Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

Backlog Barrage! Lets Do A Little Role Playing

March 18, 2011

White Knight Chronicles Publisher: SonyDeveloper: Level-5
Platform: PS3  /  Genre: JRPG  /  Release Date: February 2, 2010

White Knight Chronicles (WKC) wasn’t what most expected, or maybe even wanted from Level-5’s first PS3 JRPG. However, I think it was overly criticized and was overall a good title.

Sure the story didn’t pick up till the end, but seeing as the game is just the first in a planned trilogy I can be a little forgiving of that. I think most of the characters weren’t deep enough, and they didn’t grow with the story. This is probably why most people decided to harp on the standard save the princess story. Even if similar tropes are the basis of many other games, which are generally given a pass.

As for the actual gameplay, it plays much like a simplified MMO. You key up actions (spells, attacks, items, etc) and use them when your gauge fills. You are able to stack abilities and actions to create your own combos. During these you will have to complete timed button presses to keep the combo going. It might not be my favorite combat system, but it worked rather well for what they wanted to do.

Besides creating your own combos there is also a very exhaustive crafting system in WKC. You can create a plethora of gear and items. You can also upgrade these. But more unique to WKC is the Georama system, where each player gets to create their own home space. These spaces can be filled with buildings, crops, mineral deposits, shops, filled with workers, and so on. It is a huge addition to the game, and can be fairly addictive. My main complaint would be the amount of time required to grind your way through most of the crafting and Georama systems. I think it would’ve been much better if it were easier to obtain weapons, armor, or new furnishings for your Georama. Instead I eventually succumbed to the realization that the game demanded way too much of my time to really progress. Instead of pushing forward, it made me want to take WKC out of my PS3 and move on to another game.

Like I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I really enjoyed WKC. There is a fun and uniquely deep base here that I hope Level-5 can build on for the sequel. The Georama and online aspects added a lot to the game. In fact, if WKC lacked these components I would have scored it lower. Hopefully we will see some needed tweaks in the upcoming sequel.

SCORE: 7/10

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Final Fantasy XIII Publisher: Square EnixDeveloper: Square Enix
Platform: PS3, Xbox 360  /  Genre: JRPG  /  Release Date: March 9, 2010

Final Fantasy XIII (FFXIII) is yet another game that I struggled with assigning a score to. If I look at piecemeal it seems like a great game, but when it is all put together I feel like it falls short.

Overall the graphics are very good. During battles the spell and combat effects look really good. For the most part, the character models looks really good. However, whenever there is a close up you can see where they cut some corners. I count myself among the crowd that thinks the game suffered from becoming multiplatform. There are a lot of low resolution textures, and even the way the game is designed feels like it was compromised to work with the 360’s DVD limitations.

Which brings me to the worse part of this game. It is incredibly linear. You are forced to run down one long corridor after another. It is designed like a shooter. However that style of game design only works for fast paced action games or shooters. Where you are constantly fighting enemies in real time and are usually met with dramatic set-pieces. In FFXIII you run down mostly empty  and confined pathways. You engage enemies, and are then warped into a battle mode. After defeating the enemies you are warped back to the map. This is standard for a lot of RPGs, but the fact that there are no side-quests until much later in the game (waits until the second disc for the 360… convenient?) makes most of the game feel like one long corridor. If this was more of an action-RPG, this may have worked better. Or maybe even if it was a shorter game, as it really drags at times.

The battle system is more about managing your roles (think job classes) than actually controlling any one character. It is fast paced and flashy, but most of the time ends up feeling like I was just pressing “x” to win. You do need to juggle your roles a lot more later on in the game, but I still think it was lacking.

The characters are decent, and the story is good. Both of which are very important when it comes to RPG’s, especially when they are fairly long. They both had me interested enough to make me want to complete the game. Even after I became bored of the combat or fatigued by the seemingly endless amount of linear maps.

There were times when I completely loved FFXIII, but they a minute later I would be met by something that made me loathe it. It feels like the game could have been something much better and has left me wanting. If it hadn’t been so linear and felt like it was artificially extended just to make it seem like a longer game (which fans of the serious usually expect), I think it would have been a better game. Maybe we will see some serious revisions in the sequel, FFXIII-2.

SCORE: 8/10

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Fallout: New Vegas Publisher: BethesdaDeveloper: Obsidian
Platform: PS3, Xbox 360, PC  /  Genre: WRPG  /  Release Date: October 21, 2010

Where do I begin… Fallout: New Vegas had a lot to prove to me after playing Fallout 3. I could tell there was an idea of a good game in both of these games, but I was also horribly burned by maybe the worst high-profile game engine in the industry. The bug ridden, low performance, and flat out broken Gamebryo engine. It was completely frustrating in Fallout 3 and when I heard they were still using that engine for New Vegas my heart sunk. I was really hoping they’d do the right thing and release an actually functional game. Turns out, they may have released an even more broken game than Fallout 3.

I know, why am I focusing on the engine and not the game so far in this review? Well, that’s because you have to be able to totally look past the massive amount of problems the engine contributes to the game in-order to find anything redeeming about New Vegas. There are the small issues, like poor lip-synching, late loading textures, and clipping. These are generally forgivable in an open world game if they aren’t too frequent. That is not the case with New Vegas. I would enter buildings or areas to be met with large portions (sometimes whole buildings, the ground, etc) of the world not being textured. It abruptly reminds you that you’re playing a game, and a poorly made on at that.

Then there are the larger problems. Hell, you can’t even run in the game without dropping frames like a tree drops leaves in the fall. I would have to stop moving so the game wouldn’t freeze on me. Even trying to move around the world cautiously to avoid these problems it would still regularly freeze on me (even after the patches that supposedly fixed that problem). Then you have broken missions, characters getting stuck inside each other, or maybe even you getting stuck in the worlds geometry. It’s like the real enemy of the game is the Gamebryo engine… and it usually wins.

As for the actual game, it’s ok. I enjoyed the setting and story more than I did in Fallout 3. Roaming the wastelands going where you please is still immensely gratifying. This is why you play these games. FInding new areas, new enemies, and new stories hidden away in documents, new NPC’s, or computers you get to hack. All of this is satisfying, and what I want out of a new Fallout game.

It is such a shame that a good game was ruined for me due to all the technical problems.  I really wanted to be able to look past this, but since the game wants to constantly remind that it can’t run properly I can’t. Maybe the game just wants you to take a break, for your health, so it freezes which then requires you to get up and shut down your PS3. Or maybe it is time to kill off the Gamebryo engine and move on to a new one (which I believe they are with their next game). If you are able to stomach all the technical problems (a.k.a. a broken game) there is a fun game to be found in there.

SCORE: 4/10


Backlog Barrage! Shootin’ Dudes In The Face Edition

December 19, 2010

MAG Publisher: Sony  /  Developer: Zipper
Platform: PS3 /  Genre: FPS  /  Release Date: January 26, 2010

MAG is easily my biggest surprise this generation. Until this generation, I had pretty much no interest in FPS games and even less interest in playing them online. Heck, I wasn’t even interested in MAG until the week leading up to release where I decided to pre-order this online only game at the last possible moment. I am really glad I did, as I have spent an ungodly amount of time with this tactical squad based shooter.

Yes, you are basically running around shooting people the whole time like any other shooter. However, since it is all objective based it feels totally different. People fall into roles, medics, snipers, engineers, and so on. You can mix and match these abilities, weapons, and equipment to make load-outs that suit different situations and your play style. This customization is great and being able to re-spec relatively cheaply makes it so you can always try out new gear or revise your character if you ended up not liking your build.

The main draw to MAG is the sheer number of players. It depends on the mode you are playing, but in Domination the game supports 256 players. You won’t see all of these players on screen at once, unless everyone swarms one area, but they are there and it really feels like a massive battle is taking place. Even in the smaller game modes there is a large number of players, so the game never feels empty. And like I said before, since it is objective based you are able to gain experience points by doing more than just killing enemies. Actually, healing and other objective based goals usually yield more points so it encourages players to help each other as opposed to just run off all lone wolf style.

If there was only one shooter I could have played this year, it would have been MAG. The sheer amount of players, tactical gameplay, customization, and feel of the game have made it one of my favorite games of 2010.

SCORE: 9/10

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Medal of Honor Publisher: EADeveloper: Danger Close, DICE
Platform: PS3, Xbox 360, PC /  Genre: FPS  /  Release Date: October 12, 2010

Once again I find myself scratching my head and coming to a different conclusion then most “reviewers” of a game I played. Medal of Honor got a lot of mixed reviews, and a lot of the negatives came from being compared to other games. I can see why one would compare a FPS to the other FPS’s on the market, but to mark it down for not being those games is just stupid. Let Medal of Honor be its own game. That is why it doesn’t play like the two main shooters it was compared to. It’s like they want every game to be the same. Anyway, that is a whole other topic so let me get back on topic.

Medal of Honor comes at the FPS genre in a much less arcady and more realistic direction. You can’t dual wield shotguns, you can’t really run and gun your way through a level. You are meant to be more cautious and more precise. The atmosphere of the game lends itself to this style. I’m not going to say it is actually realistic, but in comparison to the other shooters on the market it sure does feel more real. Hell, even with all the jumping around between characters I still ended up caring for them throughout their trials.

The multiplayer aspect feels a little more fast paced than the single player, but over all it isn’t your typical run and gun (unless you only play the deathmatch modes). The most popular mode, and one I played the most is Combat Mission. This is a team objective based mode. You have to defend strategic spots, or attack them. These are played on larger maps and include limited vehicles. I really enjoyed this mode in particular a lot, and the overall multiplayer experience in general. You level up one of three classes as you play (able to switch load outs and class during your re-spawn), and unlock weapons and mods as you do so. I wish there were more unlocks and more customization, but that is a minor complaint.

So despite some of the poor reviews I really hope EA plans to keep Medal of Honor heading in this direction. If they are able to work out some of the flaws I think they could make a modern FPS that can hang with the other big FPS franchises on the market right now. If you are tired of some of the other shooters I’d easily recommend getting this game.

SCORE: 8/10

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Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Publisher: EADeveloper: DICE
Platform: PS3, Xbox 360, PC /  Genre: FPS  /  Release Date: March 2, 2010

I ended up getting Battlefield: Bad Company 2 much later than its initial release date, but I’m glad I finally got around to playing it. There are some noticeable changes form the first game which may change how you feel about the game overall. I personally didn’t mind the change to a more linear format in the single-player. You are not as free to pick a path in a level, but there is still a lot of room to maneuver and choose your path through the environments.

The other notable change is the interaction of the characters during the story. There is a more serious tone to this game than the previous one. It isn’t as serious as the most recent Medal of Honor game, but the characters aren’t cracking the same jokes during cut scenes as they did in the first game. They do still have their more personal and usually amusing conversations as you move through a level. The down side is that if they start talking during a firefight you may not be able to really hear them with all the gun fire, explosions, and crumbling buildings. Which is a shame as I really enjoyed the joking conversations these characters had. It’s still there, but you have to pay attention to catch most of them.

Even with these changes the single-player is still a lot of fun, but that will only last you several hours. After that, you’ll want to turn your attention to the multiplayer. Here you can spend a ton of time ranking up your different classes and unlocking a ton of gear. I was once again drawn into the more team oriented multiplayer modes. Which have you either attacking or defending positions.

If you play FPS’s you’ll feel right at home, but the destructible buildings really change up how you approach taking or defending a position. This along with the different classes and characters found in the single-player are what makes it feel different from the other major FPS on the market. Which is a very good thing in my opinion.

SCORE: 8/10

Backlog Barrage! Review Edition: 1

November 17, 2010

Well, due to a multitude of reasons I have fallen severely behind in both keeping up with all the games I have and my reviews. So in order to remedy this I’ve decided to go ahead and make some quick and dirty versions of reviews I haven’t finished and are now sorely overdue. This way, if you’re interested, you can still see what I thought about the games I’ve been playing.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves Publisher: Sony  /  Developer: Naughty Dog
Platform: PS3 /  Genre: TPS, Action Adventure  /  Release Date: October 13, 2009

Ok, I don’t think you really need to a review of this game. By now you should have bought this game, beat it, and come to realize how great it is. Unlike some games, Uncharted 2 lives up to all these accolades and all the praise it got. Once again Naughty Dog has crafted a great character driven story that really pulls you into its world. You will visit some truly stunning environments and engage in incredible action sequences. It is impressive just how good this game looks. I think it is the best looking console game to date. Thankfully it isn’t just good looking, but has the gameplay to back it up. The refinements in shooting, traversal, stealth attacks, and melee add up to what is my favorite controlling TPS.  All of the single-player is enough for this game to be one of the best games on the PS3, but then add a really fun and uniquely vertical competitive multiplayer as well as co-op and it takes it to another level. Go out and get this game now if you haven’t played it yet.

SCORE: 10/10

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Lost Planet 2 Publisher: Capcom  /  Developer: Capcom
Platform: PS3, Xbox 360, PC /  Genre: TPS  /  Release Date: May 11, 2010

Lost Planet 2 (LP2) may have underwhelmed many a reviewer or gamer, but if you knew what to expect from it I think it turned out pretty darn good. After spending a large amount of time with both the campaign and multiplayer I have to admit I really enjoy what LP2 has to offer. If you are looking for a Gears of War style game, or a cover based third-person shooter you will be very disappointed. However, if you come to LP2 expecting an experience similar to the original, just with more of an emphasis on online co-op and competitive multiplayer then you will be rather happy.

The game looks  a lot better than the first game, with nice and varied environments and great creature designs. You will get to play as several different factions that inhabit the once frozen world of E.D.N. III. Eventually these opposing come together to work towards one goal. The story is ok, but the ending is kind of just crazy and to be honest I lost track of what it was trying to tell me. But that doesn’t really detract from the fun I had killing large monsters (even more fun with friends in co-op) and unlocking new gear and weapons. Hopefully there will be a Lost Planet 3, and they will refine the systems present in the sequel as well as add a better single player campaign.

SCORE: 8/10

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Assassin’s Creed 2 Publisher: Ubisoft  /  Developer: Ubisoft
Platform: PS3, Xbox 360, PC /  Genre: Action  /  Release Date: November 17, 2009

Unlike a lot of people, I really enjoyed the first Assassin’s Creed. I understood peoples’ complaints, but I thought it was just such a different type of game that took place in a very interesting setting that I could get over some of its short comings. So when they announced a sequel with a lot of fixes, another great location, and set in an interesting time I was really excited about it. Thankfully Assassin’s Creed 2 (AC2) mostly lived up to my initial excitement.

It plays very similar to the first game, but with several needed changes. There is more variety in this game, especially in the weapons and how they are used in combat. In AC2 you can use your trusty throwing knives, different swords and daggers, a simple gun, and even disarm enemies and then use their weapons against them. The simple timing based combat is still present, and rewards you for being observant of your enemies. BEing able to parry, disarm, and attack when there is an opening will make you feel like a real assassin and get you out of sticky situations much faster.

In AC2 you continue the story of Desmond Miles as you access memories through an animus (!!!!). You will spend most of your timing climbing and killing your way around renaissance italy. It is splendid location that is beautifully realized in the game. You will learn more about the truth about the Templars, Assassins, and more. It sets up for an interesting next installment in the series. I do however, have some small gripes with the AC2. First of all, the graphics. Don’t get me wrong it is a good looking game when you are running around and in combat, but any time you are in cut scenes and close ups you can see some of the blocky geometry and lower res textures. It is disappointing to say the least. For the most part, the controls for climbing feel great. However, sometimes they are too automated or it can’t figure out what you are trying to do. This can lead to accidents of either jumping the wrong direction, jumping off of something you didn’t meant to, or not being able to navigate up something that you should be able to. It would have also been nice if your upgradable vila would have been deeper or had more importance. These small problems aren’t enough to bring the game down and was easily one of my favorite games of 2009.

SCORE: 9/10

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Heavy Rain Publisher: Sony  /  Developer: Quantic Dream
Platform: PS3 /  Genre: Adventure /  Release Date: February 23, 2010

I wasn’t really sure if I was ever going to review this game but I figured with this new format I could at least give it a try. The main reason I wasn’t sure if I was going to review Heavy Rain was pretty simple, I don’t really know how to or what I want to say about it. THis may come down to the simple fact that I can’t find an adequate way to explain how it plays, without it sounding like one large quick-time event or point and click adventure type of game. It isn’t either of these things, but it does have things in common with these types of gameplay. You do directly control the four main characters of the game, as you work your way through a mystery about a serial killer. You will get to play as a distraught father, private detective, FBI agent, and a reporter. The stories of each individual bleed into one main story line, and no matter how you play through the game you will get an ending that should wrap things up. Which is very important, as there are many different endings available for the story of Heavy Rain, and that is because there is a lot of choice, different outcomes of events, and even character death. That’s right, you are able to kill of the main characters and the story will adapt and form an ending around how you experience the game. Speaking of which, I think this game is an interactive drama that is best experienced by playing it and not just watching it. You will connect with the characters and if you are like me, try your hardest to get through the game with all four characters alive. If you are somewhat skeptical of this game, due to the unique gameplay style I would say try to get past that and give it a shot. You will be treated to an  engaging drama, great graphics, and unique gaming experience.

SCORE: 9/10


Dragon Age: Origins Review

April 20, 2010

Dragon Age: OriginsPublisher: Electronic Arts Developer: BioWare /  Platform: PS3, Xbox 360, PC  /  Genre: RPG  /  Release Date: November 3, 2009

I picked up Dragon Age: Origins because I am a huge fan of role-playing games (RPG), enjoy fantasy settings, and got slightly caught up in the hype. Was it a worth all the time I spent killing darkspawn and trying to get busy with all the characters? Well… Yes, but it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

Story:

It is kind of hard to describe the story of Dragon Age: Origins, and that is due to the way BioWare typically makes an RPG. They like to focus on choice and branching stories. This entails lots of choices made by the player, including the origin of your character, which will change the story accordingly. You can play as elves (city or wilderness), dwarves (noble or classless), mage, or a human noble. This will determine how you are lead into the core story of the game. Once you reach that point the story will basically become similar, but NPC’s will react to you according to whom you are and what you’ve done. There are also a ton of side quests, so this can drastically change many aspects of the story you craft through your decisions and actions.

The main story is a pretty typical fantasy tale. Evil is gathering, in the form of an Archdemon and the darkspawn that serve it, and only you can lead the people against the horde and slay the Archdemon. The reason you are one of the few that can actually take down the Archdemon is because you become what is known as a Grey Warden. Grey Wardens are an elite group of warriors and mages that are dedicated to destroying the Darkspawn. Needless to say, things don’t go as planned and you become the only one capable of stamping out the growing threat of the darkspawn.

Does this all sound a little familiar? Well it should, as it is pretty much your typical RPG story. Which I found very disappointing as everyone seems to talk so highly of BioWare games for their stories and why they are told. I didn’t find anything too appealing about the story in this game, or the WRPG tropes. In fact I became pretty bored with the story before the half way mark. You knew what was going on, and where it was going.

There are some small side quests and conversations that will lead to interesting outcomes, but they are all ancillary to the main story. You’ll have to make moral choices, get involved in relationships with your party members, and deal with political issues. Sadly a lot of these things ended up feeling like filler to me.

However, I do think if you were to go back and play the game through several times you would get a better feel for the history and depth of the world of Dragon Age. When I played through the other origin stories it was interesting to see some of the backstory for characters I encountered in my main game. It really fleshed out who they were, and why I was able to have an in-depth or meaningful conversation with them. Sadly, I don’t think this is to the benefit of the game. If I have to spend 100’s of hours playing the game to actually become interested in the story then your game has a problem. If you play through the game only once you will probably feel like the world and story of Dragon Age: Origins is very generic and pretty average.

Gameplay:

Dragon Age: Origins plays like a fairly traditional WRPG for the PC. You control a party of up to four characters and enter dungeons where you move around in real time and engage free roaming enemies when you encounter them. It isn’t an open word game, but you can move through the different areas however you see fit. You can fully explore them or just try to move towards your goal as fast as possible.

When you engage enemies you will select them and attack them. You can then use different skills that are mapped to the face buttons. You can also pull up a series of wheels that has all of your skills, magic, abilities, and items on them. This can become rather annoying in the thick of battle. It becomes unwieldy and just feels like a comprise made in order to bring the game to consoles. Because of this system, I found myself pretty much only using the skills and abilities I could map to the face buttons. This in turn made most battles feel the same. Also, you’ll encounter the same types of enemies over and over again. There is very little variation in the enemies found in Dragon Age: Origins. I found this to make the encounters pretty boring. Enter a room, kill some darkspawn, move to next room, kill more darkspawn and a skeleton. Yeah, it pretty much goes like that for most of the game. If this wasn’t an RPG I could be more forgiving of the lack of enemy variation, but it just seems lazy and doesn’t add any depth to the world they created.

Besides the droves of darkspawn you will fight, you will also encounter a few boss fights. These are more interesting then fighting the normal enemies, but they are so few and far between that it didn’t really do too much for me. I’d also like to note how few dragons are in the game. You’d think with a name like Dragon Age you’d have the option to encounter numerous dragons, but that isn’t the case.

You will obtain quests by checking mission boards and by talking to people. Basically your normal RPG mechanics at work. There are some missions that are about collecting, finding, killing, or solving other peoples problems (lost daughters, evil mages, family feuds, and so on). The missions can be fairly short, or if you have to go through a whole dungeon you can expect to spend a very long time completing them. I have no real problems with the missions, but for everyone that belabors the tropes of JRPG’s I could easily apply the same standards to Dragon Age: Origins. They don’t do anything out of the ordinary  These missions are fairly standard, with a few exceptions like a certain mission that leads you into another realm.

To start these missions you will have to access different areas on a world map. You don’t actually move between the dungeons or towns in real time. You select your destination on the map and watch a line march towards it. During this time you may have random encounters. You could find yourself fighting off darkspawn, wolves, saving citizens, or even meeting traveling merchants. It is nice to be able to gain some more experience by engaging in these encounters, as otherwise you aren’t going to find many opportunities to do so. I found this to be slightly disappointing.

I like to level up my characters, get new skills, and allow for my characters to use higher tier equipment. Dragon Age doesn’t really lend itself to any grinding. I guess that is more inline with WRPG’s, but I still prefer to grow my characters and I didn’t feel like I could fully do that in this game. I was still able to access new skills, and improve ones I already had. However, it just never really came together for me. Maybe that is my fault, but it never coalesced like it has for me with many other RPG’s.

Conclusion:

I was really hoping Dragon Age: Origins would surprise me with something beyond a typical fantasy story, but it didn’t. I found myself moving through it just to get to the end. The conversations would become too drawn out, and how you interact with your party members also just felt contrived. You could easily say or do something small that could potentially make you lose a character for the rest of the game. It just seems unrealistic and forced for the most part. This isn’t always the case, as most times you can easily buy back their favor by giving them gifts. So I guess if you ever piss anyone off just buy them lots of stuff and they will fall back in love with you.

When the story failed me I was hoping the gameplay would carry me through. Well, that fell short as well. It isn’t broken, and can become pretty fun. But it always feels like it would be a lot better with a keyboard or some other system that would allow you to more easily access all your skills. Maybe something similar to the 3 tier system found in White Knight Chronicles would work better. It makes it much easier to quickly select what you want. In fact, I bet a lot of PC players ended up pausing the game often and giving orders. Although, with the PC version you have a bunch of hotkeys so you can easily select stuff. With the console version, I felt like I had to babysit the character I was controlling so I couldn’t give my other party members orders.

There is a system in place, similar to the gambit system in Final Fantasy XII, that allows you to guide the AI of your party members but I often found them not doing what they were suppose to. For example, they would often die because they wouldn’t heal each other or themselves when I had preset their actions to do so. So I would just have to hope I would always survive the battle and then heal up after. Or I’d have to quickly cycle through my characters, take control of them, and then make them heal themselves. It all just becomes very tedious.

I also feel like I have to talk about some technical issues I have with the game. This is easily one of the worst looking games I’ve played on the PS3. The textures are flat, muddy, and just very poor. The characters just look bad. Which is in part due to the bad textures, average animations, and also a lack luster art direction. The art direction just feels pretty standard for a fantasy game. Even with the low quality graphics the game still has a ton of loading times (every time you enter a building, different parts of buildings, and so on), some framerate problems, and also texture pop-in. I was surprised at how bad this game looks. I don’t expect, or demand, that every game be at the same level of Uncharted 2, but I do expect them to look significantly better than some of the later PS2 games and launch PS3 titles. Every time there is a close up, like during the thousands of conversations you’ll have, I just found myself being repulsed by the looks of the game.

In the end, Dragon Age: Origins just feels very average. Nothing stands out to me or makes this game noteworthy. There is a lot of game there, so if you are really into BioWare games or fantasy games it is worth checking out. However, I’d suggest getting it on the PC instead of a console. This isn’t only due to the graphics, but also due to the gameplay. From top to bottom the game feels like a PC game, and feels like it struggles to play well on a console.

SCORE: 6/10

Borderlands Review

February 6, 2010

BorderlandsPublisher: 2k Games Developer: Gearbox Software
Platform: PS3, Xbox 360, PC  /  Genre: FPS, RPG  /  Release Date: October 20, 2009

Do you like shooting lots of things, finding a lot of things, and hoarding  those things until you find better replacements? Well, then you will most likely thoroughly enjoy Gearbox’s newest game Borderlands. The first person shooter (FPS) and  role playing game (RPG) hybrid with a lot of style and a lot of fun.

Story:

Welcome to Pandora. Get some guns, rescue some people and robots, kill lots of people and lots of creatures, and collect stuff… I think that sums up the story of Borderlands. I know there is more to it, but the game never really centers on the story. Instead your lust for more loot and new areas is what drives you to progress through Borderlands.

The basic story is that you are searching for the legendary vault on the desolate and mostly abandoned planet called Pandora. Pandora has mostly been left to its own devices, after settlers found very little worthwhile on the planet to make any profit from. The only substantial things on Pandora are alien artifacts, ruins, weapons, and the vault. This vault supposedly holds alien technology, artifacts, and good old fashion wealth. However, it only opens every 200 years and everyone that has discovered it has never returned.

You are lead through out the games many missions by the “angel”, whom watches over you and tells you how to reach the vault. Besides this angle, you’ll run into several characters that add something to the game besides the missions they provide. However, all of this still plays second fiddle to the actual gameplay and good old fashioned lust for loot.

Gameplay:

Borderlands is suppose to be a FPS and RPG hybrid, but to be honest it is much more FPS than RPG. So for me, that let me down to a certain extent. However, the smooth shooting controls make the game so fun to play that it doesn’t really matter that the RPG elements are rather lack luster.

The story moves you forward in the game, as you are given missions that you have to complete to access new areas of the world and to open even more missions. These missions are what structure the game. You can get them by talking to people, finding things out in the emptiness of Pandora, or from several job bulletin boards. In general the missions are varied enough to keep you occupied enough to seek them out and finish them. You’ll want to complete them in order to level up so you can use some of the higher end weapons. Basically, it is all in service of you shooting, killing, and looking for more loot.

Besides gaining experience for your level you can also grow your character in two other ways. When you use weapons you gain proficiency in that weapon class. So the more you use a type of weapon the better you become at using said weapon class. This adds some small bonuses, like increasing accuracy and so on. I found myself using about 3 different types of weapons, and then forcing myself to use the other types just level them up some for missions where they would become very useful for.

The skill tree is the other way to customize and grow your character. This is probably the most recognizable RPG element of the game. You select different skills with points you ear as you level up. After dumping enough of them into any one skill another skill on that path will open up. It sounds like a familiar and useful RPG mechanic, but it sadly falls short. I barely felt any difference in how I specialized my characters. In general, these skills didn’t change how I played the game or how my characters felt. If they had more notable effects on your character I think that would have been better.

Speaking of characters, you have to choose from one of four characters at the start of the game. These characters are basically different classes. You can be a hunter (sniper/scout), a soldier (generalist among the group), Brick (melee/tank/berserker), and a Siren (has a magical phase ability). You start out with different equipment for each character and at the beginning of the game you’ll play towards their strengths. However, as you progress once again I found myself feeling that all the classes generally blend into however I played. Since you can use whatever guns you want, you can make any of them good at whatever weapon you like using. This is probably good, as you wouldn’t want to be stuck with a limited arsenal or even worse get stuck at a part of the game because your class wasn’t really suited to the mission.

At first I didn’t really like how you can’t upgrade your weapons, but since there is a steady stream of new guns and equipment I eventually got over it. However, I always found myself wishing I had more storage space. In Fallout 3 you could get your own place where you could store a ton of stuff. There should have been some kind of storage system in this game when it released. There is now a bank where you can store stuff, but you need to buy a $10 DLC pack to access it. That is just feels really wrong to me.

Gearbox claims that Borderlands has some insane number of guns. It does have a ton of them, but they fall into a few categories just with differences in stats and special characteristics. Some add fire damage, poison, shock, explosions, higher percentage for critical hits, damage multipliers, unlimited ammo, and so on. You will reach a point where you barely find any new guns that are better than what you currently have. This became a little disappointing. Once again, I think a better system would have been to allow actual  customization of your guns. Allowing the player to mix and match parts, modifiers, and abilities would add a great depth to the weapons. It would also feed into the great loot whoring aspect of Borderlands.

Online:

The online aspects of Borderlands are pretty much identical to the single player experience with a few differences. Probably the co-op, both online and local, portion of the game is what most people that want some multiplayer action from Borderlands will play. This allows you to jump in and out of a players game to play along side them. The missions and objectives don’t change, but the amount of enemies and loot does change. With more enemies comes more loot. Also, the game will try to find a balance for the level of the enemies which could lead to better loot if you are a lower level than another player.

There are some other multiplayer options, but they aren’t all that deep or too much fun in my opinion. These other options are variations of Player versus Player action. At any point of the game you can trade melee attacks and go into a in-pomp-to duel with another player. Normally your fire doesn’t hurt your teammates but once you’ve engaged in a duel it does. A bubble will pop up around the two that are dueling and remain there until one is victorious. Players not engaged in the duel can’t effect the dueling players.

The other PVP option is to enter arenas. In this arenas you can go play 1 on 1 or 2 on 2 against other players. Once again you are in a closed off area and play until you kill each other. You can have it set for different amount of rounds for each arena battle. So it could be best out of 3 wins. Once your rounds are over you warp back out of the actual arena and can either set up a new match of leave and continue gunning your way across Pandora.

Overall I think being able to play through the whole campaign in Borderlands is a good idea and great fun for those that enjoy multiplayer. For me, I mainly enjoy single player so it doesn’t add much to the game personally but I can see why other people would really enjoy it. Hell, there are a lot of hours in this game so being able to share some or all of them with a friend is a nice thing.

Conclusion:

Borderlands is a highly addictive game, but there are some flaws that hold the game back from being great. The game play and overall presentation are very strong. However, you will notice some graphical problems. The art direction wouldn’t make you think Borderlands runs on the Unreal Engine (UE), but as soon as you see the slow texture load times and framerate issues you will immediately suspect that the UE is under the hood. The textures take a significant time to load when you access a new area . You will also notice ground vegetation pop up, almost like it is rapidly growing as you approach it. This mainly happens when you load a new area or are moving quickly through an area (running or driving). The framerate will dip when there are a lot of enemies on screen, especially if they are all close to you. This problem also occurs during multiplayer as well. Both of these things are not game breaking, but disappointing and annoying.

The graphical and engine problems are not my main complaint about the game, the story, characters, very light RPG elements, and overall blending of everything are. I found myself not caring about finding the vault, my character, or most of the other characters that populate Pandora. They take a page out of Bioshock’s book and try to add more back story through logs you can collect around the world. To me it felt like they were trying too hard with these, and they didn’t really draw me into the game anymore. And for all the supposed RPG elements, it never really feels like one. Yes, you gain experience, level up, and there are skill trees. However, these elements don’t really make your characters feel all that different.

Like I’ve said earlier in this review, the loot and gameplay are the real stars of the game. I generally enjoyed exploring Pandora in search for more things to shoot and more things to collect. However, the repeating enemy types is somewhat disappointing. I really wish there were more types of enemies and more variation in the game. Towards the end of the game you finally get into some truly different locations, but it is only the end of the game. If there was more variation in both the environments and enemies it would  have made it feel more fresh. Also, the final boss was very disappointing.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Borderlands, but I came away wanting more from it. There is a great base here, but the lack of variety in almost all aspects of the game gave me an impression of a not totally realized game. I know I probably sound like I am nit-picking this game to death, but that’s because I can see what Gearbox was going for and hopefully where they will go in a sequel. If you are wondering whether or not you should get this game, it comes down to one simple question. Do you like loot? If so, there is no reason not to buy this game. If you aren’t that driven by the lust for new weapons, well then you might find yourself let down by Borderlands but I’d still urge you to check it out as it is a very fun game.

SCORE: 8/10

Mini Ninjas Non-Review Review

January 15, 2010

Mini Ninjas Publisher: Eidos Interactive / Developer: Io Interactive / Platform: PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, PC, DS / Genre: 3rd Person Action  / Release Date: September 8, 2009

Some time ago I tried out the demo for Mini Ninjas and was pleasantly surprised. It was enough for me to become interested, but not enough to make me go out and pick the game up. So I ended up renting it not too long ago, and I’m really glad I played the full game.

You play as several different ninjas through out the game, but if you are like me you’ll spend most of the time as the main character Hiro. One day Hiro is sent out of the ninja village to find out what happened to the other previous ninja whom were also set out to, and are now missing, discover the reason behind the growing storms and natural disasters.

It turns out that an Evil Samurai Warlord has returned and is using forbidden Kuji magic to transform animals into his mindless samurai warriors. He uses these samurai to go out and capture more animals, reclaim his old evil castles, and to take over the world. His evil is corrupting the natural world. Creating an imbalance, which results in the storms. You will travel through out the land rescuing your captured ninja allies, which you can then use once they are freed.

The combat is fairly simple, with standard attacks, a dodge, jump, ranged weapons, and magic. The different ninjas each have a different weapon and their own special attacks. Hiro can use magic, and has one spell that is in particular pretty neat. You can inhabit animals, taking control of them to either sneak my enemies or take them out if you posses a bear or boar. This is a fun little addition to the gameplay, but I ended up just cutting my way through most of the enemies. There is also a stealth element. You can hide in tall grass and sneak up on enemies or if you break line of sight you can also vanish in the grass.

Unfortunately Mini Ninjas lacks a depth and challenge to have any real lasting appeal. You’ll beat the game, and if you aren’t interested in trophies or achievements you’ll pretty much be done with it. That would be ok, but the game isn’t very hard so doesn’t take too long to finish. All of these things make it hard for me to say it is a purchase, especially at $60. If they would have priced it as a budget game, $30-40, it might be worth a purchase. I really enjoyed Mini Ninjas, and it looked great on my HD TV. So it slightly saddens me that it falls just short of being a purchase.

Verdict: Rent

Ghostbusters: The Video Game Non-review Review

December 7, 2009

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Ghostbusters: The Video Game / Publisher: Atari / Developer: Terminal Reality Platform: PS3, Xbox 360, PC, Wii, PSP, DS, PS2 / Genre: 3rd Person Action / Release Date: June 16, 2009

Being a fan of the Ghostbuster movies, yes even the second movie with all its faults is still a fun movie to watch, I was interested to see what Ghostbusters: The Video Game had to offer. However, this initial enthusiasm was dampened by development and publisher problems as well as rather mediocre reviews. It quickly became a game I would come back to play later, and even then I would most likely just rent it instead of buying it. Which is exactly what I did. When it arrived from Gamefly, I was kind of hesitant about actually playing it. Fortunately, it turns out the game wasn’t nearly as bad as people made it out to be.

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Does the game have faults, of course but what game doesn’t. The graphics and animations could be better. The controls are decent, but sometimes for unknown reasons it becomes hard to capture a downed ghost. It is like the trap doesn’t always register that a ghost is above or near it. That got rather annoying at times when you are battling several ghosts. Also, your fellow Ghostbusters don’t always do what they need to. They’ll ignore you when your knocked down, which requires assistance to be revived or its game over when they inevitably also get knocked down for the count. I found this to be the most annoying thing in the whole game.

Despite its flaws, I found the game to be rather enjoyable overall. I know that not everyone feels the game did a great job of capturing the feeling of the movies, but I disagree. I think they set their standards too high so were inevitably let down. The story is just as goofy as either movie. The cast plays well off each other and I did find myself smiling and even laughing at some of the quips between characters.

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For me, Ghostbusters: The Video Game succeeded where I was hoping it would the most. It brought me a mostly enjoyable game experience with a lot of the trappings that made the Ghostbuster films such a success. They could have probably done so in some kind of movie, but all the cast is so old now that I don’t think that would work either unless it was a CG film. All in all, the game is a fun experience for anyone looking to for a little more Ghostbusters.

Verdict: Rent

The Birth Of The Non-review Review

December 1, 2009

Since I don’t have the time to write reviews for every game I play, I’ve decide to start a new type of posts. These will be my “Non-review Reviews”. Instead of doing a full review of every game I play I figured I’d do a much shorter “review” that won’t have a score associated with it. It will encompass my impressions and overall opinion of the game. While there won’t be a score, there will be a basic rating given to each game. This rating will be one of the following;

Buy – Go out and get the game ASAP! It is a game worth owning and playing as close to day one as possible. In short, it is the bee’s knees son!

Buy On The Cheap – Buy this game, but you don’t need to get it day one. It is worth owning, but feel free to wait for the price to come down.

Rent – Not worth owning, but good enough that you should play it at some point. Usually these games will have low replay value or have other faults that hold them back from being a purchase.

Pass – Oh yeah, I forgot that game came out. You actually played it? Yes, yes I did… but I would strongly advise anyone else avoid doing so for their own health.

These different categories should give you a quick idea of how I felt about the game, similar to a true score would. Basically these will allow me to talk about more games that I have played, but don’t feel like doing a full review for. Hope you enjoy.

Critter Crunch Review

November 23, 2009

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Critter Crunch / Publisher: Capybara Games / Developer: Capybara Games Platform: PS3 / Genre: Puzzle Game / Release Date: October 8, 2009

If you don’t have a heart of stone then Critter Crunch should immediately endear itself to you. With an absorbent amount of character and gorgeous hand draw graphics Capybara Games’ (Capy) first PSN release is easily one of the most fun and challenging puzzle game I’ve played in years.

Story:
For a puzzle game, Critter Crunch has a great story. Like the game itself, it is pretty simple but has a lot to offer. You play the game as the main character Biggsliocaucus or Biggs for short. Biggs is a medium sized round mammal with no arms and a very long and sticky tongue. Despite being the main character, the game is actually told by naturalist and explorer Hank Hudson whom is visiting the island of Krunchatoa for research on Biggs and to film his tv show. Hank Hudson gives us all the pertinent information about what Biggs is, why he is crunching critters, eating gems, and barfing into his son’s mouth. Hudson will also explain to you the island and give info on new types of critters. The story follows Biggs’ adventure across the island he calls home. Even though the cut scenes that feature Hudson lack voice work, it still manages to add a lot of character to the game and has a ton of charm. It makes the game feel like it is more than just a puzzle game. I could easily see these characters returning in another type of game, featuring the adorably cute Biggs as the main protagonist once again.

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Gameplay:
Critter Crunch consists of several modes, but it would be wise to play the Adventure mode first as it acts as a tutorial and also delivers the games humorous story. In Adventure mode players will move between 22 locations on the world map. Each of these location offers several different levels. They range from Adventures that tell the story and introduce new game mechanics, Puzzle levels in which you have to clear the level with a limited number of turns, and Challenges that vary from time limits, only crunch specific critters, and so on. You have to beat three of any of these levels to get access to the next stop on the map.

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The game starts off easy enough in Adventure mode, but as you progress you come up against some seriously hard levels. You play as Biggs, who uses his long sticky tongue to feed smaller critters to larger critters. This is the food chain mechanic of Critter Crunch which sets it apart from other puzzle games. When these critters get too full they pop and drop gems which Bigs eats. If the critter that pops is touching another critter of the same type and color it will also pop. So you an string together chains of critters which produce larger gems that in turn fills your hunger bar. If you manage to create a chain that is 8 critters long then Bigs’ son Smalls will appear on one side of the screen. He will open his mouth and beg for food, so being a good father Bigs will oblige if you move him next to Smalls and press the circle button. Bigs will then produce the most lovely rainbow colored barf stream you have ever seen, which unless you live one crazy life I’m pretty sure you haven’t seen too many streams of rainbow barf in your life. Anyway, this gives you a lot of bonus points. However, your barf isn’t only coveted by Smalls. The critters are also drawn to the full spectrum regurgitation. When you are barfing into Smalls’ mouth the critters will move down the vines faster. You have to balance feeding Smalls and watching the critters or else they will reach the bottom the vines and it is game over. If you fill up your hunger bar the level is complete.

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Food chains and barfing aren’t the only gameplay mechanics in Critter Crunch. There are a bunch of fun and funny power ups to aid Biggs in his quest to crunch across the island. The power ups, or power foods, are obtained by popping certain critters. The power ups come in a variety of flavors. Such as watermelon seeds, peppers, spray paint, and more. Each one does something different and can really save you in a jam or help you get massive chains. These are introduced over the course of the Adventure mode levels, and become more important as you progress through Adventure mode.

You will also be introduced to new types of critters as you move across the island. These new types of critters will drastically change the way you play the game. They can be inedible critters made of stone, bombs which blow up everything around them when feed two critters of any type, vegetarian critters which won’t eat other critters, toxic critters, and so on. These additions really make the game’s difficulty rev up towards the end of the game. They also keep things feeling fresh through out your long adventure with Biggs.

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There is also one other mode that is not available in Adventure mode, Survival mode. Survival mode is a pretty straight forward mode where your object is to… well, survive. You want to survive as long as you can. This is fun and can get quit hectic. In my opinion it is a lot of fun to play this mode in co-op, but I’ll touch on that later.

At the end of any of level you get a score which will then rank you on the leader boards. if you are connected to the PSN. Besides your overall ranking you can also can compare just among your friends, which should probably make you feel not as bad if your ranked somewhere in the thousands. Also, if you fail a level you will be treated to a hint or tip. However, pretty much all of these won’t be actual tips for the game. Instead they will humorous messages that should at least get a smile out of you if not an actual laugh. I found this addition to the game to be great. If humor is done right in a game, it really adds a lot to the overall game.

Online:
For those that feel the need to crunch with friends, Capy has added two multiplayer modes. You can either play with or against people online or local as well . When playing co-op you are on the same team and try to last as long as you possibly can in Survival mode. If you are playing against another player then your goal is to last longer than your opponent. If you fill up your hunger bar it will add another row of critters to your opponent, putting more pressure on them. You can also get new power ups that are only available in competitive multiplayer which will affect your opponent instead of just you. These will also change as you rank up. Both modes are fun, and even more so when played local instead of online but that could just be my preference.

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Conclusion:
Critter Crunch has quickly become one of my favorite PSN games to date. With a plethora of character, humor, and good looks it is sure to charm the pants right off of you. Besides being a charmer, Capy has managed to make a truly deep and enjoyable puzzle game. I’ve kind of been burned out on puzzle games for a long time now, but Critter Crunch has made me a born-again puzzle game fan. I can’t really say enough about how cohesive the stunning art direction and graphics are, the amazing hand drawn animation, lovable characters, and top notch gameplay that makes up this games. It is the total package, and severely under priced for how much content and care has gone into the game. Hell, it is so good that I even stopped playing Uncharted 2 and Demon’s Souls just to spend more time with Biggs. If you are new to puzzle games, or even a hardened veteran of the genre, you should try out Critter Crunch as I am sure it will work its magic and find a place in your gaming heart for a long time to come.

SCORE: 10/10

Demon’s Souls Gets A Dynamic Theme

November 12, 2009

I haven’t delved into the wonders of Sony’s new dynamic themes yet, but that could change if we ever get the new Demon’s Souls dynamic theme here in the US. It is a very simple theme, but really gives you the feel of isolation that fills the world of Demon’s Souls. It pretty much only shows the Maiden in Black killing time in the Nexus. I just think it is cool that Demon’s Souls is getting enough respect to warrant a dynamic theme. Hopefully we’ll get word about this coming state sometime soon.

Source: Siliconera.com