From easiest to hardest, these are "Casual", "Hardcore" and "Insane". The "Insane" difficulty is unlocked only when the game is beaten on one of the other two difficulties. The difficulties are aptly named, and Insane, while doable alone, is much better suite for co-op play, and it's quite difficult, and exposing oneself for more than a few seconds at a time puts one in grave mortal danger. This really leads to heavy use of the cover mechanic and the amplification of the repetition experienced on the lower difficulties. Co-op offsets some of this, as, and pardon the cliche, two heads (or two guns might be more apt) are better than one.

Graphically, this game is simply astounding, at least on a technical level. There may be contention based upon the art style, which can best be described and drab and gritty (seriously, the colour palette seems to include brown, black and grey, and nothing else) but on a technical level, this game is easily one of the best looking on the console. If the graphics, on a technical level, had to be summed up in one word, that word would be detail. The character models are big, thick, fully detailed, and larger than life. The polygon count looks to be though the roof. Ditto for the environments, which, along with everything else, also feature high resolution textures and no visible jaggies or other flaws.

The art style, as drab as some people may accuse it of being, serves to lend the game a really gritty, realistic look, which, when this game was released, was an absolute benchmark setter for consoles, and even now impresses. One negative aspect of the graphics, other than the distaste some have for the art style, is the fact that they impressed so greatly both before and after the game's release, that some would argue that the issues with the game, such as the control problems and repetitive nature of the combat, were glossed over by people in awe of the visuals.

Also rounding out the impressive presentation is the excellent sound design and musical score. The score changes, depending on the action taking lace onscreen, punctuating the action with punchy, military themed music, and guiding along the slower, more tense moments with sounds that propel you forward, drawing you in deeper, but carrying with it a sense that anything could be lurking around the next corner. The Locusts' voices are sufficiently menacing and alien, really adding to the atmosphere and the feeling that you truly are fighting an alien force. The weapons sound great, and have a decent amount of kick to them. The sounds of heads exploding and chainsaws revving are very intense. All in all, from a presentation perspective, the game is spot on in terms of visuals and sound, but lacking when it comes to story.

So, Gears of War provides a well paced, great looking and sounding, fun, brutal, and visceral campaign experience which can be enjoyed either alone or with a friend. The game has challenge for those who seek it, and apart from the small control related issues, and the strange phenomenon of enemies not responding to being shot when they are crouched behind cover, everything works beautifully on a technical level. The game is pretty well polished. There are some very cool set piece moments present in the campaign, the enemy design is quite cool and sufficiently menacing, and the weapons available for use are well rounded and diverse.

That all being said, the core gameplay mechanic, namely, the cover system, can become tedious and repetitive after a time, and as mentioned earlier, the battles get predictable both in terms of when they happen and how they play out. The combat never ceases to be fun, mind you, and the vehicle section, few boss fights, and few really excellent moments relating to the unnamed enemy type do help to alleviate some of the tedium, but it's still undeniably there. Sure to be experienced differently by different gamers, there does exist some element of repetition and predictability in Gears of War.

Overall Score: 8.5/10