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Happy Action Theater makes you feel like a kid again

Oct 18 // Lori Navarro
[embed]213928:41341[/embed] Happy Action TheaterDeveloper: Double Fine ProductionsPublisher: Double Fine ProductionsRelease: To be announced Not to worry though, you can also bring friends, family, co-workers, frat brothers and even your dog Sparky into the mix. Unlike Mordor, anyone can simply walk right into Happy Action Theater and take part in a series of activities ranging from deflecting pooping pigeons, sinking in a pool of molten lava or destroying small cities as an angry monster from a Japanese flick. As a game seemingly aimed at attention-deficit kids and adults, it’s important for the developers that it comes with no controls and no instructions. According to Tim, "We thought it was a great idea to make a game that has no rules, has no failure state. It's a series of activities for either a birthday party for 3-year-olds or a college dorm full of drunk 20-year-olds." [embed]213928:41346[/embed] That for me truly captures the spirit of the game. It is up to the players to jump right into it and figure out how can they physically interact with the things they see on screen and with each other -- and that is a fun enough experience by itself. The only walkthrough is within the recesses of your crazy mind -- you are only limited by your imagination, creativity and the ability to make fun of yourself. You can be hyper, childish, perverse, insane or however you like.   There are 18 galleries in total. Some are pretty straightforward -- one is a room full of balloons that you can pop by kicking or jumping on them. Others require a higher degree of creativity. For example, one of the stages mimics the burst mode in a typical camera. This mode takes a continues series of overlapping pictures -- meaning you can potentially do naughty things with you and your friends’ still images that you’ve never thought of doing before. In the more bizarre category is an 8-bit shoot-em-up mini-game where your avatars suddenly grow a pair of ... butterfly wings. You then have to veer left and right and raise your arms to zap the bugs coming from the sky. [embed]213928:41347[/embed] Another hilariously absurd stage would be the disco showdown with some cartoon characters. You don’t even have to dance at this point. The game does the dancing for you by animating your body and making it jump around in a frenzied sort of jig. I can only imagine how the creators of this game conducted their meetings in order to conceptualize these mini-games. One of the developers explained to me that they wanted to explore the range of what they can do with the Kinect. Indeed, it is a simple concept that takes advantage of the motion controls and camera features. It is also a tried one, but it makes up for this with its zany atmospherics and popping visuals. It does have its limitations as well, like there is no way to capture memorable moments that happen in-game. Plus, a general problem I’ve had with the Kinect is it’s sometimes difficult to figure out exactly the dimensions of the objects on the screen.   In any case, Happy Action Theater does seem like a party game that both kids and adults can appreciate and play together -- kids would want to hop around like the maniacs that they are, and the adults would discreetly recognize the LSD in-jokes. Both would enjoy the humor of the game in different ways. I genuinely enjoyed Happy Action Theater both as a sort-of adult and a kid at heart. I felt the childlike glee of a second-grader released to the playground, in a world before the word “glee” had any derogatory meanings. And I think this interactive, exploration-driven and magical experience for kids is something the videogame industry needs more.

When much-loved game designer Tim Schafer announced a new game coming up from Double Fine Productions, I guessed the hive-mind response was "Is it a super awesome adventure game?" But with games like Psychonauts, Brutal Legen...

Rocksmith teaches you how to play guitar for real

Oct 03 // Lori Navarro
Rocksmith (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC)Developer: Ubisoft MontrealPublisher: UbisoftRelease: October 18, 2011 It is impossible not to compare Rocksmith with games like Rock Band or Guitar Hero, especially out of the public ennui from being overexposed to these titles. But Rocksmith is not merely Rock Band with literal strings attached. What makes it different from the others, as Ubisoft North America President Laurent Detoc explains it, is in its aim to pursue “real life benefits” in games. That is, players will be able to take lifelong skills with them even after they play. Based on what I experienced at the Rocksmith Event, the game has enough features to let players train progressively and selectively -- in reading tabs, recognizing chords, making techniques such as hammer-ons, bends and so on. Unlike its predecessors, Rocksmith is obviously not a party game anyone can pick up on the spot -- or a rock star simulation where you play as an Axl Rose-lookalike or decorate your virtual guitar with skull studs and cool shit like that. In fact, as a warning to new guitar players, you will suck. You will feel yourself suck, see yourself suck and listen to yourself suck. You will experience the soreness in your fingertips after a full day’s contact with steel strings. But once you get the hang of the system, you will also progressively get better and produce more refined tunes -- and that’s the primary selling point of the game. Another difference is you personally can’t set the game difficulty at easy, difficult or hard. The game is intuitive enough to determine player’s level or “wavelength” -- if you are a guitar beginner or masterful enough to have an international tour like Lady Gaga. A Lady Gaga who plays guitar like Joe Satriani anyway. If you keep on hitting notes, the game will dynamically adjust the song in real-time, adding or reducing notes as necessary. On the other hand, there are no consequences missing a note or two or even rewards for getting combos. It stays true to its goal of letting players learn at their own pace. There is no use for a scoreboard because essentially, you are competing with yourself and your mastery of a song.   Just last week, Ubisoft revealed a new peripheral, the Rocksmith Real Tone Cable, which enables two players to jam together. The principles behind single-player still follow: each player still has his own profile tracking that lets them play at a pace they’re comfortable with. What’s more, you can even choose to play a certain part of the song such as rhythm or lead, resulting to complementing sounds that mesh quite nicely together. Real music! Even with my measly background in guitar, I had a hard time imagining how the game’s interface will allow players to read the tabs while timing the notes properly -- especially through the narrower split-screen of co-op mode. It follows a system that is actually simple but takes a while to catch up on. Like in the photo above, you are given two perspectives to help you visualize the guitar. One view shows you the actual tablature with the frets displayed (ninth and twelfth, in this case) and the notes color-coded by string (yellow = second string, etc.).  The next guitar view gives you the X-Y position of the notes on the fingerboard with the approaching notes highlighted. Once the notes intersect with the fingerboard, you should be able to pluck the string. It also conveniently shows the string colors if you still haven’t memorized them. Add to the fact that you also have to look down at your guitar every three seconds if you are a beginner like me, it takes a while to get used to this visual barrage of info. One thing I really appreciate about Rocksmith is it doesn’t simply assume that you know your guitar basics. When starting up the game, you will be shown video tutorials on how to tune, where to place your fingers, how to pluck, etc. The main “Journey” mode even provides a setlist based on your performance. This is the recommended mode as you can learn techniques as you encounter them in the songs. After attaining high enough Rocksmith points (RSPs) for all songs in the setlist, you can be qualified enough to play in a concert and move on with the next set. Aside from this, there are a number of ways on how you can keep on practicing songs and improving your techniques. There is the leveler mode that lets you repeat certain riffs of songs until you master them. Free speed lets you play at a convenient pace. You can also master techniques such as bending and playing chords through guided tutorials. For me, the most innovative teaching tool would have to be the Guitarcade. Perfect for more casual players, it is a series of mini-games designed to improve your reflexes and muscle memory in moving up and down frets, making tremolos and slides among other things. I personally enjoyed the “Ducks” mini-game, which let me shoot the ducks by positioning my fingers along the frets of the guitar and strumming the first string to shoot.  While Rocksmith has developed a really fun interface for learning guitar, one of the issues I had with is timing. My timing has always been a little off, and sometimes I strum a little too early for the song, but I felt the game doesn’t exactly recognize little things like that. In general, I felt that it’s up to you to personally refine the quality of your sound, which the game doesn’t really have control over. It can read if you’re playing a note, but not if you’re doing it correctly. But overall, I appreciate the psychological satisfaction that Rocksmith can give by letting you experience tangible improvement in your skills while engaging you intellectually by constantly amping up the challenge. It’s not exactly a game that teaches the intricacies of music theory, but it inspires you to keep improving and learn for yourself. For another viewpoint on Rocksmith, check out Abel Girmay's recent preview.

Music games that simulate musical performance have often been criticized, ridiculed and lampooned for being too repetitive and for lack of a better word, fake. Synonyms aside, Rocksmith -- a new game ...

Preview: The Adventures of Tintin: The Game

Oct 01 // Lori Navarro
  The Adventures of Tintin: The Game (PlayStation 3, PC, Wii, DS, 3DS, Xbox 360 [Previewed])Developer: UbisoftPublisher: Ubisoft MontrealRelease: December 2011     As for the game itself, there are three modes: the story mode, the co-op mode and the challenge mode. We were able to view four of the mini-games from the story mode that involved typical Tintin adventures -- swordfighting with pirates, shooting from a running vehicle and maneuvering an aircraft.     The swordfighting was more fun than I imagined. From the third-person perspective of Tintin, you get into a tussle with a crew of pirates. With the power of Kinect, you can do two basic moves against them -- slashing and parrying. By slashing, you wave your arm around like the Star Wars kid, only this time you are given the impression that you are actually hitting people. When parrying blows, there would be cues on the screen when to hold up your hand to block.    At one point, the pirates would be shooting cannonballs at you so you have to swing them back at the pirates at the appropriate time. Other pirates would be better protected so you also have to time your strikes whenever they have their shields down.  So yes, the movements were guided, which probably made the game pretty easy once you got the hang of the movements. But it was just so fun, and the visuals and musical scoring really captured the spirit of a swashbuckling adventure.   The next adventure has Tintin driving a bike with Captain Haddock or shooting from the passenger seat, depending on which mode you choose. Hand movements guide the direction of the vehicle and likewise help you aim and shoot at the targets.  In the aerial flight simulation, you have to pretend to fly the plane through hoops in the sky. This is part of Tintin’s mission to take aerial photographs from exotic locales around the world. The Adventures of Tintin: The Game seems to me like something that can be enjoyed by the young ‘uns but also fans old and new alike. Its fantastical elements breathe new life into longtime fans’ nostalgia while incorporating a little bit everything in its storyline to use the breadth of the Kinect technology.

When I got the chance to demo The Adventures of Tintin: The Game, the first question I asked is if Snowy is a playable character. If you’ve watched the cartoons or read the comics, you probably know that Snowy is a...

Working out with Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2012

Oct 01 // Lori Navarro
[embed]212379:41092[/embed] Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2012 (Xbox 360)Developer: UbisoftPublisher: Ubisoft MontrealRelease: November 2011  Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2012 is the second title in a series made especially for the Kinect. While I am not too familiar with genre of exercise games as a whole, this seems like a game to seriously consider if you wake up one day repulsed by your own body image. Of course, being a Kinect game, it is more attuned to your movements than the Wii ever was. It can even tell if you are not doing your sit-ups right. After all, why play an exercise game if you’re gonna be lazy. This is because it’s motion tracking technology is different this time around, said Nicola Godin, one of the game designers for Your Shape. He explains to us that instead of using skeletal tracking like in other games, it zeroes in on the user’s head in relation to the rest of his body. This enables the system to detect more precise movements even when you’re lying down. One thing I liked about it is the variety of options to choose from. There are the more conventional forms of exercise available. I was (reluctantly) able to try the jump rope simulation for a full two minutes. It requires you to time your pace and footwork as shown on the screen, moving at faster speeds or switching positions as necessary. Another mode that appealed to me is the bootcamp feature seemingly drawn from the weight loss format of The Biggest Loser. Your avatar is transported to a literal boot camp where your commanding officer shouts at you to work harder. While pushing yourself to your limit, you are bombarded by the sight of exploding barrels and even a helicopter landing on the screen -- as if your push-ups had somehow caused World War III. This over-the-topness shows that this an exercise game that doesn’t take itself or its theme too seriously. Aside from being able to choose your workout, you can also choose the level of difficulty for your workouts for the day -- whether at the moment you’re feeling like a couch-potato or if you want to go a bit more extreme. Similarly, you can choose whether you’re playing to lose weight, relax, do cardio, build your muscles, etc.   Finally, it introduces features to track your progress and keep you motivated to exercise. It has a “my objectives” section to review your exercise goals and a calendar to show your playing history. The point system in this game is basically the number of calories you lose while exercising. Accordingly, you can unlock achievements for losing calories, accessing content or spending time to work out.  Ultimately, Your Shape: Evolved 2012 seems to be a more intuitive exercise game that thinks forward in terms of design and how people can customize their workout.

Exercise games tend to forget that they are supposed to be just that: Games. On the other hand, Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2012 promises to strike the balance between burning calories and being entertaining at the same time.

Talking to Felicia Day on the new Dragon Age II expansion

Sep 27 // Lori Navarro
Dragon Age II: Mark of the Assassin (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC)Developer: BioWarePublisher: Electronic ArtsRelease: October 11, 2011 In this newest chapter in the life of the Champion of Kirkwall, the Elven assassin Tallis enlists Hawke's help to steal a relic from an Orlesian estate -- a plotline that has drawn many comparisons with the Kasumi DLC of Mass Effect 2. With this DLC come new side quests, enemies, character interactions, items, and lore. The DLC is also playable anytime within the original game after the prologue. In the Dragon Age chronology, it's set right after its companion web series, Dragon Age: Redemption, which should be released around the same time. This time around, the game will be greatly expanding upon the Qunari and Orlesian cultures. Since we're not in Ferelden anymore, Mark of the Assassin also offers brand new environments for those of you who are still taking digs at DAII's recycled sets. Tallis is based on her namesake from Dragon Age: Redemption, a short web series written by and starring Felicia Day . According to Day, there is a lot of continuity between what occurs in the show and in the game. For starters, the costume that was used by Day in Redemption is also used in Mark of the Assassin, as well as the weapons, fighting style, music, and facets of the character's personality. As a Dragon Age aficionado herself, she said that seeing her and her work used for the game was probably "he most awesome thing" that has ever happened to her. Alabaster-skinned and red-headed, videogame Tallis is the spitting image of Day, though maybe BioWare took artistic license with certain physical elements. Slight of built and pointy of ears, she is Elvish as well. Having not been raised in Ferelden, one cannot exactly put her in the category of city elf or Dalish -- "She is a unique elf," said Day. When she created this character for Redemption, she wanted to "emulate the depth of character and humor" of the companions in the Dragon Age series as well as make her "grounded in reality." As for Tallis in the game, she is said to be have been partly written by seasoned BioWare writer David Gaider, so expect a couple of good lines from her as well. Tallis is also a pretty pixie dream girl, and Day seemed to agree, as she selects the dialogue option to flirt with the character that is based on her. That's right, Tallis can be flirted with, which is good news for a certain fanboy segment of the gaming world. As with the other companions, Hawke's relationship with her is based on the player's choices -- you can try to empathize with her, piss her off, or see if you can go second base. Based on her flips, you might have guessed that this character is yet another rogue, with daggers as her weapon of choice, whether thrown from afar or stabbed straight in the gut. With this ability to switch between melee and ranged combat, she is said to be a cross between Varric and Isabela. She comes with unique abilities as well -- with her infiltrator skill tree, she has a tendency to deliver massive criticals and maintain stealth. During my hands-on time with Mark of the Assassin (and my first time with a non-PC version of Dragon Age, by the way), I was able to very briefly use her character. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to explore her skill tree as much as I'd have liked. However, I felt that the switch from melee to ranged and vice versa was very seamless and natural for this character. You can be standing a few feet from the enemy and throw blades at him, or you can shift right next to an enemy and stab him in the back. This is a character who can be extremely mobile and flexible and is definitely suitable for fast-paced gameplay. I was able to play the first part of the game, during which Tallis helps Hawke locate a wyvern for an Orlesian hunting party. The wyvern is a never-before-encountered creature in Dragon Age. It's a cousin of the dragon, though it looks more like a cross between a Komodo dragon and a dragonfly, if that makes sense. Blue-scaled, bug-eyed, and yellow-tinged, wyverns are fearsome creatures that have equally fearsome breaths. They release debilitating toxins that could heavily damage your party's HP. Luckily for me, I previewed the game in casual mode, so the damage was hardly felt. Also new to the list of monsters are ghasts -- creatures that are easy to defeat individually but are very dangerous once they swarm you. While her infiltrator abilities have potential, Tallis herself seems to add very little personality to the group. She's another rogue, another smart-ass, one-liner character, and between her, Varric, Anders, and sarcastic Hawke, you can imagine why Fenris is so pissed off. Also, Felicia Day may be a charmer in real life, but I find that this doesn't always translate to her voice acting. I don't exactly know how she wants Tallis to behave -- badass, sarcastic, quirky, all at once? Nevertheless, I have always found her to sound wooden, unconvincing, and lacking in depth, even during her stint as Veronica in Fallout: New Vegas, and the same goes for this new character. Still, a lot can be said for her enthusiasm, especially in a certain scene where she tries to summon the wyvern. Not to spoil anything too much, but she is good at making really ungodly animal noises -- and I'm not even talking about the grunting anymore. In any case, Mark of the Assassin seems to be worthy of a look, especially if you are interested in the pretensions and politics of the Orlesian nobility and also the worldview of the Qunari. The game also promises new ways to use stealth in the Dragon Age world, and while I wasn't able to experience this for myself, I'd be interested to see how they can make more more use of this skill in both the combat and non-combat sense.

It all started with a lot of grunting, grunting that's reminiscent of a women's tennis match. But before the grunting, there was an ambush. Hawke, Fenris, Varric, and Isabela find themselves in another fix, surrounded by assa...

Preview: Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken

Sep 15 // Lori Navarro
Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken (PlayStation Network)Developer:  Ratloop AsiaPublisher:  Ratloop AsiaRelease date:  October 11, 2011   For those unfamiliar with the premise of the game, think of any '80s action flick but replace the actors with anthropomorphic birds instead. Tough-as-nails protagonist Hardboiled might as well be a chicken version of Sly Stallone or Steven Seagal (or should I say -- Seagull?). And just like any film from that genre, the bad guy is another socialist dictator bent on ruining everyone else's fun. This time around, the goal of the game is to help Hardboiled bring down the totalitarian regime of the penguin overlord Putzki and his top military crony who incidentally sounds like the Governor of California. While the storyline pretty much remains the same, Hardboiled Chicken is not simply a port of the original. This release offers new characters, missions, weapons, cutscenes, unlockable videos and other brand-new content. By far, the most ambitious update would have to be the co-op mode, where you get to choose from an elite crew of Budgie commandos on a mission to save the General’s daughter. Props to the game for promoting another underrated bird species, I say.   As someone who has tried the demo for the browser-based version, I have noticed several key changes playing it on the PS3. The controls are definitely more suited to this system than its browser-based counterpart, and there are some interface improvements such as removing the need to hold down a key to run or to aim at enemies. Finally, it’s also much easier to switch between weapons. Adding to this, the already impressive graphics of the original are enhanced even more with incredibly vivid and seamlessly rendered 3D-esque animations. Aside from the visuals, a huge part of what actually makes the game stand out is the music, which was produced by independent electronica band New World Revolution. Self-described as an "alternative space rock group," their music sets a grittier, darker and more futuristic atmosphere than what you would expect from something involving walking, talking birds. In fact, some of their tracks released within the game were especially written for it. During the cutscenes, the lyrics of the songs served to highlight the already existing narrative. In a new cinematic, we get a revealing look into Hardboiled’s past such as the story behind his name, which is more literal than you think. We also see how he transitioned from a clumsy, wide-eyed chick to stone-cold Coq of War. The song "Illuminate Me" adds a surprising amount of emotional depth to his story, especially in a scene where Hardboiled decides to turn away from his military operative roots and move towards his quest for personal redemption. As for actual gameplay, I was able to play through the first five chapters of the single-player mode, including the two brand-new missions. The basic mechanic of the game is to clear each level by defeating hordes of penguin supersoldiers and other "fowl creatures" who look like denizens of your local gym. You can crouch, roll and hide in shadows to gain advantage over your enemies. You can also interact with doors, buttons and elevators to reach certain areas in the map. A lot of the enemies you encounter are actually clones of Hardboiled designed by Putzki. Seeing as they’re exactly the same as you, they also are able to roll around, or more annoyingly, hide before you can even shoot at them. Fortunately, you can collect different weapons that help you in your mass-murdering campaign, such as pistols, uzis, MP5s, shotguns, and grenades. Basically the only things you really need to worry about are your health and ammo levels.  While the controls are fairly simple, there are also many puzzles to amp up the difficulty. Most of them involve moving around crates to reach certain areas, finding keycards for doors and searching for hidden items. There isn't really anything new about the game in terms of the mechanics. In any case, with all the gameplay elements considered, it felt very gratifying to play -- especially when you get to drill bullets into enemy penguins, who will be definitely bouncing up and down from the impact, feathers all aflutter. Clearly, having animated animals isn’t reason enough to cut down on the bloodshed. The new mission I played had Hardboiled strapping on a jetpack in order to reach an aircraft and blow it to pieces. Unfortunately, Putzki sends another mob of soldiers to foil his plans. While pushing the X button to keep flight, you also have to shoot enemies mid-air all at the same time. I found that targeting with the left stick is a bit tricky at first, but it becomes easy once you find the balance between shooting and flying. What truly poses a challenge during this round is the homing missiles sent your way. You have to avoid them at all costs, or better yet, make a trail to your enemies so they’ll get hit instead of you. In another new add-on, we see Hardboiled captured and trapped in a prison. To help him escape, we are given a fun, new weapon to play with: brain bugs that let you control enemies. Like a grenade, the bug should be thrown at an angle so that it can reach the intended victim in an explosion of putrid green smoke. Once you’ve infiltrated the ranks of security, you can cruelly shoot an unsuspecting, fellow guard, whose final jape would be “Earl, you look different today. Why do you smell like cabbage?” Even crueler, once a mind-controlled guard has served his purpose, you have to force him to commit penguin seppuku and shoot himself in the head. Nevertheless, this chapter stands out for me in how it was able to inject dark humor into the story and dialogue. While Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken has the premise of an action-film parody, through its art and musical direction, it becomes something more than just a quirky platformer. The music is tailored to the stunning visuals, and the style really sets a memorable tone for the game. Simple and yet elegantly clever, this is surely one of the games I’m looking forward to this October.

Adding to the burgeoning list of fowl-themed games is Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken, the sequel of sorts to the critically acclaimed Rocketbirds: Revolution! You may have previously heard of the game as ...

Preview: Cabela's Survival: Shadows of Katmai

Aug 10 // Lori Navarro
[embed]208385:40234[/embed] Cabela's Survival: Shadows of Katmai (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii)Publisher: ActivisionDeveloper: ActivisionTo be released: November 1, 2011 The barrage of noise coming from the plane crash have drawn the attention of a pack of opportunistic wolves. Armed with only a flare gun, Logan's first challenge is to drive the wolves away while he struggles to look for safety and supplies. Like Big Game Hunter, Shadows of Katmai uses the Top Shot Elite peripheral. The analog stick attached on the rear of the gun handle is accessible enough to be used for moving around while you shoot your gun with the trigger. Right after this, we get a flashback to a scene on the plane. We hear Dr. West having a heated argument with Logan with insinuating jabs about Logan's piloting skills. Sexual tension! The game at this point jumps into first-person mode as the player takes control of the plane, navigating through the narrow crevices of the rocky alp terrain. Back to the present, the next scene has Logan grabbing a shovel and digging for his snow-covered equipment as fast as he can. Wolf stragglers are still abound, and it is up to the player to do some quick digging and rigorous button mashing to get Logan out of there alive. A new control feature is introduced at this point, and with the analog stick, you can melee wolves that are stalking you one by one. You can also roll out of the way to evade attacks. Eventually, you are able to reveal your first handgun in the game. With the press of the A button, you can focus your shots, zooming in specific body parts you want to take down. This is especially helpful as ammo should be saved up at this point -- the wolves will keep on coming at you until you're finished getting your stuff. Afterwards, we see Logan climbing up a mountain in a valiant effort to reach a cave on higher ground. The snowstorm was as thick as static that you can barely see what was happening on the screen. As Logan makes the climb, a flock of ravens start lashing at him, and you can gun those bitches away with your one hand without even missing a step. You know, because in videogames, you don't need to worry about physics or recoil. That pretty much sums up what was revealed for the story mode. Tim May, VP of Production at Activision Licensing, shared with us some interesting plot details that players can look forward to. To explain the mystery of where Dr. West went, it seems like she was severely injured after the crash. As such, it becomes Logan's manly obligation to help her out and shove her into a moose's carcass. Seriously. If you watch enough Bear Grylls, you would know that this is for insulation and not for recreation. There is also promise of a dog sledding level, something the developers seemed excited about, so it might actually be really cool. Aside from the main storyline, there are also shooting galleries included in the game similar to what I have seen in Big Game Hunter 2012. These arcade-type modes that come with the game include survival, sharpshooter, quick draw and trek -- all pretty self-explanatory. I think it's interesting that they tried add bits of true-to-life nature survival tactics in the game. On the other hand, the developers had to make a compromise between delivering action-based gameplay and realistic survival lessons. The market does tend to gravitate to the former, so that is mostly what we get. Too bad because we get a game that tries to deviate from the other games in the Cabela's series, but as a standalone action-adventure game, I felt that it does little to actually stand out.

I recently covered Big Game Hunter 2012, which is an all-new arcade-type shooter in the Cabela's series of hunting games. There is another game in the franchise coming out, the ominously titled Cabela's Survival: Sh...

Hands-on: Big Game Hunter 2012

Aug 09 // Lori Navarro
[embed]208308:40219[/embed] Big Game Hunter 2012 (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii)Publisher: Activision Developer: Activision To be released: September 2011 Because every hunter must have his weapon, bundled with this game is the peripheral Top Shot Elite firearm. It has all the usual buttons and analog sticks of a controller, and on top of that, it uses pump-action mechanics to reload, which felt really awesome to use. The game is playable on both single-player and multiplayer. There is a story mode, which emphasizes a more strategic hunting experience such as by avoiding detection, watching animal movement and making well-placed shots. The game has shooting galleries that let you play competitively or cooperatively with up to four players too. The hot seat mode lets players take turns using the gun -- practical enough if they only have the one.  For the most part, I was exposed to shooting gallery aspect of the game, which gave me ample time to test out in general the hardware, controls and gameplay. In this mode, everyone in the animal kingdom seemed to have developed a collective consciousness to hate you in a rabies-infected fashion, probably because you are Rambo-ing them to mass extinction. I was playing with Hamza, who beasted (heh) over me at the game. For starters, you get to alternate between two basic weapons, a hunting rifle and a shotgun. These guns should be used for specific situations, so switch accordingly. Otherwise, you lose points for using the wrong gun, which doesn't make sense to me from a survival standpoint. I once shot a bear at point-blank range. A f*cking bear. I don't need to lose 2000 points for using a shotgun especially when I came out from that situation bearly alive. No one wants to die a grizzly death. I am stopping with the puns now. Clearly, the bears are some of the nastiest “enemies” you can encounter in the wild. Most of the other animals are just minding their own business, waiting to be used for target practice. Others are ready to fight back such as wolves pouncing at you, leopards leaping out of nowhere and strangely enough, Hitchcock-esque killer birds pecking you to death. Just like in the old arcade games, there are a variety of power-ups available across the screen at opportune moments. Some add to your health or double your score. Others help you with your accuracy such as infrared and target guides. You can also claim extra points for gunning multiple animals at once, shooting successively, super fast reflexes, etc.  Granted, there are still a lot of things the game needs to work on. There were still some laggy moments, some of them occurring during transition scenes. It was also initially disorienting to spot where the crosshair is because of the color, something that really needs to be addressed before release. Top Shot Elite also needs some time getting used to especially if you're a fun-sized person like me. It did feel a bit cumbersome, and someone pointed out that I was handling the gun like a bazooka. Fortunately, there are ways to dismember the gun to make it more wieldy. In fact, the coolest aspect of the game is the gun. According to Tim May, Executive Producer at Activision, the gun has gone through a lot of improvements since last year's version to make it more ergonomic: a more powerful sensor, a wider field of view for the camera, easier disassembly and improved trigger sensitivity among other things. Cabela's Big Game Hunter 2012 is a title that you can take for what it is. It is a game that lets you hunt realistic-looking animals with a really awesome peripheral. Based on my experience with the shooting gallery, I felt that there was less emphasis on the traditional idea of hunting and more on the animal genocide, or whatever the term is for animals. Ultimately, like the shooters of olde, it has enough of that so-ridiculous-it's-fun factor to be played during the next party.

FPS players, are you getting tired of killing your fellow humans? Say no more, for it's time to move on to the lesser species in the food chain. That's right, that game where you can decimate animal populations is back! Admi...

Preview: League of Legends: Dominion

Aug 04 // Lori Navarro
League of Legends: Dominion (PC)Developer: Riot GamesPublisher: Riot GamesTo be released: TBA For the uninitiated, MOBA style games combine RTS, RPG and tower defense gameplay elements in a highly addictive multiplayer setting. Critics say they make you click around a map until your hand festers from carpal tunnel syndrome. Nonetheless they are immensely popular especially in Europe and Asia, and in my home country where it is considered a national sport along with Counter-Strike.What makes League of Legends not just another DotA clone, you ask? Well it makes vast improvements to the genre such as a new summoner system, more flexibility in setting up matches, a less steep learning curve and graphics that don't make you feel like you're looking at pixels through a magnifying lens. They also addressed in-game problems by giving incentives to people who don't ragequit. Ultimately, while LoL is a game that's highly replayable, you've got to admit that there's nothing drastically new to it besides being more streamlined and customizable. Riot Games has addressed this issue by introducing something entirely unheard of in the genre. Enter Dominion, the newest gameplay mode that overhauls the classic system to accommodate a more fast-paced, action-packed gaming experience. Instead of the typical destroy-the-enemy-tower scenario of the original, the game pits two teams against each other with the common goal of capturing the five bases around the map and to hold them as long as they humanly can. The team that has the most holds at any given time reduces the health bar of the opposing team, and the team that bleeds to death naturally loses the game. Dominion is set on a completely different map called Crystal Scar, which is described as "a highly contested, war-torn mining village." Crystal Scar is basically the neurotic younger sister of the original map, Summoner's Rift. It has a haphazard, circular terrain that forces your team to be scattered and immediately go head-to-head with other champions as opposed to Summoner's Rift's linear, predictable three-lane map.What emerges is a back-and-forth struggle between the two teams to gain dominance, and it is an adrenaline rush from the get-go. Anything can happen at any time, and the balance between the winning and losing teams is very tenuous, making cooperative play even more crucial. My experience of playing Dominion was as intense as I described. As someone who has played DotA only a few times, I know from experience that I pretty much suck. I admit there was some slight panic as I waited for the pre-game countdown to end. I had no idea what to expect, and this feeling of anticipation remained throughout the game. Everything was consistently happening so fast with a lot of scrambling from base to base and ninja keyboard hotkey action.For my champion, I used Ashe, one of the more popular characters because of her, uh, considerable assets -- such as how she deals high-damage ranged attacks with abilities that slow down and stun the opponent. Naturally, to offset these good things going on for her, she has a tendency to be as weak as a kitten, so it helped that there were new stations around that adds points to my health along the way.Dominion changes things for me in the sense that I might not be a godlike killing machine, but I can play in a different way than before and that makes me suck less. I can pretend to be a hero and run from base to base in an attempt to capture them. This might be more probable if I were playing a more robust tank-like character. Ideally for a character like Ashe, I can go with teams and play a support role and simply strike down foes and hold bases. With how the game is set up, it is highly likely that players can go on one-on-one battles with other players or alternatively arrange mini-skirmishes around the map. There seems to be a more significant push for team gameplay elements in Dominion, and this was confirmed by Ryan Scott, Lead Champion Designer on LoL. We were able to sit down and talk to him, and he explained how the ranking style in Dominion differs from the classic game. What they came up with is a little something called the renown system. According to Ryan, it offers incentives for being a team player rather than just being a bloodthirsty player killer. It is okay to be that guy who gets killed all the time as long as he helps the team win. They want to develop a system that encourages “heroic moments, team play and epic kills." It makes sense for Dominion to do this too as this seems to be the direction a lot of multiplayer games are heading.This new game gives players new opportunities in terms of PvP battle and strategic team playing. And with almost 90 playable characters in League of Legends' arsenal plus the customizable runes and spells already existing in the game, just imagine all the in-game variations that can come up.The best thing about this new mode is that it's also going to be offered for FREE. Thank the benevolent gaming gods! Interested parties can try it out at the upcoming PAX and gamescom shows. Until then, sit tight for further announcements.

It was almost two years ago when League of Legends was first released and since then the game has received a cult-like following. League of Legends has helped cement the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) genre into video...

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