Showing posts with label reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reviews. Show all posts

Monday, October 12, 2015

Pilots Without Planes- A Titanfall Review



Titanfall is an online only shooter that takes place in a future in which humans have colonized outside of Earth but have not yet freed themselves of the shackles of violent confrontation. In a government vs. the people type scenario, diplomacy has failed, as it often does, and a violent revolution has broken out and both sides are utilizing mechanical, weaponized armour called Titans to do aid them in expressing their message of discontent. 

It would not be all that hard to understand why, to an outside observer, Titanfall might strike them as "just another fps." A standard, run of the mill first person affair replete with fast paced  action complemented by a screen covered in rpg-esque numbers and symbols; both of which work to provide immediate and visceral satisfaction and long term addictive behaviour, including the inability to refrain from buying overpriced map packs or a "season pass." Play the game however, and it becomes abundantly clear that Titanfall is more than that. The folks at Respawn Entertainment were clearly aware of the state of the genre and the long term implications of market oversaturation and worked hard to make a shooter that may look like the rest but is actually substantially different (even including addressing the pricing of post release downloadable content).

Monday, March 10, 2014

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's....a Pilot? Pilots Without Planes- A Titanfall Review



Titanfall is an online only shooter that takes place in a future in which humans have colonized outside of Earth but have not yet freed themselves of the shackles of violent confrontation. In a government vs. the people type scenario, diplomacy has failed, as it often does, and a violent revolution has broken out and both sides are utilizing mechanical, weaponized armour called Titans to do aid them in expressing their message of discontent. 

It would not be all that hard to understand why, to an outside observer, Titanfall might strike them as "just another fps." A standard, run of the mill first person affair replete with fast paced  action complemented by a screen covered in rpg-esque numbers and symbols; both of which work to provide immediate and visceral satisfaction and long term addictive behaviour, including the inability to refrain from buying overpriced map packs or a "season pass." Play the game however, and it becomes abundantly clear that Titanfall is more than that. The folks at Respawn Entertainment were clearly aware of the state of the genre and the long term implications of market oversaturation and worked hard to make a shooter that may look like the rest but is actually substantially different (even including addressing the pricing of post release downloadable content).

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Beat Hazard Review (Xbox 360 Indie Games)

Beat Hazard is a dual stick shooter found on the indy games section on Xbox Live which, upon first glance, will draw immediate comparisons to Geometry Wars, and for good reason; the games are similar in many ways (both of which being essentially modern versions of Asteroids). Similarly to the aforementioned Geometry Wars, this game utilizes very flashy visuals chock full of special effects, which can only be described as ''psychedelic.'' It really adds to the intensity and excitement while playing, although, it can lead to some frustration, especially during the acclimation process, but I will get to this later. Suffice it to say this is a dual stick space shooter that plays very similarly to Geometry Wars.


Geometry Wars, to which this game could be considered a spiritual successor (although it's not)

But it could be!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Crackdown 2 Reviews are In. Still Confused! Rent or Buy? ALSO, Gaming is a Relgion...My Religion.

Crackdown 2 Reviews are In. Rent or Buy? Also, Gaming is a Relgion...My Religion.

NOTE: This blog was intended to be a short discussion of my feelings regarding whether I should rent or purchase Crackdown 2, as I am feeling uncertain on this point, and the slate of reviews that have just come out don't seem to have helped in this regard. However, it ended up blossoming into this monstrous post regarding a bunch of other stuff including this big realization that gaming is a religion, and that, furthermore, gaming is MY religion. I, the most avowed atheist in existence (lol), an ardent antitheist, who blogs about his disdain for religion on a regular basis, have realized that I am indeed religious!

So, I will do this in sections. Look for the large, bold, red text to signify a new section, and sorry for the rambling. Hopefully the content more than makes up for the form....and the content.....lol!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Earth Defence Force 2017 Review

EDF! EDF! EDF!

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

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 http://www.gameronfire.com/index.php/component/content/article/49-xbox-reviews/119-perfect-dark-xbla-review

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

Friday, March 5, 2010

Regarding Game Reviews: Theory, Details, Numerical Scales: Analysis and a Proposition

In this blog, I am going to discuss what I think a general guideline for reviews should look like. I will then discuss reviews in general, followed by attempt at qualifying a top ten scale. 



So first, the review guideline.

Points of Interest: This should be fairly obvious. Story, Graphics, Sound, Gameplay, Overall/Summation. Should they be done in explicit categories, or just worked into the text in an implicit but clear manner? On this point, I have mixed feelings. It looks more professional and cohesive without categories, but categories really aid with navigation, and they also tend to make the reviews look really structured. I could go either way on this one, although since most professional reviews tend to take the uncategorized approach, it must be more desirable.

Length: Certain games merit a certain amount of effort, and while you could get away with a 500 word review for something like Tetris, something like Mass Effect 2 requires much more detail.

My idea of a rough outline for review lengths:

Indy game/DLC/Arcade game: At least 500 words.

Full retail or full downloadable game: At least 1500 words.

I like to write lengthy reviews, because I am all about detail, but I recognize not everyone wants to read (or write) 3000 word reviews. This, however, brings me to my final point:

Detail: Detail is very important. Certain games warrant more detail than others, as do certain genres, and where that detail lies is also genre specific. If you're reviewing a hack n slash game with a heavy focus on action, don't glaze over the combat system. Describe it in detail. Explain the mechanics of it.

If you're reviewing an RPG, don't just hastily mention that there's a skill tree. Describe it in detail. Explain how points are assigned, whether or not you can respec it once you're in game, etc. If the game is a combat heavy RPG, explain the combat system. If you're reviewing a survival horror game with a focus on puzzles, don't just mention that it's puzzle heavy. Describe them in detail. How numerous are they? Are they challenging? Do they make sense in the context of the game, or are they completely nonsensical? What types of puzzles do you encounter, and are they repetitive? etc.

There's nothing I hate more than a review that skimps on detail. Not to brag or anything, but compare my Tokyo Beat Down review, which I just submitted to this site on Friday, to gamespot’s review for said game, and tell me my review isn’t far superior. The author skimped on the details and obviously rushed the review. That’s bullshit, especially for a supposed professional. You can still write a detailed review without going overboard on the word count. The reader should be left with as few questions as possible after a review. That’s how I see it at least.

Now, I would like to briefly discuss reviews in general.

Game reviews are a tricky thing. Reviews in general are a tricky thing. You want to be as objective as possible, but, while there certainly are objective elements within a game, the overall nature of gaming preferences and enjoyment is absolutely subjective. I can play a game like Modern Warfare 2, be completely underwhelmed, and more inclined to notice the faults of the game, while a fan would likely glaze over them. I might say ascribe a 7 or an 8 to the game, which is still a great score, but where I see redundancy and lack of innovation (not to mention technical flaws and broken promises), others will see FPS greatness, and disparage my ‘’low’’ score. I could then face being ostracized by the gaming community at large, for what is effectively my opinion.

This is why I hesitate to fully trust professional reviews for big name, hyped games. Are you telling me that not one of the dozens of reviewers was underwhelmed by MW2, and saw fit to score it much lower than the high 9’s it was pulling everywhere? I suppose it’s possible, but I have my doubts. And when you throw in the conflict of interest that is advertising (and freebies/goodies/trips/dinners/parties, etc) one has to wonder how truthful they really are when it comes to some games.

As for review scores themselves, they are arbitrary, and this is more evident the more specific you get. I mean, clearly there’s some objectivity inherent within the scoring system. A 2 is a far cry from a 9. But what’s the difference between an 8.5 and an 8.8?

Go ahead, try and qualify that for me.

I’ll wait here.

*waits*

Thought so.

That being said, most of us like scores (although I hope you all focus more on the content of the review than you do the numerical score) and I use them myself in my reviews.

So what’s my scoring system like?



Note: Keep in mind that this isn't terribly serious, it will differ from person to person, and I didn't put exceptional amounts of thought into it. It's an on the spot, rough outline of how I see it.

1-Broken.The worst a game could ever be. Avoid, even if paid to play it. In fact, burn on sight.

2-Dreadful. Not worth it, even for free. Punch the person in the face for even offering it to you.

3-Very bad. Maybe play for the lulz, if you can get it free. Maybe. On a dreadfully boring rainy day.

4-Pretty bad, but some redeeming qualities. Sort of. Rent if you have no other options.

5-Mediocre. Few things done right, but buried amongst much bad. Decent rental, nothing more.

6-Decent. The bones of a good game here, but many flaws. A rental or bargain bin purchase.

7-Good. A good game that doesn't particularly stand out, and has some flaws, but is worth your time.

8-Great. Few flaws, mostly positives. Doesn't quite stand out, perhaps held back by a few little issues.

9-Excellent. A game that must be played. Very few discernable flaws. Nothing seriously wrong with it.

10-As good as you'll ever get. Does everything right. Seemingly flawless; what devs should aspire to.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Raiden IV Xbox 360 Review

Raiden IV is a top down vertical scrolling shooter, or vertical shmup, as games of this type are affectionately known, developed by Moss, and published by UFO Interactive. The xbox 360 version is an enhanced port of the 2007 arcade version. For those of you who are familiar with the genre, and know exactly what to expect, skip to the seventh paragraph of this review to get to the specific assessment of the merits (and flaw) of this particular game. For the uninitiated, it is prudent that you be appraised of exactly what it is you are going to encounter when you play this game, as these games cater to a very specific audience. If you go in not knowing what to expect, you may be severely disappointed. If you are not particularly familiar with this type of game, read on starting from the next paragraph.



The way these games play out is as follows: you control a ship equipped with various weapons, and you navigate a space filled with enemies who you must shoot, and who fire back at you en masse. The goal is to destroy the other ships while avoiding their fire. Along the way, you pick up various powerups, such as extra lives and bombs, as well as ship upgrades like shields and weapon upgrades. These games are known for having a high level of difficulty, as well as often requiring patterns memorization, due to the fact that enemies spawn and fire in a set pattern. If you can not react quickly enough to this pattern, you will be inundated by enemy fire, trapped in an unfavourable position, and ultimately, find yourself dead.

It's really quite a simple setup, and it has been utilized for decades due to its effectiveness. This type of system encourages multiple playthroughs, and, upon finally attaining a certain level of pattern recognition and memorization, one can do the thing revered by fans of the genre: the one credit playthrough. This seems impossible upon first encountering these games, but with the right level of proficiency and dedication, it's more than doable.

Two unfortunate (depending on who you ask) side effects to such a system do exist, however, and this game is no exception. First, and foremost, is the fact that these games are usually short, both because of their arcade origins (which also explains the difficulty) and because of the required pattern memorization. The second thing is the seemingly unfair difficulty encountered by new or unfamiliar players. These games are often incredibly hard and, upon first exposure, may easily be deemed unfair by new players.

This accusation could certainly be levied against Raiden IV. This is one difficult game, although concessions are made by Moss in the form of several difficulty modes (including a practice mode devoid of enemy fire) and the ability to unlock extra continues and lives, ultimately allowing one to play with a high default number of lives and continues. They have also enabled the ability for the player, upon meeting the game over screen, to restart at the level they last reached, rather than having to restart from the beginning, as so many games in this genre have you do.

The problem with the lowered level of difficulty, however, is that the fun is in the challenge. To play with complacent enemies leaves you with the distinct feeling that the game is holding back, which results in you feeling that you're not getting the full experience. It also fails to prepare you for play at the higher difficulty, so that once you start playing at the default (or higher) difficulty, you're not much better off than you would have been had you not previously played the game. So, your best bet is to just jump right in. If you're willing to do so, read on.


Raiden IV features seven stages in the enhanced xbox 360 mode (the original arcade mode is available as well). These stages must actually be played twice in a sitting to reach the secret eight stage. The stages aren't terribly lengthy, and the whole thing can be played through in about an hour or so (double that if you're going for the secret stage). There is one controllable ship, although you have the option to purchase two more, at 80 Microsoft points each, from the xbox live marketplace, giving you three ships in all. This decision seems unfair to the player, and neither of the two ships seems worth the purchase.

There are three main weapons and several secondary weapons available for use in the game. The three main weapons are a spread machine gun, a focused (but powerful) laser, and the most visually pleasing, and arguably most useful of the three, a purple laser that locks on to multiple enemies, resulting in a cool effect where it basically wraps around the screen. It's not as powerful as the focused laser, however, and it can tend to obstruct your view at times, but both of these issues are mitigated by the supremely useful lock on ability. The secondary weapons include things like missiles and heat seeking bombs.

The enemy variety is standard for the genre. It is replete with various ship types, tanks, arachnoid like robotic enemies, etc. The amount of ammunition thrown your way is quite high, and you will often find the entire screen covered in gunfire, leaving you with very little space to navigate. This is where the pattern memorization and fast reflexes come in handy.

In addition to the two new stages, this version of the game includes local co-op (no online play), online leaderboards, and the ability to save replays and post them to the leaderboard, as well as the ability to download other players replay data. This can be very useful for those trying to learn the best ways to navigate certain sections of the game, and to learn boss strategies employed by the top players. An additional, and rather interesting, new feature is the dual mode, which has you controlling two ships at the same time. This is a difficult task that requires both dexterity and good reflexes. It's a fun addition for skilled and familiar players looking to increase the challenge and try something new.


In terms of presentation, the game leaves much to be desired. While there are completely customizable controls, and a number of extra options, the menu sound effects are irritating, the graphics and sound, while adequate, leave much to be desired, the price is far too high at $40, and the two extra ships need to be purchased, which, in addition the the high price, seems almost criminal. The price is particularly problematic when you consider the fact that in early 2009, the xbox 360 received a Raiden collection, featuring three games, for half the price of this one.

Raiden IV plays well, and while it does nothing terribly innovative, it is both fun and challenging. It also comes with several interesting extras, making this a decent package. Unfortunately, the price of entry is far too high, and the paid DLC just adds to this. Releasing just months after the previous Raiden package on the same system, selling for half the price with triple the content, renders this even more objectionable. The game can be played by anybody, but it definitely caters to fans of the genre, and while they may be more inclined to shell out the money, this game still seems far more suited to a much lower price point. A rental or bargain bin purchase seems to be the best recommendation here.

Overall Score: 7/10

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Zombie Apocalypse XBLA Review

Bring the Apocalypse, or Get Feasted On.























In Zombie Apocalypse, you have two choices. Either expend incredible amounts of ammunition bringing the Apocalypse to a bunch of brain hungry zombies, or just give up and be eaten. Not sure which option to take? Well, then this review is for you. This won't be a terribly lengthy review, as the game is quite simple. It's an arcade style twin stick shooter, in the vein of classics like Robotron and SMASH TV (both of which are also available on the Xbox Live Arcade).

Remember this?

Now there's this:

This game follows the same basic pattern. You pick one of four characters:

and then you start out in an area, blast away everything in sight, then move on to the next area when you clear the one you're currently in. There are 7 different environments, and you move from one to the other and back again over the course of 50 days (each level is a different day). And of course, like the games of old, you work to increase your score, which goes up higher and higher via a multiplier. You earn 1 to your multiplier for every 5 zombies you kill. You do this until you survive the ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE.

So, you do this, along the way picking up various weapons, which include a shotgun, dual SMG, rifle, molotov cocktails, flamethrower, grenade launcher, and rocket launcher. Your default weapons are an assault rifle and a chainsaw, which you can use in two ways. Normal, and execution. Executions add 3 to your multiplier for each one you do, so they are very useful, but they also leave you open for attack for a second after you do one, so you must use them wisely. When the shotgun toting sheriff zombies (yes, seriously) show up, you don't want to be stuck doing an execution when one of them is nearby, you'll be open to a shotgun blast.

Speaking of shotgun toting sheriff zombies, these are the enemy types to be found in the game (weapon or attributes in brackets):

Dodge Zombie (side-stepper)
Shambler (regular zombie)
Big Boy (construction worker, can't break)
Granny (knives)
Nurse
Queen (flying)
Puker (puke piles, slows you down)
Dynamite Guy (blows you up)
Infected Human (not attracted to bait)

That last one refers to two things I have not, as of yet, mentioned. There are survivors that randomly appear, and if you protect them for a short period of time, and they get picked up by helicopter, you get a score bonus. If they get attacked, they turn and then attack you. The bait mentioned is a talking C4 filled teddy bear (again, seriously) which you can throw to get the horde off of your back, and then watch as they gather around the lovable teddy bear.....and then BOOM, they explode into a pile of bloody gore. Well, this works on everything except the newly turned zombies.

Splat!

The game starts out with one mode, and then you can unlock some new ones through normal play. They are as follows:

Turbo (faster)
All Weaons (you carry infinite versions of every weapon, which you can cycle through with the dpad)
Blackout (limited light)
Hardcore (start with one life)
Chainsaw Only (self explanatory)
7 Days of Hell (a long and very difficult mode)

As for the difficulty, it starts out easy and then ramps up, gettting quite difficult later on, although this is offset by infinite continues, which you can use if desired. Any score earned after continuing does not get posted to the leaderboards. You start with 4 lives, and you earn more as you gain score.

There is 4 player co-op, both online and off, in addition to the aforementioned leaderboards. The game is really fun, especially at first, but it's not perfect. So, a few downsides to the game:

1) Only 2 bosses, and it's really the same one twice

2) It gets repetitive, seeing as how it's a fairly shallow arcade game.

3) At $10, I don't think it's overpriced per se, but at $5 it would have been a sure bet for more people.

4) There isn't a huge community for this, at least on the xbox 360 version (I can't speak for the PS3 version). It's been out a few days, and the most people I have seen online at once is maybe 40.

Overall, this is a good looking, fun, modernized take on an old arcade standby, the top down shooter. Very fun, especially with friends, and it has a decent amount if unlockables, which is refreshing. It can also get stale fairly quickly. If you're a high score junkie, then you'll find more replayability out of it. The price is fair enough, and it really is fun. For the price of a movie ticket, you'll get two (or more) times the amount of hours of enjoyment. So, despite the inherently repetitive and shallow nature of the game, it's definitely a recommended buy for arcade shooter and zombie fans.

Final Score: 8/10.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Bejeweled 2 Deluxe XBLA Review

Bedazzled
























Bejeweled 2 Deluxe was released in 2005 for the xbox 360. It's a sequel to the hit puzzle game Bejeweled. The concept of Bejeweled, as is the case with most puzzle games, is really quite simple. There is a board filled with gems, or jewels, of various shapes and sizes, and your goal is to swap places, two gems at a time, in order to cause three or more of the same kind of gems to line up. This results in them disappearing from the board, only to be replaced by the same number of a random selection of gems. Also as is the case with most other puzzle games, this simplicity is deceptive, as there are various strategies to be employed en route to clearing the requisite number of moves in order to progress. At least, this is the case for some of the modes. The end goal changes depending on which of the several game modes you are playing. We'll come to this momentarily, however. I'd like to describe the basic gameplay in just a little more detail before we get to the game modes.

There are seven main types of gems: the red square, the green circle, the yellow diamond, the white circle, the orange hexagon, the blue rounded (Reuleaux) triangle, and the purple triangle. When four of these are matched, a Power Gem is created. These are special versions of the regular pieces that explode when matched with other gems, destroying the surrounding pieces. When five gems are matched, a Hypercube is created. These special pieces destroy all of the gems of a given variety on the field when matched with one of that variety. For example, matching it with a purple triangle results in all of the available purple triangles being destroyed. These Power Gems and Hypercubes become focal points of the gameplay, as they play heavily into the strategies employed in the game.


As alluded to earlier, there are several game modes found within Bejeweled 2 Deluxe. There are nine modes, to be exact. The standard mode is as described above. The Action mode is a timed version of the standard mode. Puzzle Mode is a mode in which you are presented with various puzzles which need to be solved by matching specific gems in a certain order, thereby clearing the board. Another mode available in the game is the Endless mode, which is comprised of a series of levels, which increase in length as you get farther in. The hook in this mode is that you can never lose, hence the title 'Endless Mode.' Unlike in the regular modes, you will never get the dreaded no more moves text popup, which signifies a game over. The rest of the modes are hidden, and are up to the player to discover.

Visually, the game is pleasing to the eye, especially in high definition. Nothing ground breaking, but it's a nice clean, simple look, with sharp detail and beautiful backgrounds. The gems have a shine to them which catches the eye.

The game, like many other in the genre, is seemingly innocuous at first, but gets devilishly harder as time progresses, and if it grabs you, will hook you in for many, many hours. The developers tried to play to this with the achievements, which are very, very difficult to attain and almost incomprehensibly time consuming for the most part. The one for reaching level 280 in Endless mode, for example, will take about 100 hours to complete. Then you add in the 10000 power gems/1000 hypercubes achievement, and you have yourself a lot of gameplay ahead of you, if so inclined.

As far as negatives go, there are but a few. It's not incredibly complex, but that seems to work to its advantage. There's just enough depth to keep you interested, while at the same time remaining simplistic enough to be accessible and fun. However, this lack of depth may be seen as a downside to some gamers. Another possible downside is that there is no multiplayer. This is a single player only affair. The game design is not one that strikes me as particularly conducive to multiplayer, but some people may feel otherwise.

This is a good game that will appeal to most puzzle game fans, save for those few who require vast amounts of depth in their puzzle games. Other than that group, this will be a good purchase, and at 10 dollars, it's a good value, especially considering the gameplay hours you can squeeze from it. It's the type of game that's good for those times where you don't want to play anything too engaging, but rather, just sort of zone out and play something that will help you unwind after a long day. And if you're an achievement hunter, you've got your work cut out for you.

Overall Score: 8.5/10

Friday, February 5, 2010

Gamer On Fire!!! ( Gameronfire.com )

Gamer On Fire!!!

I am now on staff at a gaming website. We're still working on defining roles, but it appears that I will be the Lead Content Editor, or something akin to that, as well as a writer (primarily xbox 360 related content, I imagine, but as I said, roles are still being defined), and a forum moderator. We are throwing together ideas for a podcast, a video service, and some other cool stuff like integration with and support of, professional gaming teams, and some other neat stuff.

The site is also going to feature a discussion forum that allows basically any and all discussion in regards to gaming. None of that ''blog it'' or ''no vs. threads'' shit. If you want to post a topic extolling the virtues of one game over another, go for it, but at least try and be constructive about it. If you think the DS is better than the PSP, say it. We're not little children who will jump to rally behind our little plastic devices and act all indignant upon hearing a dissenting opinion. And if you act like one, you won't have mods to protect you from others' opinions, so you'll have to either grow up, or leave.

Of course, if this is too idealistic, and it turns into a shitstorm of crybaby bullshit, then we might have to implement some changes, but that's not the vision we have for the forums.

The website is http://www.gameronfire.com/

I have an offical blog there, which can be accessed @ http://www.gameronfire.com/index.php/blogs/magx01

So, come check us out, join the forums, and help us grow. Keep in mind, the place is still under construction, and things are still being sorted out, but it's basically fully functional at this point in terms of forums and such, but there is plenty of work to be done yet on the content and infrastructure implementation side of things. The admin/webmaster, Tyler, seems to have a good vision for the site, so I have much confidence in it and him. Also, he's looking for staff, so feel free to apply if you feel you would be an asset. You can do that on the website itself, or in the forums.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Borderlands Review

Care to Open Pandora's.....Vault?


[Note] This review is for the xbox 360 version of the game.


Borderlands in the latest game from Gearbox software, the developer known for making FPS games, namely, the Brothers in Arms series. They have always prided themselves on being just a bit different. A bit more cerebral and thoughtful in their approach. They have brought that mentality of innovation and fresh experiences to Borderlands, which is an FPS/RPG hybrid, that finds the player alone on a vast wasteland of a planet known as Pandora.

Pandora is a hostile place. You find yourself there on a quest to locate the oft rumoured Vault, a place steeped in myth and legend that is said to contain unnamed riches. You are not alone in this search, as many other individuals and some greedy corporations have tried over the years to locate the Vault. So far, none have been successful. Does the Vault even exist? This question haunts you on your quest.

Does that sound compelling? Well, I didn't think so either, but it's enough to drive the action forward. The story is definitely not a highlight in this game, and it's shallowness is definitely one of the few flaws. The emphasis in this game is on gameplay. Namely, combat, looting, and leveling up your choice of one of four available characters. So, is the game compelling enough to succeed despite a paper thin story, and other issues?

Graphics

This game utilizes an intriguing art style that has been described as a moving comic book. It's really quite stunning in motion, despite a few occasional flaws (jagged edges and shadows, and some minor clipping). It features black line borders around characters and objects, and a very vast colour palette. It's a game who's look speaks for itself (which is likely why the developers changed it midway through development. It really helps differentiate it). There is a small issue with the engine, as texture pop in is evident when loading a new area, similar to games like Mass Effect and Gears of War. I'm not sure if this game utilizes a modified Unreal III engine, but I know that engine is known for pop in so it is possible. Overall, despite the few flaws, this is a game that will, if not outright atop you in your tracks, at least have you acknowledge it's proficiency and uniqueness. The look is also complimented by some nice special effects, including fire and explosive effects, lightning, and exploding limbs. It's really quite beautiful to see.





Sound

The game's soundtrack is largely forgettable, and the audio mixing seems a bit off, as I have difficulty finding a balance between audible but not overpowering musical accompaniment, and clearly defined sound effects. It works for a while, but the music has moments where it grows either too quiet or too loud, and, at least for me, needed to be occasionally adjusted. Then again, when playing, I always have a wife and baby sleeping nearby, as I play at night, so it definitely may be a player specific concern. The gun sounds are adequate.
Voice work is good, although there isn't very much of it, which brings us to another one of the game's flaws: largely inactive NPC's. Most of them don't have all that much to say to you, which can leave you feeling even more alone than you already did at times (assuming you aren't playing this co-op). I'll expand upon this later.

Gameplay

As stated earlier, this game is an FPS/RPG hybrid. It plays like a very adequate FPS, and the RPG elements fit right in, and do not feel at all tacked on, although NPC interaction and story are on the weaker side, as I mentioned earlier. What is done right on the RPG side of things is the experience/leveling system and the loot system. Essentially what you have here is a Diablo style game that plays like an FPS. There are an incredible number of weapons and different items to be found, most of which are procedurally generated, giving you almost limitless combinations of things. Enemies drop guns, shields, money, health packs, class modifications, and other items when they expire, leading to the infamous loot drop addiction: What cool stuff can I acquire next? Let's kill something to find out! You also obtain things as rewards for completing quests, and also, you'll find items through chests located throughout the world. All of these are staples of the RPG genre. Take that, but play it from a first person perspective and with guns, and you have the basic blueprints for Borderlands.


Ah, loot. Glorious loot!

The game is structured similarly to an MMO, although an MMO it is not. There are several areas in a huge world, separated into different zones (with a load time between each). In each zone, you'll find people waiting to doll out quests to you, both of the main story and side variety. You accept these quests, and then go forth to kill things, hunt items and people down, repair things, etc. Standard fare, and of course, along the way, you fight enemies scattered throughout the environment. Speaking of enemies, there is a good variety. You'll find yourself fighting human bandits, giant spiders, rat like creatures (skags), giant scorpion like enemies, flying bat like creatures called Rakks, huge bosses, and a few others I won't spoil here.



You start the game with an introduction to the four playable heroes. You have the Soldier, the Hunter, the Siren, and the Berserker. Each of the classes is more proficient with certain weapons, although anyone can use any weapon they like, with no penalty. Each class has specific abilities, which can be unlocked via a skill tree (different for each character). Using this skill tree, you can specialize your character, so, for example, as a Soldier, you can spec yourself to be a medic, or a support character. Or you can go Commando style and focus on damage abilities. You can also mix it up, and refreshingly, you can redo the whole build for a small in game fee, so don't be afraid to invest points, you can always redo it later on.

Each character also has a character specific action skill. The Hunter can release a bird of prey, which hunts down enemies, the Soldier can throw down an automatic turret which provides cover as well as shoots enemies (and can be spec'd to heal the player(s) as well as regenerate ammo, the Siren can turn invisible and run very fast. Activating this also damages all enemies in the vicinity. The Berserker goes into Berserk mode, which is a rage mode that makes him damage resistant. In this mode, you can rush enemies and melee the hell out of them.

So, you do the aforementioned quests, and you collect weapons and armor. You build up an super powerful version of your original character, kill countless enemies, and try to find this Fabled Vault. You can do this alone, or you play with up to 3 other players online, or 1 more in splitscreen. Co-op increases the fun exponentially in this game, as playing alone can make you feel bit lonely in the vast wasteland that is Pandora, and the fear-of-public-speaking NPC's don't help this feeling.


If it helps, just picture me in my underwear

Co-op works very well, and it is drop in/drop out, so no need to wait around in lobbies. People can join and leave mid game. The only negative to co-op is that the loot system does not incorporate rules for loot drops. It doesn't randomly allocate things to players, or take turns giving each person something. It doesn't split up or share the loot in any way. It's totally everyone for themselves, which means, if you are playing with the wrong people, someone may hog it all. If you are playing with friends, or decent people, it's easy to share, even after someone picks something up. You can just drop it for them, or even trade. You can also fight over loot if you wish, as there is a duel feature implemented into the game. Just melee someone, and if they melee you back, it's on. The fight leaves one person close to death, but no one dies. You can also go to various arenas located throughout the world to engage in 4 player round based skirmishes.

The developers hyped up the amount of guns in the game, and they weren't being deceitful. It's almost endless. You can get shotguns that shoot rockets, snipers that do lighting damage, assault rifles that set people on fire, rocket launchers that shoot 3 rockets at once, ect etc. Now, of course, there are archetypes that the guns fall into, and more often than not, you'll find yourself dropping, ignoring, or selling the guns you see, as many of them won't be better or as good as something you are already carrying. The guns fall into the following types: Combat Rifles, Pistols, Shotguns, Rockets, Submachine guns, Snipers, and Eridian Weapons. There is a proficiency rating for each, and this is leveled up as you earn experience while using one of the different kinds of guns.

There are these little robots called Claptraps, and they can be located throughout the world. When you find one, you will have to find a nearby repair kit to fix him, and upon doing so, are given a backpack expansion, which adds to your inventory space. By the end, you can carry as many as 42 items/weapons.

The world is very huge, although it is broken up into zones, as said earlier. To traverse the land, you can walk, sprint (you have an infinite sprint and do not need to hold the button down, it can be toggled). You can also approach any of the vehicle spawn locations and order up a car, which can be outfitted with either a rocket launcher or machine gun. You can also change the colour of the vehicle, but that's it for customization. And that there is another flaw in the game.

One great aspect of RPG's is that they often allow you to customize your character's appearance. In Borderlands, this is restricted to colour, just like the vehicles. It's not a pressing issue, but it is one that demonstrates how the game is a bit weaker on the RPG elements than some may like.

Summation

So, to sum up, the combat is fast, fluid, visceral (even with the more ''cartoony'' presentation) and fun. Leveling and loot collecting is very addictive. This game is absolutely recommended for anyone who is into both types of gameplay. This game, despite the few flaws, is a fantastic new intellectual property, and, for my money, is one of, if not the game of the year. If the gameplay hooks you, be prepared for countless hours of exploration and looting. Co-op adds to this replay value, as does a new game mode type mode called ''Playthrough 2'' (inventive, I know) which is unlocked after beating the game for the first time. Boderlands is a fantastic game that should not be overlooked.

Overall score: 9/10