Nut Load. Mini reviews of games old and new. No fuss. No spoilers. Occasional shock face.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories (2004)

Genre: Action / RPG  |  Players: 1 |  Developer: Square Enix

Chain of Memories takes place between the original Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II, both on PS2. Unlike those games, it uses a card-based combat system that'll take some time to explain fully. It isn't turn based. The cards dictate the kind of attack you do and the power of that attack, which is then carried out in real-time when you press the attack button. You can cycle through cards to choose attack, heal, etc, when needed. If your opponent simultaneously draws a higher card than you, your attack will be deflected. If your opponent draws a lower card than you, your attack will deal damage. That's the boring basics.

During combat you’ll run out of cards, but they can be replenished. Doing so leaves you vulnerable for a time; it’s usually then that you’ll get your ass handed to you. Each subsequent time your cards need replenished the longer it'll take.

You can customise, rename and save decks to suit each situation, up to a maximum of three; once customised they aren't set in stone so you can modify them easily. This is further complicated by requiring you to have adequate Card Points. Each card has a unique CP value, so you’ll have to decide which is the best combination at any given time. As you level up you can increase your maximum CP to create a stronger deck and kick more Heartless ass.

There are other modifiers and abilities granted by equipping secondary cards, but they cost a lot of CP. If your head is beginning to melt, don't worry. It’s complicated to describe but makes sense in practice. It's like the difference between tying your shoelaces and describing to someone else how to do it.

A high degree of tactics is involved initially, but once you gather a decent deck it’ll be the usual KH method of repeated button-bashing; except during boss battles, many of whom you'll recognise from earlier games. KH fans should enjoy it. KH haters should enjoy hating it. It's business as usual but with cards.

3½ Keyblades in your dark parts out of 5

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days (2010)

Genre: Third Person Shooter  |  Players: 1 - 2 (co-op)  |  Developer: IO Interactive

Kane & Lynch 2 is a third person action shooter told primarily from Lynch's point of view; he's the balding one on the cover. You kill a lot of people, then move onto the next location and kill a lot more people. The story is secondary to the killing of bad guys and cops. It injects some emotion early on and attempts to sustain it throughout, but it’s rudimentary, arising from acts of merciless violence. The level of violence in the game means it’s definitely not for the very young.

The camera takes on the role of a third protagonist. It’s technically a fixed perspective, but that perspective is from a cheap, grainy, low res handheld digital camera. When the action gets frantic the image pixelates, throwing up deliberate screen artefacts as the ‘operator’ gets shaken or attempts to keep up. It’s a stylistic choice that helps enhance the action, and while it'll certainly irritate some players there’s no denying it feels cinematic. If you've watched Alfonso Cuarón’s film Children of Men (2006) you’ll likely remember the lengthy scene that takes place on the war-torn streets? Playing K&L is exactly like being in that scene for an extended period of time.

It’s a short game, but for once that’s a good thing, any longer and it would begin to feel like it had overstayed its welcome. I got the feeling the lack of anything to do outside of the singular objective was to keep the player from getting bored; too much wandering around, hunting for collectibles, etc, would cause the game to lose momentum. I enjoyed it mostly, but felt a little empty at the hurried and deeply unsatisfying ending.

I didn't play the online or co-op modes. I imagine the co-op would allow for some interesting flanking manoeuvres? Otherwise, what would be the point?

Buyer’s Guide:
Available on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.

3½ lacerations out of 5

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Clive Barker's Jericho (2007)

Genre: First Person Shooter  |  Players: 1  |  Developer: MercurySteam

Jericho’s premise, which I suspect is the only input author Clive Barker really had despite having his name prominently on the box, is pretty fantastic. It could make a hell of a novel. Before God created man he created the Firstborn. It turned out wrong. In fear and shame God banished it to the abyss, where it remained. The Firstborn wasn't entirely happy about that. If it were a book that’s the blurb you’d get on the back. The remainder of the story will be revealed if you play the game.

What follows is a squad based FPS that sees you sent on location to contain a threat. You control what could've been interesting characters, voiced by cheesy B-Movie style voice actors who succeed in sucking out any hope the characters had of transcending the second dimension. That’s a shame, because they each have a distinctive style visually. So too does the game world; it’s often a lot more interesting than the usual war-torn COD and BF environments.

The lighting is effective when it isn't being overly-dark and moody. The sound is also good, with guns sounding chunky. Music adds to the tension.

On the flip side, it’s primarily a chaotic and repetitive slog that sees you plugging away at Cenobite-esque bad guys in painfully linear, restrictive tunnels. It also suffers from the most overused and illogical FPS crime: the enemy will take two dozen bullets to the face with nary a twitch, but will fall like babies after one or two melee attacks. I don’t exaggerate when I say two dozen bullets. Those fuckers eat lead like I eat curry: hot and plentiful.

There are occasional Quick Time Events (button prompts that you have to press as quickly as possible) to break the monotony, with emphasis on the Quick; they should be renamed Lightning Fast Time Events.

The game’s faults could've easily been rectified given a little love and effort. As it is, it’ll please people who just want to shoot things in the face, but even they may tire of the experience sooner rather than later. File under: Missed potential.

Buyer's Guide:
Available on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.

2½ lengthy loading screens out of 5

Monday, October 29, 2012

Saints Row: The Third (2011)

Genre: Sandbox  |  Players: 1 / Co-op / Multi (online) | Developer: Volition Inc

Once upon a time Saints Row was the poor man’s GTA, but as time went on things changed. Saints Row is now the leader of the pack and GTA is left playing Betty, alone and teary-eyed.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the first mission in SR III takes place in a similar location to the best mission in GTA IV. The entire SR game is a fist in the ass of IV and its humourless mirror to realism. Volition know you don’t have to sacrifice fun to create something immersive. There are no boring rags to riches stories here—there’s actually very little story, but it excels in other ways.

It’s a third-person action game with wicked humour that keeps it from being just another sandbox clone. It’s as if they took everything that sucked about GTA IV and did the opposite: the world is colourful, the cars have a more arcade style handling, the comedy is full force, the character customisation is extensive and the music is better; all that adds up to a better game. It’s also a shorter game, but if you do all the side missions there's easily 30+ hours of entertainment. Each Act has two options to choose from to end it, so that gives replay value.

SR is pure, unabashed, guilty fun. What other game lets you dress as a transvestite cosplay Wonder Woman and wield a three foot flexible purple dildo-bat that you can use to beat a grown man in a bunny suit? There are none. Its absurdity sets it apart from similar titles. Volition made gaming fun again.

4 pony carriages out of 5

Friday, October 26, 2012

Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (2007)

Genre: Mystery / Puzzle  | Players: 1 | Developer: Cing 

In this interactive mystery novel you control Kyle Hyde, a down on his luck ex-New York cop on the road to nowhere, that is until he spends a night in Hotel Dusk's room 215. The NDS game opens with Hyde dreaming of his past life as a detective and the life-changing event which led him to his current position, a salesman for Red Crown. Beneath the guise of door-to-door peddler he also recovers lost items on the side for his boss.

His next excursion brings him to Nevada on the last dregs of '79. As he makes his way towards his destination we get an eyeful of the unique art direction, best described as a nod to 80's band A-ha's music video for "Take On Me" as characters are mainly seen as sketchy outlines. A handful of animations for each comprise their movement. An easygoing tune fills the air as we also get an earful of the mood-setting music which pervades the games notable OST.

Gameplay is made up of touch screen interactions which range from something as simple as piecing together a children's jigsaw puzzle to picking a lock, but what really moves the story along is using Hyde's detective intuitions to reveal other characters' secrets through key conversations. These prompt multiple choice answers and if you choose correctly, each person's truth will lead Hyde closer to his own. It's as if the guests of Hotel Dusk are all just tumblers in a lock, waiting for you to line them up.

With minor plot holes and a thought-provoking ending, the game compensates with the option to replay from the beginning on your save file. Certain events and interactions will be different and it allows you to continue to deduce the multi-layered plot. While not the most exciting ride, players should enjoy Hotel Dusk: Room 215 for what it really is: a well concocted mystery.

Buyer's Guide:
Available on Nintendo DS only.

5 painful confessions out of 5

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Super Scribblenauts (2010)

Genre: Puzzle  | Players: 1 | Developer: 5th Cell

You’ll have to walk your brain outside the box if you’re to enjoy Super Scribblenauts. It’s described as an ‘emergent action puzzle game’. What that means in practical terms is a licence to do magic with the stylus; i.e. conjure things in real time simply by spelling them. Use the stylus to input words and watch as the game creates the object(s) on-screen: Ninjas. Velociraptors. Trout. Almost any non-trademarked object you can imagine can be rendered. Almost… it’s kid friendly, so no shark-toothed vaginas or armour-clad knobs.

You can even attribute adjectives to your creations. The majority of the time the creature/object will behave according to it’s nature. Things may get out of hand if you create opposites, or carnivores and tasty humans in the same play park.

Leaving that aside, the gameplay revolves around Maxwell. You move him either with the D-pad or the stylus. The stylus is used for moving your creations around on-screen, so it’s simpler to control Maxwell via the D-pad.

Maxwell collects starite, one of which is awarded for each of the 120 levels completed successfully. You’ll need to analyse a situation, then create an object that will solve a dilemma or enable Maxwell to get from point A to point B safely. Once the starite is won you move onto the next puzzle. It’s structured as a set of tutorials that'll help you gradually understand the mechanics of the game.

There's almost always more than one way to proceed, but admittedly some of the solutions are tenuously related to the problem. Sometimes the obvious, most rational solution will fail to solve the equation with no explanation why. It can get frustrating. When that happened I drifted off into toy box mode again, and fun was had with a jetpack and a flamethrower. Pyromaniacs will get their jollies.

As a game, it’s too short and too arbitrary to give full marks to. As a toybox/sandbox simulator it has almost endless possibilities provided you have a sufficiently fertile imagination to tap into. The middle ground between the two aspects is an amazingly simple idea married to a densely packed creation tool.

Buyer's Guide:
Available on Nintendo DS only.

3½ homicidal scribbles out of 5

Friday, October 19, 2012

Blue Toad Murder Files: The Mysteries of Little Riddle – Episode 1 (2010)

Genre: Mystery / Puzzle | Players: 1 - 4  | Developer: Relentless Software

A downloadable episodic whodunit for up to four players. Although, you can play it alone if you have no fiends. The friends you don’t have will thank you.

You begin by picking an investigator from a line-up of four British stereotypes before being dropped off via train in Little Riddle, a quaint, backward little town full of quainter, more backward, lazier British stereotypes. I unashamedly find stereotypes hilarious, but the residents of Little Riddle managed to infuriate even me. They're turds and I wanted to hurt them. The only one remotely entertaining was the Basil Fawlty-esque hotel owner.

You’re given a number of differently staged puzzles that you must solve in order to advance the story: logic puzzles, visual puzzles, word puzzles, etc. Also, pay attention to your surroundings, because sooner or later you’ll be tasked with inane questions about your toil. Make it to the end and you'll be required to finger the culprit; that sounds more erotic than it really is.

I enjoy having my brain hurt and welcome a challenge. Little Riddle went one step further by making my soul hurt and challenging my endurance. The worst aspect was that the cut scenes, even on a second viewing, can’t be skipped.

Buyer’s Guide:
The game is available for PS3 and PC. It’s split over six chapters, with each chapter having its own mystery to solve. Should you wish to punish yourself further you can buy the remainder of the episodes individually or save money and get them all at once. Or save even more money and get none at all. Wahey!

1½ buy Prof Layton instead out of 5

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Tomba! (1998)

Genre: Platformer | Players: 1 | Developer: Whoopee Camp

The feral wild child Tomba with the pink coif is just going about his day hunting wild game when he stumbles upon some anthropomorphic pigs robbing a carriage and intervenes. He is at first successful, but is then knocked unconscious and his gold bracelet is stolen. It being the only keepsake of his deceased grandfather, he takes off in pursuit of the pigs.

Tomba runs around several 2D colorful landscapes attacking enemies either by jumping on them and hurling them into obstacles or with various weapons while completing the games missions. The missions are surprisingly varied ranging from exploring and talking to NPCs to fetch quests and puzzles. Though the objectives can sometimes be incredibly vague. This makes exploration essential and the game rewards players for it with hidden items, chests and missions to find in overlooked nooks and by talking to the various other characters that also vary widely from humans to flying dogs and parasol carrying monkeys in striped pants. Tomba will also gain new abilities that allow faster movement and further exploration of both new and old areas.

The cartoony graphic style has aged rather well and its soundtrack, while nothing special, is competent enough to do the job. Its strange premise is also a nice throwback to a time before the rule of muddy brown realism where enemies weren't terrorists and the main character could crack a smile. A wonderful, colorful and most of all fun if rather short adventure.

Buyer's Guide:
The old physical PS1 discs are collectors items and thus carry a premium often up past $100 for mint copies, but Sony has just recently re-released it on PSN for a much more palatable $9.99.

Stomachs as an infinite Bag of Holding out of 5

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fallout Tactics (2001)

Genre: RPG | Players: 1 + Multi via Lan / Online | Developer: Micro Forté

I was once told that every game series needs its turd.  A few escape relatively unscathed, like Baldur's Gate or Elder Scrolls, others get... well... something of Fallout Tactics calibre.

At first sight it's interesting: a tactical, squad-based adventure game that explores a bit more the Fallout universe.  The only problem was that the game development was obviously rushed, and in a pretty bad way.  Some designs are atrocious, and the general look of the game looks like a few steps BACKWARD when compared to Fallout 2.  Still, it had some strong points: squad based combat is a perfect fit for the Fallout universe, and the game offers a lot of possibilities in terms of characters, gameplay and equipment.
That's all.  The A.I. is flawed; its main behaviours akin to a constant zerg rush: send its entire troop at you, not bothering with things like subtlety, and often putting its men in a nice column that you only need to shower with lead.  As I said, the designs are bad but the worst injury comes from the game system; it's neither turn based nor real time.  Basically, it's a mess.  A buggy mess which smells like "unfinished product" to me.  And I'm right, as the following shows:

"If Interplay had allowed more time (and money), MicroForte would have been in a position to deliver a better game.  That's fairly typical of the publisher/developer relationship. [...] Keep in mind that the amount of testing on Fallout Tactics was tragically short.  IIRC, Interplay received the first full beta/fully playable to the end on a Saturday.  The following Wednesday, after one - maybe two - revs, it was sent off for mastering.  That's an amazingly short amount of time (most projects have at least a month between fully playable and gold mastering, RPGs usually have longer).  Myself and a few others asked for more time to do more testing and we were denied.  There was a strong desire to get the game out as fast as possible by someone at Interplay.  I don't think it helped that I had walked out of a marketing meeting a month or so earlier, so my opinion towards the end wasn't well received.
Additional testing time would have allowed: more bug fixes, better balancing (especially in Turn-Based, since the limited amount of testing time, most of QA was testing in real-time) and more tweaks to the game system."

Who says that?  Chris Taylor (RPG Codex forum), Fallout lead designer and a producer on Tactics.  In other words the game release was rushed, released with close to no testing, and knowing it had rather poor gameplay (hell, it's a slaughter-fest even worse than Icewind Dale, with nearly NO role-playing), very little humour (keep in mind Fallout and Fallout 2 were full of easter eggs and funny little things found here and there) and ugly designs.  Gameplay-wise, the game isn't balanced at all (enemies are either too strong or too easy for you, some missions are close to impossible, and a few are downright impossible), and finally Inon Zur was obviously uninspired as the music is quite bland and forgettable...

So yeah. Fallout Tactics is the bad egg of the Fallout family.

Buyer’s Guide:
Available on PC, Mac, Steam, and GOG.com.

½ don't rush your game release or they'll end in the toilets like the piece of shit they are out of 5.*

*The ½ point is for that monstrous heavy machine gun that can one-shot nearly anything, and for which you find TONS of ammo.

Nutted by Docrate1 (who won’t be campaigning for a Fallout Tactics 2 any time soon).

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Icewind Dale Complete (2000/2001)

Genre: RPG / Hack’n’Slash |  Players: 1- 6 (via TCP IP/Lan)
Developer: Black Isle Studios

First and foremost: if you came to play Icewind Dale to delve back into the intrigue and mysteries of Faerun... forget it. While its forefather Baldur's Gate shone with enigmas, twisted puzzles and little quests that had to be solved, Icewind Dale is more or less devoid of all that making it more Diablo-like than RPG.  The story is as linear as humanly possible, the game is one long slaughter-fest from start to end.  The secondary quests are often limited to "find object A and bring it to Character B to obtain object/reward C" which is a far cry from some BG quests.  Probably because Bioware didn't develop this one, Black Isle did.  Still, as BI developed Fallout 2, which is a masterpiece in terms of storyline and accessory quests, questions could be asked as to whether they worked seriously on Icewind Dale or not.

In terms of graphics, the game uses a refined Infinity Engine and offers really beautiful sceneries, as well as very nice music by Jeremy Soule.  In terms of gameplay... well... it's the same as Baldur’s Gate but with lots of new classes, character options, and equipment (prefiguring BG 2 that would be released only a few months later).
The only originality is that you don't recruit any characters.  You create your whole party at the beginning, from 1 to 6 characters, with the classes you wish.  Don't forget the basic: one thief, one wizard, and one priest.  Then add a few tanks.  I mean warriors/rangers.

Now the add-ons.  Yes, plural.  First Heart of Winter: Well, Heart of Winter continues a bit the story of Icewind Dale but doesn't add anything like subtlety or puzzles.  The game is still a slaughter-fest, only with more experience levels and more powerful tools for your heroes to slaughter their enemies with, hear the lamentation of their women, blah, blah, blah...

And then there's the free expansion, Trials of the Luremaster.  It offers some tough enigmas, although not that hard if you compare them to the hellish difficulty of some in BG2, a series of REALLY tough dungeons and some incredible loot, all spoiled by the most annoying end boss.  Still, a good challenge for an advanced party.  I would advise people to play these dungeons when you're mid-game in Heart of Winter.  Yes, TotL is an expansion to an expansion.  And that was a decade before Inception.

All in all, a good game yet miles away from the genius that shone in Baldur's Gate and light-years away from the pearl that is Baldur's Gate 2.

Buyer's Guide:
Available on PC, Mac, and GOG.com.

3 "this game is expansionception" out of 5.

Nutted by Docrate1

Sunday, September 23, 2012

SEGA Classics collection (2006)

Genre: Various  |  Players: One  / Two  |  Developer: D3 Publisher

A collection of retro SEGA 'Classics' released on the PS2 back in 2006. Normally in such a collection you get one or two gems accompanied by some crap that wouldn't shift any units on its on. On first glance that appears to be the case, but, unfortunately, the games you know to be good are the Sega Ages versions, not the originals and that makes all the difference. Games on offer:

Golden Axe is fully deserving of the 'Classic' title. Often whilst skipping school I'd play Golden Axe at the local arcade, so I can say with a level of experience that while the travesty on the disc bears some resemblance to the game I know, it's most definitely NOT that game. The names remain but the visuals and character animations are changed and appear to have been coloured by a Marvel inbetweener’s six-year-old daughter. There's also re-recorded music, new level design and new enemies. The Mega Drive/Genesis version is superior.
Space Harrier is similarly garish. It’s got a new skin but retains the same old controls. It’s not aged particularly well, but it rubbed my nostalgia nipple briefly.
Outrun is OutRun, plain and simple.
Virtua Racer is an F1 racer. I managed to not explode and not finish last.
Columns is exactly how I remembered it: a Tetris clone that sucked ass. I'm not sure what they changed. It’s still a Tetris clone and still sucks ass.
Monaco GP is a top-down racer that might be fun if you like that sort of thing.
Fantasy Zone. Ah, F Zone, how I loved thee. It’s largely unchanged. It’s still as hard as ever. It was always colourful, so the difference isn't as noticeable. Are there more options in the Shop? I'm not sure.
Tant R & Bonanza Bros. I don’t know why they're bundled together. but they deserve each other. Bonanza Bros was never any good and still isn't. Tant R was new to me. It's a collection of party games, such as having to stop a car from racing off a cliff edge by hitting the brakes as late as possible.

Buyer's Guide:
Available from ebay and a number of skanky and sticky second hand shops. The US edition adds Alien Syndrome. I can't comment on it, thankfully.

1 Fantasy Zone frustration out of 5

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare (2010)

Genre: 3rd Person Shooter / Action  |  Players: One / Online Multi  |
Developer: Rockstar North / Rockstar San Diego

All they had to do was give us more of the same awesomeness for this Red Dead Redemption expansion and I'd have fapped in their coffee cups.  But they didn’t, they changed things, which is a pleasant way of saying they fucked it up.

The undead have appeared in the Wild West and waste no time in shitting up everyone’s routine.  You once again play as John Marston; his quiet life has been interrupted so he sets out to remedy it.  You’ll meet some old friends from RDR along the way, so it pays to have played it first.
The core game mechanic is the same but what they do with it is painfully formulaic.  You ride into town, kill zombies, ride into the next town, kill some zombies, ride into the next town… yawn.

Beyond that, the game is an endless hunt for ammunition.  You can’t buy it.  You have to farm it from the dead zombies.  To kill a zombie you have to get a headshot and blow his/her brains all over the dusty plains.  Worse still, to save a town from being overrun you have to give away a portion of your precious ammo to the townsfolk, who, in an act of asshat economics, will get overrun again 2 hours later while you’re off doing something else, and they will all die.  Your great heroic deed is for naught.  You could drop what you’re doing at the time and go save their sorry asses again but that is even more tedious than farming for ammo from dead dead people.

In the regions where there’s no high ground for you to climb, you’ll spend 90% of your time running away from a horde of hungry dead cretins so you can line up a shot.  By the time you’ve picked off 2 or 3 the remainder are clawing at you, killing you; you will die.  When you respawn they will all be back but your valued ammo stock will still be depleted.  To succeed you have to drop your aim and run away some more, etc.  It’s hateful and it’s the polar opposite of fun.

Heaven forbid your horse gets killed.  You’ll be stuck with a zombie horse that controls like a supermarket trolley; the one with the wobbly wheel.  I’m not even kidding.  The bastard nag won’t run straight.  He’ll pull you off ledges and bridges and into rocks and trees.  I couldn't even gain any joy in shooting it in the head because technically it was already dead.

Fuck you, Rockstar.  You turned one of the best sandbox games you've ever made into the worst sandbox game you’ve ever made.  I may well be the only person that doesn't think this is good but I care not.  I can't even give it away as I bought it from PSN.  Another reason to hate digital D/L.

Buyer’s Guide:
Available on PS3 and Xbox 360 as a D/L from the stores.  The D/L can either be as regular DLC, or as a full game (also available on disc) which will give you access to further add-ons, and multiplayer even with those that just own the original RDR.

2 run away, shoot, run away, run away, shoot, farm ammo out of 5

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Red Dead Redemption (2010)

Genre: 3rd Person Shooter / Action |  Players: One / Online Multi
Developer: Rockstar San Diego

Westerns rock!  Take all that's good about the film medium and mix it with satire and social commentary (Rockstar style) and you’ll have RDR.  You've maybe heard it described as Grand Theft Auto: Wild West, and while that’s essentially true, they’re both sandbox games sharing many features, it’s also a disservice to the scope and underlying heart of Red Dead, which is something that GTA lacked.

You control John Marston, a visibly scarred former outlaw who now plays by the rules, mostly.  He still carries a gun and can kill a man if need be but in truth Marston is a friendly, politically neutral character.  It’s up to the player to define his morality and guide his choices much of the time.

The story is carried along by successive events.  Missions and tasks are triggered by people you meet.  That takes you over a large open-world map that's mostly deserted prairies with the occasional town or community encampment scattered throughout.  The game world feels alive.  The towns in particular are microcosms of the larger whole.  The violence you’ll encounter there, the domestic abuse and greed, is something you can actively stop if the notion takes you.

It may seem initially time-consuming to have to travel from town to town on horseback but it soon becomes apparent that it’s the journey, those lengthy moments of solitude, that make the game special.  It gives you time to get emotionally attached to Marston and makes it all the more important that tasks are completed successfully.  The loneliness becomes the very thing that drives you onward, as weird as that sounds.

There are dozens of diverse side-missions and lengthy lists to pass the time between missions.  You’ll be herding cattle, hunting bounties, hunting treasure, gambling at saloons, brawling, collecting flowers (really) and much more.

The music is an integral part of the experience and representative of different regions.  The voice acting is also top class, full of pathos and wry, sarcastic humour when needed.  The varying cast of ranchers, bandits, renegades, law-men and general nut-jobs keep things fresh.

Online multiplayer is another great feature.  You’ll be traversing the same terrain but there’ll be other players.  You can team up for unique co-op missions, or go it alone to clear an area of bandits for some greedy exp points.  There are the usual death-match games too if that kind of thing gives you wood.

If you don’t make it to the end of the story you’ll be missing out on perhaps the best part; the climax is the most emotional that Rockstar have ever produced.

Buyer's Guide:
Available on PS3 and Xbox 360 on disc or as a D/L from the stores.

5 hog-tied whores out of 5

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Simpsons Game (2007)

Genre: Action / Platformer  |  Players: One / Co-op  |  Developer: Electronic Arts

The game is broken. If you’re a developer and you don’t have an in-game camera system that works then you don’t have a game that works.

You’re forced to control the dysfunctional family if you stick it out. Each level gives you two family members to switch between at will. You’ll need to do just that to solve the asinine puzzles that block advancement. However, there's little or no instruction in what you have to do during those times.

The tutorial covers abilities unique to your character, but it’s up to you to figure out everything else. In a perfect world that makes sense, but this is a game and nothing makes any sense. You figured out the pipe puzzle first time? Do tell...liar.

Buyer's Guide:
Available on Wii, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation 2, Nintendo DS, and PSP.
I played the PS2 version, so there's a chance the other versions are better, but I don’t hold out much hope of that actually being the case.

1 yellow bastard out of 5

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Fallout 2 (1998)

Genre: RPG  |  Players: One  |  Developer: Black Isle Studios

Roughly 90 years separate the original Fallout from its sequel.  Visually, the game hasn't changed much.  One could even say it hasn't changed at all, which isn't true.
New environments (with a lot more life in them), new NPC skins, new companions (robots, cyber dogs, mutants), new weapons, a lot more secondary quests, and many, many easter eggs to find: references to Star Wars, Buck Rogers, Star Trek, Mad Max and, if you are imaginative enough... Hokuto no Ken (take the right perks, don the black leather armor, go hand to hand and bam... you'll make people explode with your bare hands, Hokuto No ken style!) etc.  Hell, even the final boss is a wink to old man Eastwood.

All in all, the game is better balanced than the first one, less buggy, and provides a compelling story with lots of adventures, gunfights, and bad mistakes to be done in the grand Fallout tradition but above all this game provides you SO much more freedom.

Fallout 2 was one of the first games to give you the opportunity to be either an angel or the worst asshole in the wastelands.  With a good management of reputation you can be considered a monster in one town, and a hero in another, which makes the game all the better.  There are lots of moral choices, each having consequences at the games end.  There is no real need to play the game in any order.  Missed a location?  A quest?  You'll have time to do it AFTER the game.  Yep, you heard me.  Fallout 2 is probably one of the first games that allow you to continue playing after the ending.

Buyer's Guide:
Available on PC, Mac, OnLive, Steam, and GOG.com.

5 War... War really never changes out of 5.

Nutted by: Docrate1 (The Wasteland Veteran)

Fallout (1997)

Genre: RPG | Players: One | Developer: Black Isle Studios

The post nuclear Role playing game.  That's what I call a tagline.  Back in 1997, most PC  RPGs  meant dragons, elves and orcs.  Fallout barged in full of gun-toting raiders, criminals exploiting the nuclear aftermath, and the shadowy force that's threatening the survivors.  Fallout was damn innovative, and not only by the fact it had a REAL RPG system backing it.  Your character is more than a skin, it's, as in  Pen and Paper  RPGs, a set of attributes, skills, and perks.

Another innovation: tired of playing a goody two shoes?  Play an asshole for a change (sadly, the game really punishes you if you do so but it'll be extra extra hard to finish it this way when every damn person tries to shoot you down).  The story is quite simple: your vaults water purification system is down, and the replacement part is missing.  Guess who has to go outside and find it?

You'll meet communities that survived and organized themselves after the war: the Junkyard, the Hub, Shady Sands, etc.  Each offer various "job" opportunities and info on where to continue your mission.  Speaking of which, the game is fairly hard, of course; you can recruit allies, from a simple dog to a hardened mercenary, but still.  One of the game's problems is that it's mostly sand and asphalt.  In other words, the backgrounds are a bit lifeless and repetitive but that would be corrected in the next opus.  Another problem is that the game suffers from a few bugs, some of which can hinder the completion of the main quest.  Still, Fallout is a damn fine game that spawned 3 sequels, and renewed interest for post apocalyptic games.

Buyer's Guide:
Available on PC, Mac, OnLive, Steam, and GOG.com.

4 War... War never changes out of 5

Nutted by: Docrate1

Friday, August 31, 2012

Star Wars: Republic Commando (2005)

Genre: Tactical FPS | Players: 1, Multi | Developer: Lucasarts

Players take control of Boss, the leader of Delta Squad's clone commandos, as they fight through campaigns of the Clone Wars against various Separatist enemies from droids to Geonosioans and beyond using various Republic and enemy weapons, but most importantly using the squadmates.

The main draw is the squad-based gameplay that allows players to direct the 3 other commandos, Scorch, Fixer and Sev, to perform various actions like take attack positions, set charges and hack computers. It is actually essential to learn it as many battles would probably be impossible otherwise because of difficulty and that ammo is limited and drains very fast if players try to do everything themselves. It works very well most of the time. Several times the commandos got stuck on the geometry and it took some creative uses of the pull back and attack commands to cure them of their retardation, but it was still a minor problem and sometimes funny.

The weapons are decently varied and players are encouraged to use them all as different ones will be more effective than others against certain enemies. Too bad no one will tell you what does what. Grenades in particular can be effective, but there are multiple kinds and no instruction on how to use them effectively. This trial and error will cause players to waste ammo and force them to use the weaksauce pistol with recharging ammo almost as a punishment when they run out. If players manage to figure things out though, combining enemy weaknesses with effective squad commands will give the satisfying feeling of being an elite squad. Protip: regular droids by themselves should just be punched in the face for an instant kill. Saves the ammo which is liberally scattered around, but Boss can only carry so much. Healing bacta stations are also pretty much everywhere which doesn't make battles any easier since shields and health disappear quickly under fire without taking cover and trying to use one in a firefight is a dumb idea.

The game still looks pretty good for it's age and minus the occasional stupid AI, Boss's lumbering movement speed and pretty short campaign ( I finished it in just 7 hours), it is a good example of solid squad-based game-play. There is multi-player, but there was no one playing to test it. Oh well.

Buyer's Guide:
Available for the original Xbox and on PC and Steam.

Wookie life debts for everybody out of 5

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Shadow The Hedgehog (2005)

Genre: Platformer / Piece of Shit | Players: 1  |  Developer: Sega USA

I'm not going to bother with a synopsis of the painfully banal game ‘story’. I just want to get this over with as quickly as possible. In brief:

01. The FMV can’t be skipped, and it's all bad.
02. The frame rate is atrocious (although I had to play at 50hz because the 60hz option wasn't working through HDMI for some reason, so there remains some minor doubt there).
03. There’s no sense of the speed that's traditionally associated with Sonic games, because the level design is structured to stop you every ten seconds, rendering it almost unplayable.
04. There are vehicles. They control like bananas.
05. The voices made me want to turn the music up to drown them out. The music made me want to turn the voices up to drown it out. I was in a Catch 22, so I hit mute, but I could still see it. FML.
06. I got as far as the level with the bombs before I gave up the will to live.

It really throws into perspective the other games I've thought were bad over the years - they were Princely treasures compared to Shadow. I'm not attempting hyperbole for comedic effect. I'm completely candid when I say that everywhere you look there's something offensively vile. If you bought Shadow then you have my empathy. If you like Shadow then you're making your mother sad.

I'm trying to think of something positive to say. I guess it’d make a good coaster to set a glass of beer on while I take a giant shit in the game box before posting it back to Sega. I’d consider it a fair trade.

0 charm out of 5

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Green Day Rock Band (2010)


Genre: Rhythm / Music Players: 1-4 | Developer: Harmonix / Demiurge Studios

Look, you don’t need me to explain to you how a rhythm game works. So, right off the bat, this game works perfectly fine on that front. The Rock Band formula is down pat, as it should be after a trillion iterations in multiple franchises. I also have to imagine that outside of Green Day fans (from casuals to diehards) the only people’ll who be eyeing this are rhythm game nuts who have to have them all. In short, you don’t need me to sell you on the game itself, you need me to tell you how it fares from a Green Day fanboy’s perspective...if you actually need anything at all......

The unlockables are nothing special, to get that out of the way, too. If you expected them to be, or if you’re thinking of getting the game for them, shame on you.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I initially boycotted the game because it featured little in the way of songs from Insomniac, Nimrod, and Warning:, and no songs whatsoever from Kerplunk!, and 39/Smooth. They also stated early on that they weren’t going to be releasing any further content beyond the song pack that completed 21st Century’s tracklist. Their reasoning wasn’t the greatest, but it is true that they specifically scripted 3 concerts worth of animation and it would be a bit odd to see it playing over incongruous songs.

It’s the 3 concert career that ultimately provides this game with a rock solid structure. It feels so much more complete and worthwhile than Beatles Rock Band, right out of the box. Yes, it is built around Dookie and American Idiot (their two most successful albums) and the then-current 21st Century Breakdown. No, these are not my favorite albums of theirs, but this is a major market release and they can’t really be blamed for this. As offered, as shaped and defined by the realities of business, marketing, and game making, this is a magnificent purchase if you are a Green Day fan.

This is the kind of release that cannot be judged apart from my love for the band in question, and because I do not have any professional obligations breathing down my neck to try otherwise, I don’t feel any regret in judging it as a fanboy. This is as close as I’ll ever come to being Mike Dirnt. Thank you, Harmonix. Thank you, sincerely.

Buyer's Guide: Available on PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii. I can’t imagine it costing very much, now. If you can find the Plus version, grab it. There is no reason not to complete the final album.

5 Nations Without Bureaucratic Ties out of 5

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Burnout Paradise (2008)

Genre: Racing | Players: 1 - 8 | Developer: Criterion Games

Burnout Paradise is an arcade racer. It's an open world environment that lets you progress at your own pace. The devs claim there are over 250 miles of game area to explore. I believe it. It’s possible to spend hours exploring the initially daunting environment completing secondary tasks before you even begin to race.

Once you’re done exploring, it’s time to delve deeper. To trigger an event, pull up at a traffic light and spin your wheels. Once discovered, an event remains on your map so is easily found again. If it’s not possible to complete a certain task in your current vehicle, you can return later.

The Burnout series is defined by two things: Speed and Dangerous Driving. Being reckless fills a boost meter that helps you gain the lead in races. Continue being reckless during boosting and you’ll get a boost combo. The sense of speed is exhilarating. When the adrenalin kicks in, corners become things to fear. Nailing a boost-combo of double figures is a godlike sensation. If, or more precisely when, you wreck your shit you’ll lose your boost meter. You can repair your vehicle, even during races, by driving through repair-shops scattered over the map.

It’s not all about racing. There are chase and stunt tasks. Also 'Takedowns' that require you to pursue and crash a rival car; win and it gets added to your garage for use. They’re usually faster than you, so skilful driving and short-cuts will be necessary. However, like previous Burnout games, once you nail that perfect vehicle you’ll have no need of the rest ever again.

The 'Showtime' feature has you bouncing your vehicle down busy roads causing crippling carnage. Combo hit as many cars as possible to earn multipliers on your damage meter. I spent more hours than was healthy pin-balling my car down roads and off bridges. I may need some readjustment before being returned to society.

Entering multi-player is effortless, with no frustrating lobbies to navigate. If you've a good connection it's as smooth as the one player.

A great feature lets you use any music you've ripped to your HDD while in-game.

Buyer's Guide:
Available for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC. Make sure and get the online patches before you begin, even if you've no intention of playing online. They fix some niggles and add new challenges and content: a day/night feature and motorbikes. It’s DLC that makes a real difference to the game, and 90% of it is free. If you get The Ultimate Box it has the extras included.

4½ skid marks out of 5

Monday, August 13, 2012

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011)

Genre: FPS, RPG, Stealth | Players: 1 | Developer: Eidos Montreal

Eidos takes the reins for the Deus Ex franchise with some help from Square-Enix who have begun to make a push towards publishing since they have recently forgotten how to make games and are now buying up other developers to make games for them. In the case of Eidos, it has paid off with an entry in the series that more than lives up to the franchise's pedigree.

Adam Jensen is the new head of security of Sarif Industries who produce biomechanical augmentation technology. Just before an important congressional hearing, a group of soldiers storm the laboratory complex killing scientists and destroying equipment and research during which they brutally put Adam down. Adam is then augmented to save his life from his massive injuries. 6 months afterwards, Adam is healed and called back to look into who is behind the attacks as there are a number of suspects including rival companies and purists who object to augmentations among others.

Like the rest of the series, players are given a great amount of freedom in how they approach mission objectives. Cover-based gunplay and stealth can be used and enhanced with a wide array of choices in augmentations to suit either play-style. Augmentations can be gained with points by completing objectives or buying upgrades at clinics which is where the RPG part of the game comes in as well as extensive weapon modification. There is also a great emphasis on character interaction. Players will often have multiple conversation choices and characters will react differently based on what players choose versus the character's personality. Depending on the person, players can flatter their vanity, appeal to their reason or just plain coerce them into giving up information. Also whether the player uses lethal force or not can affect gameplay.

The depth of story and themes of trans-human ethics give a rich experience along with solid gameplay. There are only so many character models, but Eidos tried their best to cover it up with mixed results as players may notice a lot of the same faces running around. The levels are surprisingly big given the detail put into them and while shorter than the original, the length is surprisingly long for a modern game. At least 20 hours depending on player skill and sidequests chosen. There were some technical hiccups like NPC's sinking slightly into the pavement and such, but nothing game breaking. The boss battles were somewhat incongruous with the rest of the game, but that is to be expected when they are done by a totally different studio. Pretty, but not shallow with some replay value.

Buyer's Guide:
Available on PC, Mac, PS3 and 360. There is also downloadable content called The Missing Link.

4 The I.T. guy is an abrasive douchebag, like a lot of real counterparts out of 5

Monday, August 6, 2012

Lollipop Chainsaw (2012)


Genre: Action | Players: 1 | Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture

A cheerleader and a disembodied head ridding the world of zombies whilst surrounded by pop-culture references a plenty. What could possibly go wrong? Plenty of things, but not enough to ruin the experience entirely. As someone not familiar with much of Suda 51’s previous work, I’d have to say the overall vibe of the game is defined by sexual humor which is more often clever and self-aware than it is crude or juvenile. On the whole, I do like Juliet Starling, as she manages to balance a practiced obliviousness and absurdist sense of humor with her own strange wisdom and obscene physical prowess. Nick (the head) effortlessly plays straight man and doles out gameplay advice. He even gets in on the action in both required and optional ways.

Despite this, Juliet’s moveset is severely lacking until you can manage to purchase a few of her more flashy and powerful chainsaw strikes. These will be very familiar to anyone who has played X-Men Origins: Wolverine. For those who haven’t, just imagine a lot of spinning and death. Until I had the more critical techniques, combat felt too deliberate and slow, with much focus placed on stunning zombies before being able to destroy them.

This slowed pace was exacerbated by two key problems: the checkpoint system, and the mini-games. While the game as a whole feels a bit short, the levels themselves feel paradoxically long. Checkpoints exist in each level, but if you exit at any time, you are forced to start over again. This is especially painful given that mini-games are scattered through each level, which--early on--bring the game to a grinding halt. They would be wonderful, if only they were selectable in an extras menu and not peppered into the story itself.

To combat the overall length of the story, one can play levels in a ranked mode (wherein Juliet must beat her dad’s scores) as well as work to unlock a bevy of extras such as costumes and songs. These songs can even be arranged into a custom playlist.

If you can set aside the time to play each level in a single shot, and you’re a fan of Suda 51, I can recommend getting this game on the cheap. There’s enough interesting gameplay ideas and strange humor to warrant a spin if you’re aware of its pitfalls.

Buyer's Guide:
Available on PS3 and Xbox 360. Snoop around for a deal online, now, or wait a few months and grab it on the cheap, locally.

3 Auto-tuned Prophets of Funk out of 5

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Assassin's Creed: Revelations (2011)

Genre: Action / Adventure | Players: 1 / Multi | Developer: Ubisoft

Fourth game in the series.  The yearly updates are really beginning to impact on the quality; it feels hurried, and is glitchier than ever.  There’s nothing game-breaking but it’s frustrating restarting missions because some fool got himself entrenched in a wall.  My favourite was the beggar with the three-legged stool embedded in his chest.  He followed me like some kind of lovesick puppy.  I tried to kill him with the hidden blade but his stoic, mocking reluctance to even flinch while I repeatedly knifed him finally won out and I gave up.

It appears to finish both the stories of Altaïr and Ezio (who still runs like he's smuggling a potato up his hole).  Ezio’s ending is the first decent ending the series has ever had.  Of course they tack on a second one with Desmond that proves once again they’ve been winging it from day one with that piece of shit storyline.

Acquiring money is less of a hassle than before.  I'd every shop and faction building renovated, and discovered over 90% of the treasure (the remainder was in an inaccessible zone) after just the second chapter.  I was never, ever out of cash for essentials.  It was a pleasant change from previous games.

There are some new additions, the best of which are the zip-lines.  There's bomb crafting but you’ll rarely need to make use of it.  There's an unbelievably bad RTS section; it’s poorly designed.  The less said about the horse and carriage missions the better.  Instead of flags or feathers you have fragments to collect that open Desmond Missions in a hub-world.  A first-person perspective jumping and disappearing platform section has to be the worst idea conceived by anyone ever.

Ironically, the city of Constantinople is my favourite of any of the games so far; it’s beautifully realised and has less cul-de-sacs and pointless corners than previous cities.  It was a real joy to navigate.

Buyer's Guide:
Available for PS3, Xbox 360, and PC in too many editions.  The Standard / Animus / Collector's / Special / Signature / Ultimate / Ottoman Edition all add some extra crap.  The PS3 version comes with the first game free but they haven’t tweaked it or fixed the frame rate.

2½ warm potatoes out of 5

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode 1 (2008)

Genre: RPG | Players: 1 | Developer: Hothead Games

It was probably inevitable that long-running webcomic Penny Arcade would become a game itself. Here the PA protagonists Gabe and Tycho join with the player character in a roaring 20's, steampunk setting as they chase a towering robot that has crushed the player's house. The player joins their detective agency to get revenge and then find out the mysterious conspiracy behind the sudden swarm of smaller robots, murderous mimes, homicidal hobos and other strange enemies.

Gameplay consists of exploring settings like a suburban street and a boardwalk that is very reminiscent of old point and click adventure games using the mouse to move and click on things to interact or just to open a text box describing the clicked item. Combat is an active time battle system with context sensitive button presses used to block and use special attacks. Blocking is done by hitting the space bar at the right time as the enemy attacks (their health bar will flash). A perfectly timed block will result in no damage and an automatic counterattack, but timing is difficult. Otherwise it will result in a regular block that reduces damage, a partial block that lets more damage through or a missed block that lets all damage through and any status effects that the attack may inflict.

Special attacks take longer to charge, but do more damage. Killing an enemy with a perfectly executed special attack results in an Overkill that gives permanent bonuses to stats. Specials can also be stacked between the characters for double and triple attacks for more damage. Unlike most RPG's with throwaway battles for grinding, every battle here has the potential to be deadly, so blocking and item use for healing, buffing and distracting enemies is essential as are the support characters that can be summoned to help. Knowing weaknesses helps too like hobos are drunk and therefore resistant to Gabe's punches but are susceptible to Tycho's bullets.

The art-style is very in-sync with the comic art-style particularly the cut-scenes and dialogue screens and the steampunk setting is welcome, but a lot of the game may not gel with players that aren't already fans of the comic. It is very tongue-in-cheek and the humor might not come across to casual players. They may not understand Tycho's love for deep wordplay (resulting in the mouthful title) and why the robots are fruit rapists. There is a bit of a learning curve in the beginning too as players are walked through about 3 fights and then left to their own devices pretty quick. But the game is solid. Great combat, vibrant art and good humor.

Buyer's Guide:
Available for digital distribution on PC, Mac, XBLA and PSN.

Killer cat hairballs out of 5

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Skate 2 (2009)

Genre: Sport | Players: 1 and Online Multi | Developer: EA Black Box

If you earned your scars in the Tony Hawk Pro Skater school of impossible physics doing fifty foot Christ Airs then you’ll get a shock when you step into Skate 2. You'll bail and bail and bail again. Trying to nail a simple 50/50 grind will have you eating dirt or nursing your nut-sac. Learning the ropes of the game will initially feel as hard almost as learning to skate for real.

You're dropped into a sandbox city called New San Vanelona. A tutorial guides you through the controls, but the difficulty curve is harsh. The controls reflect the actions you’d be required to do in real life, as if the analogue sticks were your feet. To ollie you pull back on the stick and quickly flick it forward. To kickflip you perform the basic ollie manoeuvre but 'kick' the stick out to the left or right. If you've any real life skating experience you’ll quickly grasp the connection between feet and sticks.

Once you've mastered the basics, the directions and motions needed to pull off more elaborate tricks like pop-shuvits or 180 heelflips will register in your brain even before you’re told how. You’ll still bail frequently, but it becomes less frustrating. When you manage to nail something relatively simple you’ll feel like Jesus. That sense of earned smug is what’ll keep you coming back for more.

The THPS games didn't translate well to an open world sandbox style environment, but Skate is more successful in that respect. There's no quick-burst arcade-action. It's a tough physics engine that relies on realism to create a more believable world structure. Eventually, you'll be rolling around San Van, picking up challenges and entering competitions as they become available. If you suck at Vert there are plenty of Street courses or Downhill races to keep you occupied, but you’ll have to hit the halfpipe sooner or later.

Kick some ass, get some sponsorship, earn new threads, wheels, deck, etc. When you make the cover of 'Thrasher' your life will be complete.

3½ pleasurable punishments out of 5

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Dead Nation (2010)

Genre: Shoot 'Em Up | Players: 1 or 2 (co-op) | Developer: Housemarque

Dead Nation is a top-down perspective twin-stick shooter like the classic Smash TV; if you don’t remember STV, ask your father and watch his eyes mist over. One stick controls character movement, while the other stick controls the direction of fire. It can be initially confusing, but once your brain gets in the zone it feels as intuitive as scratching your balls while simultaneously changing the TV channel.

You play as a male or female character, but it’s purely cosmetic, they have the same set of skills and firepower. You begin each of the ten levels at Point A and have to make it to Point B alive to advance the story.  hat’s easier said than done, because the game is old-school hard. Pussies need not apply.

The more zombies you kill the more cash you acquire. Get a multitude of kills in a row without taking damage and you’ll be awarded with a multiplier that grants even more cash. Cash is used mid-level to purchase new weapons and upgrades.

It’s possible to use the environment to get kills, but blowing up cars also has the unwelcome side-effect of attracting more zombies to your location.

If you take the time to explore the environment you can find new armour that will aid you by increasing your agility and/or the number of hits you can take before you bleed all over the ground.

The gameplay is polished, and the visuals are really quite beautiful in a dark and dreary way; for a PSN game it’s impressive. However, to really enjoy Dead Nation you’ll need a friend; either online or locally. The co-op dynamic is well-balanced with a surprising amount of depth beneath the surface. Play alone and you’ll likely get bored very quickly, because gameplay is repetitive.

Note: An add-on pack was released entitled Road of Devastation, but I've not played it. I suspect it's more of the same, but can't say for sure. Use comments if you know any different.

Buyers Guide:
PSN only.  A physical release at a sweet budget price would've been welcome.

3 times wondering why Peter Fonda is on the cover? out of 5

Monday, July 2, 2012

Tribes: Ascend (2012)

Genre: First Person Shooter | Players: Multi only | Developer: High-Rez Studios

Tribes Ascend is a Free-to-Play, multiplayer-only sequel in the Tribes series. The titular tribes, Diamond Sword and Blood Eagle, hate each other and do battle which players can do with a multitude of game-types and job classes. There is a story behind the gameplay, but it doesn't matter here.

The job classes are interesting in that they can result in widely varying playstyles. There are nine total, each with a particular use in mind. Light armor Pathfinders are quick and nimble, perfect for capturing flags and chasing fleeing enemies while heavy armor Juggernauts are slow, but deal huge damage, often one-hit kills on anything other than another heavy armor type. I chose a medium armor Technician because I have terrible aim so I got credits for completing objectives rather than kills as they were hard to come by without using my automatic turrets. Which brings me to the weapons.
Each class starts with its own default loadout and new weapons, items, grenades and perks can be unlocked by using Experience gained by playing the game, or by using gold purchased with real money in the store. Though to prevent players simply paying to win, gold can only be used to unlock while upgrades to power and ammo can only be earned through gameplay and great care has been taken to make every weapon viable rather than new ones making the defaults obsolete (with varying success). The variety of weapons also makes the game standout as the Sci-fi weapons are wildly different in application from standard bullet guns.

The maps are huge compared to other shooters, but they need to be as Tribes games have always had mobility as a core part of the game. Here it is jetpacks and little jetboots that let players fly in the air and ski at incredible speeds respectively. Jetpacks have limited energy that constantly regenerates which limits how long players are airborne and skiing is at the mercy of gravity and momentum, but using both in conjunction makes zipping around great fun and makes aiming quite a task as even the most eagle-eyed shooters may have a problem tagging a target going 200mph especially with the slower ammunition of a lot of the weapons. Leading the target is essential. Thank God for splash-damage.

Overall, the game is highly customizable and great fun, but the learning curve is steep which may be daunting to some players. But it's free so there isn't anything to lose by giving it a try.

Buyer's Guide:
The game itself can be downloaded for free from the High-Rez website.
Give it a try.
Real money can be used to buy gold that unlocks weapons and classes or buy boosts that expand experience gained for a set amount of time. Though you can play the whole game without spending a dime there are a few perks to spending money like bonuses to experience gain and something that costs 100,000 experience points to unlock will cost much less in gold.

4 Infiltrators are all fucking cocksucking cowards out of 5

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Devil May Cry 4 (2008)

Genre: Action / Adventure | Players: 1 | Developer: Capcom

DMC4 is set after DMC1 but before DMC2, apparently. I say apparently because I didn't play the previous three games in the series. Nor am I attached to the characters in any way, so this is from a DMC noob POV. I understand being influenced by fan-service can improve appreciation of a game, but that'll be absent, so if I trample all over someone's love for emo protagonists don’t come crying for an apology. Harsh but true. I’m dry.

After an agonisingly long install (I had time to take a shit, make a cup of tea and a sandwich, and it was still only at 18% when I got back) and a lengthy intro scene you finally get to game. You control Nero, who looks and dresses like Dante except that he has a demonic fap arm. Later, you do get to control Dante, but by that stage I was suicidal. I really didn't care who I was controlling because the game hated me and I hated it.

You struggle though 'missions' that require you to solve puzzles and kill the same class of nasty over and over again. You’re graded on your performance and combos (aka: your ability to button bash) from the highest (SSS) to the lowest (D); it’s very easy to get an S grade except on boss battles, where you’ll have to work a little harder. Don’t worry, though, because you’ll have much practice - you'll have to fight the same boss battles over again when you get Dante. Lazy ass devs.

The FMV was dull, I had to struggle not to skip; I failed a number of times.
The camera is occasionally your enemy but forgiveable.
Combat is boring but competent. When you strike something with your sword it feels like it connects most of the time.

This game received high praise upon release, but it came early in the PS3 lifecycle and reviewers back then were handing 5 out of 5 scores to anything that didn't look like a PS2 game upscaled. It looks beautiful, the HD sprites are rendered with love, but in truth I can think of two dozen PS2 games that look like shit I’d rather play because they had what this lacks: interesting and diverse gameplay.

1 frustrating piece of shit that came with a rather nice art book out of 5

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Dawn of Sorrow (2005)


Genre: Action, Platformer, RPG | Players: 1 | Developer: Konami

I am the definition of a casual Castlevania fan. As such, Soma Cruz is a new face, to me. It seems this protagonist of Dawn of Sorrow (and Aria of Sorrow, before it) stakes his fame on having dominance over monsters' souls. The categorical breakdown is fuzzy, but in short, some grant him special attacks, some improve his stats, and some help him traverse his environment. Collecting them unfortunately adds a heaping helping of grinding to your main course of Metroidvania goodness.

To prevent this from being called Rare Drop: The Game, the designers have placed enemies in easy farming locations and built in the freedom to allow you to focus on the task when you choose to. You can keep working on cleared save files, start a New Game +, or trade souls wirelessly with a friend. You can also create and share custom challenge maps using the souls you’ve acquired. This is where the shared experience ends however, as you are on your own to guide Soma to the finish line.

In getting to that point, Aria players will experience a violent case of deja vu. Outside of a few new twists, this is essentially a remake clothed in the slight trappings of a sequel. From the mostly reused soul functions all the way down to the same money grinding exploit, this game screams rehash.

The only truly new mechanics are the use of magical seals and a weapon upgrade system. To finish off bosses you must trace a sealing pattern on the touch screen. The consequence of failing is having to hit the boss a few more times and trying again; you don’t have to start from scratch. Consequently, it’s a useless, but harmless enough addition. Keeping an eye out for the souls needed to upgrade your weapons of choice, though, will keep you well above the curve in terms of strength, and is incredibly worthwhile.

Ultimately, the characters are comfortable and serviceable enough, and the gameplay is adequately polished that I can recommend it to someone who hasn’t played a Metroidvania game in a good long while, or wants to relive Aria with a fresh coat of paint. If you have no such desires, it is an easy enough pass.

Buyer's Guide: I'd mainly look for it on the DS, but sources say it was released for mobile devices, as well.

3½ Uppercuts to Frankenstein's Monster's Junk out of 5

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (2011)

Genre: FPS | Players: 1, 2, Multi | Developer: Infinity Ward

The close out entry in the Modern Warfare trilogy finds the player controlling several protagonists during a full on breakout of World War 3 between Russia and pretty much everyone else. Players control soldiers fighting the actual war and the covert ops specialists trying to bring the actual masterminds of the conflict to justice.

The gameplay formula is still in place with the same frantic action set-pieces. Though it seems to be trying very hard to top previous ones and is reaching a bit as they have already done nuclear weapons and civilian massacres. They have wrung it dry apparently as the campaign can be finished in a short 5 hours. The "why actually play the game yourself" snap aiming is still there doing the work for you as is the great Spec Ops co-op missions. One bright spot is the characters themselves as they have gained some actual gravitas to them throughout the trilogy and the voice actors have gotten the hang of doing them, so that is at least convincing. Keith David is switched out for William Fichtner which is still cool among a few other big names.

The multiplayer was handled entirely by separate studio Raven Software and that has at least paid off as it is still fast-paced action with some tweaks and much less prone to bugs. Killstreaks are replaced with different Pointstreaks which makes it easier for less skilled players to get rewarded as they are now awarded points for things other than kills. Also some new modes and tweaks too. Overall, feels a bit strained, but still likely has what players came for.

Buyer's Guide:
Available on PC, PS3, 360 and Wii. Comes in standard and collector's "hardened" editions.

3 Victory Cigars out of 5

Deus Ex: Invisible War (2003)

Genre: FPS, Action, Stealth | Players: 1 | Developer: Ion Storm

20 years after the events of Deus Ex, the world has been reshaped following a period of global depression and war called the Collapse. Players control the either male or female Alex D. after a terrorist attack using nano-explosives destroys Chicago. Alex discovers the academy he attends is actually a front for bio-augmentation experiments when a group of religious extremists raid the campus. After escaping, players are then free to choose which faction they want to follow.

The open ended gameplay is mostly intact from the first game and several other elements have been streamlined. Skill points have been removed and the skills they affected are now static abilities or are now gained through augmentation. There are now only 5 augmentation slots though with 3 options for each rather than the original 2. 2 regular ability choices and 1 extra that can be gained with special black market bio-mod canisters. Choosing one makes the other 2 unavailable as long as players have the ability, but they can be overwritten if players gain more canisters. Ammunition is also now universal for all firearms with different guns using different amounts. Or players can augment their melee ability and anything they can pick up such as crates, chairs and coffee cups can become lethal weapons.

Players can still achieve objectives multiple ways such as through direct confrontation, stealth or just rubbing elbows with the right people. Though choice feels somewhat less important when it is really hard to make any one faction hate Alex enough to break contact. Directly disobeying an order rarely has serious consequences with usually at most a bit of dialogue saying they are disappointed, but then offering Alex a chance to redeem himself. In fact it almost doesn't matter which path players choose as it can all be undone with one choice near the end.

The game is significantly shorter than the original, there were a few graphical hiccups and combat is a bit clunky with some stiff movement and the enemy A.I. is really easy to overcome. The actual areas are also really small. Still worth the time though.

Buyer's Guide:
Available on PC and Xbox. Can be bought off Steam for $9.99.

4 Players can totally murder the children unlike that wimp Molyneux's game out of 5