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Destructoid Staff

Review: Batman: Arkham Asylum

Aug 27 // Destructoid Staff
Batman: Arkham Asylum (Xbox 360, PS3 [reviewed], PC)Developer: Rocksteady StudiosPublisher: Eidos Interactive/Warner Bros.Released: August 25th, 2009 (PS3/360) / September 15th, 2009 (PC) MSRP: $59.99 (PS3/360) / $49.99 (PC)  Conrad Zimmerman  Allow me to make one thing explicitly clear before we go any further: I am a Batman fanboy. I make no excuses for this but felt it fair to warn you ahead of time because I'm likely to be more critical of a game using this licensed property over nearly any other. That said, Arkham Asylum is a great game. It is not perfect, but it is quite probably one of the very best comic book superhero titles ever made.Unfortunately, the biggest issue comes from the story. I started to have my doubts when the goal of Joker's grand scheme began to come into focus. Without delving into the salient plot points, it just didn't feel like the sort of plan I would have come to expect from the villain and spent more than half of the game waiting for the other clown shoe to drop. It never does, however, and Arkham Asylum suffers a bit for it.What would otherwise be merely a missed opportunity winds up tarnishing the experience in the game's climactic final battle. This is done by continuing the main ploy out to a conclusion befitting a far less formidable foe. While it is in the very nature of the Joker as a character to be chaotic and act in unexpected ways, the actions he takes in the games' final minutes seem uncharacteristic and are a massive letdown in the name of creating a stereotypical "boss encounter" to finish things off. It's a tragic conclusion to an otherwise strong plotline that succeeds in offering just enough of the Batman world without being overwhelming. While there are a few supervillains Batman must face throughout, Arkham Asylum manages to avoid an all-too-common trap by not cramming the game full with as many of the Rogues Gallery as can fit. Instead, they are sprinkled throughout at a nice, even pace and make sense in the context of the plot. Each character is there for a reason -- though they may not necessarily be part of Joker's plan -- and not once is there the sense that these characters exist solely to be thrown at the player.There are, in essence, three major components which make up the gameplay. You'll spend a considerable amount of time trekking through the grounds, exploring all that Arkham Asylum has to offer. Hordes of prisoners wait for you to march in and pummel the consciousness out of them in combat-centric rooms while other locales require you to employ stealth to avoid a quick death at the hands of armed inmates. I'll be talking primarily about the combat mechanics. Exploration and stealth aspects of the game will be covered in more depth by Jim and Anthony respectively. To sum up my thoughts on them, I found the stealth gameplay to be excellent fun instead of simply making me tense, which is nice. Exploring the island is enjoyable to a point and a side-quest where you must find answers to Riddler's queries is neat, but it's nothing to get too excited about.As for combat? Fighting the escaped inmates of Arkham and Blackwater Penitentiary is exceedingly fun and will make you feel like a badass. The combat controls are simplistic and satisfying, placing a greater emphasis on timing attacks than button combinations. Batman basically has one button to attack, one for countering attacks and a third to stun enemies. Certain enemy types have restrictions on how they must be attacked -- knife-wielding foes must be stunned before being struck, for example -- but it's reasonably easy to start a chain of attacks and keep them going.As you build a combo, Batman ceases to soften enemies up and delivers a powerful strike with each press of the attack button. The longer you can maintain a chain, the easier the going is as combatants drop to the floor after every attack and the more experience points (more on that in a moment) earned. Strategies exist to keep things moving on a combo for groups of inmates large and small but you can probably brute force your way through just about any encounter with the game's thugs with little difficulty.After about thirty seconds of getting used to the rhythm of combat, performing long strings of moves becomes second nature. On all but the hardest difficulty setting, enemies indicate when they are about to attack and should be countered so it's easy to fall into the groove of offense and defense. It feels like you're choreographing a ballet of pain as Batman drops one bad guy after another. Once the enemy types which need to be stunned or dodged before you can hurt them start showing up, battles get more challenging but that basic rhythm to fighting remains unchanged, allowing for a fluid and comfortable progression of difficulty. As you fight bad guys and solve puzzles, you'll earn experience points which fill a meter near your health. Once you've earned enough points, you'll be able to upgrade some of Batman's abilities. There is not a huge list of items to choose from, a benefit in my personal opinion but may be considered lackluster by some. These upgrades provide more health, some more complex attacks and improvements to Batman's gadgetry, such as a Sonic Batarang which can attract enemies to its location.Speaking of gadgets, Batman has some excellent equipment. What's great about the gear he carries is how versatile it all is. Batarangs, the Bat-Hook and the extremely cool gel-based explosive all have multiple applications for their use. So, unlike some games where the player collects various kit and has to constantly switch between them, Arkham Asylum keeps the amount of item collecting down. You'll still switch inventory items somewhat frequently, but there are at least less of them to deal with and they're all fun to use.Once you've reached the conclusion of the campaign, you are free to load your saved game and return for some post-game exploration of the island. I'll let Jim explain why you might care and simply comment that while I appreciate the opportunity to find things that I missed the first time around without having to start a new game, Arkham is boring without anyone to fight in it. In my post-story gameplay of about three hours, I've encountered two lunatics to fight and the lack of action makes me loathe to continue. In addition to the campaign, Arkham Asylum has a collection of "Challenge Maps" where you can test your skills and post scores to the leaderboards. These challenges are bite-sized chunks of specific gameplay, either brawling or stealthily clearing a room of enemies. They're excellent to just pick up and play after you've finished the single-player mode and will really refine your skills in the event you choose to play on a harder difficulty setting.At the end of the day, I will admit to being angry and disappointed at the finale of Arkham Asylum and the Batman fanboy in me wants to tell you that Eidos ruined everything. Fact is, they have made a great, great game here. Even the boss battle at the end, the only thing I can honestly say I hate about this title, would probably be enjoyable provided one was willing and able to see past its relationship to the rest of the game. It is absolutely worth your time and money.Score: 8.0 Jim SterlingConrad has pretty much covered everything so I'll be brief as I can. Batman: Arkham Asylum is a good game. It's a great game, in fact. Very few videogames come close to truly capturing what it feels like to be a particular superhero, but as players silently stalk their prey, hang from gargoyles and screw with the minds of villains, they will truly feel as if they're donning the cowl of the Dark Knight himself.  The game is full of incredibly memorable moments. Standout selections for me have to be the tense game of cat-and-mouse in Killer Croc's lair, the various interview tapes dotted around Arkham that shed light on each villain and, of course, the improbably amazing battles against The Scarecrow. In fact, Scarecrow threatens to upstage Joker throughout the game, which is no mean feat, and as a Scarecrow fan, it's something I appreciate immensely. Arkham Asylum is brilliant in places, but there are problems. For me, the biggest issue is the fact that the game is a collect-a-thon, to the point where it overwhelms. The aforementioned interview tapes are one thing. They're great to listen to. The various "Riddles" throughout the game are pretty great as well. The Riddler will send you cryptic clues describing various objects and scenes that you can "photograph" to earn experience points. Some of these are very clever and it can be cool to hunt them down. However, there's just so much of it. Interview tapes, Riddles, Riddler trophies, Arkham symbols, secret maps and Joker Teeth are strewn about the levels and it becomes almost disheartening trying to track them down. The game didn't need to hide behind so many secrets. This kind of busywork does not equal gameplay value to me.  The game also suffers from a very tight camera that feels far too claustrophobic, seemingly humping Batman's back at every turn. The dark lighting of the game and the fact that enemies are difficult to make out means that most of your time will also be spent in Batman's "detective mode" which turns everything blue and highlights villains easily. As useful as the mode is, it's a shame that so much of the game is spent using it, since nobody wants to play a game that's almost entirely blue. These are just minor aggravations in what is, essentially, a great comic-book title. Batman: Arkham Asylum takes what you know about licensed videogames and then completely disregards them. It's fun, it's consistent and it's clearly been made with love and attention. And once again, let me just add that Scarecrow is amazing. Score: 8.0 Anthony BurchArkham Asylum is the single most fun stealth game ever made.Period.Yes, your enemies can sometimes feel as if they're about as aware of their surroundings as Helen Keller. Yes, the stealth sections don't become legitimately challenging until about three fourths of the way through the game. Even with these considerable faults, Arkham's stealth sequences are more briskly paced, creatively designed, and frustration-free than those found in literally any other game I can think of.Apart from the odd sniper plaguing the grounds outside Arkham's buildings, the stealth bits usually take place  in relatively large rooms full of gargoyles batman can grapple to, vents he can crawl through, and walls he can blast through. Where even some of the stealth genre's best games (Splinter Cell, Metal Gear Solid) typically revolve around memorizing enemy patterns and staying hidden, Arkham Asylum's stealth sequences focus more on the art of picking off enemies one by one. So long as you stay on a gargoyle, in a vent, or directly behind a grunt, you will never be spotted. Gone is the frustration of waiting thirty seconds for a guard to turn around before making your move, only to immediately get spotted by another guard you never saw, replaced instead by the sheer visceral thrill of glide-kicking a thug into submission from the air, spraying explosive gel near his body, and detonating it when his six buddies run over to check on him. Though some of Batman's later gadgets are a bit too useful for their own good -- the multi-batarangs, in particular, are too powerful to be fun -- I had a tremendous amount of fun, both within the campaign and in the challenge rooms, experimenting with different ways to take out my enemies without being seen (one of my personal favorites: knocking out a dude near an electric door, then glide-kicking the first guy to check on him straight into the current, instantly incapacitating him). More than I would have thought possible, Arkham's stealth made me truly feel like Batman -- striking from the shadows with quick precision before grappling away, taking out enemies with a satisfying mixture of strategy and reflex. Again, the enemies do act a bit too stupid at times, which makes the stealth a bit too easy until the Joker starts forbidding you from using the deus ex machina-esque gargoyles more than once in a round, but even the easiest stealth sequences remain damned satisfying through the sheer Batman-esque power and creative freedom afforded to the player. Given Arkham's satisfying-but-shallow combat, incredibly boring and repetitive bosses, and downright horrendous conclusion, I feel comfortable in saying that the stealth gameplay is the single coolest thing about the game. Or, alternately, Batman: Arkham Aslyum is the single coolest thing about stealth gameplay. On an unrelated note: if you're deciding between 360 and PS3, get the PS3 version. The Joker's combat rooms may just be a re-skin of Batman's, but his stealth gameplay is entirely different -- with a gun, a chattering-teeth bomb and no grappling hook, he could not feel more different  than the Dark Knight (in a good way) when it comes to stealth. Score: 8.5Overall Score: 8 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)  
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Finding a licensed superhero game which stays true to the source material while still managing to be fun is ridiculously hard. Just ask a fan of Superman how they feel about the assorted attempts to bring the Man of Stee...

Review: Wolfenstein

Aug 23 // Destructoid Staff
Wolfenstein (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC)Developer: Raven Software, Endrant Studios, id Software, Pi StudiosPublisher: ActivisionReleased: August 18, 2009MSRP: $59.99 (PS3/360) / $49.99 (PC) Jim Sterling (Xbox 360) Everybody knows that America single-handedly won World War II, which is why it's up to gum-chewing, stereotypical American soldier B.J Blazkowicz to save the fictional town of Isenstadt from an emerging Nazis threat. Teaming up with resistance troops, Blazkowicz must thwart Germany's latest occult dabbling, stopping them from harnessing the power of The Black Sun. Armed with a Thule Medallion that grants him special powers, Blazkowicz will liberate Isenstadt and save the world. I wish I was American!The story is lame but easy to ignore, with the focus being primarily on guns and glory. The majority of the German troops are little more than moving targets, more than happy to be blasted in the face by your highly effective arsenal of weapons. Raven Software has done a great job of creating a varied and satisfying range of weapons, from standard rifles and machine guns, to more eccentric particle cannons, Tesla guns and time-slowing energy cannons of ultimate deathness. Progression through the single player revolves around using Isenstadt as a hub, from which other areas can be traveled to. There was potential here for sandbox-style elements, multiple paths and a variety of subquests. Raven ignored all these opportunities, despite employing elements such as waypoints and quest-givers, which gives the illusion of a game that's far less linear than it actually is. Players can explore the map for gold which they can spend at the Black Market and upgrade their weapons. There are also hidden Intel items around each map which shed more light on the story and can unlock further upgrades. Wolfenstein starts off rather badly, with the first few sections of the game being rather boring and as cookie-cutter as an FPS can get. Surprisingly, the poor quality of the game is not consistent, and the more Wolfenstein's campaign goes, the better it gets. What begins as a dreary and dull experience slowly, surely becomes quite exciting and satisfying. Games usually end up the other way round, so it's a nice surprise that Wolfenstein actually improves over time. The game's main contrition is the aforementioned Thule Medallion, which confers a number of special abilities, unlocked during the course of the campaign. Blazkowicz starts off with a power that allows him to see the world through a supernatural haze and see enemies better, as well as pass through secret walls. Later on, he gets the obligatory time-slowing ability, then a shield, and finally a power that increases his damage and allows him to shoot through enemy shields. These powers can also be upgraded at the Black Market. These "Veil" powers are basically culled from other shooters and collected almost as a "best-of," but there's no denying that they become essential for some of the game's tougher sections. Wolfenstein is mostly balanced and fair, although there are a few lazy portions of the game where the developers felt that simply throwing a ridiculous amount of goons at you was an adequate way of making the game difficult. Having to face off against respawning, ridiculously fast Nazi skeletons that can murder you in a few hits is not very fun. Fortunately, most of the game is challenging without being cheap, and the variety of enemies, such as cannon-wielding armored foes and shield-generating scribes, makes for fun, slightly strategic battles.The game is solid, but plays it very "safe" from beginning to end. It sticks to the roots of a very standard, traditional FPS, sometimes to the point where you wonder why it was made. It's certainly not as epic as Halo, as gritty as Killzone or as tight as Call of Duty. However, it's good at what it does, and what it does is stick to the basics and provide plenty of Nazis to shoot in the head and throat. Yes, throat kills are in the game, and they're as sick and gurgly as you might expect.  The single-player is good at what it does, definitely. However, the multiplayer is another story. Worked on by Endrant and not Raven, it feels like a completely different game. The characters have no sense of weight, the combat is dull and repetitive, and the whole experience is slow, stuttering, laggy and simply badly made. Earning cash with kills to spend on upgrades is a nice touch, but ultimately there is no reason whatsoever to play it. Stick to the single player, complete it, and then consider Wolfenstein finished. That's the message I want to convey here. This iteration of the Wolfenstein series is a single-player game. The multiplayer is so tacked-on that it should be ignored completely. Fortunately, the single-player is good enough to stand on its own, and keep this game a worthwhile play. Whether its worth your actual cash is another story, but if you like shooters and hate Nazis, then there are far worse things you can do than spend time with this title.  Score: 7.0 Brad Nicholson (Xbox 360)This exists for the folks who think shattering Nazi faces and annihilating occult-powered creatures is a blast. Bordering on mindless, Wolfenstein takes narrative cues from a post-Return to Castle Wolfenstein universe and heaps chaotic combat on the player as if it were still the late '80s. Solid mechanics as well as the welcome addition of the Veil powers holds it above water in this shooter-saturated climate, but there’s nothing of substantial substance separating this from its brethren. The series’ hallmarks and general FPS tropes shackle it. If someone put a gun to my head and forced me to summarize this game critically in a few words -- and in this case, it's kind of like that (minus the gun) -- I would say: Wolfenstein is a bare-knuckle, mundane FPS with a bit of style and a few original and largely untapped features. Brimming with monster-closets, confined level structures, and the odd idea that almost every set-piece location needs to end with a dubious boss with an obvious environmental weakness, Wolfenstein fails to impress in the "Original Shooter" category. It exists and delivers within its basic shooter niche, and nothing more.   There are several interesting, but underdeveloped mechanics present. The open-world map system that allows the player to travel freely to objectives is bloated and flat. Isenstadt possesses no unarmed peoples and offers nothing to the player in terms of extras. It functions as just another level -- filled with respawning enemies, no less -- to traverse on the way to another level to kill things in. This same idea applies to the Veil powers, which operate as additional weaponry in the quest to kill every Nazi and creature walking the streets of the universe. There are a few puzzles to use some of the powers with, but the game tells you what to do and how to do it 90 percent of the time, leaving little to the imagination in terms of solving. The occult powers may have been more interesting if there were repercussions to slipping into the Veil or if usage was more limited in some fashion.Underneath the gibberish narrative -- complete with senseless progression -- and the simple gib-fest combat lies a competent shooter. Wolfenstein might not do anything special, but it does deliver some raucous fights and a type of frantic, old-school experience most current-gen titles have strayed from. The single-player component takes around seven hours to complete, but a decent-sized multiplayer portion offers some padding. Like Tides of War, it has three game modes: Objective, Stopwatch and Team Deathmatch. Objective is aptly titled: one team defends an objective -- usually some sort of coveted device or object -- from the opposing team’s grasp. Stopwatch is the same thing, except the teams switch offensive and defensive sides in timed intervals.In a curious move, Endrant streamlined the objective-based modes, allowing most objectives to be stolen without having to break down layers of environmental defensive structures like the wall. Engineers can still crack alternate entrances to the final objective, but their TNT role is largely ignored. And this is a shame: part of the team aspect was communicating on what needs to be done within the immediate objectives. Now it’s just a mad dash to whatever shiny trinket is supposedly being protected. Joining the Engineer are two additional character classes: the Medic and the Soldier. On top of handling explosives, the Engineer can dispense ammunition packs while the medic can fire off health packs as well as heal downed party members. The soldier just ... kills people with heavy stuff like the rocket-filled Panzerfaust. In terms of balance, it’s brilliant. Each class brings something unique to the table. But -- and there’s always a ‘but’ with this Wolfenstein -- the sprawling, occasionally misshapen levels (there are quite a few, actually) tend to discourage the close-knit team-based play that is needed for all the class benefits to have an effect. Finding an ammunition pack is rough work in the majority of the environments, even if you’re crying for one. And that also feeds into the player count -- this game is six-on-six maximum.The netcode struggles under the weight of the small player count. Every match will have some sort of latency, varying from impossible-to-play to discouraging. Perhaps knowing that the code base was bad, Raven Software pulled back the visuals in this mode, killing the sheen and the majority of the detail work on the character models. It looks so last-generation that I actually thought something was wrong with my console. Pixelated blood and frame-stripping is something we shouldn’t see in a non-retro FPS.On the upside, there are decent weapons and a Veil progression system behind the action. Killing foes and taking objectives yields cold, hard gold that can be spent on numerous upgrades. Spending cash requires an iron stomach. The frequent disconnects, poor visuals, and latency-ridden play soil an underwhelming mode, completely inferior to all the other Wolfenstein titles. It feels dated, just like the SP component, and while fun can be had, there isn’t much in terms of nuance. It's just a shooter.Score: 6.5 Overall Score: 7.0 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.)
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Nobody likes Nazis. Apart from German people, obviously. That's why it's always so much fun to shoot them, and why you can't keep the Wolfenstein franchise down. id Software, Raven Software, Pi Studios and Endrant Studios all...

Review: Tales of Monkey Island, Chapter 2

Aug 20 // Destructoid Staff
The Siege of Spinner Cay (WiiWare, PC [reviewed])Developer: Telltale GamesPublisher: Telltale GamesReleased: August 20, 2009MSRP: $34.95 for the full season on PC / 1000 Wii points per episode Conrad Zimmerman "The Siege of Spinner Cay" picks up right where Launch of the Screaming Narwhal left off. Having unwittingly released a voodoo pox upon the Carribbean, Guybrush is on his way to the Jerkbait Islands to learn the secrets of La Esponja Grande, a magical sea sponge purported to have the power to cure the rapidly spreading ailment. Meanwhile, he continues to be pursued by The Marquis De Singe who is determined to have the mighty pirate's pox-infected hand. And what exactly is going on between Elaine and LeChuck, anyway? The story this time around is passable, but doesn't offer much in the way of a payoff. This episode seems to be predominately focused on planting seeds for future chapters in the tale. This is fine, but results in a bit of a lull after a much stronger opening to the series. Taken on its own, it is not particularly compelling.It's still funny, at least. Spinner Cay has considerably less fan service than the previous installment, allowing the humor to stand on its own without relying on established jokes. For the most part, it can, though I wonder exactly how much longer Telltale intends to drag out a running gag involving Guybrush's pyrite parrot because I'm starting to get a little tired of it by this point. Gameplay remains unchanged in this chapter, which should come as no surprise. That said, there are some issues which did not manifest themselves as severely in episode one. First is the travel map. Guybrush has quite a bit of ground to cover in this game. The Jerkbait Islands consist of a cluster of three landmasses which can be traveled between by raft. The largest of these islands features a jungle similar in nature to that of previous games in the series. There's no need to follow a convoluted route to reach anything (thank God) but it would have been nice to provide a faster mode of travel between significant screens in the jungle after you've been there the first time, as has typically been done. The lack of one makes wandering through the same screens over and over monotonous and a bit annoying, especially if you're getting frustrated with a puzzle. As is often the case in a Monkey Island game, puzzles largely revolve around using or combining items to accomplish a goal. Once more, nothing about the puzzles is out of the reach of the player. All puzzles have pretty clear solutions and a little tinkering with items in your inventory will usually provide some insight if you're lost. That is, of course, provided you have the items you need. On several occasions, I completely missed something I needed to pick up. In most instances, this is totally due to inobservance on my part but there are a couple that I failed to find due to the environments. I should not have to scan the mouse over every bit of screen in case something can be interacted with and there are items that are small enough and blend in with the environment enough that they struck me as being far too easy to overlook, even when I have a very good idea of what it is I'm looking for. Finally, I had some trouble with the mouse controls for the game, something which I found to work to my satisfaction in Launch of the Screaming Narwhal. The mouse felt unresponsive in some areas of the game and in others Guybrush would walk in the complete opposite direction than the one I was dragging my mouse. Eventually, I abandoned the mouse altogether for movement out of annoyance. These problems would be easier to overlook if the content of the story were strong. Since it is not, it's drawn them into sharp relief and make the game feel somewhat disappointing. I'm hopeful that the series will come back with a vengeance in episode three, but The Siege of Spinner Cay is not what I had expected from Tales of Monkey Island after such an excellent beginning. Score: 6 Brad Nicholson Last month’s chapter was a tight narrative-driven experience. Oozing charm and stroking nostalgia with iconic characters and interesting puzzles, it pushed all the right buttons for fans of the no-longer-so-forgotten franchise. This chapter isn’t so different. It’s obvious that the devs spent some time with the Special Edition re-release of Monkey Island because of numerous throwbacks -- “How appropriate, you fight like a cow! -- to the original. A steady stream of funny lines, several compelling plot reveals and numerous clever puzzles complete the package, but a few bad design choices pollute this otherwise borderline good chapter.It opens with ‘mighty pirate’ Threepwood braving the salt-laden currents outside of Flotsam Island in search of his wife, as well as a cure for the misanthropic voodoo pox. The solution to the spotted problem lies with La Esponja Grande, a mystical sponge with untold powers. Elaine crops up quickly, so the focus narrows to saving the little world from the pox.  Indeed, the search for the fabled thing isn’t easy. Guybrush needs to collect three ‘summoning artifacts’ in order to uncover its secrets. Forgoing the tight and constricted narrative-led puzzles, Telltale Games created five islands to scour, giving this chapter a smidgen of an open-world feel. This comes at a cost. Three of the tiny islands are almost barren, which can lead to some confusion, especially when dealing with illogical puzzles. Telltale failed to relate when the three perimeter islands come into play. When a puzzle stumps, a lot of time is wasted moving the Narwhal between these places with the silly hope that some new thing was triggered on them because an event triggered elsewhere. The notable but pointless objects of interest on the islands -- a skeleton or a rock outcropping -- don’t help, either. Like the last chapter and its pointless objects (the sponge necklace, for one), it’s possible that at least two of these islands won’t have their moment in the spotlight until the next (or next-next) chapter. The flow disruption is annoying, but the chapter does gain steam in the latter half as the action rises after mini-goals are met. Plus, it doesn’t hurt when the thought of the just how unimportant the three islands are finally crosses the mind. Lord knows it took me long enough to realize my logic mistakes.  There’s much more character in this chapter, mainly because some larger-than-life fixtures of the MI series are slotted into main roles in this chapter’s underwhelming story. It’s a story, which is, as Conrad believes, nothing more than a set piece for the next adventure, but at least the characters have pizzazz. This isn’t an amazing follow-up, but it services for those in Tales of Monkey Island withdrawal. As a standalone narrative, it’s a flimsy thing with little to give to the player other than a few good giggles. But, at the same time, this is a competent adventure title with some intelligent puzzles and decently unique places to explore. If you’re a fan, you’ll dig this and walk away with that familiar MI afterglow. If you're not, perhaps a trial is in order. Score: 7.0Total Score: 6.5 -- Alright (6s may be slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy them a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.)
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Telltale games kicked off their Tales of Monkey Island episodic series with a bang in "Launch of the Screaming Narwhal." We came away very impressed with the inaugural effort, praising its wit and gameplay and firml...

Review: Madden NFL 10

Aug 17 // Destructoid Staff
Madden NFL 10 (PS3 [reviewed], 360 [reviewed], Wii, PS2, PSP) Developer: EA Tiburon Publisher: EA Sports Released: August 14, 2009 Samit Sarkar (PlayStation 3 version) Sports simulations need to offer great gameplay, to be sure, but to provide a top-notch, accurate simulacrum of a sport, I always say that a game needs to get “the little things” right. This fastidiousness is demanded by sports fans, and with Madden NFL 10, EA Tiburon delivers the goods. Hand towels for quarterbacks; team-specific colors on cleats and gloves; Super Bowl patches on jerseys; proper placement of single-digit numbers on certain teams’ helmets -- these are the kinds of details that Tiburon has added this year, and while they may seem insignificant, they each bring Madden one step closer to the NFL. Tiburon completely changed up the presentation in Madden 10. Gone are the labyrinthine menus of years past; options have been reorganized so their placement is more logical. Games themselves now feature loads of cut scenes that bring a broadcast-style look to the proceedings -- for example, you might see fans buying merchandise or filing into the stadium. And the playcall screen has been streamlined so you can see the field while you’re picking a play. All seven referees can be seen on the field; they’ll collaborate on decisions (like whether or not you got a first down or crossed the plane of the end zone) and call in the chain gang. Everything has been designed to increase your immersion in the football experience. The developers gave the on-the-field action the same boost in realism as everything else. Quarterbacks have specific throwing animations, so Ben Roethlisberger’s arm motion in the game looks like, well, his real-life throwing motion. After an “almost” play -- where the last man tackled a guy to save a touchdown -- the guy will pound the ground with his fist while he’s getting up, as if to say, “Damn!” But easily the most significant gameplay improvement is the new Pro-Tak animation system. It’s not just a marketing buzzword; this is a true game-changer, the most important addition to the franchise in years (perhaps since the Hit Stick and Playmaker). Pro-Tak allows for up to nine players to be involved in a gang tackle. Players can procedurally be added to a pile, and the player being tackled still has control over what happens. In my Brandon Jacobs story, I was able to break free because Jacobs has very high “strength,” “break tackle,” and “trucking” ratings, and because I kept pushing the right analog stick forward. Just like in the NFL, a running back can keep his legs moving, and if he’s strong enough, he can move the pile to get those few extra yards for a first down. But if the pile is moving him backward, and he’s still up, the referees will blow the play dead. More realism from Pro-Tak comes in the form of “procedural steering,” where offensive linemen can “steer” defensive linemen to the outside, thus allowing for the formation of an actual pocket for the quarterback. That’s never been in a football videogame before, and gamers are going to have to get used to not dropping back 20 yards as soon as they snap the ball. Tiburon has also implemented animation blending for the quarterback. In the past, if he was hit while throwing, he’d either get the ball off or tuck the ball as the sack animation began. In Madden 10, you’ll see plenty of lame duck throws where the ball pops into the air -- maybe too many, in fact. Another important change this year is the game speed, which Tiburon turned down (the default in the options menu is “slow”). At long last, you actually have the time to hit a hole before it closes up and scan your receivers before the rush gets to you. But Tiburon’s most pervasive change is the overhauled ratings system. The game contains more ratings than ever, like separate short, medium, and deep accuracy numbers for quarterbacks, and the dev team spread out all the ratings. There’s a palpable difference between the elite players and the middling ones; you’ll have a much tougher time taking your team to the top if your starting quarterback gets injured and you’re forced to use your 67-rated backup QB. In other words, the ratings matter this year. Not only that, but teams will play like their real-life counterparts. The Vikings will run it down your throat with Adrian Peterson, while the Dolphins will sprinkle in the wildcat with Ronnie Brown. You’ll have to adjust your game plan for each game, just like NFL coaches do every week. Unfortunately, a few nagging issues from past Madden games remain, and new ones have cropped up. Receivers still don’t seem to have proper sideline logic; I’ve yet to see anyone make an effort to get his feet in-bounds. Tom Hammond’s commentary is barely serviceable -- and sometimes inaccurate -- which is a shame, since his booth partner, Cris Collinsworth, is such a good analyst. The game also has a strange preponderance of penalties on extra points (usually holding or false starts). I once saw an opponent suffer three straight holding calls on a PAT, so a 19-yard chip shot turned into a 49-yard long shot. And though this is rare, the game’s frame rate will stutter at times. Tiburon has also introduced major new options in the online arena. Two first-time features are online co-op and online franchise, the latter of which is something gamers have clamored for since Madden went online. Co-op is a great addition, allowing less experienced players to tag along with a Madden veteran and help out with a victory. It’d be nice if playcalling wasn’t left only to the host, though. And while online franchise doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the offline mode -- for example, there’s no salary cap or CPU trade logic -- just the fact that it exists and works is an achievement. Tiburon is even putting out an iPhone app for online franchise that will let you manage your franchise completely from the device. With all of Tiburon’s tweaks and additions, Madden NFL 10 is the first entry in the franchise on current-generation consoles that I can unequivocally recommend. Yes, we say each year that “this is the best Madden yet,” but the improvements that Madden 10 offers over Madden NFL 09 are vast. In fact, aside from a new console generation, Madden 10 might provide the most significant year-over-year upgrade in the 21-year history of the series. Even gamers who have been wishing for a sequel to ESPN NFL 2K5 will be impressed, and for a football fan, buying this year’s Madden is a no-brainer.Score: 9.5 Brad Nicholson (Xbox 360 version) For better or worse, change represents the Madden franchise. Madden NFL 09 was an attempt to make the simulation approachable. The persistent difficulty modifier Madden IQ was introduced, as well as the mulligan option, Rewind. While these changes to the core game have been kept, the emphasis has been reduced. This Madden represents a change of direction, a complete U-turn from the casual-infused version from last year. This one is all about realism, and please, fuhgeddabout how scary that word sounds. Madden NFL 10 isn’t a snore fest. It has plenty of pop and more zing than a typical Texans vs. Raiders match-up. I think of the realism as spice, the perfect fusion of cumin, paprika and chili powder on any respectable pork dry rub. It’s a subtle layer of taste on top of meat that has its own unique flavor. The added detail and depth don’t impede the pace or cheapen the thrills -- they enhance. Ball carriers can be gang tackled. Loose balls can cause tremendous pile-ups. Pockets collapse more quickly. Receivers attempt to stay in bounds better. More low-thrown balls are tipped. And the list of stuff goes on. The point is that these touches sit on top of an already solid engine. They flesh out the experience and make this year’s offering not only one of the sharpest on-field football games, but the best so far. If you were able to fake out your mother with Madden NFL 07, give her a taste of this one. This is the closest that an NFL football videogame has gotten to an NFL football game. Scribble the realism in as a result of the new procedural animations. Players can slip tackles, push through blockers, and evade with realistic fluidity. And if there are too many players near the ball, well, the carrier is going nowhere. The right stick is the catalyst to this new system. For example, you can use the right analog stick to steer the big boys in the trenches around or through offensive players post-snap. Not only is it more fluid, but it’s a more intelligent method of getting to the ball handler than the aged mashing the shoulder buttons and hoping for a snappy victory route. It’s the inverse for the running back. Bruisers can run through a crowd, struggle for that extra yard and realistically evade grabbing hands with a slight flick of the stick. As for the passing game, I’ve noticed that wide receivers run their routes more predictably, even if they are jammed at the line. Deep defenders don’t get as silly post-snap anymore either -- they’ll stick with the play, eliminating the consistently annoying deep ball threat on every snap from last year. While you can still bomb it and get lucky, the rough and tumble world of the line makes it harder to pull off the miracle throws and immaculate receptions. Pockets collapse in a short time like they really do, and more importantly, QB accuracy takes a dive once outside the safety of their offensive line. No more insane bullet passes from 40 yards behind the line of scrimmage. On a defensive note, DB AI has been toned down. The guys in back no longer possess a third eye. While they’ll still slap down sloppily thrown passes, their awareness is cued on the receiver they’re covering, not where the ball is. Deep passes still have a tendency to draw a crowd, but I’ve yet to have a classic Madden game where I throw one touchdown and six interceptions. If I do throw six INTs, it’s because I’m using a garbage QB, and we all know there’s plenty of them in the league. This game reflects that. The rankings system has been overhauled. Bad players have bad rankings and the mediocre to good ones don’t have outstanding stats, either. This is across the board -- most proven players are where they should be for once. I still have a hard time swallowing that Mark Sanchez’s 78, but future roster updates should smack him down if he plays like the rookie that he will be this year. I’ve spent the majority of my time fiddling with Franchise mode. It has all of the features from last year with a few additions. At the end of every season you get the opportunity to do major Front Office stuff like renovating stadiums or even moving your team to a brand new location. Also, at the end of the season, player stats will rise and decrease due to a variety factors that I’m in the dark about. One of the coolest things I’ve noticed is the addition of special cut-scenes for big victories in the playoffs, most notably the Super Bowl. You’ll get to see the MVP and the coach lift the Lombardi trophy amidst a shower of confetti. It’s a much-needed touch, but also a janky one. Most cut-scenes in the game -- QB on the phone, Lombardi-raising, fans celebrating or evacuating the stadium, etc., -- are full of visual anomalies and all-around awkwardness. The concepts are fine, but the execution is poor. On the presentation side, I think the little NFL Network halftime show, as well as the weekly update, is too flat and robotic. It’s much easier on the ears to simply read about who won what game and performed what feats in the leagues. The online stuff works -- both the exhibition and the online franchise stuff. I’m no fan of Madden online. Players can still relentlessly fiddle with routes and shoot whatever gaps they desire in zone coverages, as well as “game” man-on-man stuff. I just don’t have the patience to play against the Madden elite, so I haven’t explored the mode as much as I have everything else. You won’t do yourself wrong if you buy this year’s title, especially if you’re down for the single-player experience. The improvements -- the tackling, the animations, the authenticity in general -- work together to make this one of the best football titles ever created. There’s no reason not to own this thing if you’re looking for a videogame that recreates the NFL experience in a fun, immersive, and competitive way. Score: 9 Overall Score: 9.25 -- Superb (9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)
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After a short run against the Washington Redskins, the dreaded notice came up: “B. [Brandon] Jacobs is going to be evaluated by team doctors.” The New York Giants subbed in their smaller, faster running back, Ahm...


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First impressions: Madden NFL 10


Aug 10
// Destructoid Staff
It’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for: Samit Sarkar and Brad Nicholson have spent the past few days playing EA Sports’ Madden NFL 10, and they’re here to give you their initial thoughts. This isn...

Review: Marvel vs. Capcom 2

Jul 31 // Destructoid Staff
Marvel vs. Capcom 2 (Xbox LIVE Arcade [Reviewed], PlayStation Network) Developer: Capcom / Backbone EntertainmentPrice: 1200 MS Points / $14.99Released: July 28, 2009 Topher Cantler My second-favorite fighter of all time returns. Here we are. Whether you last played MvC2 while gathered around the Dreamcast with friends or standing at a cabinet in an arcade with complete strangers, it's probably been a while. You're wondering what's new or not new with the port, and we'll get to you in a minute. First, however, we've got some out there who've never played it at all. If you consider yourself a reasonably serious fan of fighting games, and have never played Marvel vs. Capcom 2, you owe this to yourself. It's already been established for years as one of the most fun and important titles to have under your belt, and there are some who might even revoke your right to talk shop about fighters at all if you haven't at least given it a shot. If you already dig 2D fighters, you will most likely love this. Go spend your 15 bucks and enjoy your awesome new game. Now back to those of you who are already familiar with MvC2. You'll be happy to know that what you're getting here with the game itself is almost exactly what you remember; only now it's wider, considerably better-looking and connected to the internet. The character sprites, while unchanged, look as crisp and beautiful as they're going to get, and the new menus and interface are razor sharp. The original semi-polygonal stage backgrounds and anything that doesn't fall into the former categories is now in HD, not unlike what we saw with the Ikaruga port. The game has never looked better. What's not looking so good is the prospect of an engaing single player mode. If you owned the Dreamcast version, you might have fond memories of the game's "Secret Factor" or character shop, where you could unlock new fighters and alternate costume colors with the points you'd acquired through Training Mode. This whole experience, for some reason, is gone. From the moment you first boot up the game, every character in its vast roster is already unlocked. This is nice, because it allows you to jump right in with a friend and immediately start handing each other's asses back and forth on a silver platter with whoever your old mains happened to be. But at the same time, it's not so nice if you wanted to play alone. There's still a Training Mode, but gone is the points system that was once there to lure you into bothering with it. The old trick was to enter Training Mode and leave the Dreamcast running overnight. You'd wake up a millionaire and then unlock a few characters at a time with all your ill-gotten points. It was fun. It was sneaky. It was the single player experience. All you've got in this port is Arcade Mode, and with only a few achievements relating to it, (beat the game with a Street Fighter-themed team, for instance), there isn't a lot of incentive to go solo. But I suppose you already went through all that unlocking once, right? And God knows you can't leave your 360 running overnight, unless you want to wake up to your house on fire. What you're buying is effectively a multiplayer game, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Especially when the network performance has so far proven to be just about flawless. There's a bit of weird stuttering on the character selection screen that might give you some initial doubts, but once it's go time, there appears to be nothing but smooth sailing. After 20 or so matches online with friends near and far, and strangers from who knows where, I've experienced almost no lag whatsoever, aside from maybe a split-second framerate hiccup. I'm both surprised and impressed with how well it performs under pressure. It's a shame whatever new alien technology they've discovered didn't exist in time for Backbone to apply it to Super Puzzle Fighter's lousy netcode. While I'm thrilled with the graphical update and the outstanding network performance, something I'm far less pleased with is the very limited options for controller layout. The game lets you map two punches, two kicks, and two assists. End of story. Regardless of what type of controller you plan to use, that leaves two buttons unemployed. It might not be as irritating if you're playing with a standard 360 controller, but if you're using a six-button fightpad like me or an arcade stick like most other people, those two buttons are right there. With nothing to do. Controllers have grown an extra pair of buttons in their evolution since the Dreamcast, and it would have been nice if we could map the oft-used "both kicks" or "both punches" command to them. Or taunts. Or, you know, anything. This is especially disappointing after SFIV's controller options, which let you do pretty much whatever the hell you want. Sure, you can map a single command to two buttons, but that's ... well, dumb. And it's dumb that there are other perfectly available commands in the game that can't be mapped to anything when you've got two buttons out of a job. That was stupid, Capcom. And I'm mad at you. That foolish oversight aside, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is still as fantastic as it's ever been -- more so now that you can beat up on your pals without leaving the house, and beat up on strangers without lugging around a pocket full of quarters. Some might disagree, but 15 bucks to rock out online with a much prettier version of one of the greatest fighting games ever made sounds like a pretty good deal to me. And so far, that's exactly what it's been. Suck on it, eBay. Score: 8.5 Jonathan Holmes You know, it gives me chills to be involved with the review of a game this monumental. Nearly ten years after its release, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 retains the title of most large scale, hyper-kinetic game in the 2D fighting genre. When games like Tekken and Soulcalibur had all but taken over the arcade fighting game market, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 kept 2D fighters from becoming irrelevant. More importantly, it never gave in to predictability or cliches. This is the game where a cactus man can casually eat Captain America while Jill Valentine offers a mixed herb to Thanos; the death-crazed wielder of the infinity gauntlet. For fighting games, or videogames in general, this is as far from cliche as it gets. A few points for people who've never played the game: Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is huge, insane, and almost universally appealing. The game features 52 playable characters, which provides more than enough choice for anybody. We're talking everything from the adorable, LEGO-looking Servbot, to a sex hungry succubus, to Marrow, a woman who rips bones out of her own body and then cuts your throat with them. There are a few characters here that are pretty much palette swaps, like Iron Mon and War Machine, or Wolverine and "totally 90s bone-claw" Wolverine, but for the most part, all the characters here look and play very differently. Perhaps more importantly, they play like should, given who these iconic characters are. Wolverine has his healing factor, Juggernaut really is unstoppable, Jill Valentine shows us the Tyrant, and Mega Man comes equipped with robotic dog and leaf shield. Love them or hate them, you can't deny that the game's roster is legit. "Hate them, you say?" Yes friends, it's true, a lot of people think this game sucks. Some say it's too "scrubby", as the "dial-a-chain" combo system is extremely accessible (and for a lot of people, fighting games should be anything but accessible). Others say the game is too unbalanced, and really, what do you expect from a game with fifty-two characters? Fans of the fighting scene know that there are a five or six "top tier" characters in Marvel Vs Capcom 2 that almost everyone in serious tournament play uses, while the remaining forty-six are left to take the role of punching bag. Sadly, that's the way it is with most fighting games, but with this one, critics have been historically quite bitter. Then there is the music. Um... Wow. Even fans of the game's soundtrack will tell you that it sounds positively satanic, but not in the metal sort of way. It's this soundtrack that really sets Marvel Vs Capcom 2 apart from Capcom's other "Superhero rave" titles. For instance, in Marvel Vs Capcom 1, when Strider jumps onto the scene, music from the Strider arcade game plays on cue. In Marvel Vs Capcom 2, it doesn't matter who's on screen, your going to get the same synth-jazz and/or a woman crooning about "your body". Its hard to fault the game for its wildly inappropriate soundtrack, because really, what is appropriate for a game where a semi-sexy monkey girl blows kisses-that-turn-into-monkeys in the general direction of a giant, tentacle-enriched eyeball from outer space? For an event like that, pop music from hell fits just as well as anything else. All of these "faults" wont mean a thing to those who play fighting games for, you know, fun. Marvel Vs Capcom 2's beginner-friendly fighting system, familiar characters, and sheer eye candy make the game a worth while purchase for anyone with even a passing interest in the genre. As for depth, some still believe the game to be bottomless. Personally, I've been playing it off and on for nearly ten years, and I feel like I'm still getting better at it. Even if I weren't, I'd still  ome back just to look at the thing. Marvel Vs Capcom 2 acts as sort of a "best of" collection of all of Capcom's CPS-2 era sprite work. The amount of individual frames of animation here is just staggering. There are a few weak links (Thanos in particular looks pretty under-cooked), but classic Capcom CPS-2 sprite-sets like Cyclops, Strider, Wolverine, and Captain Commando are all here, and are pretty much required study for anyone who wants to understand sprite animation.I agree with Topher that the lack of unlockables make this port of Marvel Vs Capcom 2 feel a little flat in the single player department. Still, after all these years, I have more fun playing Marvel Vs Capcom 2 alone than I do with any other 2D fighter on the market today (as long as you don't consider the currently import-only Tatsunoko Vs Capcom to be 'on the market'). There are so many characters here that no two matches ever feel the same, so replayibility isn't really an issue. Also, credit must given to the game's final boss, who provides a battle that feels truly climactic every time you face him. It's sort of shameful to see Marvel Vs Capcom 2 outclass modern fighters like SF4, BlazBlue and KoF XII in the "unplayable last boss who truly blows your mind" department, but then again, times (and expectations) really have changed when it comes to 2D fighters. I'd say that only one or two of today's 2D fighting games can hold a candle to the level of craftsmanship and content to be found in Marvel Vs Capcom 2. It's truly a product of a bygone era; and an era that I sorely miss. Now don't go thinking that it's retro-goggles that have me scoring Marvel Vs Capcom 2 so high. I'm not blind to the game's flaws. It's just that none of those flaws bothered me when the game first came out, and they still don't bother me now.This is a must-own game for fans of Marvel, Capcom, or fighting games in general. I bought it on XBLA, and I plan to buy it again when it drops on PSN in a few weeks, and I'd buy the damn thing again if it ever came to the Wii. It's just that good.Score: 9 Final Score: 9.0 -- Superb (9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)  
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Gonna take you for a ride. Dear God, that song. Some of us have had it stuck in our heads for nearly a decade now, and if you haven't, let us be the first to welcome you to our little club with the release of Marvel vs. Capco...

Review: Unbound Saga

Jul 22 // Destructoid Staff
Unbound Saga (PSP download)Developer: Vogster EntertainmentPublisher: Vogster EntertainmentReleased: July 16, 2009MSRP: $14.99 Jim Sterling:Unbound Saga tells the story of Rick Ajax, a self-aware comic book character who hates the many adventures he's forced to embark upon by The Maker -- the comic artist that has illustrated his fate over the years. Rick's plan is to track and do battle with The Maker, teaming up with a violent and inappropriately dressed girl called Lori along the way. It's a simple premise, with a few ideas lifted from the aforementioned Comix Zone, but it's carried off with a sense of humor and enough clever writing to remain interesting. The very first line, "I had that dream again. The one about the rabbits and their Molotov cocktails," was a laugh-out-loud moment, helped along by Rick's dry and weary delivery every time he speaks. The silly humor carries through into the enemy designs. Bears wearing aprons, hobos that think you stole somebody's liver and ninjas that wear shells on their backs in a crude homage to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are just some of the enemies that Rick and Lori will have to face, and their dialog is worth the occassional smirk. As we said at the top of this review, you know exactly where you are in terms of gameplay if you've ever been into an old-school beat-'em-up. While there are more complex combos to unlock during the course of the game, the meat and potatoes of Unbound Saga is the endless hammering buttons to punch, kick and throw enemies around each level.  The combat is simplistic, but repetitive, so if you don't have the patience for endless beatings, then you'll probably not find what you're looking for here. Those of us that remember a simpler time, however, will certainly enjoy the game for the several hours of violent action that it brings. Your moves are governed by an energy meter, that depletes at a minuscule pace for general attacks, but can drop considerably for more powerful moves. Despite the general focus on violent fun, there are issues. In transporting the simplistic enjoyment of brawlers to the modern age, so too has Vogster transported all the frustrating aspects of such games. Things get very annoying with the amount of merciless enemies thrown at you. The trouble here is that Rick is so slow, and Lori so hard to land a hit with, that you get a sense of constant irritation from battles. Picking people and objects up takes an inordinate amount of time, and one punch causes Rick to drop anything he's carrying, leading to ridiculous moments where you keep picking up and dropping stuff. The slightly skewed perspective of the game makes it difficult to line up attacks and the slow movement can get quite tiresome.The moments where you're forced to play as one character could also have been done without. Lori starts the game incredibly weak, unable to weather much of an attack at all until she upgrades her skills. It's natural then, that you have to play as her in key moments during the early portion of the game, then play as Rick just as soon as Lori becomes able to hold her own.  The game can be difficult at times, through sheer weight of enemy numbers, but it eases up once you start raising your skills. Tokens are collected throughout the game that can be spent on various abilities, such as a healing power for Lori, or a range of brutal grapple attacks for Rick. The combo attacks feel like a waste of tokens, especially as they are less deadly than Lori's jump attack and Rick's slams, yet seem to take more energy to perform. Some of Lori's Ninjitsu powers are terrific, however. Unbound Saga looks pretty good, it has to be said, possessing a gritty comic book feel that doesn't look obtusely cel-shaded. The way each enemy is sketched in by The Maker, and explodes in a shower of paper upon death, is quite classy, and there are even simplistic rag doll physics to keep things looking silly. As hinted earlier, the voice talent is damn good as well, which really helps keep the game entertaining up to its predictable, yet satisfying conclusion. Unbound Saga is a good game, and as a fifteen-dollar download, is a more than worthy look for beat-'em-up fans. Just be aware that it can feel needlessly frustrating a lot of the time, and those with a low tolerance for repetition will want to steer clear. If you grew up with these sorts of games, however, then Unbound Saga should really be in your collection.Score: 7.5 Nick Chester: It’s hard to disagree with anything Jim says in his assessment -- Unbound Saga is what it is. It’s a classic beat-’em-up game, but one that takes little chances or breaks any boundaries in terms of basic gameplay. In many ways, that sums up both the best and worst of what Unbound Saga has to offer. As far as the core gameplay is concerned, Unbound Saga is about as basic as it gets, as you’ll simply be moving from one end of the screen to the other (or panel to panel, as in this case), beating up a variety of thugs and bizarre baddies as either Rick or Lori. Fortunately, both comic heroes have upgradable moves and passive buffs, which does its best to keep the gameplay relatively interesting from start to finish. Unfortunately, while Rick and Lori are a team, Unbound Saga features no cooperative two-player mode. Instead, you as a single player are given the option to switch between Rick and Lori on the fly, allowing you to switch up your play style -- Rick is more of a brawler, for instance, while Lori is faster and has a number of special “art” abilities. Frustratingly, this switching between two characters is not to the game’s advantage, as more often than not I found myself relying more on one character than the other. In most cases, it didn’t matter who I used, so it was just easier to stick with whoever I currently had selected. Outside of a few in-game moments where you’re forced to use either Rick or Lori, there are no real circumstances that will benefit from you using one or the other. With that said, you’re still likely to swap between characters as often as possible, as Unbound Saga does sometimes verge on the monotonous. Playing through more than one or two of the game’s stages (some of which tend to drag) is not recommended, as this one-trick pony (like many brawlers) can get stale fast. The game also tends to get pretty damned brutal, especially in the later stages where The Maker will be tossing foes at you from all angles. To make matters even worse, the loss of a life means game over... period. There are no checkpoints in Unbound Saga, and dying eight panels (and ten minutes) into a stage and then being asked to start from scratch can be incredibly frustrating.Still, the game most be commended for what it does right. The game does stay true to its brawler pedigree, with extremely basic, but tight controls. Its biggest achievements, though, are in its look and its narrative, which cling close to its comic book roots in both tone and style. Like Jim, on more than one occasion I did have a chuckle at some of the game’s situations and dialogue. And without a doubt, the game’s animated comics-brought-to-life cut-scenes are absolutely marvelous. For fans of straightforward brawlers, Unbound Saga is a satisfying experience, with an attractive $15 price point that should make your decision easier to make. Fans of the genre should already be accustomed to the repetition that comes along with mercilessly (and sometimes pointlessly) pounding thugs into the ground, stage after stage. Unbound Saga is no different, but it certainly does it well. Score: 7.5Overall Score: 7.5 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.)
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The brawler was looking like a type of game that would never return, thanks to the evolving tastes of gamers and demand for more complex, deeper control schemes. Fortunately, digital distribution has come along, and the need ...

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Comment of the Week: Question on reviews


Jul 18
// Destructoid Staff
Last week we announced our new weekly "feature," something we're calling "Comment of the Week." The idea: encourage legitimate, entertaining discussion about videogaming news, reviews, previews, and more. ...

Review: The Conduit

Jul 17 // Destructoid Staff
[embed]138639:20711[/embed] The Conduit (Wii)Developer: High Voltage SoftwarePublisher: SegaReleased: June 23, 2009MSRP: $49.99 Jonathan Holmes-The Conduit is a game about a secret spy who is working hard to stop a diabolical terrorist mastermind from committing crimes against humanity, who after some unforeseeable events, is forced to singlehandedly fight off an alien invasion (or at least, something like it). Cynics will immediately write off the game for ripping off GoldenEye and Halo in the same stroke, and in doing so, they'll be missing out on all the other cool stuff that the The Conduit rips-off. Narrative themes from They Live, visual set pieces from War of the Worlds, and secret-government-cover-up-busted-by-rogue-operative-bad-ass heroics from 24 are all present. As different as those influences sound, they all blend together rather organically, making for a game scenario that is altogether familiar to fans of action sci-fi, but never offensively so. It's no Metal Gear Solid, but it's a fun story. The cinemas feature some fairly big name voice-acting talent, including Never Cry Werewolf star Kevin Sorbo. Actually, Kevin is responsible for the worst of the acting by the game's three man cast. The guy who plays Michael Ford (the protagonist) and Mr Adams (the old man who OMG SPOILERS might be a bad guy) do a much better job than Sorbo. Even more convincing than the main cast is the voice over work found on the various radios that pop up in-game, BioShock-style. These little audio-only vignettes are totally optional, but if you take the time to tune in to them, you'll get to experience the most creepy and fun parts of The Conduit's narrative. Stuff like stories of survivors infected with a mysterious "bug" that appears to be lethal (especially to children), televangelists ranting about the alien Armageddon, and run-of-the-mill soldiers communicating about the hopelessness of their situation, all add a real life touch to the otherwise thoroughly Hollywood storyline. More than the story, it was the constant roll out of new types of enemies and weapons that kept me glued to The Conduit. The game features standard human enemies who think generally like humans (they usually try to take cover first, then come looking for you if you hide for too long), little kamikaze alien jerks who die with one hit (but sometime explode upon impact), big ass alien beefcakes who come at you non-stop and can turn invisible at will, giant flying dragonfly looking aliens who toss grenades at you, little giggling aliens who sound like Gizmo from Gremlins, and the list goes on. For every enemy there is in the game, there is a corresponding gun. You'll start the game firmly embedded in the real world, fighting standard humans with regular, present day weaponry. From there, you move up to some Star Trek-style laser throwing cannons, and eventually into alien firepower that is often alive and wriggling in your hands. All guns have their own quirks and utilities, and though many of them will seem familiar to fans of the FPS genre, others will offer a few surprises. My favorite is probably "The Shrieker", an alien gun that lobs explosives that the player can guide mid-air with pinpoint accuracy with a twist of the remote. This kind of stuff has been tried before, like the guided missiles of Metal Gear Solid and that super-fancy gun-thing from Resistance: Fall of Man, but directing your projectiles never felt as organic and effortless as it does in The Conduit, and that has everything to do with the controls. As you may already have guessed, the controls are the real star of The Conduit. They're the real reason, some would say the only reason, to play The Conduit instead of another console FPS. Though everything about the game's controls is customizable, I played the game from beginning to end on the default setting, and had more fun than I've ever had with another home console FPS. Keep in mind, home console FPSs are my least favorite genre of game going today, but that's mostly because of the way they control. Ever since GoldenEye, I've hated FPS aiming with the analog stick. In The Conduit, aiming is always fun, which means the game itself is always fun, even when it doesn't totally deserve to be (more on that later). Another plus to the game's aiming system is that you can zoom-in sniper style at any time with any gun, though you can only fire while zoomed in with certain firearms. Maybe that doesn't mean a lot to you, but as a sniping fan from way back, this option is a godsend.  If the controls are The Conduit's sexy leading man, then it's ugly sidekick is probably the all seeing eye; ASE for short, as it is the other major thing that differentiates The Conduit from other FPSs. From it's hyperbole-packed name, you'd think that the ASE was a pretty powerful piece of hardware, but in the end, it's really just a flashlight. Using it when prompted does a lot to help the game from getting too repetitive. Most levels in single player campaign are paced between fire fights, and using the ASE to unlock doors, find secret passages, data disks, or defuse mines. It's far from the most clever item/weapon I've seen in a videogame, but The Conduit is definitely better off for its inclusion.   Now for the stuff I was less than thrilled with; namely the games graphics, level designs, and the end-level climaxes. High Voltage uses a really cool texture mapping technique on everything in the game that is wet and/or shiny, which is great, because by some wild coincidence, tons of stuff in the game is wet and/or shiny looking. All the aliens, many of the armored human enemies, most of your guns, many of the environments, and the abundant, Giger-influenced alien tentacle/testicle architecture utilize this type of texture, and they all look fantastic, almost 360/PS3 quality. Everything else in the game; not so much. It's actually pretty jarring to see so many PS3 looking characters existing in an often PS2-looking world. This inconsistency does work to make the aliens truly look like they don't belong in the world around them (and therefore, more alien), but it can also be visually distracting, like the game is yelling at you "LOOK HOW SHINY MY ALIENS ARE". The level designs are also a mixed bag. Some areas, like the city streets and the airport-to-subway levels, feature a nice variety of open areas, tight quarters, and spots to use for hiding and sniping. Others, like the secret lab and the White House, are generally corridor-based affairs, with medium-sized rooms at the largest. There is still plenty of action in these levels, as well as ASE related stuff to do, but they're still notably less dynamic and interesting than the other bits.  As for end-level climaxes, they aren't all bad, but they're generally forgettable. The ending of the game is particularly anti-climactic. It's not the worst ending I've seen, but it's not epic in any way, which is strange for a game that touts itself as "big screen, popcorn entertainment". There are epic moments in The Conduit, but they often happen in the middle of the game, or smack dab in the middle of a level. I guess it makes things more unpredictable and less "videogame-y" to pace things that way, but if I didn't want "videogame-y", I wouldn't be playing a videogame. Then there's the multi-player. It's online, 12 player max, features Wii speak integration, and can be played in a a variety of different modes and environments. There are also a variety of different character skins available, so if you want to play as an alien or a CIA agent wearing a gas mask, you have that option. Though this is by far the most full featured and deep multi-player FPS on the Wii, it still pales compared to the modes and environments of Halo 3 or Killzone 2. Still, I'd rather play The Condiut than either of those two games, and again, that's only because of the controls. I doubt current fans of home console FPSs will feel that way, but that's not who I think the The Conduit was made for. This isn't a game that's trying to outdo other home console FPSs, but rather make a home console FPS for those who want to like the genre, but haven't been able to up until now due to the way they control.  The Conduit, and it's potential success or failure, shouldn't be used as a gauge for how well "awesome hardcore" games sell on the Wii, mostly because the game isn't all that hardcore, or even that awesome. In terms of graphics, level design, and even story, the game isn't in the same league as comparable titles like the Metroid Prime series,or Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition. If The Conduit does sell well, it wont mean that hardcore games do or don't sell on the Wii. All that will tell us is that a substantial amount of FPS-friendly Wii owners are willing to look past some game design mediocrity in order to play a fully featured online shooter that has very good controls and very shiny aliens. You can count me amongst them.  Score: 7.0 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.) Matthew Razak- It's hard for me to separate what The Conduit represents and how good a game it actually is, as I think the former directly affects my ideas on the latter. As Mr. Holmes has already discussed this isn't God's gift to the genre of the FPS, it's not even Santa Clauses gift to the genre. I think the best way to sum up the overall quality of The Conduit is to say that if it were a game based on a movie (it's plot pretty much is just from a bunch of different movies) we'd be pointing to it as a demonstration of how movie games can not suck. Hopefully, everyone is on the same page with me here when I say that. However, if I had to sum up what kind of building block this should be for FPS (and all games) on the Wii then I would be dropping names like Halo and Super Mario 64.  When I envisioned writing this review before playing the game in full I thought I'd be rambling on about how great the controls are, because they are. However, it's hard to say anything about the controls in the game because they are exactly what you make them to be down to almost every single minute detail. Jonathan says he didn't change much, but I found the turning speed to be a bit fast for me so I notched that down and popped my sensitivity up a bit. It took me a few tries to find what felt good, but once I got it it was easy to roll on in comfort. In short, the controls are your controls, and I can neither complain about them or applaud them as I have no interaction with how you will set them up. I can however applaud the simple fact that this amount of control depth even exists, because it is so important to making shooters on the Wii work. A word of warning though: don't scratch your nose with your nunchuck hand while pointed at a wall, it often results in a grenade suicide if you have that set up for grenade throws. So the controls are immensely polished because you can polish them immeasurably, but what about the stuff you can't control? It's more of a hit or miss bag there. The stories presentation is seriously lacking, with a lot of "deep thoughts" tossed in that have no real depth because the character development is non-existent. Jonathan mentioned that GoldenEye was a major influence, and I agree the shooter does have a very retro-FPS feeling to it. Part of that is the gameplay itself, which is all about duck and cover and run and gun, but part of that is because the entire story is delivered via text and voice-over. You never see anything outside of the underground tunnels and office buildings you find yourself in. There's an alien invasion going on, but all you see is literally what you see, and not in the good way like Half-Life. Speaking of those office buildings and underground tunnels, they're actually the Washington DC Metro system and famous landmarks like the Pentagon and White House. I totally agree with Jonathan's assessment that the levels looked pretty bland, but I have to give massive props to the guys at High Voltage for absolutely nailing the DC Metro system. As a resident of DC it's infuriating that so much takes place here in movies and games and yet it never looks like the city I grew up in. Bravo to them for making the Metro look like the Metro. Of course the other 99 percent of you could care less about this little factoid, however, it illustrates an important fact about the game. Most of the flaws, aside from a bit of repetitive level design, are not because High Voltage wasn't paying attention to details, but because the Wii must be getting destroyed by the stuff the the game is doing so well. Guns, enemies and important objects look stellar. The enemy AI is spot on, the amount of bad guys on the screen at once is never lacking and I didn't once experience a frame rate drop. It is a testament to what can be done on the Wii, but brings me back to the problem of whether I'm giving it too much credit simply because it does things that should be done in every game.I can tell you where I won't give any credit, and that is in the music. One never really realizes how important well cued and appropriate music is until you run into a game that doesn't have it. Music cues throughout the game were oddly placed or didn't make much sense at all, and the overall score was severely lacking. Luckily you're too busy taking out a variety of bad guys who attack with pretty logical strategy at a constant pace. The game is fun, plain and simple, no matter how odd the soundtrack.Jonathan discussed the game's enemies and the variety of well designed weapons already, but I'd like to point out that the game does some very interesting things with a plethora of different weapons and you never get that feeling that you're just using the same weapon over and over because it's the best. Often FPS games turn into you shooting one gun throughout each level because it is clearly the best, but not here. The devs did a great job of making each weapon useful and worthwhile -- except the rocket launcher, those are always disappointing in any game. I found the ASE sadly underused. The item has potential and could have really separated the gameplay from other FPS, but it's mostly relegated to finding hidden objects and detecting landmines. When I first saw the ASE in action I thought it was a great opportunity to force the player to decide between guns and safety. However, the game never really combines the two as much as I would have liked, relegating the two modes of gameplay into separate parts instead of a cohesive whole. It's one of those missed opportunities in a good game that makes you desperately want a sequel to see how they could improve on it. The online is fantastic and robust for the Wii. I hate tacking on "for the Wii" to the end of sentences so let's take it out of that context. The online is fun and simple. There, that seems much better and far less qualified. There are plenty of games out there with far more in depth online rosters, that have massively larger levels and more gameplay options. In fact that's almost all there is out there now. The Conduit's online is like stepping into a time-warp and playing GoldenEye online with better controls and more variety of weapons. The levels are smaller and more enclosed, the shooting is frantic and there isn't any ass on there whose been playing the game for the past four years everyday and can take you out in a nanosecond every time you respawn. It's actually pretty refreshing to go back and play what feels like an old school shooter, and the easy to understand controls also give it that same universal appeal that GoldenEye had. It's good, you'll have fun, and you won't be confused. (As a side note, I picked up Wii Speak to play with this game and that things is pretty darn cool. I wish more people had it, though.) Is The Conduit disappointing? No, not at all. I think it turned out to be exactly what we all thought it was going to be: a well executed Wii FPS with some ups and downs that's fun to play. Oh, and in case you were wondering about the game's replay value and I accidentally erased my 80 percent completed game and had to play through it twice. It was still fun. Score: 7.0 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.) Total Score: 7.0 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.) 
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The Conduit is a game with baggage. After it was first announced last year, it quickly become a symbol to game-fans on either side of the "Wii divide". Many people who hate the Wii want the game to fail in order to...

Review: Battlefield 1943

Jul 13 // Destructoid Staff
Battlefield 1943 (Xbox LIVE Arcade [reviewed], PlayStation Network, PC) Developer: EA Digital Illusions CE Publisher: Electronic Arts Released: July 8, 2009 (XBL) / July 9, 2009 (PSN) / September 2009 (PC)MSRP: 1200 Microsoft Moon Dollars/$14.99  Brad Nicholson (Xbox LIVE Arcade) Battlefield 1943 is an attractive downloadable title. Built from the foundation of Electronic Arts DICE’s foremost shooter series, Battlefield 1943 offers what most multiplayer shooters in the console downloadable space don’t: visually attractive, strategic, cooperative-based action. Players can steer tanks, bomb bridges with World War II-era planes, or plain-Jane hoof it across one of the three in-game maps’ terrain -- talking to each other all the while, coordinating efforts in an attempt to steal enemy bases and defend their own. The options and variety of play are what make it an exciting title. Rarely does a shooter -- no less a downloadable one -- give players the opportunity to be a bomber pilot one second, then a sniper the next. Similarly, rarely is a downloadable title so damn frustrating. Battlefield 1943 suffers from an array of flaws (including a bunch of technical ones) that keep it from becoming the stellar title it should be. Freezing, latency, inconsistent feedback and a smattering of connection issues can make Battlefield 1943 feel like a sluggish, incomplete game instead of a deep, unique downloadable action title.Currently, there is only one mode of play, a pseudo-capture-the-flag mode. In each of the three Pacific-themed maps, two teams (IWJ, the Japanese Imperial Army, and the United States Marine Corps, or USMC) compete for several bases on the map. Each base has a flagpole that acts as the location's capture point. Standing in its vicinity will slowly raise the team's standard (of course, if the base already belongs to the opposition, its flag will have to be lowered first). A team health bar drains according to the amount of flags a certain team has. Obtaining more flags means that the opposite team’s health bar depletes more quickly. Once a team’s bar reaches zero, the match is over.The lack of other modes (EA DICE is promising a second if players collectively get over 43 million kills in the game) isn’t a sore spot for me. As with all Battlefield titles, I can choose to attack a base in a variety of ways: I can opt to parachute from an airplane on top of a flag, rush in with a lightning-quick Jeep, bumble around in a tank or even rush up the hill with a soldier. The game always feels fresh and exciting and the action often reflects my mood or even previous interaction with the opponents. Every match is, at its core, completely different. Players can use a bevy of diverse defensive patterns. Some teams may choose not to defend their bases; others may stress the utilization of AA cannons or turtle in the key bases. It’s all about discovery and experimentation within a limited timeframe if I choose to think. The nature of battle is frenetic. Planes zoom overhead, enemy shells rip trees and buildings from their foundations and bullets whiz past constantly. The amount of action is dizzying and wonderful at the same time. To participate in such a large-scale conflict with others is a special experience and the action truly stresses teamwork. Unfortunately, Battlefield 1943 restricts voice chat to an in-game party system. Up to four players can hear each other out of the 12 that can play on a single team. This is especially frustrating when you want to let your team know what you’re seeing in terms of aircraft or tank positions.The vehicles in the game are tough to control; I'm often slapped for my inability to maneuver them well. They lack the player-friendliness of Halo’s Warthog. One trigger applies the gas, but only the left analog stick steers the mobile contraption (with the exception of the plane, which uses the right analog stick for the pitch and roll). It probably makes sense in some true-to-life fashion to tie a vehicle to a single stick, but I find the amount of effort it takes to steer one of the beasts a bit silly. I’m always getting a wheel stuck on a rock or tumbling off a cliff that I was attempting to avoid. A third-person view can be used to take the edge off the first-person steering, but that view makes it almost impossible to kill anything with a turret -- the view hovers above and outside of the vehicle.The core game revolves around the FPS mechanic -- i.e., hoofing it with one of the game’s three classes: the rifleman, infantryman, or the scout. Each has its own strengths and weakness. The rifleman specializes in killing infantry with his M1 Garand rifle and superior bullet strength. The infantryman can take out tanks with his bazooka; with his Thompson, he is best used in close-range attack situations. The scout has a sword (melee ftw) and a sniper rifle, which are perfect for ranged fighting and those classic oh-no-someone-is-right-behind-me moments. Running in the open-field is essentially suicide, considering the amount of stuff going on in the middle of the map. Often, I joke with my friends that I’m traveling into “the shit” whenever I decide to lay off the periphery of the small-ish maps. Like in the other Battlefield titles, the lone soldier is a useless commodity. It takes up to three bazooka blasts to down a tank, and because enemies can spawn in a base while the lone soldier is trying to steal it for his team, he’ll often find himself outnumbered and quickly dead. That is, if the game is cooperating at the time. I’ve experienced a variety of latency in the game. Planes tend to jump around wildly in the air, and occasionally, enemy tanks and Jeeps will randomly pop in front of me. The bounciness of Electronic Arts’ servers (see Editor’s Note) can stall the action and cause a high degree of frustration. Battlefield has always had dodgy or inconsistent hit detection and the manic waves of latency aren't an improvement.The game also has a particularly nasty issue with freezing. Last night during a two-hour session of playing, Battlefield 1943 locked up my perfectly functioning Xbox 360 a total of six times. Overall, it’s locked up around 12-15 times over the course of my ten or so hours of play. The freezing detracts from the experience even more than the latency.Speaking of latency, as of Sunday (July 12th), joining friends in a game or even getting into a game can be a small struggle. Battlefield 1943 has three multiplayer options: Quick Match, a “Join Friends” option, and the ability to create private rooms. This is a brilliant way to keep the game centralized and ensure that a billion rooms won’t be open and nearly empty. However, the servers aren’t playing nicely. When trying to join friends, it’ll say the match is unavailable and will even toss out that message while trying to join a Quick Match. A few hours ago (8:42 P.M.), I was able to get into a Quick Match on the third attempt and was able to join friends on the second. It’s getting better. Earlier in the week, it could take up to a half hour to join with a friend or jump into a match.The connection issues and frequent freezing, as well as the driving and shooting issues, put a damper on an otherwise brilliant game. The Battlefield formula is dated, but the game experience still doesn’t feel long in the tooth. Battlefield 1943 is a particularly smart creation that can function as a deep, strategic title or as a simple Pacific-themed fragfest (with planes, of course). When it isn’t chugging, Battlefield 1943 offers a genuinely unique shooter experience, far and above anything else available in the console downloadable space. Don’t miss this one if you’re a multiplayer shooter fan, but be weary of the issues it’s currently having. Give the demo a shot and see if you can stomach them.Score: 7 Jordan Devore (Xbox LIVE Arcade)Battlefield 1943 surprised the hell out of me. Before the game launched, I didn't give it much thought other than the occasional time when I acknowledged its existence. I'm an avid first-person shooter fan, sure, but Battlefield is a series I am not at all familiar with. And World War II games? Kind of played out, if you ask me. Yet Battlefield 1943, despite its botched and error-ridden launch, has grown on me. It's become the type of addiction where you could be sitting at your computer, watching the latest Keyboard Cat video, and then it hits you. "Why am I watching this garbage when I could be playing Battlefield right now?" Anyone who has seriously played videogames can tell you about this feeling. It's the feeling you get when a game is so satisfying, you can't help but daydream about playing.Battlefield 1943's ability to elicit such a strong response wasn't by accident; it's the result of a tight, well-thought out plan. You cannot make a fulfilling multiplayer game with only one mode, three maps, and three classes unless each and every one of those things is executed brilliantly. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this was, in fact, the overall case for Battlefield 1943, and in some ways, I think EA DICE was surprised by how well the project came together, too. I mean, the game did essentially break from its own popularity, after all.The first thing I noticed during my initial match of Battlefield 1943 -- and how could I not -- was the visual style. And no, I don't just mean how realistic or not the game looks. I'm talking more about the game's use of a vibrant, tropical color scheme, and its rather extensive environmental destruction. As a complete package, Battlefield 1943 rivals retail games in terms of pure visual flair, and this strength is only reinforced by fantastic in-cockpit cameras for every vehicle. Similarly, the top-notch sound design really brings the whole experience together. While a handful of the guns themselves may be lacking the extra oomph I desire, the first time an explosion made my character’s ears ring, I felt like I was in a real, living world. But now I'm getting ahead of myself. Who cares about a striking game if it isn't fun to play? Thankfully, Battlefield 1943 encompasses both of these aspects. As I mentioned above, this was my first Battlefield game. Upon first jumping into a match, I was a bit overwhelmed. Even though all three of Battlefield 1943's maps are pretty substantial in size, when a full 24 players are running around, mayhem is bound to ensue. I am, however, happy to report that figuring out the basics alone was manageable. There are only three playable classes, and once you learn one of them, you can easily pick up the other two.Things only start to get difficult once you attempt to use a vehicle, mostly because the button placement for the controls is a little unusual. Using the left trigger and left bumper to drive and go in reverse, respectfully, sounds weird on paper but actually works well after about 30 minutes or so. The learning curve for the planes, on the other hand, is much higher. A few hours into Battlefield 1943, I still found myself plummeting to the sea and colliding with trees. That said, my best memories of the game all involve piloting planes, or simply watching them blow up in some crazy, over-the-top way. Alternatively, you could make the smart choice and realize there is a playable tutorial hidden in the game’s menus. But that would be too easy, wouldn’t it?While Battlefield 1943 does have a rank system complete with levels, I feel like it could have been emphasized more. +10 XP popping up above a soldier I just killed? That would have been absolutely fine in my book. There are also awards you can obtain for accomplishing in-game objectives such as getting X amount of kills with a weapon or proficiently using a tank, but again, you have to go through the main menu to find such statistics.My only other real complaint with the game, other than the serious issues with freezing and other server-side problems, was the lack of actual content. Don’t get me wrong -- the three maps, while they seem to blend together after a while, are plenty enough for the time being. But a single mode? There are times when I simply don’t feel like capturing or defending a control point. I suppose you could argue that there are so many different ways to play Battlefield 1943 that it doesn’t ultimately matter, but I would’ve personally been happy if something as simple as a deathmatch mode was thrown in. Now, I know that a new mode and map will be unlocked when the community hits 43 million kills, and I know that Battlefield 1943 is only $15, but this is something I feel will hurt the game’s longevity. As sublime as the game can be, it’s hard to play for more than an hour or two at a time without growing tired of the same old routine. This leads me to strongly believe that downloadable content will be coming in the near future.On the other hand, who knows where the game will be a few months from now; I certainly couldn’t tell you.  But what I can tell you is this: Battlefield 1943, even with its network-related flaws, is worth downloading. While, like Brad, my game did freeze more than a few times late last week, when I played again on Sunday afternoon, I didn’t run into any freezing at all and joining various friend matches never took more than two tries to get in.If you decide to download it right now, or want to wait a couple of weeks for technical problems to be fully addressed, you should be fine either way. The game’s community is a devoted bunch, and it seems highly unlikely that the everyone would up and leave anytime soon. My only fear is that paid DLC, should it ever happen, could divide the community.It’s a shame that a game with such strong potential was marred by technical issues when the actual gameplay itself is purely fun. Whether you are a Battlefield fanatic or a series scrub like me, you’ll get your money’s worth from Battlefield 1943, as well as an unrivaled experience in the realm of download-only games. While I'd recommend waiting a little while longer for optimal results, I think it’s finally safe to take the plunge, but only if you keep your expectations in order. Score: 8 Combined Score: 7.5 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.)
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Electronic Arts Digital Illusion CE’s Battlefield 1943 is a bite-sized downloadable title based upon the foundation of the Battlefield series. In the game, two teams compete for flags with legs, tanks, airplanes and Jee...

Review: Bit.Trip Core

Jul 11 // Destructoid Staff
Bit.Trip Core (WiiWare)Developer: Gaijin GamesPublisher: Aksys GamesReleased: July 6, 2009MSRP: 600 Wii Points  Anthony Burch: People will invariably compare Beat and Core, but apart from the art style and basic twitch-rhythm-gameplay premise, they share almost nothing in common. Maybe that's why I was so surprised to find myself absolutely in goddamn love with Bit.Trip Core once I finished it. Initially, the game felt like a flaky, less-interesting interpretation of the core Beat experience. Instead of using a paddle to hit beats, which felt immediately intuitive, familiar, and satisfying, I was awkwardly pressing one of four directions and hitting the 2 button to zap a beat just at the right moment. It felt more rigid than Beat, and much more spatially confusing: I pretty much floundered during my first few minutes of the game as I attempted to identify which beats were headed to which quadrant of the screen. This was unusual. This was perplexing. This wasn't fun. Then, an hour later and entirely without warning, something clicked. Once you get sufficiently used to the basic gameplay, everything suddenly makes sense. No, it's not as tactile or outright exciting as Beat; it's something else entirely. At some point, you realize the game has subtly shifted your spatial perception to the point that what originally looked like a remarkably confusing hodgepodge of dots flying in different direction somehow resolves itself into a clear, measured ballet. I've heard fans of Space Giraffe refer to the process of playing it as something akin to learning how to see in a brand new way; until playing Bit.Trip Core, I didn't know what they meant (though I still don't like Space Giraffe).  Once Core successfully pulled me in and taught me to perceive things in the way it wanted, it felt unlike anything I'd ever played. Where I originally had to exercise brief but intense mental reasoning to vaporize the beats ("okay, it's coming from the left and going right, so I should hit...up and 2?"), such exercises became second nature to me by the halfway point. Without even noticing it, the game had hypnotized me into a Core master: literal floods of beats appeared on the screen from every goddamn direction imaginable and, thanks to the gradual difficulty increase and the tremendously clever learning curve, I somehow managed to make sense of it all. Even when my mind wasn't quite sure if I was doing the right thing, my hands somehow knew just when and where to vaporize the beats. It feels incredibly weird, but incredibly cool to unknowingly get into Core's groove; your rational mind and reflexes operate on two completely different circuits, to the point where your hands and sense of rhythm subvert your rational mind.  In other words, the goddamn game basically hypnotizes you. In a good way. The quasi-hypnosis is effective thanks chiefly to Core's greater emphasis on rhythm-based gameplay. Sure, Beat made some pretty noises everytime a ball hit your paddle, but you could play the game with the sound off and still do just as well: the game didn't require you to predict beats or pay attention to rhythm in order to progress. Not so in Core. Given the speed with which the beats appear, it's nearly impossible to succeed without internalizing the rhythm of the music to predict exactly when you'll need to vaporize the beats. Once again, this will happen pretty much automatically after you play for a certain amount of time. Core's music is so inextricably tied to the gameplay that after a certain amount of time, you won't be able to help doing everything to the rhythmic thumping that drives every stage. As most of the game focuses on teaching the player to understand its own internal flow and rhythms, the level structures aren't quite as interesting as those in Beat. Where Beat had a boring, recognizable core mechanic spiced up by the spectacularly inventive and complex configurations of enemies thrown at the player, Core is the inverse: its base mechanics are completely new and exhilarating once you get used to them, but are only understandable because of the game's comparatively simple beat patterns. While the game looks awfully intimidating at times, you'll never have to hit beats with the lightning speed and dexterity so many parts of Beat ncessitated. This is one of my two complaints with Core; near the end of the game, you'll feel like you're just seeing slightly sped-up repetitions of the same basic beat patterns you saw in the first two levels. That, and the second level boss is so much cooler than the third level boss that I kinda wish they'd been switched.  I realize that this is all a bit abstract and probably more than a little unhelpful, but it has to be said that you can't really understand Core until you've played it. Thankfully, this is a remarkably easy task to undertake, considering how damned cheap the game is. Overall, Core is a worthy successor to Beat in every way: it's an entirely new experience unlike anything else you've played on the Wii, while refining and enhancing the basic themes of the first Bit.Trip game. I went into Core fully expecting to find a watered-down cash-in sequel, and left it feeling like my mind had just been raped by a beatboxing unicorn with a strobe light duct-taped to its horn. In a good way. Score: 9.0 Jonathan Holmes Like Anthony says, Core is a game that you really need to play in order to "get". Remember those 3D posters from ten years ago, ususally featuring dolphins or sailboats, that you had to stare at juuuuust right in order to really "see"? Core is kind of like one of those, except it is a videogame, and it's awesome in a way that I suspect will be end up being timeless.  On the surface, Core is basically Guitar Hero for aliens, specifically, the aliens from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The game's music, setting, and ascetic, and gameplay are all very otherworldly, as if it were made by beings that had never heard Earth music or played Earth videgaomes. Beat was weird too, but it had the Pong-gameplay and shmup-in-space structure to keep it rooted in somewhat familiar territory. On the other hand, Core is pretty much foreign territory from beginning to end. If Beat is like a first date with a cute, weird girl who's trying to make you feel comfortable by laying out a Simpsons quote every once and a while, Core is your crazy second date. This time, she's pretty sure that you like her, so she's wearing a giant foam rubber cowboy hat, a gold sequined, one piece jumpsuit, and spends much of the night beat boxing and imitating the robear berbils. There is really no attempt to make you comfortable in Core. In fact, even selecting the first level took me a few tries. It's much more of a "love it or hate it" game than Beat, and personally, I love it. Beyond the surface details, the thing that really makes Core different is the way it forces you to be aware of the entire screen at all times. Unlike in Beat, where you almost always need look at the right side of the screen, anticipate the bits that appear there, and block them with the paddle on the left side of the screen, Core requires that you anticipate bits coming from every part of the screen at any time. This means that you must focus on everything, always, from beginning to end. It's sort of like a bullet hell shmup in that way, except it requires even more attention to detail. In Ikaruga, the screen will often be covered in little dots, but the only dots you have to keep track of are the ones you have to dodge. In Core, you have to keep track of every single bit that shows up on screen, because missing just one could lead to a a greatly decreased score, or even death. There is literally no way to do that without entering (and remaining) in "the zone" for nearly the entire game and that's what makes Core special.  By "the zone", I mean that state of pseudo-hypnosis that Anthony described. He's not exaggerating. Core really does throw you into an altered state of consciousness, like how meditation is supposed to be, but usually isn't unless you're a master or a little drunk. In the zone, you become unaware of your own thoughts, the world around you, everything. The rhythm of the music and the patterns on the screen are the only stimuli your brain is connected to. The stuff that you did that day, the stuff your supposed to be doing, all your problems, fears, and anxieties just melt away.  I definitely experienced it at times while playing Beat, but usually just for half a minute or so at a time. In Core, it pretty much goes on for the whole game.  Other items of note are the slight improvements Core makes over Beat's power up and scoring system. If you screw up, you still enter a black-and-white "NETHER" mode, but if you excel to the fullest, you can head past "HYPER", past "MEGA",  and into "SUPER" mode, where the screen gets even more psychedelic, and your score increases by thousands every second. Mess up once, and you drop from "SUPER" back to "MEGA", so don't expect to have too easy a time racking up huge scores. Also new to this game is the "Bomb", which wipes the screen of all bits for about a second. It's a nice touch, and gives the player an out if they temporary become un-hypnotized, and need to a moment to get back in the zone. You only get one bomb per level though, so things never get too easy. Core is just as tough as Beat, if not more so.  Also worth noting are the  game's bosses, particularly those found at the ends of levels two and three. Like the bosses of Beat's second and third levels, Core's middle and last bosses are playful salutes to classic games that require similar forms of thinking as Core. I don't want to give them away, but suffice to say that any fan of the Atari 2600's game library needs to own Core in order to have a truly complete life.  So which is better, Core or Beat? Well, right now, I definitely like Core more, but that may change in time. Beat has a slightly more interesting soundtrack, better multiplayer, and is generally more accessible. On the other hand, Core is a little more visually and technically interesting, and generally feels more concentrated and intense. I'm also having a great time trying to analyze what the hell is actually going on in Core, more so than I had with Beat. My latest theory is that the core (the little cross and its extensions on the edges of the screen) are actually the synapses of Commander Video (Bit.Trip's main character) and that the impulses from the players brain, to the controller, to the brain-core on-screen are meant to work in perfect unison as some for of symbol of... something. I haven't got that all worked out quite yet, but god knows I'll keep trying. Core is compelling enough keep me playing it for a long time. Beat fans, music game fans, shmup fans, retro fans, fast-paced puzzle game fans, and anyone who's interested in playing a truly one-of-a-kind title should pick up Core post-haste. Score: 9.0 Final Score: 9.0 -- Superb (9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)
Bit.Trip Core review photo
Trippy
We really liked Bit.Trip Beat. Combining old-school gameplay with an awesomely neo-retro aesthetic and just plain awe-inspiring level design, this first installment of Gaijin Games' new WiiWare series encapsulated everything ...

Review: Fight Night Round 4

Jul 10 // Destructoid Staff
Fight Night Round 4 (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360) Developer: EA Canada Publisher: EA Sports Released: June 25, 2009 MSRP: $59.99 Samit Sarkar (PS3)As someone who doesn’t follow boxing at all, I was surprised at how much fun I had with Fight Night Round 4. That’s a testament to the quality of its core gameplay, which offers a combination of easily-understood mechanics that provide a mostly accurate simulation of boxing. Gone is the gamey parry system from FNR3; in its place is a counter punch mechanic that brings real boxing strategy into the game. You can create counter punching opportunities in three ways: by making your opponent miss with a lean (L1 + left stick); by blocking at the very last possible moment, just before a punch hits (R1 + right stick up/down); or by weaving (quarter-circle forward from top or bottom of left stick) to dodge a punch.The game will let you know if you’ve done this correctly: the camera will zoom in, and if you manage to connect with a punch -- any punch -- your opponent will flash yellow for a second, a visual display that’s reminiscent of what you’d see upon scoring a big hit in the PS1-era NFL GameDay games. The strategy comes in limiting your opponent’s counter punch opportunities. You can’t merely throw punches haphazardly, hoping you’ll land some of them, because the CPU AI is smart. You might hit your opponent a few times, but then he’ll evade or block a punch and counter-punch you. Since counter punches do much more damage than regular punches, if your opponent lands a few in rapid succession, you’ll find yourself on the mat -- or at least stunned. Counter punching works very well -- perhaps too well, actually. The balance of the fighting in this game seems to be tilted a bit too far in favor of counter punching. You could be chipping away at your opponent through a round or two, but then he might make you miss a few times and all of a sudden, you’re stunned or knocked down. When your opponent has a counter punch opportunity, you’ll be incapacitated for a split second, but if he takes too long to fire off a punch, you’ll be able to block or dodge. It just feels as if the game is focused too closely on counter punching; they factor heavily into fights, so if you suck at blocking and dodging, you’re going to have a tougher time winning.It doesn’t help that the game doesn’t seem to award you counter punch opportunities every time. I definitely noticed a few instances where I felt that the CPU had missed, and I didn’t get the telltale camera zoom effect. But overall, the system is a success, especially since it makes you think more like a real fighter. And the new corner game rewards you for fighting like a real boxer. This time, there’s a simple points-based system that reflects your performance in a round. For example, you’ll get 12 points for landing over 60% of your punches. You spend the points on replenishing your health or stamina bars, or reducing damage. It’s more gamey and less interactive than the setup in past games, where you twirled analog sticks to heal cuts and swelling, but as a guy who doesn’t want to have to think between rounds (except about how to improve on the last one), I liked it.There’s a new setup for the career in FNR4: called “Legacy Mode,” it’s all about building up your fighter’s (you guessed it) legacy over the course of his career, with the end goal of retiring as the Greatest Of All Time. Your initial attributes are dependent on the physical characteristics and boxer styles of your created fighter (though you can also take over for a real in-game boxer). In Legacy, you schedule a fight and will have one to three training sessions before it in which you can raise your attributes. Much has been made of the new training minigames in FNR4, and admittedly, they’re more in tune with how boxers really train. But since your performance is dependent upon your attributes, it’s literally impossible to do well in them early on. It’s much more sensible to just auto-train -- and take a guaranteed two or three points out of a possible four, five, or six -- than to play the minigames and only get one point. While I’m discussing minigames, I might as well mention how absolutely stupid it is that you’re also guaranteed to lose an attribute point in two categories every time you train. Yes, you read that correctly. I’ve never seen a sports videogame do this before, and I simply don’t understand it. Why does training with the maize bag -- which works on hand speed, head movement, and block strength -- take a point off of both your left and right hand power?Training aside, Legacy has a simple setup: you start at the bottom of the ranks and work your way up the ladder in your weight class. It’s all rather sterile, though; all you do is schedule matches, train, and then fight. Your popularity is represented as a percentage on a meter, but it doesn’t really mean anything except as a requisite for certain Legacy ranks. There’s no involvement of money, either, so it’s not like your bigger fights will have accordingly bigger purses. And the message system is nigh-useless; it informs you of “up-and-coming” fighters whom you far outrank, and the grammar is poor, to boot (e.g., “we new [sic] this would happen one day”).Still, it’s definitely satisfying to beat upper-echelon fighters with your 75-rated newcomer (especially if he looks like you, which can be accomplished with Photo Game Face). I just wish they’d fleshed out the mode a bit more. At least the game is visually stunning -- it’s easily one of the best-looking console games I’ve ever seen. Fighters’ muscles will flex when they move, and it’s hilarious to see the “oh shit!” look of shock and horror when your opponent misses a punch and he’s left vulnerable to a counter punch. Plus, watching someone’s head snap back in slow motion -- with his face rippling and a blood/sweat mixture spraying everywhere -- never gets old. Interface-wise, the game is kind of a mess. The menus could very nearly be called “labyrinthine”; at the very least, they’re confusing and illogical. For the longest time, I was irritated by the apparent lack of an options menu for the ESPN ticker that rolls across the bottom of the screen. But for reasons unbeknownst to me, the ticker options do exist -- they’re just in the settings for the online modes. (?) And the Legacy interface could do with some streamlining, too. As for the game’s rap/hip-hop soundtrack, I’m personally not a big fan, which is why I was infuriated to discover that FNR4 doesn’t support custom soundtracks on the PS3. As far as I’m concerned, that’s inexcusable this far into 2009.In general, though, the good far outweighs the bad here. The highly touted all-new physics system allows for glancing blows and removes the invisible barrier between fighters. You can let loose rapid flurries of punches that are immensely fun to watch -- as long as you’re the one doing the pummeling. It doesn’t matter if you care about boxing; this superb game is worth a look from everybody, especially since face button punching will be added in September. My complaints with FNR4 are mostly about ultimately trivial window dressing; the game itself is a blast to play, and that’s what stands out.Score: 8.5 Anthony Burch (PS3)This game allowed me to knock out a quasi-realistic version of Samit Sarkar in slow-motion. Twice.Score: 10.0 In all honesty, though, I have to agree with most of the points made by Samit. Though he’d never played Round 3, I’ve spent the better part of a year dicking around with it -- and I have to say that Round 4 is, without question, a fantastic improvement on the formula. Though it may not be terribly realistic that the boxers can now throw punches at lightning speed without slowing down for the first few rounds (leading to some visually hilarious online matches where I and my inexperienced opponent literally punched each other in the face for dozens of seconds without pausing to block, like Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots), the pace feels much faster and much more brutal without losing any of the previous title’s strategic gameplay. I was literally about to follow up the previous sentence with the statement “the punches come faster and feel harder than ever before” -- until I realized how that would have looked out of context. Suffice it to say that the boxers no longer look and sound like they’re lightly tapping one another on the face with oven mitts. Though I’m absolutely ecstatic EA removed the atrocious parry system from FNR3, the replacement counter punch system doesn’t feel any less artificial. Rather than feeling like a legitimate strategic addition to the player’s toolbox, it seems like more of an imbalanced powerup; as was the case with Samit, many of my bouts were decided primarily by the distinctly videogame-y, more or less strategy-devoid counter punch system. They’re just too goddamn powerful and too luck-related to belong in a game as otherwise strategic as FNR4. It also doesn’t help that said system is open to a really, really obvious exploit that works in both single-player and multiplayer modes. As “perfectly” timing a block opens your enemy up to a counter punch, and as you can block as fast as you want so long as you hold down the block button and repeatedly press the right analog stick in the direction you want to block (making your boxer appear to play a high-speed version of peekaboo with his opponent), it’s possible to just keep blocking and spam the right stick as fast as possible until your opponent decides to throw a punch. When their blow lands on one of the eighteen thousand mini-blocks you’ve made, the game will stupidly count at least one of those blocks as perfectly timed, putting you in the perfect position to land a devastating counter punch without ever requiring a lick of strategy or skill on your part. I echo all of Samit’s complaints with the Legacy mode, though I have to put special emphasis on the game’s needless desire to simulate every single day leading up to one of your matches, even if you’re not scheduled to do anything on those days, and even if the AI fighters scheduled to fight on those days have absolutely nothing to do with your career. My problem with Legacy isn’t so much the lack of depth as the fact that they tried to hide its relatively meager features with a bunch of pointless menus and off-screen simulations. Still, though, this is an admittedly minor complaint in the face of what is essentially an equally enjoyable version of the campaign mode from the last game. It’s as satisfying as ever to work your way up the ranks until, if you’re like me, you get about halfway up the ranking list and find the AI gets too goddamn good at counter-punching and you quit because you’re too lousy at the game to learn to defend against it. I need to reserve special ire for the multiplayer mode, however. I don’t know if this is entirely the fault of the PSN version, but it was literally impossible for Samit and me to instantly play together despite being on one another’s friends lists. In order to get into a game with Browntown, he needed to set up a game with weirdly specific restrictions (Heavyweight class only, New York Arena, Final Destination, no items) and I needed to search for a custom game with those basic parameters. Perhaps the PS3 is to blame for not having a fucking “invite friend to game” option in the XMB, but that doesn’t excuse FNR4 not allowing me to instantly jump into a game with Samit. But again -- and I really can’t overstate this enough -- Fight Night Round 4 allowed me to kick the living shit out of an uncanny valley rapist version of Samit Sarkar and then have my own uncanny valley rapist version dance around his comatose body, the word “DICKBUT” emblazoned in bright, capital letters on the back of my boxing trunks. This alone justifies my purchase.Score: 8.0 Brad Nicholson (360) I think I think my love affair with Fight Night Round 4 died after going online.But let me back up for a second. I’ve spent the majority of my time with Fight Night Round 4 playing online, competing against people on my couch, and in Legacy Mode. I won’t bother with specifics of the fighting mechanics -- Mr. Sarkar and Mr. Burch have already done a wonderful job of explaining them. Instead, I’ll focus on my experience playing the game competitively -- an experience that I plain just didn’t enjoy.Fight Night Round 4 does a lot of things right: the boxers look realistic, the presentation is solid, and the physics -- the glancing hits, jiggling faces and ring movement -- are both beautiful and dreadful to behold. Make no bones about it: the game is mostly a simulation title, requiring skill and twitch, concentration and patience. But the operative word is “mostly.” Underneath the defining aspects of the game lies a pulsating “gamey” core. As wild as Mike Tyson was in the ring, he didn’t throw thirty haymakers in the first round of every match. While Fight Night Round 4 does its best to discourage that behavior, players can still do it. And it’s effective. Whenever I play another EA Sports title, Madden NFL 09, I always randomly draw the match with the kid that knows how to exploit the game. He plays with a gunslinger quarterback. Every offensive snap, he takes a twenty-step drop, runs to the right and to the left, and then bombs the perfect pass straight into the end zone. This is where I want to turn off my console in frustration: the game teaches you to play and make decisions as if it were real. Twenty-step drops aren’t real. The same rule applies to Fight Night Round 4. You’re supposed to monitor your punch count, lean on the jab and go into matches not like a wild man, but as a collected dude with a plan. The game constantly reinforces accuracy over ridiculousness. Yet, that 70-yard pass -- or, in Fight Night Round 4’s case, an onslaught of punches and haymakers -- is still a viable competitive option. It’s not only frustrating to have to break the game to win, it’s also quite boring.My dissatisfaction with the competitive play can be boiled down with two example matches I’ve had online.The first is the tall haymaker thrower -- the Muhammad Ali strategy. These lanky cats are fast and can dance around slower boxers in their weight class with ease. Every time I’m shoved into a match with this type of person, there’s little I can do. He simply runs around in circles, only throwing haymakers. Because of the reach, it’s hard to counter punch. Even if I do manage to juke at the right moment while trying to move in on the boxer, my stamina bar is depleted from the punches. His bar, on the other hand, is quite full. After all, he’s been connecting, so he gets the boost.The second type of guy is the wild puncher. It’s simply impossible to block every punch that comes in -- you can only choose to block your head or belly at one time. The wild puncher gets into a steady but unpredictable rhythm of punches. Because he connects, he doesn’t lose that much stamina. I, on the other hand, will lose a ton trying to move around, push off, and punch back. After all, how many shots to the head can a person take? That answer, by the way, is totally unknown to me. I’ve played matches where it only takes forty. Others, it takes hundreds. Either way, the wild puncher can eat glove all day -- his stamina bar is full. Also, because he’s connecting so damn much, he gets mad bonuses between rounds. Awesome. I refuse to say Fight Night Round 4 is a bad game. The single-player is good. Legacy Mode -- despite the constant menu interruption and ridiculous load times -- is a robust, fun experience. So are the Quick Matches. In addition to that, turning up the difficulty provided me with wonderfully strategic matches that tested my pugilism mettle. Hell, even playing with my girlfriend was a blast -- she tries her best to play the game as it taught me how to play, with some reserve. It’s just that the Fight Night Round 4 experience can break down spectacularly in open competition. People know how to throw the 70-yard touchdown, and it sucks that the game allows it. For me, Fight Night Round 4 is best played against the razor-sharp AI. While I find the idea of “World Championship” -- a perpetual online mode that awards three players with belts that can be won by anyone worthy -- creative and novel, it simply isn’t for me. It’s just too easy to break the game.Try FNR4 if you’re looking for a good boxing game or want to experience the glory of current generation pugilism all over again. It’s worth it. Just don’t venture online with wide eyes and innocence. You’ll be rocked. Score: 7.0 Overall Score: 8.0 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)
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The audience for most sports simulations tends to be limited to die-hard fans of the sport in question. But boxing is something that seems to have much higher crossover appeal; perhaps boxing games’ similarities to fig...

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Review: Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood

Jul 08 // Destructoid Staff
Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [reviewed], PC [reviewed])Developer: TechlandPublisher: UbisoftReleased: June 30, 2009MSRP: $59.99 Brad Nicholson (Xbox 360)What kept me interested in Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood wasn’t the narrative or gunplay. It was the western setting. It’s refreshing to interact in a world where a large mammal is the primary mode of transportation, baser desires take precedence over the thoughtful ones, and violence is the only means of conflict resolution. But beyond the cacti, the grit, the canyons and the dumb accents, I found nothing of substantial value. Bound in Blood is an average shooter that skids, dips and shifts into complete mediocrity or below. Playing the game is an exercise in apathy -- it’s neither solid nor liquid. In other words, it isn’t compelling.The game’s story revolves around three brothers who are searching for a way to rebuild their property and dignity in the wild 1860s. The game opens with the two playable brothers, Thomas and Ray, in a losing fight against the Union Army. After the brothers realize their family plantation is in trouble, they desert the Confederate army and head to the hills. When they arrive at their house, they discover burnt wood, a dead mother, and a grieving brother. Not good.Vowing reconstruction, but wishing to avoid capture by the Confederate army and its dickhead commander, the three brothers journey west. Ray and Thomas change during this grand adventure: they become murderers and thieves -- real outlaws. But wait, that’s not all: in a late plot reveal, the brothers reckon the best way to put things back the way they used to be is through Aztec gold. Once the details are hammered out, two problems immediately present themselves: a woman and a high-strung general. Things spiral out of control because of these relationships throughout the game.The story has interesting elements: deception, deceit, greed, moral disregard and even love. But the execution is poor and simplistic. The vehicles of the plot are the two brothers. Ray, the rough brother, speaks like a retard and seemingly has the same base motivations as a house cat. The thoughtful Thomas is no more interesting than cardboard. Even the woman -- the prime mover of the love and deception in the game -- is a flat, stereotypical feisty chick who eventually devolves into a slobbering mess. Boring metaphors and silly symbolism also appear at random intervals, making me laugh and wonder why Techland bothered with the two techniques.Bound in Blood is all about the notion of the old untamed American West -- a world Ray and Thomas successfully cut a swath through, leaving a pile of bodies and blood in their wake. The gunplay is no savior to the story -- it’s archaic, at times veering into basic shooting gallery territory. Here’s the deal: the game has a variety of old-school weaponry and has players utilize them in the same fashion as the protagonists of western flicks -- two red-hot, smoking barrels. Every combat situation is a set-piece battle: a line of vigilantes or Native Americans pops up on top of movie set constructs or on the sandy (occasionally grassy) trails below them without fear of the oncoming hail of bullets. With this comes a sense of empowerment. I was always the death-dealer, but at the same time, it’s farcical. The AI isn’t smart and the levels are quite linear.At the beginning of every mission, you’re given the choice of controlling either Ray or Thomas. Ray is the brawler of the two, able to use dual pistols; he’s best when you don’t care about making a mess. Thomas is a long-range guy who can climb and lasso his way through levels. The duality of approach worked for me. It changed the way I played the game and seemed better for it. However, it’s poorly realized: most missions break down into gunfights regardless of care, and for whatever reason, Bound in Blood can’t be played cooperatively -- even though the other brother is typically nearby.There are two things in the game’s campaign that I wanted to love dearly, but just couldn’t. The first is the bullet-time mechanic. As you kill dudes, a small bar fills, allowing you to slip into a supernatural, hyper-focused state in order to demolish lines of soldiers with a few button presses. At times, it’s a great system, perfect for clearing out a room or a nasty alleyway. But, again, the execution is poor. When you fill the bar, it doesn’t stay that way. A countdown timer starts immediately, giving you a little under a minute to initiate the focus mode before the counter needs to be refilled. There are several gaps in action and I found myself often without focus when I needed it the most. The other thing is the “Shootout.” Like old-school westerns, you’re given the ability to circle around a villain one-on-one in a classic scenario. The camera pans down to your character’s hand and when a bell rings, you grab for your gun and put the bad man down. Poor contextualization will make this one of the most frustrating portions of the game. I did it over ten times and never quite grasped where I was supposed to steer the hand. Sad, considering the Shootout could have served as a wonderful climactic end to a mission instead of the fumbling mess that it is. The multiplayer works in the game’s favor, but don’t get too excited: it’s a basic component with some levels and characters stripped directly from the campaign. In it, you can play as either the “Bandits” or “Lawmen” across a variety of shoot-to-kill modes with simple objectives -- kill this guy with a marker above his head, kill these dudes within a certain time frame, and so on. Surprisingly, it’s enjoyable. The gunplay feels better when characters are ducking, diving and running around. A nice bounty system (you’re rewarded with cash when you kill someone) ties into a basic upgrade system across a variety of mundane character classes. It has legs, but I’m not quite sure how long people will stick around. Some of the levels are much too large or convoluted for the simple mechanics and a few of the higher-level classes seemed a bit too powerful in my limited play.Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood isn’t a terrible game. On the contrary, it’s a game with a ton of unrealized potential that executes with the grain. The few times you’re allowed to travel on the open plains with a horse made me wish the entire experience was such. Defying the spirit it’s trying to capture, Call of Juarez is a tightly bound mediocre shooter with an uninteresting story, flat characters and boring AI. I’m a fan of western shooters, but I found nothing of substantial interest with this one. If you’re itching for some idiotic southern commentary or an opportunity to kill vigilantes (or Indians) with a six-shooter, give this a rental.Score: 5.0 Anthony Burch (PC)I have to disagree with Brad -- Bound in Blood is probably a terrible game. I say "probably" because I cannot be sure to what degree my own familiarity with, and adoration for, the first game influences my feelings toward this sequel.The original Call of Juarez was a flawed masterpiece; though half the game consisted of clunky stealth missions and overly linear level design, its intensely clever narrative and pleasing western aesthetics made it one of my favorite first-person shooters of all time. After completing Bound in Blood over the course of a day, I have only one question: what the hell happened?Noninteractive cut scenes? Two protagonists whose play styles are nearly indistinguishable? A narrative entirely devoid of urgency or weight, wrapped around awkward and unsatisfying gunplay? Who are you, and what have you done with Call of Juarez?  The first game alternated player control (without using cut scenes) between Reverend Ray, a balls-out gunfighter, and Billy Candle, a complete weakling. Though most of Billy's levels pretty much sucked, they contrasted so sharply with Ray's kill-a-thon sequences that a truly interesting dynamic between helplessness and power emerged that not only resulted in an interestingly paced campaign mode, but also endeared both protagonists to the player. That core structure, when combined with the simplistic-but-visceral gunplay, made Call of Juarez something bizarrely alluring.None of that allure is present in Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood. The two playable characters have no interesting gameplay differences, apart from the fact that Thomas' reliance on long-range weaponry makes him boring as hell. Since neither protagonist feels truly different from the other, the unusually satisfying pace of the first game is missing entirely; every mission feels pretty much like the last, tasking the player with blowing away hundreds of enemies with an occasional shooting gallery-esque sequence involving a cannon or a gatling gun.The story meanders aimlessly from plot point to plot point, as poorly-motivated villains swear revenge for no real reason and the brothers find the flimsiest of excuses to get themselves into gunfights. Long, uninteresting cut scenes remove whatever narrative power might have been wrung from the ability to play as either brother at any time. The one plot point that Bound in Blood absolutely needed to nail -- namely, Ray's transformation from a murderer to a man of God -- felt so abrupt and downright lazy in execution that I'm strongly tempted to call the entire story a complete wash. Hell, even the gunfighting isn't even fun anymore. A new automatic cover system has been added that awkwardly and immediately makes your character crouch behind any stationary object of sufficient height. While this initially seemed like a more streamlined version of the cover system found in nearly any modern shooter, it's incredibly off-putting to go from a dead sprint to crouching two inches above the ground just because your character stopped in front of a barrel. The auto-cover constantly threw my sense of perspective and location, making gunfights a needlessly confusing affair. Even when I did manage to exit from my undesired cover, an equally clunky auto-aim system -- which can't be turned off, by the way -- robbed me of whatever satisfaction I may have had from taking out literal armies of bandits and Injuns. And don't even get me started on the quick-draw showdowns, in which the player must put their virtual hand as close to their virtual gun as possible until finally drawing when an invisible bell arbitrarily rings; though these showdowns might be intuitive on a console, they're almost unplayable using a mouse and keyboard. The multiplayer actually isn't all that bad, though I take major issue with the inclusion of goddamned sniper rifles in a western game. The rest of the weapons feel adequately balanced for close and medium-range combat, but the sniper rifle threw at least one of the matches I played entirely out of whack. Apart from that one awkward design choice, however, I had a surprising amount of fun running around with dual revolvers, blasting away at bandits and lawmen alike.Overall, Bound in Blood is unlike any sequel I've ever played. It literally feels as if Techland studied the original Call of Juarez, identified all the things that made it feel fresh and interesting, and intentionally left them out of the sequel. What was once a franchise of weirdly intoxicating half-successes has been turned into a dull, unsatisfying, originality-devoid shell of its former self. Regardless of whether you were a fan of the first game or not, Bound in Blood has almost nothing to offer you. Score: 2.0 Combined Score: 3.5 -- Poor (3s went wrong somewhere along the line. The original idea might have promise, but in practice the game has failed. Threatens to be interesting sometimes, but rarely.)
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The original Call of Juarez had to be played to be believed. An alternately awful and incredible mixture of poorly designed levels with an incredible attention to pacing, narrative, and character (for 50% of the game, you cou...

Preview: Machinarium

Jul 08 // Destructoid Staff
Anthony Burch: The game's just too fucking hard to me, for all the wrong reasons. When I finally solve a puzzle, my reaction isn't "Oh, how clever -- why didn't I think of that earlier," which is an emotion I feel constantly while playing some of my favorite adventure games. What I feel is more of a "Wait -- I could have clicked on that?" It seems like there are all these layers of needlessly obfuscating mechanics designed to keep the player from the solution whenever possible. Like the fact that you can't interact with anything unless you're right next to it, and have stretched or contorted yourself into the appropriate height, or the fact that, like, in the puzzle where you have to pretend to be a guard robot so he'll let you pass over the bridge, you couldn't just combine the light bulb and the cone in your inventory, and you couldn't just wear the cone, then use the light bulb. Only after screwing the light bulb into your own head and then using the cone could the puzzle be completed. My least favorite parts of classic adventure games usually consist of shitty pixel-hunting puzzles, and it feels like Machinarium is a game made entirely of them. Since the game isn't forthcoming about what you can and can't interact with, I'm not allowed to focus my thought process on solving the puzzle because I'm constantly worried that I haven't found the two-pixel-wide hotspot the developers hid under an oven. I can never just look at everything in front of me and say, "Alright, now how do I solve this puzzle with these things at my disposal," because I'm never sure that I've found or activated every little goddamn thing I need to activate in the right way, in the right order.Jonathan Ross:I think I managed to break the game, but I don't hold that against it since it's an uncompleted demo (I'm gonna restart and dive in more tomorrow). I got to the sewer escape and moved to the room with the guard, but when I moved back, the propeller thing + broom was gone from my inventory. I thought the things you could click on and interact with were fairly straightfoward. I'll give you the light bulb having to be in first before being able to put on the cone, but from what I played, the game was pretty good about about not making the game a pixel hunt. In general, I had collected most of the items on the screen pretty early on, and then spent most of my time figuring out how to utilize them. I can see how not being able to interact with everything on the screen whenever you want could be annoying, but I actually think it works well as a design choice. It prevents you from just flailing your mouse across the screen to see what you can interact with -- it makes you think a little bit more about what's available to you, what you need to do to access certain parts of each room, and the benefits of being tall vs. small. That actually has been my biggest criticism of recent adventure / "escape the room games." They either become the 2-pixel hunts you're talking about, or they become a "just click on everything as fast as you can to figure out what's up" kind of deal; I think this strikes a good balance. You very quickly figure out where you can and can't walk to, and then have to ascertain what's important, what height you need to be, and figure out a way to get from place to place in enough time to do what you need to do. Anthony:It just feels like lazy design to me, in a way. Like, why bother designing legitimately interesting and forthcoming puzzles in the same way that Professor Layton does, when you could just force the player to hunt around for little bibs and bobs before they can actually do any real thinking? I don't mean to compare the game to Layton, because it's so obviously different, but that game and a few recent adventure titles I've played (the better episodes of Telltale's episodic series, for instance) really pleased me in that they often outright told you what needed to be done and what objects you had at your disposal, and then forced you to think within those constraints. I don't really see the virtue in being needlessly vague when it comes to puzzle-solving. Machinarium is almost never upfront about what those constraints are, so when I solved a puzzle (like figuring out that I was supposed to pull a lever by yanking on the stair bannister next to it), it felt less like a solution I'd legitimately come to of my own strategy and more like someone revealing the answer of a trick question.Jonathan:I guess I disagree that the puzzles are vague -- I think they just require a bit more thinking than the average puzzle game. You can figure out pretty quickly that you need to get into the door the carts go into, but it soon becomes obvious that the door is only open for a short time. The hook you pick up fairly early on, and you can see that it matches the hook at the bottom part of the banister. Attaching the hook to the top part was actually the very first thing I figured out on that puzzle - it took me longer to figure out how to get to the shovel/ramp up at the top of the screen. I certainly agree with you that the game is difficult, but that's something I don't mind. I'm right with you in that I don't like games with puzzles that make zero sense, but I feel like these puzzles do -- it just takes a bit more time and a different style of thinking to figure them out. While I felt stuck at a couple points (again, I didn't get super far), when I finally figured it out, I never felt like the solution was unfair; I just realized that I had gone about solving it the wrong way initially. The goals seem relatively straightforward, but figuring out how to accomplish them requires a lot more lateral thinking than the average puzzle game. Chad Concelmo:Oh my gosh, I never thought I would say this (out loud), but I vehemently disagree with you on this one, Anthony. I know we are going to battle to the death on a volcano, but it was comforting to know that before it happened we could talk about how amazing Half-Life 2 and Shadow of the Colossus are. Now, we have something to argue about before I throw your weeping body into a pool of molten lava. Fun! I feel that Machinarium is the perfect adventure game. The puzzles don't feel needlessly hard to me at all, and part of the reason I love it is because of the details like having to stand next to everything before interacting with objects. To me, it adds a whole new level of depth to what could have been a pretty generic adventure game. Obviously, I love adventure games more than words, but one thing I miss about newer adventure games is the puzzle-solving mechanics of the really old school variety. I don't know if you have even played them, Anthony, but the early Sierra games forced you to actually type in verbs and nouns to solve all the puzzles -- kind of a text/graphic adventure hybrid. When you typed simple things like "look under rock" you had to be standing directly over the rock you were talking about. In newer adventure games, you can literally just stand in place and do everything by clicking on objects, regardless of where your character is staying. I still love the mechanic, but the transition to this never really made any practical sense to me. With Machinarium, this older way of thinking is making a grand comeback in such a refreshing way. I do agree with you that if the puzzles were horribly obscure this would be endlessly frustrating, but I don't think that is the case at all. To reference one of your examples about the traffic cone and the light bulb: I, too, did what you did, and tried to join the two items together before using them on myself, which obviously didn't work. I then tried to use the traffic cone on my robot's head followed by the light bulb, which, again, didn't work. Once I figured out you had to use the light bulb on the head first, and then the cone, it worked. But, honestly, this made sense to me looking back! The light bulb had to be screwed in his head to power it, and that couldn't be done with the traffic cone in the way. To you it may be an annoyance of game design, but to me it is a glorious detail that sets it far apart from other adventure games. Most games wouldn't care how you use specific items, as long as you use them. With Machinarium, the satisfaction and admiration I have for the game is in the unbelievable details the game offers.  I have made it a long way through the demo so far, and have never been too stuck to get frustrated. Sure, some parts took me forever to figure out, but that is part of the reason I love it. You eventually figure the puzzles out and, when you do, it feels so good. It's like you accomplished something really satisfying! I know I have already written a lot, but I do also want to quickly talk about how absolutely gorgeous Machinarium is. Seriously, I don't think I have seen a hand-drawn adventure game -- or any hand-drawn game, for that matter -- look this beautiful. And the animation is superb! I love the way that communication between the robots in the game is handled through beautifully animated, text-free thought bubbles. They are such a clever touch. Have you gotten to the part where you have to help the robot band fix their instruments? Each of the band members tells a little story about how the robot bully in the game stole the parts to their instruments, and the visual thought bubbles that accompany each story are unbelievably cute. I still have a few screens left before I finish the extended demo, but I have already fallen in love with Machinarium. Honestly, this could easily be one of my favorite games of the year once it is finished and polished up just a little bit more. I'll meet you on the volcano, Anthony. :)Anthony:If you enjoyed the old-school Sierra parser interface, I can more readily understand why you'd enjoy Machinarium. I hated parsers because you were basically playing a game of "try to guess what the designer is thinking," which is admittedly what most adventure games are, but they put so much focus on the irrelevant parts of the puzzle-solving (what exact words need to be typed to complete something you have a pretty general idea of what to do, trying to figure out exactly what commands the parser will and will not understand) that most of those older games are frustrating far more often than they aren't. By building a wall between player and puzzle via the arbitrary proximity and height restrictions, I feel pretty much the same needless frustration I did when playing Leisure Suit Larry 2 (except this time I don't get rewarded with tits). But yeah, the art is fantastic and the story bits are really cute.  Also, I just want to clarify -- I'm not calling for a way-too-easy adventure game structure where all you really have to do is click everything in a random order and eventually you'll come across a solution (as is the case in the lesser Telltale episodes). I just want the game to be forthcoming about what items and basic devices you've got at your disposal, so you can focus on solving the puzzle with what you've got rather than (ironically) running all around the screen trying to click everything in close proximity just to make sure you've collected everything you can. Haven't you ever looked up a walkthrough for an old adventure game or something, only to find the reason you were stuck is because you hadn't found a secret little inventory item tucked away on some corner of the screen? When you finally solved the puzzle after getting that little bit of help, it didn't feel transcendent or cool -- it felt unsatisfying and douchey.Chad:I actually totally agree with you on that last part -- well, maybe I wouldn't use the term "douchey," though. Haha. Having recently played through a handful of old Sierra games, I was considering writing a feature on how they are almost physically impossible to beat without some sort of guide or, at the time, pay-per-minute hint line. In that regard, I see what you are saying. But, again, I guess I don't feel this way about Machinarium. Getting back to another previous point, you talk about having to stand right next to all the stuff you can interact with. This may seem annoying, but the game does something clever to help with this. The walk mechanic in the game is not like a normal walk icon in most adventure games. In Machinarium, when you click on the cute moving robot feet icon, your character only will move to "hot spots," or places where you can interact with/pick up something. It's not that you have to wander the screen looking for the perfect place to stand in order to interact with something. I just think this is a very important thing to point out, as it really helps with guiding you ever-so-slightly in the right direction. It keeps aimless searching to a minimum. I do get what you are saying, though, and I guess it just comes down to what kind of game people are looking for. I feel everything in the game is prefectly realized (and perfectly logical), but I also might be hypnotzed by the game's beauty and slightly giving it the benefit of the doubt. Most importantly, I think anyone (and I really mean anyone) that likes adventure games should give Machinarium a try. You won't know whether you fall into the Anthony or Chad/Jonathan boat until you try it, and it really is too beautiful and impressive to just ignore. Judge for yourself and I am sure you will quickly realize that Anthony is totally wrong. :) :) :) Anthony:Or more likely, you'll realize Chad is a little bitch.Ashley Davis:I have to side with Anthony on this one. Um, not that last part, but the rest. I love Chad! Machinarium is an absolutely gorgeous game, but in my opinion, that is its downfall. My biggest problem with it is that everything blends in with the background too well. I realize that the design choices that the creators went with were made to help immerse the player deeper into the robot character's little world, but I feel that this often works against the gameplay. I may just be stupid (I love puzzle games, but I'm not the greatest at them), but I found that most movable/usable items were overly hard to pick out, even when the "hot spots" place you within arm's reach of them. The things you can interact with glow, but very softly, and when you don't know what you're looking for, it won't pop out at you as something to pay attention to. In many instances, I didn't have to flail around to see what could be interacted with. I just had to walk from hot spot to hot spot beforehand, which added to my frustration with solving the puzzles. I rarely felt clever after solving my way to the next screen, only relieved to be done with the puzzle. I don't think that's the feeling I should be having. I don't think outlining everything that can be touched in glowing red is the solution, but I do think that they could do with a bit of resizing. A lot of the movable/usable items are very small and inconspicuous -- I would be more inclined to try and click on them if there were a little more there to click/be highlighted when I hover my mouse over it. There are also moments when the game gives you no clues as to whether or not you are clicking the right or wrong thing. Sometimes the robot will shake his head no, and if you're in the right place to place an item, it will be placed, but most other times, if you try to do something, nothing happens. There is a surpising lack of positive and negative reinforcement to help you along. The puzzles aren't completely illogical in how they are solved, but they make for a bumpy ride regardless. For a game that is set up to provide the player with an experience that pushes the concept of exploration, the very little leeway given when it comes to putting the pieces of the puzzle together kind of ruins it for me. I was excited to find that I could combine items in my inventory on the first screen, and then when I had two items that I knew had to be combined on the next screen (the cone and light bulb), I couldn't. It is cute that the robot has to screw the light bulb into his head first to make it work, but I would have never had the eureka moment to do that. Why couldn't I have just combined the two and then screwed the finished hat in? That makes more sense to me, especially after just being made aware of the item combination ability. I have really been looking forward to this game for a long time because of its art style, and it's pretty disappointing to find that the gameplay doesn't mesh too well with it. It could be a really great little adventure game, but there is a lot holding it back, making it more frustrating than fun. But then again, that's just my opinion. Chad:Uh oh, I feel a West Side Story-style gang fight brewin' between Ashley/Anthony and Chad/Jonathan concerning Machinarium. I have already started snapping! :)Ashley:I'm glad we're using dance instead of knives.Anthony:I'm using a knife.Chad:Your knife has nothing on my jazz hands.Jonathan:I actually tape knives to my shoes and then do capoeira.
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If there's one thing we like here at Destructoid, it's robots; if there's two things we like, it's robots and adventure games. When we received a preview copy of Machinarium this weekend, our excitement was as unsurprising as...

Review: Tales of Monkey Island, Chapter 1

Jul 07 // Destructoid Staff
Launch of the Screaming Narwhal (WiiWare, PC [reviewed])Developer: Telltale GamesPublisher: Telltale GamesReleased: July 7, 2009MSRP: $34.95 for the full season on PC (WiiWare pricing still TBD) Brad Nicholson The first episode of the Tales of Monkey Island series won’t astonish. It’s a point-and-click game that adheres to the adventure mold: collect this item, search this pair of panties, talk to this person, and do this task in order to progress to the next set of challenges. But what doesn’t inspire isn’t always bad. “Launch of the Screaming Narwhal” is a genuinely funny and intelligent diversion that gives serious acknowledgment to its source material. The game functions as a looking glass for me, a view into my gaming past when thoughts of Loom, Quest for Camelot, or King’s Quest IV invaded my dreams and controlled my waking life. While I enjoyed “Launch of the Screaming Narwhal” for its colorful characters, vivid visuals and fun puzzles, I never shook the ghosts. To be honest, I didn’t try or care. This first entry is a magnificent and dazzling follow-up to the core Monkey Island series. It is everything that I want and could ask for from a new Monkey Island title.“Launch of the Screaming Narwhal” relies heavily on inventory interaction. There are few puzzles where a simple combination of items or the utilization of a tool found in the environment doesn’t hold the answer. While archaic, it sticks strictly to the genre -- one that I’ve yet to burn out on, so I still enjoy that.The game opens with Guybrush Threepwood in a familiarly dire situation: the evil pirate LeChuck has Elaine in his undead-ghoulish-voodoo-infected clutches. The tools for saving the damsel are (mostly) in Threepwood’s hands; however, a botched spell creates even more havoc and spirals a routine mission into an episodic series. After the short battle with LeChuck, Threepwood washes up on a troubled island -- excessive winds allow no ship to come to port unharmed and ensure that no ship can leave. Also, Threepwood has acquired a misanthropic hand as a result of the backfired spell -- a plot point that may stretch the whole of the series.A fickle journalist approaches Threepwood after his unceremonious landing and makes the goal of the episodic journey clear: by doing piratey things, Threepwood will be able to learn how to leave the island, and therefore get back to saving Elaine and stopping the now-merely-evil-pirate LeChuck.The narrative is lighter than it seems. Like the Threepwood of old, Telltale’s mighty pirate is delightfully inept and witty. The characters on the island (where 90 percent of the game takes place) are quirky and helpful, though the tools and hints they give and rarely seem pertinent to the quest. Elaine’s plight never feels like an urgent matter to be dealt with -- the game’s warmth and humor kills it. As with all adventure games, the keys to success in “Launch of the Screaming Narwhal” are the keys themselves: finding the right items and putting them into the correct places. As I alluded to previously, the items you receive or find seldom seem relevant to what needs to be solved. While this brings levity, it can also usher in frustration. After all, who readily realizes ink does that.Then again, the loose connections between objects -- sticking a cheese wheel in a silly location or a mini-bomb there -- are what make Monkey Island so special. Without these humorous inventions of the designers, the game would be a flat mess. It takes a bit of brains to sort through what is given and because of that, it always feels rewarding to discover the proper function of an item.The only substantial issue I have with “Launch of the Screaming Narwhal” is irrelevant: I want more. This episode will take most players between four and six hours to complete. I was actually saddened as I watched the episode unfold, knowing I would have to wait to return to the glorious Monkey Island universe again.“Launch of the Screaming Narwhal” is a solid adventure title with a bunch of style and a ton of character and humor. My love of Monkey Island should be noted, of course, but it’s hard to ignore what’s at work here: the style, wit, and puzzles make this a wonderful adventure title worth the price of admission. Check it out.Score: 9 Conrad ZimmermanApart from its story, the episodic nature and that the game is totally in 3D (Escape from Monkey Island, while featuring 3D environments, used 2D backgrounds), Tales of Monkey Island is nearly indistinguishable from any other title in the Monkey Island series of games. For fans of the adventure genre, this is good news indeed as this particular franchise is a much beloved one and few things could be worse than mucking with an established formula with such a pedigree behind it. Guybrush Threepwood is very much the same mighty pirate that we've come to know and love over the years. He positively brims with blind bravado and his ineptitude remains as charming as it has always been. Similarly, other returning characters look and sound exactly as you expect them to. They look so good, in fact, that they appear as though they leapt right out of the pages of a concept artist's drawing pad. The downside to this is that Tales of Monkey Island requires considerably more powerful hardware to reach the higher resolution levels than the developer's other titles, however, and weak PCs may struggle a bit to play it. Telltale has opted to include a considerable amount of fan service as well. It's not limited to Monkey Island either, but spreads rather nicely across franchises from both LucasArts and Telltale. Players who have ever gone on a hunt for a "rudimentary lathe" or had a conversation with Chuck the Plant will find their nostalgia meter going off the charts. Once again changing the methods of input for their games, Telltale offers two control schemes for players (in the PC version, at least). Guybrush can be moved through the environments either with cursor keys or solely with the mouse. The mouse controls work by click-and-drag and work quite well. The game can be played almost in its entirety using only the mouse, though there is one puzzle that necessitates the use of keys, something the game helpfully points out when the time arises.On the topic of puzzles, the ones you'll find in Tales of Monkey Island are incredibly fair. Perhaps I've merely been playing too many adventure games of late, but I had no trouble making the logical hops, skips and jumps to discerning what the purpose of an item would be once I ran into its counterpart. The only points at which I ever had an issue solving a puzzle were times when I was either impatient or inobservant, leading to a couple of exclamations of, "it was so simple!"All of these mental gymnastics are fun and/or funny, though there is one which stuck in my craw a little bit. While maps are an indisputable part of a piratey existence, having to trek through the jungle with step-by-step instructions from one is only entertaining for so long. By the third and lengthiest of these journeys, I had had about enough and was ready to move on. But that's just three puzzles out of many and even that is little more than a nitpicking complaint. One other, incredibly minor gripe is with the dialogue options. At several points in the game, you will be presented with several dialogue choices for Guybrush to utter that amount to essentially the same thing. Instead of actually speaking the line you choose, Guybrush makes a more generalized statement which encompasses all options. The jokes are still there in the text, of course, but it's a tiny bit disappointing that you don't get to hear Guybrush's voice speak them anywhere but in your mind. For a long-time Monkey Island fan, 'Launch of the Screaming Narwhal' will scratch the itch to return to the Carribbean and scratch it good. The flaws are negligible at worst and the humor really shines. It is a worthy successor to one of the finest adventure series ever to sail the seven seas. Here is to hoping Telltale can keep the Jolly Roger flying as high as it does here throughout the full length of the Tales season.Score: 9Total Score:  9 -- Superb (9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)
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Escape from Monkey Island wasn’t terrible, but it certainly had its share of problems. Released in 2000 for the PC (and 2001 for the PS2), the last Monkey Island title was a mash of old-school throwbacks ("Insult S...

Review: Ghostbusters: The Video Game (Wii)

Jul 01 // Destructoid Staff
Ghostbusters: The Video Game (Wii)Developer: Red Fly StudioPublisher: AtariReleased: June 16, 2009MSRP: $39.99 Ashley DavisAll the various versions of Ghostbusters: The Video Game is about the closest thing we will ever get to a Ghostbusters 3, and fans of the property ought to rejoice its presence, as it is one of the more solid movie games to have ever been made. Although the Wii version feels more like a five hour long playable Ghostbusters cartoon than anything else, that does not make it any less deserving of the franchise name.It gives off a lot of the same nostalgic vibes that its source material has for the past 20 years, with some great dialogue and a new storyline that could have been ripped directly from another movie sequel. There are lots of visits to familiar locations, and many of the faces to be seen are ones that we've all seen before, but because we have never had the opportunity to fight alongside the Ghostbusters before, it all feels somewhat new again. The AI behind the Ghostbuster crew isn't the best ever, but they are pretty good about helping out with large crowds of enemies and not getting in the way. The game is separated into several small chunks of story, with a boss fight and a trip back to headquarters every three levels or so. This makes it all very easy to pick up and put down at one's leisure.The controls are as simple as simple gets. You move with the Nunchuk, aim with the Wiimote and press B to shoot. The D-pad scrolls through the three different weapons (Blast Stream, Slime Blower, Shock Blast) and the PKE Meter. Each of these has a secondary function that can be performed by pressing A. The learning curve needed to become a great Ghostbuster is not at all steep, which makes it easy for anyone to jump right in and play like they've been busting ghosts all their lives.Perhaps the best part of the game is that the whole thing can be played cooperatively. A friend can join you for some split screen action whenever you start a new game, continue a saved game, or go back to play a previous level. Running around, trapping ghosts and solving puzzles with your various guns is pretty fun, especially if you have a friend to do it with. In addition to helping each other out, you can slime one another and cross your streams (this, of course, results in instadeath) just for kicks. Unfortunately, the game doesn't let the second player stray too far from the first, making it hard to split up and do more damage. on larger maps. Otherwise, the game is very well-tailored to fit in two players, with enough enemies and things to do for everyone. It even gives turns to each player when they are slamming around the same spook. While Ghostbusters is generally good times, the game does have its flaws. There were a few slight problems with the game's otherwise great control scheme. As is usual with Wii games, these problems concern the few actions that are mapped to motion controls. I had some problems getting the game to register my flicking up and down. Left and right were quite a bit better, but the down motion is needed to get through some puzzles near the end of the game. My problems with getting the flicks to pick up made these portions a lot harder and frustrating than they needed to be, but thankfully, there were only one or two situations where this issue tested my patience. One very small issue with the gameplay itself is that there is never much of an incentive to use anything other than the Blast Stream in most combat situations, and the puzzles that do use the others aren't terribly varied. For the better part of the game, I used the Blast Stream and its secondary, the Boson Dart. The latter weapon is a bit too powerful, knocking off a good chunk of health off of any enemy you may come across. I would have liked a little more variation in weapon usage both in and out of combat, if only to help keep the combat from growing stale.From the lowly (in regards to power) Slimer to the biggest specters, all of the ghosts in the game must be weakened, slammed around, and then roped into a standard ghost trap, thrown by a press of the Z button. Some enemies do need a little dousing in slime or dark matter to start off with, but the other weapons are never used for more than a few seconds before switching back to the old standby. There are a scant few cool puzzles using the other two guns, but they really could have done so many more neat things to integrate them better with the gameplay. The PKE Meter, on the other hand, is very intuitive and useful. When equipped, it simply leads you to the nearest supernatural activity. A press of the A button will equip you with PKE Goggles, enabling you to clearly see the paranormal goings-on around you. This can be a hidden ghost, items that can be interacted with, the weak points of a boss, and even invisible platforms that are poking into the real world through the Ghostworld.The boss fights lend a big hand in keeping things interesting too. Sure they're all dragged into a trap at the end, but the weakening process differs wonderfully from one to the other. In one boss fight, the player must shoot the boss's projectiles back at it, and then rip out one of its many tongues with the capture stream while it is recuperating. In another, one can only hurt the boss by destroying the safety net under it and knocking it off the wall, causing it to hit the ground hard. Each one utilizes a different weapon as well. Most of the boss fights are a great reward for getting through an area, even more so if you find yourself getting tired of the same old song and dance on the way there.The biggest annoyance by far is the game's collectibles, which are pages from Tobin's Spirit Guide that are strewn all over each level. Every time you pick one of these pages up, regardless of whether or not you're in the middle of a fight, the screen switches over to the Guide to show you what's on the page you just found. There is no reason for this screen to pop up every time you get a new page when you can access the guide at any time from the pause menu. It jolts you out of the action for nothing. I eventually started to avoid collecting the pages altogether, as they aren't much use other than for 100 percent completion. On the graphical side of things, there's nothing too special here besides the nice, cartoony style of the characters (although the designs have questionable origins). At best, the game looks like it belongs on the Playstation 2, and that's really a shame, as much better can and has been done on the Wii. There is also some noticeable slowdown while fighting lots of respawning, flying enemies, which happens a few times near the end of the game. The score is taken straight from the movies, but isn't too varied. On the other hand, the dialogue is humorous and the voice acting top notch (with the exception of Alyssa Milano's work, which is rather uninspired). Some of the lines differ from what is spoken to the subtitles, assumedly to keep the game safely nestled in its E rating. There are enough references and familiar lines grouped with some great new quotes to make any fan delighted. The Wii version of Ghostbusters: The Video Game is by no means the perfect game, but it is a great movie-to-game adaptation, and a very fun and entertaining way to spend some time with some old friends if you're a Wii-owning Ghostbusters lover. As this is a very character and story driven videogame, if you're not a fan of the movies or the humor within them, you may not be as tolerant of the easy and somewhat repetitive gameplay as those who dig the characters and story might. The intuitive gameplay, interesting boss fights, and ability to co-op are plusses for all gamers, while the easy difficulty level and short game length are some of the negatives. It could be a buy for the biggest Ghostbusters fans, but I would definitely recommend this game as a rental first for most. Score: 6   Anthony Burch:As someone who played through the 360 version of Ghostbusters twice in the span of a week, I could not help but constantly compare the Wii version against it all throughout my single playthrough. In the end, one version felt more satisfying to me than the other -- but not by much. For every forward step the Wii version takes past its 360 counterpart, it unfortunately takes another step back. In the 360 version, for instance, the later levels included poorly designed, restart-heavy combat sections where you entire team might be slaughtered in an instant. The Wii version is much easier on normal difficulty and mitigates the frustration of constant, unfair death, but at the expense of becoming somewhat dull and redundant in the game's latter missions. I truly can't count how many times I'd walk into a room, only to have the doors forced shut by a magical force that refused to open them until I'd captured every single ghost in the room. The level design and progression structure are almost totally different from version to version: entire sections from the New York and Ghostworld levels have been totally excised from the Wii version, and many of the levels that both versions share have been significantly cut down for the Wii. In itself, this isn't necessarily a good or bad thing (though I really, really miss the Super Trap level right before the Stay Puft fight); it's just different. The Wii version's poorly credited art style not only effectively embraces the Wii's technical limitations while still retaining an essential Ghostbusters feel, it also removes one of the most glaring faults with the 360 and PS3 versions -- Bill Murray's dialogue. When Peter Venkman looked like a regular dude, his over-the-top lines felt forced and irritating. When Peter Venkman looks like a cartoony version of his former self, his lines somehow work much better. A few Venkman quotes that originally made me roll my eyes actually elicited smirks this time around. The tradeoff for this is that the game's cartoonified Ray Stantz more resembles a talking baked potato than Dan Aykroyd.It's worth noting, though, that all of Venkman's sexual innuendos -- both of them -- have been excised in order to keep an "E" rating. It's all right, though, because there's a lot of new and alternate dialogue in the Wii version you won't find anywhere else, almost all of it good. The 360 version focused far more on combat, often to its detriment -- by the halfway point, the game felt remarkably similar to any other 3rd-person shooter you could name. The Wii version, conversely, puts a much greater focus on the puzzles Ashley described above. Where the 360 version might only use a weapon like the Stasis Stream to make the process of bustin' ghosts easier, the Wii version at one point had Davis and I running through a corridor  made of huge, turning gears that could only be traversed by well-timed blasts from our proton freeze ray. A couple of the puzzles are genuinely imaginative, and often more interesting than much of the repetitive combat that fills the 360 version's latter half.  It's a good thing, too, because most of the combat in Wii Ghostbusters is tedious and unsatisfying. Don't get me wrong, it feels great to tear up the environment with an IR sensor-controlled proton pack, and moderately satisfying to throw out a trap by holding down the Z button and swinging your arm forward. The main problem is that the simple process of bustin' a ghost is nowhere near as compelling or well-paced as it is in the other versions of the game. After doing enough damage to an apparition with the proton pack, the ghost can be wrangled. In the 360 version, this means you can either start pressing the L trigger to slam him into walls and floors at your leisure until you feel like dragging him into the trap. In the Wii version, this means you have to play through a poorly paced, barely interactive game of simon says. A big red arrow appears on the ghost telling you to slam him to the right, so you flick your Wiimote to the right. Then, a short pause. Another red arrow shows up telling you to slam him in another direction, and if you don't move the Wiimote in the correct way then nothing happens and the damage isn't done. After you've finally whittled the ghost's health down, you simply move it near the trap to automatically capture it. There's no satisfying struggle to keep the ghost within the cone of light emanating from the trap as he slowly descends into it, like you get in the 360 version -- he just runs into the trap and disappears. After a few hours of bustin', I began to lament the sight of each new ghost. Having to wait for the game to tell me when I was allowed to slam a ghost felt so clunky and uninvolving that at one point, I actually groaned aloud when four ghosts sprang up out of nowhere. While some of the Wii levels are unquestionably better than the 360 ones -- the Ghostworld boss is way better, and I actually exclaimed, "that's awesome!" upon seeing the Wii version's interpretation of the Spider Woman's lair -- a game called Ghostbusters should not, ideally, make me dread the actual act of busting ghosts. The co-op in Ghostbusters Wii is much more satisfying than the online play available on the other versions. Davis and I constantly crossed our streams for fun (try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light), and I took frequent sadistic pleasure in slowing her down with the slime gun whenever possible. Where multiplayer is concerned, both games are missing something that feels downright necessary; it's up to you whether you value a local cooperative campaign more than online, plot-free multiplayer. If it weren't for the unfortunate bustin' mechanics, I would find it impossible to determine if Ghostbusters for the Wii was better or worse than the other, prettier versions that have been offered. The Wii version utilizes the alternate weapons in a more imaginative, consistent, and puzzle-centric way. It includes a fair amount of new, funny dialogue and one or two levels that irrefutably trump their 360 counterparts. In the end, though, the immensely satisfying act of wrangling a ghost into submission -- that one gameplay mechanic the 360 and PS3 versions absolutely nailed -- has been replaced with a tedious and disappointing Simon Says minigame repeated ad infinitum throughout the game's five hour running time. The Wii version has a hell of a lot going for it, and I strongly recommend renting it if you either don't own a PS3 or 360, or if you're still hungry for a little more Ghostbusters action after finishing the other versions. It's just a shame that, where the Wii version is concerned, bustin' didn't make me feel good.I swear to God, I won't say that again for another six months.Score: 5.5 Final score:  5.75 -- Mediocre (5s are an exercise in apathy, neither Solid nor Liquid. Not exactly bad, but not very good either. Just a bit "meh," really.)
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Are you troubled by strange noises in the middle of the night? Do you experience feelings of dread in your basement or attic? Have you or your family ever seen a spook, specter or ghost?If the answer is "yes," the p...

Review: Heavy Weapon: Atomic Tank (PSN)

Jun 25 // Destructoid Staff
Heavy Weapon: Atomic Tank (PlayStation Network)Developer: PopCap GamesPublisher: Sony Online EntertainmentReleased: June 11, 2009MSRP: $9.99 Brad Rice:Heavy Weapon is one of PopCap Games' side-scrolling shooters that was just recently released on PSN. Quite simply, you drive an atomic tank, and blast the crap out of anything that might be flying through the sky -- save for the helicopter that drops power-ups on you (unless you're aiming for that trophy). Fighting against Red Star, Atomic Tank is attempting to push back the evils of Communism, and doing so without any thought to the safety of the world by using as many nukes as possible.An entire air fleet's worth of different planes tries to shower lasers and missles on your parade, and besides nuclear bombs, you can earn yourself lasers, floating orbs, guided missiles, and plenty of other things by completing stages, allowing you to modify your tank into whatever killing machine your heart desires.Each level, which took me about 10 minutes to complete, consisted of waves of planes coming in from the left and the right sides of the screen doing their damndest to hit you with missiles as they crossed the screen. So the goal is to blast the missiles, and the offending planes, out of the sky. Enemy helicopters, missile-launching cars, and long-range missiles also act as hazards as the stages progressed. Each stage would introduce a few new enemies, and shuffle out some older ones that didn't fit. All in all, the game didn't really present a challenge -- up until I hit level 6, "Tanksylvania." I ran into a brick wall with my progress, ending up spending some three or four hours on that single level. And I still haven't beaten it. I couldn't finish the game because of all the design problems that came to a head in the playing of this level.The most immediate problem I faced was the atomic bombers. These crafts would drop three or four nuclear bombs as they crossed the stage -- items that, if they touched the ground, resulted in an instant-kill. And these things took a lot of ammunition to actually shoot down. Meanwhile, there was a bevy of other ships dropping missiles, several of which would explode into ammunition that would be sent all over the screen, making it unavoidable to be hit.Part of what caused that was sheer mass of shots that got thrown at me. This game is not a shoot-'em-up, and the hit detection proves that. There's no way to dodge through the flurry of bullets that get strewn about, and yet too often I simply got stuck in situations where there was just no way out. It was akin to Metal Slug, but everything flew at you too quickly. Oftentimes, shots would simply get lost in the business on the screen, and all of a sudden my tank would blow up -- and I'd have no idea why.But the surprising culprit of my biggest headache was actually playing the game in widescreen. Because the game was in widescreen, more enemies were generated, they stayed on the screen longer, and thus fired more bullets. If you set your system into 4:3 mode, it apparently gets dramatically easier, but I wasn't going to try that. So if I was on one side of the screen, and an atomic bomber appeared on the other side, it was nearly impossible for me to make it over in time and be able to destroy the bomb before it hit the ground. Oh, was it frustrating. I eventually made it to the boss -- with no lives and no shield left. The bosses are what you'd expect in any game of this nature: gigantic, well-animated, and deadly. Normally, I had no trouble dispatching them, as their weak spots were easy enough to find. Again, the busyness of the screen was my downfall. After I had eliminated all of its appendages, my tank blew up. I honestly couldn't tell you why. It happened to me several times. I can only assume he launched an attack, and that's what killed me.So, giving up on that, I decided to try out some of the multiplayer mode with my friends (I had to complete the game in order to unlock the boss run mode). It's a challenge to see how long you can survive, picking up an assortment of the power-ups given between levels. It's alright, but not terribly exciting. I could point to any number of titles with better multiplayer options.While the title may be tempting, I can easily tell you to avoid this one. Pick up any number of PSN titles, but this one is a must-avoid. If you're really hungry for that arcade-style action, go pick up Metal Slug Anthology for the PS2. Or maybe even The Red Star if you want to punish yourself. Score: 3 Brad Nicholson:I like my downloadable games just like my coffee: black, no sugar and get that creamer out of my face before I put you through a wall, sir. In other words, I like them to be basic and feel familiar. I want to turn on the title and start playing as easily as I’ve slid my brown leather loafers on my feet for the last four years. Heavy Weapon: Atomic Tank foots the bill nicely; however, the age of the game shows. Heavy Weapon is a multi-directional shooter on rails. You control a tank and move from side-to-side on a 2D plane in order to avoid constant aerial bombardment. The game advances through the levels for you. But as the name of the game implies, you don’t just avoid fire: you return it. The tank is equipped with a nasty gun that can strike foes at any angle -- a simple flick of the right stick does the trick. While the little green balls service to deflect the bombardment of enemies -- rockets, nukes, bombs, and lasers, oh my! -- you’ll soon be finding yourself wanting more power: something the game readily provides by way of upgrades.In game, a special plane drops power-ups that give your tank better shielding, rapid-fire abilities, and nuclear bombs. After a level is finished, you earn a point that you can apply to six unique upgrades that stick with your tank through the course of play. Stuff like chain lightning, solid laser fire or even defensive shielding is available, on top of whatever your normal gun has going on as a result of picking up the in-game drops. I view the robust upgrade options as a monotony breaker. Without them, the game would be a flat side-scroller. With the upgrades, Heavy Weapon turns into a highly customizable and chaotic side-scroller. The word “chaotic” can also describe the amount of violence you’ll encounter after progressing to the game’s midpoint. The planes, helicopters, trucks and even enemy tanks you encounter begin to clutter the screen with their bullets, bombs, and physical forms. Your upgrades -- especially the rockets -- will add to that. While frantic can be fun, I found the amount of stuff on-screen frustrating at times. I never lost sight of the tank, but it’s easy to miss the stray laser bubble when attempting to destroy a nuclear bomb before it hits the bottom of the screen. A few missed laser bubbles or rockets can lead to an early Game Over and perhaps a tossed controller. However, the difficulty is measured -- Heavy Weapon doesn’t default to “ridiculously hard” like several of its flash game brethren do.At the end of each level, you’ll encounter a boss: another shining point in the game. Bosses provide unique challenges and are often hilarious. During my play I fought a war blimp, a mechanical monkey and zeppelin equipped with a human face -- each equally rough, but rewarding when put down. Yet, however, rewarding, at times I felt I was playing nothing more than a glorified flash game. There’s simple and then there’s simple. The upgrade system twists the game just enough to make it more interesting than the fodder, but don’t walk into Heavy Weapon expecting something truly unique. It’s a multi-directional shooter. Heavy Weapon has a multiplayer component with two modes: Arms Race and War Party. In Arms Race, you can play with up to four friends in order to see who can live the longest amount of time in a level. In War Party, destruction reigns supreme: respawns are infinite and the amount of enemies on-screen is ramped up. It’s a mere slugfest with pals. Both modes add to the game, but you’ll find the amount of people available to play with on PlayStation Network lacking. This is a solid game. The ease of play, robust upgrade system and mindless shooting should provide plenty of fun if you choose to download. But like my scuffed and worn loafers, the game is showing its age. The dated and redundant visuals, random difficulty spikes, screen clutter are examples of ancient design. Try out the demo first, but don’t be too afraid: Heavy Weapon is worth your time.Score: 7.0Final Score: 5.5 -- Mediocre (5s are an exercise in apathy, neither Solid nor Liquid. Not exactly bad, but not very good either. Just a bit "meh," really.)
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Heavy Weapon has been available since the beginning of time. It was released in 2005, well before humans emerged as the dominant life form on Earth. In 2007, PopCap Games updated Heavy Weapon, applied the subtitle “Atom...

Review: Ghostbusters

Jun 19 // Destructoid Staff
Ghostbusters: The Videogame (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [reviewed], Wii)Developer: Terminal RealityPublisher: AtariReleased: June 16, 2009MSRP: $59.99 (PS3/360), $49.99 (Wii) Nick Chester:As the “in theory” third installment to the film series, Ghostbusters: The Video Game hits all the right notes. From the start, fans will recognize the cast, all of which have been digitally re-rendered and frozen somewhere in the late '80s, from Bill Murray as Peter Venkman to Annie Potts as receptionist Janine Melnitz. The game’s cut-scenes, both in-game and pre-rendered, are visually impressive, and directed in such a way that’s consistent with the quality and feel of the films. You can tell from the opening scenes that Ghostbusters: The Video Game was designed by a team of true fans with passion for the original material. The game is littered with nods and fan service for Ghostbusters die-hards, from characters and event references, to hyper-detailed equipment such as the Proton Pack you’ll be staring at for most of the game, complete with accurate flashing light, wiring, and tubes. The story and dialogue, straight from the mind of original screenwriters Ramis and Aykroyd, is mostly on par with the classic films. I say mostly because while it holds its own in many ways (expanding upon the established film lore in a number of ways, for instance), it doesn’t quite have all of the charms of the original. The script is witty and oftentimes laugh-out-loud funny, but few of the lines resonate or are as unforgettable as those found in the films. Hell, just yesterday I used the words “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!” (a line from the 1984 original) in casual conversation.The game also doesn’t introduce any new characters you’ll really remember, either. This makes sense for the player’s “rookie” character who remains nameless (and mostly voiceless, outside of a few grunts here and there); but again, this makes sense -- he’s you, and the game benefits by not assigning a real voice to the player. But Peter Venkman’s new “love interest,” Illyssa Selwin (voiced by Alyssa Milano) is wholly unremarkable in just about every way. Not even my personal childhood Milano crush could save the character from the flat, phoned-in dialogue the actress delivered. With all of that said, the story and cut-scenes are certainly some of the most enjoyable things about Ghostbusters: The Video Game. After all, even if the material doesn’t stand toe-to-toe across the board with the originals, it’s better than no new material at all. If anything, it proves that Ramis and Aykroyd definitely still have “it,” that they’re capable of delivering a genuinely humorous and enjoyable narrative. So yeah, Terminal Reality got the “Ghostbusters” part down. Fortunately, the third-person action does do a pretty amazing job of putting you in the Ghostbusters' classic tan overalls. The ghost wrangling mechanic -- which involves capturing, slamming until subdued, and then maneuvering a ghost into a trap -- definitely feels a bit unwieldy at first. But with practice and understanding, the battle for the capture is both challenging and rewarding -- you actually "feel" as if you were a working, card-carrying 'buster. As the experimental equipment tester, you’ll be outfitting your existing Proton Pack with some major upgrades. All of the upgrades and different streams come into play in various ways throughout the game, but some are clearly more useful than others. The Statis Stream, for example, “emits a high-capacity stream of order-reversed particles that hypobond to ectoplasmic matter, effectively immobilizing ghosts.” Run through the “Egon Spengler to English” translator, that means it acts as a “freeze ray.” It’s great in theory, a neat take on the traditional Ghostbusters equipment, and it’s useful in a few situations. But it’s a weapon I found that I almost never had to use to complete any of my objectives. Other equipment -- like the Slime Blower and Slime Tether -- had far more uses, occasionally used in light puzzle solving situations. The Tether, in particular, comes into play more than a few times throughout your Ghostbuster career, allowing you to join a variety of environmental objects to one another, which lets you to open gates or even create new pathways. The different equipment and its numerous uses was a bit of a surprise, adding much-needed variety to a game that could have simply had players going from room to room wrangling and then drunking ghosts in traps. From a visual standpoint, Terminal Reality’s Infernal Engine can do some marvelous things -- above all with its lighting effects -- and it shows all over the game. The streams that blast from the Ghostbusters' equipment light up the environment with colors, casting some wild neon lighting effects that explode on-screen. Ghostbusters' ghostly icon, Slimer, emits a green glow that casts light on everything in its path. The lighting magic is impressive throughout the game, particularly towards the game’s end, with some extremely neat and stylized rain and lightning effects.Ghostbusters: The Video Game, for everything it does right, is not without its fair share of frustrating issues. Particularly, the game’s controls sometimes make your character feel clumsy and slow, particularly when you take a spill. Once grounded, one of two things will happen. If you’re incapacitated, you’ll be left helpless on your back waiting for the game’s AI to run over and rescue you. Depending on the situation, you can be waiting for either one or four Ghostbusters to come revive you, and sometimes the wait can be excruciating. In some of these cases, a long wait will end in one of your A.I. comrades dying before they can revive you, resulting in a “Mission Failed.” In other frustrating cases, your character is sent flying through the air like a rag-doll, and he’ll slowly bring himself to his feet.Another issue is frequently confusing level design, where it’s sometimes easy to get lost with no on-screen map or indicator of your next objective. This is made even more frustrating in many instances as you’ll sometimes have to wait for the non-player character Ghostbusters to make a move or decision before you can proceed. There’s no indication that this is happening, either -- the uncomfortable and awkward silences and “okay, now what?” moments are, well... uncomfortable and awkard. Ghostbusters: The Video Game also didn’t ship without its fair share of minor, but frustrating, bugs. While it only happened a few times, there were instances where ghosts were trapped in the game environment in such a way that they couldn’t be captured. Because of this, I was forced to reload the last checkpoint, the frequency of which actually saved my sanity a few times. The single-player “career” can be completed within a few dedicated sittings (Anthony, for instance, claims to have completed it in one), and if you’re paying attention, you can probably find most of the hidden objects and upgrade most of your equipment in one sitting. So while there’s not much game, it’s fortunate that it’s enjoyable enough -- particularly for a Ghostbusters fan -- to work your way through to the end. Ghostbusters: The Video Game also features a multiplayer mode. You could assume it would be a throwaway extra, but you’d be wrong. It’s definitely disappointing that you can’t play the career mode from beginning to end with buddies, but the cooperative multiplayer instanced modes are a reasonable substitute. While it’s not going to replace Gears of War 2 or Call of Duty 4 as your multiplayer game of choice, it’s a blast wrangling ghosts with your friends in short, one-off bursts. While it’s not the best third-person action game you’ll ever play, it’s certainly the best Ghostbusters experience ever committed to the format. For true fans of the series, picking up the game is a no-brainer. If you own the movies on DVD (or the recently released Blu-ray), Ghostbusters: The Video Game unquestionably deserves a spot on your shelf. Your collection wouldn’t be complete without it.Score: 7.5 Anthony Burch:Bustin' makes me feel good. So good, in fact, that I could have done with more of it. Throughout the first couple hours of Ghostbusters, that's pretty much all you'll be doing: finding, you know, actual ghosts, blasting them with the proton pack, and wrangling them into traps. The actual act of lassoing specters into a ghost trap while they try with all their might to break free of your grasp is way, way more satisfying than it has any right to be. This is partially because it so faithfully replicates the ghostbustin' process we've seen in the last two films (the act of capturing my first spirit caused me to spontaneously yell, “I am a goddamned Ghostbuster”), but also because the process of wearing a ghost down, slamming it against the walls and floor, and finally fighting tooth and nail to rope it into a trap is so full of elegant back-and-forth struggle that it feels completely new and interesting. Each of the three stages of ghost trapping can be potentially failed, but those failures don't set the player back very far. You might fail to get him into a trap, but a few slams later he'll be ready for another try. You might be just about ready to start slamming him into the walls, when a piece of possessed furniture hits your head and you're forced to blast him back down to minimum health again. Ghost capturing is challenging, but not frustrating; rewarding, but not needlessly simplified. It is, unquestionably, the best part of the game. Which makes it all the more frustrating that after the first few hours of the game, the mechanic is almost completely abandoned by the wayside. After an incredibly cool fight against the returned Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, the game starts doling out proton pack “upgrades” that essentially function, like inFAMOUS's lightning powers, as re-contextualized versions of old third-person shooter tropes. Egon may call them Shard Blasters or Slime Guns, but you and I know they're really just shotguns and flamethrowers. After your character, the Rookie, gets his first proton pack upgrade, the game goes...I don't want to say “downhill,” necessarily, but it definitely never again reaches the heights of the game's first few hours. The rest of Ghostbusters comprises a pretty decent third-person shooter, which is fine. I just couldn't help but wish they'd focused on the much-better-than-pretty-decent ghost wrangling mechanics and developed on those throughout the game's running time, rather than taking the easy way out and adding a bunch of new weapons in a misguided attempt to add depth. When you combine such a design decision with some horribly placed checkpoints, confusing level design and needlessly frustrating combat scenarios later on in the game, you've got the makings of an all-around mediocre licensed game. Which makes it all the more surprising that Ghostbusters is not a mediocre licensed game. Despite the generic third-person shooter gameplay, I felt sufficiently compelled to finish the game thanks primarily to the palpably Ghostbusters-esque atmosphere. Music from the films can be heard all throughout the game, the returning cast members do a great job (save for Bill Murray, but that may have more to do with the fact that Peter Venkman is written as an irritating, over-the-top parody of his former self), and while the basic plot isn't anything to phone home about, it's great to hear Winston's charming pragmatism and Egon's monotone irony replicated almost perfectly. The jokes are pretty hit-or-miss, especially those involving Venkman, but I found myself laughing far more than I'd anticipated once the other three Ghostbusters started bickering at one another. Though the frustrating checkpoints and “shoot reanimated corpses in the face with a proton shotgun” gameplay got pretty tired near the game's final act, they never felt as infuriating as they well could have thanks to the oft-entertaining interactions between the film characters, and the fact that I truly felt like a part of their universe. Faithfulness and immersion can go a long way in making one forgive outright stupid design decisions, and Ghostbusters proves it. Conrad will go into more detail about the game's multiplayer modes, but I just want to say a few quick things about them. Firstly, the multiplayer is to be congratulated, if nothing else, for implementing a mechanic based around crossing the proton streams. You're never really given a chance to cross 'em in the singleplayer campaign outside of a prerendered cut scene, which frustrated me intensely as a casual Ghostbusters fan. Being able to jump right into a multiplayer game and immediately cross the streams with another player for so long that my proton pack exploded and killed me was a perverse pleasure. Secondly, since the multiplayer is based entirely around cooperation, it honestly didn't feel that different from the single-player campaign to me. Sure, there's a competitive aspect that encourages players to race one another to nab more ghosts and get more money, but the weapon restrictions and limited ammo made me feel like I was just playing a less satisfying version of the singleplayer experience. In spite of itself, Ghostbusters manages to be one of the best licensed games I've played in a while. Its faithfulness to its source material allows it to overcome many of its structural flaws, and it still manages to provide a couple hours of truly original, immensely satisfying gameplay. Granted, those two hours are followed by about four more hours of unoriginal, often irritating gameplay, but if you have any love for the Ghostbusters franchise at all, you likely won't mind putting in the overtime. Score: 7.0 Conrad Zimmerman: Ghostbusters' story is a whole lot of fan service. There is nothing wrong with that -- I'm a fan and I like to be serviced, after all -- but the game is absolutely crammed with reference to the first film. The plot revolves around many of the same personalities from that story, though some were merely referenced before. The fanboy in me rolled its eyes at a couple of points but it's a more than capable effort filled with charm and humor.Actually catching ghosts is a load of fun. All spirits show their energy level when you aim at them in the form of a wheel. As the wheel depletes due to your attacks, it will eventually turn red to signify that they can now be captured. Switching to the capture beam is as easy as pushing a button and you can then guide the ghost to an open trap, wrangling it in the whole way down.The process is a blast to perform, especially with chaos erupting around you. Smaller ghosts and spirits will dissipate on their own if damaged sufficiently and many enemies have quick and easy methods of dispatching them. It's fun and very intuitive, although some of the charm begins to wear thin in the latter fourth of the game as the game seems to take more cheap shots at you in the name of increasing the difficulty.The eight modes of fire for the proton pack contribute greatly to the variety of combat. They all represent mainstays of the shooter genre, with a shotgun, rocket launcher and machine gun all getting their due. The slime thrower is an especially creative weapon in that its alternate fire creates elastic tethers of slime used to move objects, solve puzzles and really piss off ghosts.Teamwork is also an important aspect in encounters with the supernatural. Throughout most of the game you will be traversing levels with at least one other Ghostbuster by your side. When you fall in combat, they'll run over and revive you, provided they aren't completely pinned down. Likewise, saving them is important both to have someone to keep you alive and as a way to draw attacks from other enemies.When it comes down to it, the Ghostbusters are not a very effective fighting force. You'll wind up doing the lion's share of ghost elimination throughout the campaign. This does have the effect of making them feel more like necessary crutches than actual partners during the gameplay, but their quips and commentary are well worth the occasional hassle of keeping them alive.Besides, you'll probably get knocked out quite a bit. The characters are pretty fragile in the face of unholy forces from beyond the grave. The game offers a dodge command, but its response time and the amount of movement it actually performs renders it pretty much useless against all but the slowest of enemies. Knowing your enemy helps quite a bit in combat and your PKE meter provides useful information. Scanning ghosts with it will reveal strengths and weaknesses to give you a better idea of how to take them out. It can be a little risky pulling it out in the middle of combat, as the animation leaves you vulnerable and you can't fire weapons while using the PKE meter. Still, it's well worth the effort to scan as many enemies as you can.In fact, learn to love your PKE meter, because you two are going to be best friends. It serves as a helpful guide on where to travel next, for starters. You'll also have to refer to it freqently to find hidden doorways. Plus, using it to hunt down and scan cursed artifacts will earn you money that can be spent upgrading your equipment. The idea is fun but gets played out after a few levels, where as much time is spent with your head in the meter as busting ghosts.The PKE meter serves another really important function in Ghostbusters. See, the films are always remembered for their wit, but the first film is actually pretty damn creepy in points. Similarly, the game works up some tense moments, particularly when the player is stuck in a first-person view without any weapons. Cheap shots? Certainly, but effective and entertaining.Alongside the single-player campaign, Ghostbusters has an online multiplayer component. These games are all a combination of cooperative and competitive play and there are quite a few modes available. They range from surviving wave after wave of ghosts, to defending relics and destroying ghost generators. Just as in the single-player, getting knocked down does not knock you out. Other players can revive you, or you'll simply get up on your own in about thirty seconds. The emphasis on teamwork is really strong, and all players being knocked out will prematurely end a mission. Trying to go it alone simply to score more points than your teammates will usually result in a swift death.Also of interest are the "Most Wanted Ghosts," a collection of special spooks found only in the multiplayer. By meeting specific criteria during a multiplayer game, these unique specters may manifest and give you an opportunity to catch them. While I'll probably never spend the requisite time in multiplayer to collect them, I can see it being an appealing challenge.It's all fun, but not something I can see being a long-term love affair. It's also a little baffling why cooperative multiplayer wasn't implemented for the main story campaign. The gameplay feels tailor-made to allow a group of friends to traverse it together, and it's disappointing that anybody bothered to do multiplayer in the first place without making a co-op campaign a priority.Ghostbusters winds up in an interesting position, being one of the finest games I've ever played based on a film property. It's a good title but not a staggeringly good one. The single-player campaign is entertaining for its eight- to ten-hour run but doesn't have a whole lot of replay value, making this a highly recommended rental.Score: 8.0Final score: 7.5 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.)
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In 1991, had we been given the opportunity to join the Ghostbusters as an “Experimental Equipment Technician,” we probably would have jumped at the chance. It’s a job that would prove to be extremely dangero...

Review: Prototype

Jun 18 // Destructoid Staff
[embed]136720:20099[/embed] Prototype: (Xbox 360 [reviewed], PlayStation 3, PC)Developer: Radical EntertainmentPublisher: ActivisionReleased: June 9, 2009MSRP: $59.99 Jim Sterling:Alex Mercer wakes up in a morgue to find that something's not right. The city of New York has been infected with a virus that's turning its denizens into monsters, and Mercer seems to be at the center of it all, making an enemy of the military and a mysterious organization known as Blackwatch. He also finds himself in possession of superhuman abilities, chief among them the power to absorb living matter and change his shape accordingly. The story is a very typical "shadowy plot to create a biological weapon gone wrong," but it's delivered with style and contains a few surprising little twists here and there. The main campaign will give you the bulk of the tale, but it's only through filling out the "Web of Intrigue" that Alex will piece together the full puzzle. Mercer not only consumes people's bodies, he takes their minds too, allowing him to learn new skills and information. Contained around the city are people with knowledge of the conspiracy, and if Alex absorbs them, he knows what they know.  The Web of Intrigue is a clever and unique little system that, while not a revolutionary form of exposition, keeps the game rather interesting. Discovering, hunting and ingesting targets remains fun throughout the game, and some really cool scenes can be unlocked in doing so. It's just a shame that the characters are not very compelling. I'd have loved for Mercer to be more sardonic, especially as he shows flashes of personality now and then, with an evil smirk or a swaggering boast. Unfortunately, he spends so much of the game moaning and smoldering that it's difficult to find him likable the way an amoral protagonist needs to be. Of course, nobody cares too much about story when there's killing to be done, and the sheer volume of death on offer is staggering. Alex is a shapeshifter, and that naturally means he'll be transforming himself into all manner of vicious and sadistic weapons. As Alex gains experience and attains upgrades, he'll be able to turn his arms into claws, hammers, whips and blades. Each new combat power brings with it its own set of upgrades and special moves, and Prototype seeks to constantly reward players, showing them with so-called "Evolution Points" and constantly serving fresh abilities to unlock.  As well as combat, Alex is also quite skilled at zipping his way around the city. Holding down a shoulder button will cause Alex to sprint and automatically jump over cars, push through crowds and dash up buildings. Despite the simplicity of the input, it remains immensely fun to have Alex tear it across town so fluidly. Once players access the Glide and Air Dash abilities, the movement becomes more interactive and even more fun. Ironically, perhaps the most enjoyable moments of Prototype are to be found during the downtime between fights. A rudimentary stealth system is in place, making use of Alex's ability to blend in with civilians and soldiers. Consuming a member of the military allows Alex to stroll into military bases, and he can get even deeper in if he sneakily tracks and consumes a base commander. While not truly stealth, it's incredibly fun to wander among your oblivious, moronic enemies. It becomes downright hilarious when one unlocks the "Patsy" ability, gaining the power to accuse other soldiers of being you, whereby he'll be gunned down by his former allies.  As much fun as Prototype is, however, it has its frustrating moments. Many of them. Some of the side missions have considerably tight time limits, but the control system is far too loose to cope with them. Making Alex run up buildings automatically is great when you're not in a hurry, but he's far too unwieldy when you need to get somewhere quickly, and the in-game map is not very good at helping you find a location in a pinch, especially as it often makes targets appear closer than they are. A number of enemies are also infuriating to contend with, able to shrug off your attacks but nail you with their own and break your combos, and every now and then you'll just get swamped with foes that specialize in countering everything you can do, which ends up more irritating than challenging.At times the game suffers simply from trying to do too much. Hijacking vehicles can be difficult because there are so many options that you risk Mercer doing the wrong thing and stuffing it up. The same is true when it comes to grabbing enemies. Sometimes I've killed a crucial consumption target because Mercer is hard to control (that's when other enemies didn't accidentally kill it for me). The sheer volume of abilities is also a pain in the arse to select from, with a wheel you access in bullet-time. Finding the right ability in a snap is annoying, and once you unlock the Blade power, you'll probably just want to stick with it, negating the other powers altogether. Reserving a button for a simplified scroll-through selection would have been a nice option to make changing gears on the fly a little simpler.  A few words should also be reserved for the game's terrible targeting system. Mercer can lock on to enemies with a click of a trigger and scroll through targets with a flick of the right stick. Unfortunately, the game decides what is the "most dangerous" enemy and locks onto that one first, even if the most dangerous enemy is a harmless base several miles away and not the helicopters that are three feet away and shooting right at you. In addition, one gets so used to using the right stick as a camera control, that it becomes a pain in the arse to remember not to change targets accidentally while locked on. Prototype has problems. Lots of problems. Luckily, it's also one of the most fun and thrilling games to have come out in a while. Its flaws stop the game from being considered superb, but it's such a blast and there is so much to play with that it remains a great title. Even the repetitive side missions feel fresh simply because Alex has so many toys at his disposal. If you're a fan of uninhibited violence or just like to screw around with the heads of faceless military grunts, then this is definitely worth picking up. Score: 8.0  Brad Nicholson:You don’t want shake Alex Mercer’s hand. He isn’t a nice guy. He doesn’t have any traits that a person can find adorable or admirable, nor does his revenge story inspire empathy. As I played Prototype, I thought I figured out who Alex Mercer was: a maniac bent on destroying himself and the things he used to cherish. A late plot point reveal did nothing to wipe his unclean image from my mind.Mercer’s disregard of morals was a high point for me. It made Prototype playable. At the end of every mission or confrontation with the military, a tally informed me the cost of my actions. Rarely did that tally -- especially towards the end of the game -- tell me that I didn’t kill the innocent. In fact, I usually killed more civilians than I did military or “infected” creatures-slash-humans. If I were forced to care about every Toyota I crushed or penalized for every soul I consumed for health, the game would have been unplayable. Prototype is much too populated with the weak.While it was probably a simple design decision, I found myself consumed with Mercer’s appetite for destruction -- his antihero swagger. Occasionally, I felt like I was controlling Riddick again, except Mercer doesn’t flash brutish strength or disassociation. He’s a The Crow figure, bent on revenge and regretting having something stripped from him in a past life. Even his cadence spoke that parallel to me.Prototype does a wonderful job illustrating Mercer’s freakish powers and ability to annihilate. The inky blackness that consumes and creeps up his body as he summons his dark powers is a beautiful touch -- it makes every leap between buildings, every shattered vehicle or building that much more emotionally powerful. The occasionally reddened horizon, progressive worsening of city infrastructure, and twisted people who aid him on his quest are the perfect frame for Mercer’s violence and disregard.Yet, as brilliant as the presentation is, it doesn’t make up for the game’s broken mechanics.Mercer is a particularly fast fellow, and I often found myself fussing with the camera whenever I was forced to make aerial reverses, quick jumps from attacks, or even initiate combat before the game believed me to be ready. In a few words, I found the camera to be too slow for Mercer -- a problem considering the game’s pace of battle that often had me fighting countless villains at once with a variety of powers that require speed. I also struggled with the game’s combo system, which is a combination of simple button presses. Beyond the fodder, the game’s complex monsters refuse to allow you to pull off more than one or two actions before they spill into a loop of attacks that can crush Mercer within seconds. Thus, you’re forced into quick-strike actions that aren’t effective on the heaviest foes. This wouldn’t exactly be an issue if several enemies -- often of the heavy variety -- weren’t consistently surrounding me. Plus, the heavier attack combinations are often initiated with the same button presses required to do other stuff. There was one boss fight towards the latter half of the game where I found this shortsighted combo system particularly frustrating: Prototype expected me to pull off a special maneuver in a spectacularly short amount of time. Even though I pressed the two buttons required of the attack, I would often spill into a series of quick strikes -- the wrong action. As a result, my health would be greatly decreased or occasionally massacred within seconds. Boss fights in Prototype are clunky and don’t allow you to play the way you have been playing the game -- by wrecking and overpowering. They’re boring tit-for-tat affairs, worsened by having to constantly navigate hordes of fodder monsters during the confrontation. Taking my eye off the prize with annoying and often deadly base monsters isn’t a good thing.My combat frustrations go further: I can never seem to recover enough health to do the tasks set before me -- all of which are huge. When the big monsters slam me for huge damage, I have no way out. When missile barrages nearly put an end to me, I have no clear-cut way out -- the AI will doggedly pursue and put the final bullet in my freakish back. Even if there is a harmless civilian for me to consume, he’ll get blasted from my arms the second before I can put him in my belly and thus my health bar. It’s a bummer -- I feel like there’s so much fun that I could be having.But should I be running away? I often asked myself that while playing. Prototype builds you up and teaches you to control Mercer as if he were a wrecking ball, capable of weathering anything. I didn’t appreciate the momentum drops brought on by the above.Outside of the fighting realm, the structure of the game is annoying. Like most open-world action titles, you’ll find yourself doing side missions in order to get rewards, or in Prototype’s case, gaining experience points to learn more moves. These missions are of beat-the-clock variety that had me doing a variety of meaningless things: navigating rooftops, defending or attacking buildings, killing, and consuming victims. These are initially entertaining, but fall flat after the third time through.A recovery of sorts is the stealth system, which is entertaining but flawed. Changing shapes and assuming the look of a guard is a great way to avoid fussing with the camera and combination system: you can hijack tanks and helicopters -- two things that throw your powers away. Prototype was an odd game for me to play. I’ve never had the problem where I really wanted to play a game but disliked it so much. Prototype has a stunning world and an interesting antihero. I loved Mercer’s recklessness and the lack of punishment for assuming his identity. But I found it hard to stomach the side missions, ridiculous boss fights, camera, and combat system.My suggestion is to rent Prototype and see how you can deal. Score: 6.5 Conrad Zimmerman:The story of Alex Mercer's quest for vengeance is not a particularly novel or interesting one. We've seen it countless times in videogames and this example is nothing special in terms of plot, pacing or theme. The presentation of said story, however, is excellent. The Web of Intrigue, a series of nodes representing people in New York City who would have some knowledge of what happened to Alex is a great idea. Consuming certain individuals fills in a little bit of the story through a cutscene and unlocks more links in the Web. It's a lot of fun to eat these people and see what they know and I often found myself abandoning a mission to grab these targets. It's just too bad that the meandering story doesn't deserve such a cool implementation. At one twist, characters that I had spent hours becoming invested in get casually tossed out of the story. You never hear anything about them ever again, despite being last seen at what would likely be a critical moment. They ceased to be of value to the narrowly focused narrative and were therefore written off. Once I figured that out, I was hard-pressed to bother caring about anyone else in the story lest they suffer the same fate. The very first moments of Prototype are utterly thrilling. Huge monsters, waves of mutated enemies and massive tanks fell beneath my awesome power as I navigated the game's tutorial section, set near the end of the story. My immediate rection was one of fear. Was I fated to hour upon hour of gameplay just to work towards the point where I can feel like this again?The answer is an emphatic, "No." The first reason for this is the manner in which Prototype heaps new powers and experience points onto the player. Upon completion of the very first mission, the game unlocks in the neighborhood of twenty abilities for you to buy. And experience can be earned in a ton of ways very easily, so it's not hard to snap up most powers soon after they become unlocked. The flow does not slow much either, with abilities opening up like a floodgate initially and not really petering out until the last third of the game. Some abilities are not simply granted to you by spending a requisite quantity of experience points. These skills must be acquired by consuming people who already possess them. Aptitude with firearms, artillery and helicopters are earned by infiltrating military bases and making lunch out of specific people. While the stealth system in the game may be a bit over-simplified, it is still incredibly satisfying to skulk around a base to wait for your target to be unobserved and then step into the greasy spot where his body was before you ate it looking just like him. The difficulty curve in the game is such that you can feel potent from beginning to end so long as you remain versatile. Every situation has a solution which can give you the sense that you have utterly dominated your opponents. Walking directly into enemies and tearing them limb from limb accounts for a good chunk of scenarios but many benefit from the use of stealth or guerilla tactics. The variety and freedom to devise new approaches to missions is very welcome. It's this difficulty curve that helps keep what would become bland side missions feeling fresh and interesting. Nobody is going to have a great time infiltrating their tenth base as presented in the initial missions of the game. Add in more devices able to detect Alex in his disguised form and the late-game supersoldiers who can see through it as well as pummel the crap out of you, and you have a challenging, different experience than you had early on. Lots of these missions have time limits but they're usually pretty reasonable. I ran into one mission in which I was to kill as many enemies as possible using Alex's ability to swing a massive tendril where the time limit was really an issue (due to the spawn points for enemies). The vast majority of diversions can be accomplished fairly easily if you're willing to invest the time to practice them a bit. Main story missions quickly become chaotic affairs with Alex stuck in the middle of a rapidly escalating war between the infected and the military. It's a bit easy to lose your head (figuratively and literally) in the midst of everything going on and the game's camera and targeting systems do little to make the player feel more comfortable at the outset. With time and practice, you can learn to manipulate both of these elements in such a way that makes combat feel fluid and natural, but players should probably not be expected to train themselves in the use of a mechanic which should function in a self-explanatory manner in the year 2009.As Brad mentioned above, boss encounters are a problem. They break up the momentum of the game horribly by forcing you to slog through a long, drawn out battle where you ping them for a little bit of damage and avoid getting hit as much as possible. While it seems clear that the intent was for boss encounters to be epic and a little terrifying, it winds up being quite dull. They are wars of attrition in a game where you are built to blitzkrieg.  And, while I'm bitching, I don't much care for a lot of the graphical design. Oh, sure, Alex looks great. The attention to detail pretty much begins and ends with him, however. It's been a while since I've visited New York, but I don't remember it being as clean and without character as the city Alex Mercer lives in. Likewise, character models for nearly all foes and civilians are bland and poorly animated.It doesn't much matter because the game succeeds in making you feel awesome. It's full of moments where you perform something for the first time and it's just so brutal that you get a little giddy. He may not be unstoppable but Alex Mercer is more than capable. It's a blast to play and I had a great time from start to finish. Absolutely worth playing.Score: 8.0Overall Score: 7.5 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.)
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Radical Entertainment's Prototype has been a long time coming. The promise of shape-shifting slaughter in an open world was met with an equal mix of excitement and trepidation from gamers, but the game is finally out and judg...

Review: inFAMOUS

Jun 17 // Destructoid Staff
[embed]136544:20079[/embed]inFAMOUS (PS3)Developer: Sucker PunchPublisher: SonyReleased: May 26, 2009MSRP: $59.99 Jim Sterling:inFAMOUS is very clearly the deliberate start of a franchise and as such, its role is that of a true superhero origin story. Main character Cole starts life as a simple delivery boy, who has been tasked with taking a mysterious package to the center of Empire City, and then opening it up. When he does so, he unwittingly activates the "Ray Sphere," a devastating weapon that destroys the city, kills many civilians, and bestows Cole with a host of electricity-based super powers. Cole soon realizes that with great power comes a great many people trying to exploit him, and from there it's a story of trust and betrayal as Cole attempts to save or subjugate Empire City and find out what, exactly, is going on. The story is interesting and certainly has its moments, although the characters themselves struggle to be all that likable. Cole sounds like he's smoked about fifty cigarettes a day for the past twenty years, and is surrounded by sidekicks and villains that are either too stereotypical, boring or just plain irritating to care much about. That said, the game's ending is simultaneously the most stupid and brilliant thing I've seen in a while, and it's worth getting there.  As far as the game goes, I have to say that I failed to be as impressed as I hoped I'd be. The game is certainly decent, but it's packed full of flaws and issues that keep dragging it down. For a superhero game, inFAMOUS doesn't make you feel very powerful at all. Despite having all sorts of superpowers, the only really effective combat method is to fall into an overdone cover mechanic and spam the main lightning attack at enemies that are hiding at the tops of buildings and only occassionally pop out from hiding places to shoot at you. It also doesn't help that Cole himself is pretty weak, while the enemies are expert marksmen and are capable of firing their pistols from miles away. They also seem to be able to spot Cole from huge distances and nearly always see him coming, making it impossible to get the jump on anybody (unless the AI has a brainfart, which can happen). Enemy gangs litter the streets and take annoying potshots at Cole from both below and above, and if you dare wander into the wrong part of town, you're liable to get raped.  Most of Cole's powers, especially when playing with good Karma (we'll come to that), are rather worthless and weak. His ability to perform an electrifying stomp usually does more harm than good, requiring you to jump into a den of dangerous enemies in order for it to be effective. Cole's melee attacks are pretty powerful, but it requires so much time and energy to get close to an enemy, as well as requiring the absorption of plenty of bullets, that it's simply not worth it. What we're left with is a very repetitive combat system, that nearly always degenerates into mashing the R1 button at enemies until everything is dead. Oh, and the gangs can shoot from further away than you can shoot at them, in a "holding a midget at arm's length and kicking him in the balls" scenario. Altogether, I think I'd have preferred it if Sucker Punch had not given me super powers at all, and just granted me the brilliant guns that the enemies have. Outside of combat, I found myself growing incredibly bored of the game's missions, which revolved around five or six ideas and then repeated on an endless loop. If you've zapped surveillance equipment off one building, you'd done it a thousand times, and by the time you've played inFAMOUS' sub missions, you'll feel like you did do it a thousand times. The game gets incredibly boring if you do all the sidequests, due to the fact that they are recycled constantly and many of them weren't that great to begin with.Another major flaw is with the parkour. Cole is able to scale buildings, poles, girders, almost anything he can cling to. This can be a lot of fun, but it can also be incredibly frustrating, since the game attempts to predict where you want to go and makes Cole grab at objects automatically. When it works, it works well, but when it doesn't, which is often, you'll find Cole acting like a human magnet, drawn to anything he passes. This is especially aggravating when you're trying to avoid taking damage, and Cole instead wants to hang from something and turn himself into an even more vulnerable target.  While the first district of Empire City is quite well designed for the parkour, it all falls apart during the second district, which is not designed with the same attention. It becomes significantly more annoying to get Cole up buildings after leaving Neon District and heading to The Warren. He also becomes incredibly confused during later portions of the game, where the acrobatics become required for certain missions and Cole simply doesn't go where you want him to go and the game becomes incredibly confused. It's almost pitiful watching Cole stutter around in mid-air as he tries to decide where what to grab hold of. That's not helped by the number of glitches I encountered. Cole has fallen through walls, fences, bars and even, at one point, the very road itself. During one mission, I died multiple times because Cole kept falling through a structure instead of clinging to it. In that particular case, it was because the structure was supposed to blow up, but didn't, and I was repeatedly fooled into believing it was a solid bit of scenery and not some sort of placeholder graphic. As mentioned, the game has a Karma system, which would be a great idea if it wasn't shoved down your throat. At times, the game jolts to a stop and Cole thinks to himself, like a serial killer, that he could either help or mercilessly slaughter the people of Empire City. It's incredibly black-and-white and so incredibly extreme in its divide of "good" and "evil" that it becomes obnoxious. The game really should just ask at the beginning of the game whether or not you want to be a hero or a dick, and leave it at that. By the way, it's not worth being a hero, as the Good Karma powers are bullshit.  As harsh as I'm being on the game, I can't deny that the game had its fun moments. Not all of Cole's powers are useless, especially when he gets the ability to shoot balls of lightning, and the incredibly fun power to glide along power cables. The game should also be praised for its artistic direction, with the district's various gangs each having their own unique and striking look to them. The powers have been very well mapped to the PS3 control, using a variety of shoulder and face buttons to pull off Cole's moves in a simple and user-friendly manner. It's also just very cool to be able to gain health by absorbing the power from nearby machinery. Still, I can't help feeling that inFAMOUS is a game with potential that hasn't been fully realized. While Crackdown was all about kicking ass, lifting cars and scaling buildings in a single bound, inFAMOUS is about taking ages to climb up the sides of things, performing the same tasks as nauseum, and engaging in slow and rather dull battles against enemies that look different, but nearly all act the same way. A superhero game should be much more fun than this. Score: 6.0 Anthony Burch:Here is the odd thing about inFAMOUS: it's much more enjoyable if you don't think of it as a superhero game.Really, all of Cole's powers are just recontextualized 3rd-person shooter tropes. His repel power is a shotgun mixed with a Force push; his lightning bomb is just a rocket launcher. Apart from Cole's ability to parkour, slide on electric cables and, you know, suck electricity into his body to regain his health, he's just your typically gruff, action game badass carrying a mobile armory. To an extent, I agree with Jim that the game doesn't make the player feel remarkably powerful. I did get a great deal of enjoyment out of combining my different attacks together (for instance, Force-pushing a dude off a building, then shooting him in the head with a lightning bolt as he fell), but most of the game prioritizes constant movement and self-preservation over balls-to-the-wall heroics. So long as you're alright with that, inFAMOUS becomes a much more entertaining experience. Cole's parkour powers become less about the mad spectacle of scaling buildings with relative ease, and more about finding a way to circumnavigate your enemies and find better attack positions. Unfortunately, even this becomes something of a bother around the game's halfway point thanks not only to the infuriatingly repetitive side missions, but also the fact that the entire game world is full of angry, superpowered hobos who irritate more often than they threaten. Oddly, the game tells you that after completing a mission in a certain part of Empire City, no more enemies will spawn in that area again.  Except, they do. Frequently. I'm not sure why the game felt the need to lie about something like this, but knowing that you will never truly clean up the city means that every trek from one end of the world to the other will be punctuated by frequent stops for cover, or health regeneration, or combat. Again, this is actually quite exciting for a few hours, but I felt repetition fatigue before the game's halfway point. I still felt compelled to finish it thanks to the very slow drip of new powers the player accumulates over time, however; precisely when I got tired of my most recente arned attack, the game would throw me a new one to play around with. InFAMOUS's power progression is very well-paced, and is unquestionably the main reason I played this otherwise monotonous game to completion.Well, that, and there are some awfully goddamn cool missions punctuating the otherwise boring "go here, kill this" jobs that occur with alarming regularity. At one point, for instance, Cole is tasked to protect a prison from a literal army of EvilHobos™ alongside a few prison guards. What could have been a pretty humdrum mission was made surprisingly epic and tense thanks to the sheer number and size of the enemies thrown at Cole, and the unlimited electricity supplied by destructible generators behind him. The mission, and some others like it, felt like surprisingly epic back-and-forth struggles as I tried desperately to recharge myself and hurl grenades at the baddies as they slowly encroached on their objective. There aren't many missions like this in inFAMOUS, unfortunately, but the few that are there really surprised me. I'm not really sure what to think of the karma system. I, like Jim, went through the game as a good guy. I never felt even remotely tempted to join the dark side, as the game subscribes to the BS "good and evil are equally reasonable choices" philosophy that results in ridiculous moral extremes. The binary plot choices afforded by the game are really nothing to praise. The overarching karma/power system, however, interests me a bit. Like Jim, I found that the Good path resulted in relatively boring, nondestructive powers. On one hand, it's pretty unsatisfying to be a savior. On the other hand ... isn't that how it should be? Conrad will talk more about the evil powers at length, but I quite often found myself frustrated while playing a paragon of good. I'd spot a half-dozen bad guys next to some exploding cars, eager to blow them up in a fantastic orgy of fire and lightning, but I'd have to stop myself because some douchebag civilian would be caught up in the explosion. While most of the player's moral choices either boil down to either healing randomly injured pedestrians or Not Being an Asshole during plot developments, the fun/karma dichotomy gave me something to think about after the end credits finished rolling. I initially thought I'd restart the game and go down the evil path, but the game's extremely slow release of superpowers meant that I would have had to play through at least the first five hours of the game in order to see anything truly different. Again, though, I'm not sure if this is a bad thing -- while I'm kind of bummed I didn't have as much fun as Conrad did, it would have lessened the importance of the choices I'd made in my first go-around if I could just turn around and make opposite decisions with effortless ease. All in all, I'd recommend renting inFAMOUS. The missions are way too repetitive to justify a full purchase, but the unusual hybridization of sandbox and 3rd-person shooter games and a surprisingly interesting karma system may justify an eight or nine dollar rental. Score: 6.5 Conrad Zimmerman: Making the decision to take the evil route in inFAMOUS was not a very difficult one. The NPCs are so repugnant on every level that it was utterly impossible to feel any sympathy for any of them and I quickly found myself feeling as though I wanted every one of them to die a slow, painful death. Freed from the shackles of my morality by the guiding light of reason, I began to lay waste to everything in my path. Coincidentally, this is about the same time that I really started to enjoy myself. Having played through the evil campaign and about halfway through a second playthrough on the more noble side, I can clearly say that the path of darkness is more satisfying. All of the powers you earn are tooled specifically to dealing as much damage as possible in the shortest amount of time. Shock Grenades split apart into smaller charges on impact and the Megawatt Hammer -- a ball of lightning not unlike a rocket launcher -- will actually juggle enemies in the air with multiple explosions. That said, you're still never going to be a badass in inFAMOUS. At least, not on the Hard difficulty setting where every rooftop and every alley is crawling with enemies eager to rain bullets down upon you. Being ambushed by ten foes at once wouldn't result in good odds for anybody and this is par for the course throughout the game. Clearing out an area by completing its sidequest helps considerably in toning down the number of enemies you may encounter but it's still possible for four or five guys to get the jump on you. I don't think this is really a problem in and of itself. Being a superhero origin story, it is not unrealistic to expect that Cole does not have the same sort of handle on the use of his powers that a more experienced practitioner might. That doesn't change the fact that it can be frustrating to die repeatedly on missions because gunfire is a more effective deterrent than the surging electricity that flows forth from you, but it is at least understandable from a story perspective. My real gripe about the difficulty and sheer number of foes you fight is that it makes what should be epic boss battles seem incredibly tame by comparison. Going up against one person, no matter how powerful they may be, simply doesn't have the same level of desperation and frantic energy that combat against a mob of their minions does. As noted above, there are a bevy of technical issues. Pop-in occurs far more frequently than it has any right to, with cars that are only fifty feet away appearing on the street out of thin air. Cole often stutters while attempting to perform any of the three powers used on prone characters, resulting in an awkward sort of dance over the figure before accomplishing his task, giving up or being shot to death because he's been standing in the open for far too long.Then there's the climbing. I love climbing in games and this one certainly delivers on that. You'll spend more time climbing buildings than you ever thought possible and it all works really well -- unless you want to drop down from something. The parkour mechanics in inFAMOUS basically boil down to Cole being almost magentically attracted to anything he can cling to or stand on. God forbid, however, that you veer too close to an object while gliding, falling or any other activity where the last thing you want to do is stop moving. One thing I love about inFAMOUS is the way it manages collectible items in Empire City. All of them have a real benefit to the player which manifests as they are collected, rather than giving a lump reward for those who have the fortitude to find every last one. Blast shards, fragments of metal from ground zero of the explosion which gives Cole his powers, can be gathered to increase the total length of Cole's power bar. Dead Drops are recorded messages by a federal agent which help fill in story details and give a different perspective to some events.Not only are the collectibles useful/interesting, they are also very easy to find. Clicking a thumbstick makes the locations of these items appear on the mini-map provided that they are within the range of said map. Thank God. I know that I would be a completionist in more of these sandbox games if I could be arsed to spend hours hunting down bonus items. Making it easy to divine their locations with the push of a button encourages the player to make that little bit of extra effort in gathering them. The problem comes in when players are less interested in following up on side-quests and focus entirely on the game's plot progression. Cole's powers can be expensive to use and collecting Blast Shards winds up being fairly important if you intend to use anything but his basic attack (a perfectly viable option but one which somewhat defeats the purpose of even playing a superhero game). Similarly, the experience points earned in optional missions are valuable for purchasing upgrades to powers and it's difficult to rack up the points necessary to really buff yourself out through combat alone. While not an issue for fans of the sandbox genre, it may alienate more casual players.If it sounds as though I am complaining, well, I am. But that's not because I did not enjoy the experience of playing inFAMOUS. Quite to the contrary, I had enough fun that I gladly went back to the good campaign after finishing simply to see how some of the cutscenes would play out differently. I thoroughly enjoyed the story and mechanics in spite of the myriad flaws. You should know what you're getting into with this title, however. You will not be godlike, you will probably get annoyed at some point with the difficulty and there are going to be some glitches. That said, it's still a fun game if you're willing to accept these shortcomings. It is not an amazing experience which will change your life but a very competent open-world shooter with some good ideas and a few shortcomings in the execution. It's very easy to recommend as a rental since the game can be completed on a spare weekend and absolutely worth playing once.Score: 6.5Overall Score: 6.5 -- Alright (6s may be slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy them a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.)
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Open world superhero games have so much potential that it's actually surprising we haven't had as many as we have so far. We've seen licensed games such as Spiderman, MMOs in City of Heroes and, of course, Crackdown. You can ...

Review: Wallace and Gromit: Muzzled!

Jun 16 // Destructoid Staff
Wallace and Gromit's Grand Adventures: Muzzled! (PC [reviewed]/Xbox Live)Developed by Aardman and Telltale GamesPublished by Telltale GamesReleased on June 16th, 2009 (US)MSRP: $34.95 (includes all four episodes)   Anthony Burch Muzzled! is the cutest Wallace and Gromit episode thus far. Sure, it's got some of the series' best puzzles and a much better plot than The Last Resort, but my enjoyment of all things Wallace and/or Gromit related tend to hinge heavily on how charming they manage to be. Given that this newest episode concerns the duo's attempts to save a trio of homeless puppies from the hands of a maniacal con artist, I feel justified in calling Muzzled! a pretty adorable success.  The situation is as follows: West Wallaby Street's puppy shelter has broken down, sending countless (and by "countless," I mean "three") puppies loose on the town. Luckily, a newcomer named Monty Muzzle offers to rebuild the town shelter through ticket sales for his travelling fair, which itself boasts a pie contest, tic-tac-toe versus a chicken, and a large, inflatable likeness of Monty's head. After befriending the three lost (and, once again, adorable) puppies and delivering them into Monty's assumedly loving arms, Wallace and Gromit begin to suspect that there may be more to Monty Muzzle's fair than meets the eye.Well, Gromit begins to suspect something, anyway. Wallace sort of stands around like an idiot and makes fish-flavored ice cream, because he's Wallace. Though you might not think so from reading a poorly summarized description of the plot, it does not quite follow the typical structure of the previous two episodes. Where Fright of the Bumblebees and The Last Resort lent themselves to constant protagonist switching between Wallace and Gromit, Muzzled! is separated into two distinct acts. About 80% of the episode takes place from Gromit's perspective, while Wallace only becomes playable during the last 20% of the episode. While one might assume Gromit's silent shakes of the head at every incorrect puzzle solution would get tiresome after a while, the Gromit-heavy narrative actually represents a refreshing change of pace for the series. Gromit has a distinctly personal stake in solving the mystery of Monty Muzzle's circus, and thus it makes perfect sense that the player would spend more time in his shoes than Wallace's. The new characters are all quite likeable, as well: the three dogs Wallace and Gromit befriend are cute as hell (I literally muttered "awww" more than once while playing through the episode), and Monty Muzzle is a serviceable villain. He's not quite as cool as the penguin from The Wrong Trousers -- but really, who is? -- but he's pretty much on the same level as the evil hunter from Curse of the Were-Rabbit. I wouldn't mind seeing him again. Generally speaking, Muzzled! probably has the most well-balanced puzzles of the three episodes. While Fright of the Bumblebees suffered from one or two poorly placed inventory items, and The Last Resort structured most of its puzzles around the generally uninteresting supporting characters, Muzzled! hits a pretty good sweet spot. The puzzles were complex enough to make me think, but not so esoteric that I ever became frustrated. Each of the parlor games at Muzzle's funfair represent distinct puzzles that are typically solved in very different ways, and are all the more satisfying for it. Only a couple of puzzles truly felt too easy -- and while that may seem like a complaint, I really can't think of too many other Telltale episodes with such a good batting average. Combine that with a final boss puzzle that's almost as satisfying as the one from Fright of the Bumblebees and an epilogue that gives new meaning to the phrase "mustache ride," and you've got some of the best gameplay the series has yet seen. Overall, I think Muzzled! is probably the best Wallace and Gromit episode yet. It doesn't possess quite the same surprising charm as the very first installment, but it sidesteps nearly all the problems with the previous episode and provides a well-plotted, relatively challenging adventure experience. Also, one of the characters is a dog named Twitch who gets frightened by everything and has to carry around a stuffed bunny rabbit to make him feel safe.  Awww.Score: 8.0  Conrad Zimmerman Mister Burch's assessment of the cuteness which permeates throughout Muzzled! is no overstatement. This is one damn adorable installment of Wallace & Gromit. The three new pups that you meet add a great bit of additional humor to the story with their idiosyncracies. At one point, I repeatedly made the thieving one play dead just because I loved the animation. It's also nice to see that one of Wallace's inventions plays a central role in some puzzles again. The Infiniflavor -- named for its capability to create any flavor of ice cream -- is a cute idea and a far better fit for the series than resort management.  Item management puzzles play as much of a role as they ever have, but tracking down the necessary kit is made easier by restrictions on where you can travel. Most of Wallace's house is blocked off for the first half of the game, whereupon the rest of the house becomes inaccessible. Having fewer places to look for stuff to solve puzzles removes a lot of the frustration. Pretty much everything happens in the confines of the fairgrounds once you have the game's introductory puzzle out of the way, anyway. It's really good to see Telltale open things up a little bit more, as another game shuffling back and forth between W Wallaby St and the town square might have been less appealing. Which is great for the latter two-thirds, but the areas accessible by Gromit inside Wallace's house wound up with a lot of interactive objects in the environment that served no real function. These objects are leftovers from prior episodes and, save one, don't even have any entertainment value since you're working with the character incapable of more than subtle gestures. It can make the first puzzle a little annoying as you look at all these objects and find nothing of use.Despite these frustrations, the charm wins out through and through this time. The writing is quite funny and Wallace's nervously polite disposition is out in full force upon the realization that Monty Muzzle is not the philanthropist he appears to be. And the twist ending sets up what I hope will be a very uncomfortable situation for the hapless inventor in the upcoming finale of the series.All told, this is handily the best entry among the episodes thus far. If you've held out on playing these, this is the point at which I can wholeheartedly encourage an investment in the series. Score: 8.0Overall Score: 8.0 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)  
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Ah, Wallace and Gromit's Grand Adventures. With half your season already complete, what will you offer us in the final two episodes? We've already taken on mutated bees and unruly houseguests -- what's next?Today, we find out...

Preview: Borderlands

Jun 10 // Destructoid Staff
Jim Sterling:  Ever since Borderlands changed its graphics to the amazing hand-drawn style that has made it famous, I've wanted to know one thing -- just how beautiful do those images look when they're in motion? The question has been answered, and I must say I am incredibly impressed with what I've seen. The characters and enemies look very striking indeed and the first-person perspective evokes memories of the cel-shaded shooter XIII, which is most definitely a good thing. Borderlands, however, looks even better than XIII did. The gameplay seems pretty bloody good to boot, as well.  The demo was a co-op session in which the female Lilith and the bulky brawler Brick took on some Skag Pups. When someone says "Skag Pup" I think of a dog on heroin, but these things are more like the walking worms from Tremors 2. They roam in packs and come in variants, such as acid and fire spitters. Elite enemies in the game are referred to as "Badasses," which gives you an idea about how seriously the game takes itself (not very).The game presents itself as a straight FPS, but with heavily customizable characters, skill trees, experience points and, of course, plenty of loot. It is similar in many ways to Fallout 3, but with the VATS removed and replaced instead by far more robust shooting mechanics that don't need a gimmick in order to remain playable. Like Fallout 3, Borderlands has a very apparent sense of humor. It also has plenty of missions to be undertaken in an open world, and is suitably gory, with special skills that tend to make heads explode in a shower of artistic claret.  We were shown how players can drop in and out of games, with characters easily able to team up whenever they please. The procedurally generated monsters also scale with respect to how many players are in the game, becoming stronger to match the larger allied force. The main mission we were shown involved blowing up an enemy factory. It was being protected by Midget Bandits (yes, that is their in-game name) and creatures with, as Randy puts it, "tiny little gimp arms." Playing from the perspective of Brick, we got to see some first-person brawling, with enemies getting punched left, right and center. We also saw Brick's special "Berserk" power which, as you might expect, makes him an absolutely vicious bugger with his fists and causes him to laugh like a maniac with each kill. It's all very family-friendly. The mission ended with the factory exploding, and what an explosion it was! It started small, but quickly became huge, with the building slowly being torn apart and structures crumbling before one's very eyes. It was a very impressive setpiece and one hopes that there are even bigger bangs than that one buried within the game. My initial impressions of Borderlands are very positive indeed. It'll take me getting some hands-on with the game in order to properly gauge just how good it is, but so far it's looking rather excellent. This is definitely a game to watch as we head toward its end of year release. Don't let Borderlands slip from your radar. Conrad Zimmerman:I, too, am thoroughly impressed by what I've seen of Borderlands thus far. Having watched the same gameplay demo that Jim has, I took away much the same view of the game's visuals and gameplay mechanics. The thing about Borderlands which stuck out most in my mind was the loot and experience system. Never before have I seen a shooter which so closely resembled Diablo II. As Jim points out, players who team up in groups face more difficult enemies but are rewarded with more valuable gear and granted greater experience points. Also fascinating are the weapons available. The claim is that there are "more guns than every shooter on the PS3 and 360 combined" and this seems entirely possible. The way they managed to accomplish such a feat was by not placing the onus of weapon creation entirely in the hands of designers. The game's AI handles all of that for them, putting together weapons based on a variety of factors such as the company which made it, the materials used and what optional equipment is available.What results is that every possible combination of these factors can result in a different gun. This calls into question whether or not the game can remain balanced -- the system is perfectly capable of churning out some god-like weapon at a moment's notice -- but that's some of the thrill of the experience in my eyes. Amusingly, when asked about the possibility of such a thing happening, the folks at Gearbox seem gleefully unconcerned. That's probably because PvP combat is completely voluntary and holds little consequence. There are arenas within the world where players can battle one another if they so choose. A system for duels also exists to allow players to throw down with one another anywhere on the map but you have to opt in for any sort of PvP and that makes the weapon balance much less of a concern. The game has a strong showing right now and looks to be a lot of over-the-top, hyper-violent fun. The thought of combining a shooter with Diablo tickles me in so many ways that I've already started making plans with my friends to have a team together when the game comes out late this year.
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Borderlands has been hot on our radar for a while now, even before the dramatic change in art style that recently saw the game gain huge publicity. We've been itching to see the game in action for a while now, and our wishes ...

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E3 09: An illustrated summary of E3 2009, by Burch n' Davis


Jun 07
// Destructoid Staff
E3 is come and gone -- but for some, the emotions still remain.Elation at new announcements and technology. Anticipation for upcoming games. Nostalgia for friends made, and breakfast burritos eaten.Ashley Davis and myself had...

E3 09: Burch n' Davis play Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing

Jun 06 // Destructoid Staff
Anthony: Did you ever play Sega Superstars Tennis? I guess Sumo, the guys behind that, made Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. Ashley: I never did, but I don't know why I haven't. I absolutely love "unrealistic" tennis games a-la Mario Tennis, and I have a big soft spot in my heart for Sega characters. Similarly, I love "unrealistic" racers like Mario Kart, so why would I not love a kart racer with Sega characters? Anthony: Because some of those Sega characters haven't been in particularly good games for quite some time. Ashley: I can't argue that, but still. I got to play as Samba! His kart was shaped like a maraca! Anthony: I played as Sonic. Which was exactly as exciting as my punctuation would imply. Ashley: Hah. Sonic & Sega All Stars Racing didn't have anyone at all gathered around it, and after trying out the demo, I can see why. It's not the best Mario Kart influenced racing game ever. Anthony: The controls weren't great. Everytime I tried to drift, Sonic started spazzing out. Though maybe my muscle memory was just too reliant on Mario Kart Wii. Ashley: There didn't seem to be a big variety of weapons either. The whole time, I only got two different things: a speed boost, and a special weapon. Like Mario Kart Double Dash!!, the special weapons differ from character to character. For Samba, it causes him to dance in his seat to some funky music, making all the racers around him slow down to dance along. Anthony: And Sonic gets Chaos Emeralds, which turn him into Super Sonic. I just now got that pun. Ashley: Hah, me too! That's sad. I've only had 16 years to get that. Anthony: I didn't even heard his name until, like, a year ago. I don't consider myself a better person for it. But, yeah. I mean, one thing I really, really dug about this game was that the characters seemed to have a lot more personality and animation to them than, say, Mario Kart characters. Which is weird, because I'm totally unfamiliar with most Sega characters. But when Sonic would boost, he'd jump out of his car, stand on the hood, and give a thumbs up or something. I thought that was, at least visually, quite cool. Ashley: I can agree with that. The course designed to look like an updated Green Hill Zone made me smile as well. But there's really not too much to get excited about with this game. The demo didn't show off too much content, nor did it ever get frantic and fun like a Mario Kart race would. We both easily won our respective races. Anthony: Yeah. I was in first place, and I suddenly got another Chaos Emerald and boosted ahead WAY in front of the AI. I mean, I've bitched about Mario Kart Wii's rubberband item system, but this almost felt like it went too far in the other direction. Ashley: It seems like items are given out without any discretion, just luck of the draw. Anthony: Which I can respect, generally, but goodness -- if I'm in first place, don't let me rape the competition THAT hard again. I did get a few more items than you, thought. I got a big bubble that surrounded my kart and seemed to slow me down at the expense of absorbing one type of damage, and a three-pack of exploding mines that basically acted like less-accurate green shells. Ashley: Those mines looked a lot like the robot fish that jump out of the water in Emerald Hill. Which was pretty cool. By the way, Tails was not playable in the demo, but it seems that his plane does not ever go off of the ground. This is very sad, considering that in the trailer, it gave off hints of a Diddy Kong Racing-esque racer. Land, ground, and possibly sea vehicles would have given the game the bit of variety it needs. To make it more than mediocre, anyway. Anthony: You know what? I kind of wish that someone could make a game that combines the character of this game with the not-lousy gameplay of something like Mario Kart. I wouldn't mind racing Sega characters against Nintendo ones. If I'm going to fucking make them ski against one another in TWO Olympics games, why the hell can't a brother hit Sonic with a red shell? Ashley: The way they're going, that doesn't seem like the impossible. Anthony: I would quite enjoy that. Ashley: To be honest, I think I would too. As much as it feels silly to admit to that.  Anthony: I don't think it's silly. No more silly than Mario and Sonic going goddamn fucking bobsled racing. Ashley: I know, but I still feel like maybe the two worlds should stay seperate regardless. I have expressed the desire to keep non-Mario characters out of Mario Kart, so it seems a little hypocritical to say I would like Sega characters thrown in. Maybe Sega just needs to shamelessly rip off just a little more. Anthony: Sonic games need less originality. Been saying that shit for years. Ashley: Overall, Sonic & Sega All Stars Racing wasn't one of the better games we played. Anthony: It was not. But it was a nice way to cool down after Bayonetta. Ashley: It sure was. Something simple to cleanse the palate.
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Bayonetta. Aliens vs. Predator.Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. It didn't take a genius to see that something was amiss at Sega's E3 booth. Veritable mountains of blood and boobs were countered only by a small, cutesy, and ...

E3 09: Bayonetta arouses Burch n' Davis

Jun 06 // Destructoid Staff
Ashley: We didn't play Bayonetta until literally the end of the show. I'm not sure why we waited so long. We passed the booth several times before. Anthony: We probably put it off because there was always a line. Or rather, a pretty big-ass group. If you go to the showfloor on the last day of E3 in the last few hours of the show, though, it's like being a kid in a candy store. Ashley: Going along with this metaphor, I would say that Bayonetta was a gigantic swirly lolipop that we both enjoyed very much. Anthony: If swirly lolipops could induce half-boners. Ashley: Well, it was colorful and delicious. One of my favorite things about the game is its imagery. I've never seen a game designed quite like Bayonetta is. Anthony: Yeah. Functionally, it is Devil May Cry in almost every way, save for the really satisfying, 360 degree gun-shooty move she can do that seems like it's ripped from a third-person shooter. Otherwise, I really just ended up digging the game's charm, above all else. Though I dunno if "charm" is the right word. Again, half-boners. Ashley: Bayonetta's design constantly wavers from artistic (spouting butterfly wings during double jumps) to nearly over-the-top (the hair transformation scenes). Anthony: I think it's so over-the-top that it becomes almost mindblowingly effective. This is a game that made us simultaneously laugh, feel like badasses, and occasionally lean toward one another and say, "admittedly...that's pretty sexy." Like, when that big-ass foot made of hair came out of some portal Bayonetta created and kicked a dude in the face, I suddenly realized it -- this is next-gen Battletoads. Ashley: I have no basis of comparison (never played the DMC games), but I really loved the combat. It was very satisfying, and easy to pull off combos. The loading screens even allow you time to learn the various combinations of button presses available to you. There's no one way to kill something, and that's great. I couldn't imagine things ever getting old with all the different things you can do. Anthony: The basic mechanics are pretty simplistic, but the visual rewards for executing cool combos made our demo much more enjoyable than it really had any right to be. I think it could probably get old if stretched out over several hours without significant change to your abilities or the enemies you face. But at the same time, that's most DMC-esque games I've played. And Bayonetta is thus far the coolest game in that genre I've ever gotten my hands on. Ashley: It oozes a style that, so far, we haven't seen anywhere else. That style could very well carry it a long way. Anthony: Yeah. I mean, even the way Bayonetta walks was perfect. While you're shooting, she just sort of holds one hand out to fire, putting her other hand on her hip. All sassy-like. And if you try to move while doing that, she struts . She doesn't walk. She struts . Ashley: And she has a very sultry taunt that Anthony probably used every five seconds. Anthony: It was the "bustin' makes me feel good" of Bayonetta. Anytime you want, you can press the left bumper and she'll just stop and strike a pose, for no real reason. Which is awesome. I think Gears of War could benefit from that mechanic. Ashley: I'm not too sure about that. Marcus is no Bayonetta, unfortunately. Anthony: "MORE LIKE TEN SHITLOADS" (pose) Ashley: Sega, give us a male Bayonetta! Please! Anthony: Fuck that noise. Having had no real experience with DMC-esque games like this, what did you think when you left the booth? Would you buy it, based on that demo? Ashley: I think I would. I got a taste of that fast-paced, satisfying action, and I would really like to experience more. That, and I want to see more hair transformations. Those are very interesting. Anthony: And the sudden flashes of flesh -- I have to say, I usually get really offended by characters like Lara Croft or whatever who claim to be about Serious Female Empowerment Action, but Bayonetta is so incredibly overt about her purpose that I couldn't help but buy into it. There's no hand-wringing there. She's there to give you a boner, and that's okay.Ashley: I agree, although the real life Bayonetta at the booth made me roll my eyes the few times we saw her. Anthony: I heard some scary stories about what that poor woman had to go through. Some dude put his hand, like, an inch away from her vagoo during a picture. And she noticed. And had to pretend not to. Ashley: Yikes. Suddenly, I feel empathetic for her. Anthony: Yeah. But, I mean, you're a woman. How does a female character who comes right out and says "my purpose is to be arousing" compare to someone like Lara Croft, who pretends to be a serious character but is secretly about pretty much the same thing? Ashley: I never got the "I'm sexy so this game will sell" vibe from Bayonetta. She's almost a caricature of offensive female videogame characters. Anthony: Really? I guess my wang missed the irony. That does make sense, though. She's pretty over-the-top. Ashley: Maybe it was because I was laughing and having so much fun. Anthony: No harm there, then. I really hope the plot of Bayonetta never asks the player to take it seriously, because nothing in the mechanics or visuals I experienced in that demo would justify anything other than the most barebones, unpretentious plot imaginable.Ashley: Yeah, we didn't really get to see any plot at all, did we? Anthony: Such is the tragedy of playing an E3 demo. Either way, I'm unquestionably renting this game whenever the hell it comes out, and will be actively looking forward to it until then. Ashley: And I will just mooch it off of Anthony when the time comes. Though, if the full product turns out to be just as enjoyable as the demo, I would definitely go out and buy a copy.Anthony: We shall see.
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By now, you've hopefully read Jim's glowing preview of Bayonetta. Lord knows Ashley Davis and myself did. With what we assumed would be our final preview already posted, we sat restlessly in the E3 press room for a few moment...

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E3 09: Burch n' Davis play Grand Slam Tennis


Jun 04
// Destructoid Staff
As E3 comes to a close, we present the last of our "Burch n' Davis play..." segments. One would typically try to send such a series off with a bang, but we were too tired and had played too many high-profile games i...
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E3 09: Burch n' Davis burn the fat in Wii Fit Plus


Jun 04
// Destructoid Staff
Ashley Davis and Anthony Burch wish they were Brad Nicholson. They long to have bulging muscles, a healthy immune system, and one of those -- how does one say it -- rockin' bods.Davis and Burch are lazy, however, and rather t...
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E3 09: Burch 'n Davis play Sin and Punishment 2


Jun 04
// Destructoid Staff
Looking back on all the wonderful (and slightly less wonderful) things that we've seen so far at this year's E3, I think Sin and Punishment 2 was one of my (Ashley) favorites. And to think, we nearly completely missed the dis...
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E3 09: Burch n' Davis try out Tony Hawk: Ride


Jun 04
// Destructoid Staff
The booth for Tony Hawk: Ride silently mocked Ashley Davis and myself for the first two days of E3. Forever surrounded by eager attendees at all times, it promised the most fully interactive gameplay experience short of break...

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