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6:40 PM on 03.10.2009  

I'm Back! Valkyria Chronicles review

Well if anybody noticed (probably didn't) I haven't been here for a while. Part of this was due to Destructoid getting hacked and my password getting changed. Because of that I took a little bit of a sabbatical from the site. Now my main site (Gametrailers.com) is irritating me with it's constant fanboyism and stupid users, so I'm going to be here a little more often, that and I finally reset my password. So enjoy this review (if anybody stops to read it that is).

Thereís a lot of talk about how the PS3 lacks JRPGís, granted this is somewhat true. But there is still the adage of quality over quantity and when you look at it this way itís pretty true. To help prove this is the underappreciated critical darling known as Valkyria Chronicles. Iím going to admit that when I first saw this game in some brief gameplay trailer from about two E3ís ago I wasnít interested. This pretty much led me to write it off as something that I would never play. Next thing I know it comes out and sets the Internet ablaze with how good it is. Taking this into account I go to buy the game and the next thing I know Iím in love.

Story:

Valkyria Chronicles is set in a fictional recreation of Europe circa 1935. Youíre introduced to Welkin ďWelks/WelkieĒ Gunther the son of a war hero and Alicia Melchiott an aspiring baker. Their hometown is about to be over run by the East European Imperial Alliance (yes theyíre pretty much like Naziís) and instead of doing nothing about it they decide to take up arms and fight. After losing their hometown to ďGerryĒ they enlist in Galiaís militia. Along for the ride is Guntherís little sister Isara who later on finds a rather useful niche. They become a part or Galiaís Squad 7 and run into a rogueís gallery of cool charactersÖand a pigÖwithÖwings. Seeing everybody eventually bond into something that is akin to a family is actually quite moving. In the beginning you might find a particular character irritating because of her somewhat racist views, but she actually does grow on you and at the same time she grows as a person. Thereís so much more that can be spoiled or referred to, but half of the fun comes from watching the story unfold.
Rating: 9.5

Gameplay:
At its core Valkyria Chronicles is a strategy RPG, but its battle system blends real time with turn-based elements. You can move and shoot in real time. On top of this you can also aim in real time. This means that headshots are doable and actually preferred. Headshots are critical shots and take off a lot of damage (naturally), but this comes at the cost of accuracy. If youíre able to get close enough a burst of five shots to the head will put pretty much anything down. Apart from this VC uses a turn-based system, which are known as phases. During each phase there are a set amount of moves that you can make, which are known as command points. During each turn you can either use all of them or save a couple, which will carry over for your next phase. This is actually simple, but the gameplay mechanics that you use are actually quite deep. The first thing that you have to take into affect is positioning.

Youíre able to take cover by either crouching behind sandbags, trenches or hiding in grass. When you take cover obviously youíre hidden, but this comes with the benefit that the enemy canít employ headshots (works both ways) and are harder to kill. With the cover like sandbags you have to realize that they can be destroyed. The best for these are grenades and mortar fire. So if you use a grenade to take out some enemies or to expose an enemy you destroy the sandbag. When that happens you wind up losing possible cover for when you make your advance. Eventually you start using your tank as movable cover, but itís good to use both depending on the situation.

Later in the game when the enemy starts employing snipers you canít truly rely on sandbags. This is when you start to employ buildings and walls as cover (or hope that your character will dodge the shot). You canít mount up on it a la Gears of War, but you can stand behind it. But this is when positioning becomes really important. If you leave your character in a vulnerable position you leave them open to attack. If they get attacked from behind they take double the damage. But if you leave them facing forward, or in a position where they have a good chance of seeing the enemy advance on them then they will attack the enemy as theyíre trying to advance. This is something that you will rely heavily on actually because you can thin the enemy ranks without wasting a turn. This is also hilarious too, at least for me. Thereís just something comical about seeing the enemy running through gunfire trying to get to his objective. You can almost see the determination on his face as he says to himself, ďI can make it!Ē Next thing you know he gets cut down because of your fortress like defenses.

While on the topic of units and advancing let me talk about the units that you have at your disposal. You have access to engineers, shocktroops, scouts, lancers and snipers. Each has their own advantage and disadvantage and one actually gains some serious firepower once you level it up enough. For starters engineers are able to replenish ammo for other units, repair vehicles (important) and disarm landmines (really important). That last one might not seem important, but landmines are a nuisance. When moving around you are able to disarm them, but when you actually want to make an important strike on the enemy, and the land is littered with landmines it would be in your best interest to cleanse the field. Engineers are not defenseless, but theyíre the least combat effective. They pack the standard rifle the scout uses, but they donít have that much health, but their range of movement is second only to the scout. Pretty much theyíre best used as a last resort after somebody else has knocked down a good amount of health off the target.

Shocktroops are for attacking fast and heavy. Theyíre able to soak up a lot of damage and dish a lot of it out as well. Their weapon of choice is a heavy machinegun that can cut anything human down. Their only drawback is they lack range, both weapon and movement wise. Once you level them up to elite level they gain access to flamethrowers, which are good for attacking people behind cover. Lancers are your anti-armor units. Theyíre slow moving, but are wrapped in armor that can soak up some hits. The armor they wear is much better at dealing with explosives than actual bullets for some odd reason. Their bazookas can take out both personnel and armor, but the unit in general is better suited for tanks. As a Lancer you have to search for a tanks vulnerable spot, which is on the back of the tank or use numerous turns shooting the body. The only problem with the weak spot is that behind the tank you usually have people manning machineguns, but the rare occasion when they actually expose themselves youíll trip over yourself to hit it.

Scouts are pretty versatile and at least for me seem to be the most used units. I normally do my best to keep two to three on hand per squad with a couple of shocktroops and an engineer for the tanks. Scouts have the farthest range so theyíre essentially your eyes and ears when it comes to finding out what you have to deal with. Theyíre pretty accurate with their rifle shots and once you level them up to elite level they gain access to grenade launchers. This is when they start becoming your bread and butter unit. Every unit can carry a couple of grenades but their range is pretty limited. With this nice grenade launcher the range is greatly expanded and becomes the BFG of the battlefield. This allows for one hit kills, knocking enemies out of cover so they become vulnerable and makes the scout a lynchpin for your tactics.

Snipers are quite good at turning a battle. They have the farthest weapons range, but their mobility is pretty limited. The best thing to do is to put them at a high position and use them to take out anything stupid enough to not be in cover. The only thing that I donít like about them is that them along with lancers donít counterattack.

After a couple of missions you get access to a tank and then after a bunch more you get another. The first tank called the Edelweiss is the more important one. If that gets blown to bits the mission is over so make sure you nuke whatever Lancers you see, destroy anti-tank weapons and just make sure that nobody can hit that weak spot (yes for massive damage). The tank should be used sparingly because it eats up two command points. Once you start getting good at farming these points and realize that ďI must destroy that tank before it shoots me one more timeĒ youíll use it more than once (sometimes four times) during one phase.

The management of health and ammo is pretty interesting. You can use the same unit more than once, but every time you use it its range of mobility becomes limited. This wonít fully replenish until you start another phase. After each phase you have a portion of your health replenished if you take damage. On top of this your ammo is replenished by one point. Your basic unit can shoot up to three times from their standard gun, they each carry one grenade, and that gets replenished after every phase. If youíre not that patient then you have to move an engineer to them to replenish the ammo stock. The tank operates differently because engineers can only replenish its health unless itís in a base or something. It has unlimited shells, but itís other weapons like the mortar can only be used once per phase. Iím not too sure about its machine gun because I barely use it.

After all this writing I havenít told you what youíre supposed to be doing with these implements of destruction. For the most part your main objective is to take over your enemyís base (all your base are belong to us). There is a main base for you to take over and a secondary base. Itís just good to take over both because it cuts off the enemyís access to reinforcements by taking over the secondary base. The main base can still call for these, but itís best not to let it get out of hand. Also after capturing the secondary base it makes for a good rallying point. A good trick to use is to have your less mobile units in close proximity to your base.

After you capture the enemyís secondary base you can have you enemies retreat to your base and then call them as reinforcements at you newly acquired secondary base. It allows them to traverse the battlefield without eating numerous command points, plus they come back fully healed. There are also more diverse missions like destroy this tank the size of the White House or rescue this princess from an armored car. A lot of these missions take a while, but depending on how good your strategy is it wonít take as long. Take that princess mission for example. The first time I did it it took forever and I failed. I got caught up in some sort of bottleneck towards the end of the level and just couldnít close the deal before he escaped (in my defense I was really close to winning). The second time I did it, I grouped all of my shocktroops in one area and forced him into them. After that I used about three of them to shoot his equipment to pieces and it was all done in about two phases (if even that, donít remember how short it was). After a mission youíre ranked in how many phases it takes (after 20 itís a mission fail). And depending on how high your rank is you get a bonus added to your experience.

A lot of this may sound complicated but itís really not. After about a couple of missions and learning from your mistakes it becomes second nature. Oh yeah about death. If one of your units falls in combat you have to get to it within about three turns (or phases) or before the enemy gets to them. Once you get them a medic evacuates them from the field. In the next phase you can call for them again. I do believe that if a character that isnít a leader character and they get caught be the enemy you lose them. Iím not too sure because Iím pretty careful and havenít really lost anybody yet. Once you get a grasp of the basics you start pairing up your characters together because depending on whom theyíre next to they will actually attack an enemy with them. Thereís also stat boosting and damaging characteristics inherent in your characters called potentials. These can be activated based on anything from environment to what people are around them. Itís quite interesting to say the least.

Youíre also awarded money to be spent on upgrading weapons and armor. Also later on you get medals for certain things and when you get these medals you can get new more powerful weapons. You also get new weapons after a mission. Finding out what weapons are best and to whom to give them to is nice especially when you find out how effective the new weapon is.

Valkyria Chronicles is a game that can soak up a good amount of time without you even knowing it. Granted this is for a niche audience so I canít just recommend it to everybody, but if youíre an RPG fanatic like me and want the best in your collection then run out and buy Valkyria Chronicles, you wonít regret it.
Rating: 10

Graphics:

VC has a rather distinct look to it. It looks like a watercolor illustrated manga. Its character design is actually pretty good. Both Welkin and Alicia look like gentle people that wouldnít dream of going to war, but they get thrown into it. Their cohorts are battle hardened, but they have a softer side to them, which is actually shown nicely in the character designs. The gun and tank design looks post world war one, but pre world war two at the same time. The tanks minus the Edelweiss arenít as sophisticated as a Tiger tank. When you shoot a gun the sound effects are written out as its happening and give the game personality. There are also animated cutscenes, which are actually quite beautiful. Battlefields tend to take place on plains and cities and they do look serene only to have what might as well be dubbed WW1.5 waging in them. This isnít really shown because they only show the wars youíre fighting in. You wish for something grander in scope, but thatís what the cutscenes are for. The color palette is quite subdued if you compare it to something like Tales of Vesperia for example, but it does have a beauty all on its own.
Rating: 9.5

Sound:

Sound is great. The voice-overs are excellently done with each character being portrayed the way they should. No character is annoying (thank god), characters such as Isara (Laura Bailey) sound as sweet as they look, though there is a tint of Henrietta from Gunslinger Girl. Dave Wittenberg (Kakashi from Naruto) does a wonderful job of portraying Welkin as a leader with a heart. Colleen OíShaughnessey (Yoshi from Digimon Data Squad) is great in her performance as Alicia conveying her innocence, sweetness and determination. The score provided by Hitoshi Sakimoto is both sweeping and majestic. The battle music makes you want to storm Omaha beach with M1 Garand in hand, but itís also quite soothing. Throughout the game during the cutscenes it will crescendo along with emotions. There is one key point in the game where I just almost cried. Just the music and the weight of what happened made me want to shed a tear.
Rating: 10

Replay:

Isnít necessarily the strong point of certain RPGís, but with the way the leveling system is you have to play it a lot to max out your characters. You have story missions, which canít be played again, but you have access to skirmish missions, which you can play an infinite amount of times for you to level up. On top of these there are other story missions for you to buy. You donít level up just one person, but the whole class. This is actually pretty smart so if you lose a high rated character youíre not screwed. It also takes away the notion of favoritism and allows you to be attached to the characters. Iím pretty sure that when Iím finally done with the game Iíll start overÖhopefully thereís some kind of new game plus option. I read that thereís some kind of DLC, but I think itís just different missions. I read that thereís rumored to be some that allows you to play as the enemy, but Iím leaving it as rumor.
Rating: 9.0

Overall:

I was once skeptical, but I was quickly won over. With its captivating characters, engaging plot and addicting battle system I do not regret plunking my hard earned money down on Valkyria Chronicles. Granted this game came out late last year, but a good RPG is a good game forever. So run over to your local game store and buy a copy of Valkyria Chronicles now. If you donít get it your inner gamer will hate you for it.
Rating: 9.8

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9:06 AM on 01.05.2009  

NFS: Undercover review

Just to let the ADD crowd know I can't post pics on my work computer so I'll put them in when I get home. Oh yeah I also have a couple of anime reviews written so if you want to read those as well just let me know in a comment, my next review should be Mirror's Edge.

Several years ago during the Xbox/PS2 days I walked into a Toys Rí Us and played a demo of Need For Speed Underground. I fell in love with the slick visuals, blinding speed and car customization. This was back before they re-added the cop chases and opted for cheesy over the top stories with equally cheesy FMV sequences. As far as Iím concerned the ultimate culmination of the current franchise is still NFS: Most Wanted. After the dismal NFS: Pro Street EAís Black Box studio goes back to the ground work that was laid by Most Wanted and finds a way to cock it up with Need For Speed: Undercover.

Story:

Iíll give you the best rundown I can muster because itís boring, lifeless and itís something that youíre essentially just going to skip to get to the racing. Youíre hired by federal agent Chase Linh (played by the foxy Maggie Q) to bust up some street gangs. But in order to get close enough to them you have to earn their trust by winning races. Thereís a lot that goes on within the narrative and none of it is really too important, but I will at least say that itís better than the story in NFS: Carbon. The FMVís make a return and theyíre not as over the top as Carbonís (no fat dudes with really bad Elvis mullets). There are times that the camera angles appear to show some sense of style, but it tends to get lost in the lifeless performances. What makes the FMVís bearable in stuff like Command and Conquer is the fact that the actors are hamming it up. Whereas in Undercover the actors are actually trying to take it serious.
Rating: 5.0

Gameplay:

What made Underground fun was its challenge. You had to be able to dodge oncoming traffic and normal traffic without slamming into another car. This was because you wrecked you ride and had to start over again. Once Most Wanted came out you were no longer penalized for hitting traffic. This I didnít mind because you werenít able to just smoke your adversaries. Undercover just might be the ďnoobificationĒ of the franchise because for the most part itís easy to leave people in the dust. This is actually something youíre rewarded for as well. Itís called ďDominationĒ and this is the best way to increase your wheelman level as well as upgrade your stats. Whenever you gain a wheelman level it gives you a boost to certain stats. This gives Undercover an RPG like quality.

As nice as this is you have no control of what skills get raised. It will just randomly give you more points to something. Iím personally not sure if youíre able to feel the difference in the handling of your vehicle, but at least when you blow people away by ten seconds youíre at least awarded for it. Iím personally not sure if newcomers will even notice the difference between this and Most Wanted, but veterans can tell in a heartbeat. In Most Wanted the vehicles had a good sense of weight to them, and you were able to feel the tires bite into the pavement for traction. As you got used to breaking and easing up on the accelerator in just the right way you were able to drift into turns and slide right between cars and take corners just the right way to slingshot past people. Granted this is still here in Undercover, but the cars feel a lot lighter and are just too arcade like in their handling.

The alterations to the handling is somewhat expected since Undercover is operating on an entirely different engine, but what really grinds my gears is how much you get fined money. Once you start playing for a while you notice red numbers that appear on the left side of the screen. What this is is you losing money. You get fined for speeding, street racing, destruction of property, driving off road and numerous other things that didnít matter in past incarnations (why the f*ck does it cost me $200 to go fast!!?).

In Undercover you still have boss races, but they seem to come less frequently and how you access them is open to interpretation. In Most Wanted you had the ďBlacklistĒ in Carbon you took over their territory, but in Undercover I couldnít tell you how it happens. I guess you just race until you get a text or cutscene where they ask to challenge you. Just like in every Need For Speed they introduce new ways to race. Some are entertaining while others are just infuriating. One such new addition is called ďHighway Battle. (or some permutation of it)Ē It has you and another racer driving on the open road dodging traffic and at the same time trying to get as far ahead of each other as possible. As long as your opponent does not outrank you these tend to be really easy. The irritating ones are where the course isnít blocked off; now as exciting as this sounds, thereís a reason why they stink. One reason is that they tend to be timed and the other is the amount of traffic thatís on the road at times. Youíll find yourself peering down at the map and almost driving via the map, and when you have traffic coming towards you it gets irritating. It gets to the point where you have to memorize the track, which can only be done by screwing up and starting over.

What I do find interesting is how infrequent the new cars are. In Most Wanted and Carbon after every boss race you had the chance to win a new car so you always had ended up with a new ride. Granted that depended on how fast you got bounty and milestones (in Most Wanted), but hey at least you knew you would eventually get a new set of wheels. In Undercover I think I was driving the same car for four hours, it drove me nuts. I was constantly muttering, ďdo I finally get a new carĒ after about every race, and buying isnít the best option. I finally got a second set of wheels once I hit 40% completion. How they handle that is actually interesting. When you do challenge a boss you donít do it in your car, itís done in different car. You have the option of taking that car, or taking the bosses car.

The greatest allure of the franchise is the car customization and itís a lot more toned down than it used to be. Since autosculpt came in with Carbon theyíve decreased the amount of body kits and even this works differently. In Carbon you had specific body kits used for molding and in Undercover you can sculpt the preset body kits. Iím personally not sure which method I prefer, but itís at least good to see that this feature hasnít been taken out.

There are still cops and theyíre actually pretty tough. You canít ram the crap out of them like before because theyíre cars seem to be made out of submarine grade titanium. You hit them and you bounce off unlike in previous games when you couldíve taken them out by ramming them. Also there are a lot less pursuit breakers than before, which seem to be the only ways to get cars off your ass. Yes you can still out run them, but when you have loads on your tail it isnít that easy.

Pretty much Undercover can be called the most inconsistent Need For Speed. It does some interesting things like try to tell a story, but it seems like by going after all the actors the team probably had to cut corners in gameplay for budgetary reasons. The racing isnít as smooth or challenging as it used to be. The police chases are still exciting at least and the vehicles at your disposal are pretty nice. To sum it up if youíre not a huge Need For Speed fan then donít touch it. If you are one then itís best to lower your expectations.
Rating: 6.0

Graphics:

For some odd reason Most Wanted a three-year-old game looks better than Undercover. I do believe Undercover has better lighting, but when it comes to car detail Undercover loses. While this I can live with the most blatant problem lies within the frame rate. The frame rate stumbles and wobbles more than Robert Downey Jr. (donít worry I know heís clean now) during his years of alcoholism and drug abuse. It really hampers the racing, because there are times when it will hitch up during a turn and throw you off. Next thing you know youíre spinning out of control or you run into a car. Since I know developers are just in love with patching games I can only hope to god that they release a frame rate patch (which better include trophies and a custom soundtrack option). Other than this the sense of speed, tricked out cars and vibrant colors are still here. The sun seems to be blinding at times and does a good job of reflecting off your car.
Rating: 6.0

Sound:

For starters I really hope that Sony demands mandatory custom soundtracks in every game (especially racing games) from this point on. Because I canít stand the music used in this game, but aside from that Undercover does a decent job of conveying the growl of certain engines. While anything mechanical doesnít distract the same canít be said for anything organic. The dialogue is both boring and flat or over the top and makes me reminisce about the time when they simply made racing games sans story.
Rating: 5.0

Replay:

Thereís online multiplayer, which I didnít bother to use because the last time I played an NFS game online it was a debauched lag fest. Granted Iím pretty sure that the servers are a lot better now than the last time I played Most Wanted online Iím pretty sure that my sessions would be with people using the most powerful car with the stats maxed out. So if getting smoked by strangers is your idea of a good time then have at it. If you plan to race with friends only than it shouldnít be too much of a problem. Only real problem might be that they disable vinylís for online. That and you have to create an account with EA Nation, which Iíve had for a while on my 360, but I guess you need a new one for PSN games, but if this is the case why the hell didnít I need this for Battlefield: Bad Company?
Rating: 7.0

Overall:

After the dismal NFS: Pro Street this is more of a return to form, but this form isnít in the best of shape, itís practically fat and ridden with cellulite. EA and the now defunct Black Box studios needs to figure what made Undercover and Most Wanted entertaining experiences. When stacked up against the competition of Midnight Club: Los Angeles (which is only hampered by its obscene amount of traffic and invincible cheating A.I. that smashes you onto oncoming traffic) it just canít compete. The car customization is better, the cars are more varied and itís presented much better. While Undercover doesnít drop the ball completely in entertainment, but it does fumble said ball more times than a epileptic quarterback with leprosy.
Rating: 6.0

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1:48 PM on 12.19.2008  

Nostalgia Review (Mass Effect)

Captain Jean Luc Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation summed up space travel and exploration best, ďSpace...The final frontier...These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: To explore strange new worlds... To seek out new life; new civilizations...To boldly go where no one has gone before!" But he left one thing out and that is to kick heaps of ass. That pretty much sums up Mass Effect.

Story:

You play as Commander Shepard and your main task is to stop the rogue Spectre agent Saren. What a Spectre agent is is not really placed into a concrete definition, but as far as Iím concerned they are Intergalactic cleaners (think Jean Renoís character in The Professional or his character in the original La Femme Nikita). They have the power to go anywhere and do as they wish under their own discretion. So what happens when one decides to stop playing by the rules? The answer is nothing good. There is a lot of story tied into what Sarenís real intention is and it is pretty juicy.

On top of dealing with Saren there is another story arch dealing with ingratiating Commander Sherpard into the illustrious and highly exclusive Spectre clan, which isnít easy. There is a lot of racism between humans and other alien species; specifically while youíre speaking to members of the Council. This is because they feel that humanity gained power far too quickly and a lot of them are not going to go out of their way to help out mankind. Part of what Shepard has to do is prove to them that humanity is worth it and not as arrogant and pig headed as they think. This job technically falls to you by dictating how Shepard handles certain situations.

You donít face the epic and nigh apocalyptic task of stopping a power hungry aspiring despot alone luckily. Within about two missions you will fill out your roster of characters. Every character in the game has a well thought out and surprisingly fleshed out back-story. Getting to know each character is a blast and youíre guaranteed to find some favorite characters. There is really a lot to like about the story. There are a lot of plot driven decisions to make so Iím pretty sure that there are multiple endings.

One other way of note is that you can shape who and what Commander Shepard is. What I found interesting is that when you create your character you also get to determine what her backstory is. You get several options and each one is mentioned multiple times in the story. They also give you a decent character editor to make your own individual Shepard. My Shepard is a raven haired, ruthless beauty that gets the job done, but also isnít above being nice and helping people out, but talk trash to her and you will get taken down.
Rating: 9.0

Gameplay:

Mass Effect plays out like some kind of Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter RPG hybrid. It sounds really weird when you read it, but it works fairly well. Itís a third person shooter with RPG elements and Iím pretty sure it will play a lot differently depending on which class you decide to be. You can play as your standard grunt in the Soldier class which grants you access to all of the weapons classes and the heaviest armor, but you canít use any Biotics powers. You can think of Biotics as ďThe ForceĒ because it allows you to push, lift, stop and do other things to your opponents. If you want access to all of them you can play in the Adept class, but the downside is that you can only upgrade your pistol stats and utilize the light armor. So if you want something that will stand a chance is a close in fight you will not want to be this. I went the route of the Vanguard class, which is a combination of both. You can train to gain access to Medium armor and you can utilize pistols and shotguns. You also have access to some of the Biotics powers like Lift, Throw, and Warp. Lift and Throw are the important ones because they can put the hurt on your opponent.

Using this class you also notice the nice physics engine at work. Enemies have a bad habit of charging at you especially towards the end. Some foe decides that heís tired of taking potshots at me from a distance and starts charging at me full speed. With the help of the Lift technique I send him skyward, but he also keeps his momentum so not only is he in the air, but he is also streaking through it. He must have been launched 50 meters from his location because I had to run to shoot the crap out of him. After getting perforated in mid air his corpse drops while in open air to fall a good long distance till he hits solid ground. This ability also effects the environment so youíll also have crates, tables, and chairs floating around your suspended enemy.

On top of Lift thereís Throw, which is essentially Force Push. For awhile it took me time to get used to doing these, but once I got used to them I started to rely on them to help get the job doneÖthat and using them is hilarious at times. One time I actually managed to Throw someone off a balcony and into what seemed like a bottomless pit. I imagined the person doing that Emperor Palpatine drop from Return of the Jedi.

The game isnít all shotguns and levitation because there are other classes that play differently, but I didnít care too much for what they had to offer. Commander Shepard also has to answer to the calling of helping peopleÖif you choose to, but you should because it gives you experience for doing it, but how you do it is up to you. Just like Knights of the Old Republic you have the option to be nice (Paragon) or bad (Renegade).

There a lot of side quests in the game and it is recommended that you partake in a few to level up your character and to extend the game. Since you work for the Alliance Navy they will radio in missions for you to accomplish. These can be anything from find the missing crew to solve a hostage situation. And some of these situations can be solved differently. There was this one assignment towards the end where I had to help get this person out of a spy ring. I first intimidated her boss to cut her loose and then he sent me out to buy some weapons from a smuggler. Instead of doing what I was told (pay him), I stole his goods and killed him along with his gun toting cohorts; yes a good time was had with that one.

Along with dispensing intergalactic justice you will also do some planet hopping. I was actually a little bit disappointed with this because from all the PR hype it seemed that every planet in the game would be explorable, but this isnít true. If you are lucky youíll be able to survey a planet (itís a button command) and discover something on it to nab some experience points, but that is it. If there is no mission than there is no planet just text. The planets tend to be barren wastelands with no indigenous life what so ever (minus Vermire where I saw a couple of crabs), some planets have Thresher Maws (think the worms from Dune). The planets that you can traverse are well thought out and have their own environments, my favorite one would be the ice planet.

You drive across the planet in a moon buggy on steroids that goes by the name of ďMako.Ē I honestly wish that this thing handled better because there are times that you have to shoot while on the move (to survive of course) and the controls just arenít tight enough. When you donít have rockets or energy balls flying at you then you donít mind. The physics are also a tad loose at times. You will get hung up on things and running into something stupid will make you shoot up into the air at times. My last grievance comes from the combat itself.

If youíre expecting the next Gears of War then you wonít find it here. The cover mechanic is a tad sloppy because you have to press towards the object or pull away from it if you want to get off of it and since it is based on camera rotation youíll get caught on something when you really just want to get the heck off of it (like when a rocket is flying towards you). Also the AI of your teammates is all over the place. Sometimes they will take cover but also they tend to hang out in the open and when you point them towards cover they will go there but they wonít always get behind it. Also when it comes to attacking theyíre actually pretty good and you can actually rely on them to kill things so that is definitely not a complaint, but the enemy has to be in the open and not behind cover. You can try taking the Brothers In Arms route and use them to flank the enemy, but that doesnít always go the best way because there are times when they will say that they canít get a lock on them or some other equivalent expressing their blindness leaving you to go in shotgun ready and hope that it will suffice.

Also you get so much crap in this game and a lot of it you will not use. You get upgrades to ammo and armor and depending on your play style you may or may not use it. All I know is that once I received the first aid armor upgrades I didnít use anything else and there are so many versions of the same weapon (stats are different). Youíll use the best stuff and just ignore everything else and the problem is that there is a cap to how much that you can carry. What makes that a real big problem is that you never know how close you are to the cap until you reach the limit. So then when you pick something up (pray to god itís not useful) when youíre at the limit you essentially have to smelt it down to omni-gel. There is also a huge money management problem. You never really know how much cash is on you until you go to the store and you rarely buy things either. Throughout the whole game I think I purchased four to five items. This is because youíll find stuff all over the place and that in the beginning of the game youíre broke and then the next thing you know youíre rich towards the end and since you really donít need to shop youíll rarely know how much money you have.

All of this may sound really nit-picky but it is really hard not to notice them. The game from a macro point of view is pretty much top notch and highly entertaining, but there are little quirks that bring the game down just a tad.
Rating: 9.0

Graphics:

This game is pretty much Unreal Engine 3 at itís best, but since it is using that engine it has the quirks along with it. So far this is the game that seems to be doing the most with the engine and that is because the art direction for the game is stellar. The texture on the alienís skin and just how they were designed is spectacular. It really puts a lot of developers to shame and almost says, ďThis is what Unreal Engine 3 is supposed to do.Ē Not enough can be said about the texture work in the game. One alien of note is the Krogan alien species. You can see the crevices in alien skin and it has a very distinct leathery lizard like texture to it. You can relate them to dinosaurs because theyíre big, pissed off and bred to wreak havoc.

I like how when they drop you from the Normandy (the spaceship) they give you an overview of the planet and, they show the Normandy cutting through the air as it jettisons you from the cargo bay. The architecture on the buildings are exceptional and you can really see that Bioware spent their time on the universe that you spend your time in. As nice as the game looks there are still some glaring imperfections.

As with all games using the Unreal Engine technology there is texture pop in after long loading times (after you die, going to a new environment, during some cutscenes). You will see a low resolution model and within seconds everything will get filled in. Personally Iím still shocked that this is a problem and I hope eventually Epic will find a way to iron this out. On top of texture pop-in the frame rate will dip at times. Itís far from game breaking, but itís still a flaw.
Rating: 9.0

Sound:

Everybody send thank you emails or letters to Jennifer Hale for lending her vocal talents to this game. For those that donít know who she is she is a very talented voice actress. She has provided the vocals for most notably Metal Gear Solid as Naomi Hunter, Metroid Prime as Samus Aran and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic as Bastila. She is pretty much the reason why you should play as a woman. Her vocal performance eclipses that of the male Commander Shepard. It has a more commanding tone and has a lot more range. Her voice pulls you right into the story.

The musical score is one of the best this year. At times it can be pulse pounding and other times itís soothing. Itís definitely a sci-fi score that fits the theme of the game. Weapons donít sound like phasers and the shotguns are sublime, with a loud echoing boom. And since after the boom something is sprawled out on the ground dead, itís definitely satisfying. Since your main foes are sentient machines youíll hear a very distinct piercing beep when they take that trip to see robot Jesus.
Rating: 9.5

Replay:

There are a lot of reasons to go back to this game. Outside of it being a great story you can play again as a different character in a different class, which is good because it allows you to go after achievement points for certain powers and weapons. Also you can play again as the same character and fully max out the character plus you also get to just mop the floor with everybody. Plus all your other characters stay at the same level. You can also change up your decisions as well and maybe tackle a couple of side missions that you opted not to do.
Rating: 9.0

Overall:

The story campaign may be shorter than what people expected, but there are a lot of side quests to keep you busy if you opt to do them. The universe is well thought out and the dialogue is some of the best to ever grace a videogame. Characters tend to talk to one another and the universe seems alive. Learning about each character through engaging dialogue is a treat and everything that you do seems to have an impact on something, which youíll realize through the occasional news broadcasts on elevator rides. Being able to choose how you resolve situations and how you respond to dialogue is great. It falls short on some things but once you look past it you will get sucked into the story. Now to further quote Captain Picard, ďEngage!Ē
Rating: 9.0

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7:38 PM on 12.04.2008  

Resistance 2 review

If you only had 19 hours to live, what would you do? Would you repent your sins? Spend quality time with your loved ones? Partake in a Caligula-esqe orgy? Well Nathan Hale already knows what he would do. He doesnít bother with all that existentialist nonsense. He just kills every alien that has the misfortune of being in front of him in Resistance 2.

Story:

After over running Russia and England the Chimera have set their sights on the red white and blue. But before this setup youíre reacquainted with Hale as he wanders around the snow covered fields of England. After being picked up by a mysterious aircraft heís forcibly injected with a sedative and goes unconscious. After waking up he finds out that his would be rescuers are a black ops team called S.R.P.A. (Special Research Projects Administration). After two years and a really bad situation at the SRPA base Hale becomes a member of The Sentinels, which are a team of soldiers immune to the Chimeran virus. But in order for their immunity to fully work they need inhibitor packs to help fight the virus. Over the course of R2 Nathan Hale pretty much just goes cold turkey on the inhibitors for the sake of the mission. The result of this is that within each passing level he becomes more and more like a Chimera. As this is going on Hale and his team also begin the hunt for a Chimeran of high intelligence called Daedalus. Heís pretty much a combination of the G-man from Half-Life and the Queen Alien. This is because of his constant cryptic messages and his penchant for ripping people in half.

Also throughout R2 you get a better sense of what the Chimeran virus is and how it was created. What I seem to like the most is how the Chimerans are portrayed. Outside of Daedalus they donít speak English, which is good because it lends it a better sci-fi appeal, they donít want to be reasoned with and they wonít break out into Shakespearean soliloquies about existence. They want the Earth, they want you dead and thatís all they care about. On top of this they tend to be nasty and ferocious in combat. While the narrative in R2 is more personalized than it was in R:FOM it seems to have a grander scope and more of a purpose. Instead of being told what happened itís actually happening right in front of you. Itís a tad hard to get attached to Nathan Hale because all he seems to do is be insubordinate and talk in a gruff voice. Granted itís nothing groundbreaking, but itís good enough to keep you compelled and entertained.
Rating: 8.0

Gameplay:

I wasnít blown away with the first Resistance, but I did like it. It was done well enough for a launch title, but it just didnít click. Granted the weapons were great, but the controls werenít precise enough for my liking. Eventually when I got accustomed to those I managed to find the lack of checkpoints within the campaign to be ridiculous. I swear that game gave you a checkpoint every half-hour. Luckily I can say that the developers at Insomniac Games found those quirks and fixed them. R2 runs smooth and controls beautifully. On top of that they improved the checkpoint system and now offers up a game that can be enjoyed by anybody looking for a solid first person shooter.

The only thing that Iím not too much a fan of is the omission of the weapon wheel from the first Resistance. There was something fun about having numerous options on how to take a certain situation. But I must admit that you didnít find a lot of ammo for the numerous weapons that you had at your disposal. With R2 the weapons management is now in the vein of Halo in that you can only carry two. Pretty much the rule of thumb is that if you see a weapon on the ground you should pick it up because thereís a good chance that youíre going to need it.

While this does take away from the imagination on how you take a scenario it at least makes sure that youíll be well acquainted with the weaponry and learn to master it within the context of the situation. And youíre going to need to learn this because the Chimera are more varied and far more aggressive than they were in its predecessor. There are Chimeraís as big as houses and dish out more damage than an M1 Abrams battle tank. And these are actually the medium sized ones, but the bigger ones come in the form of boss battles.

The one that was highly publicized was the sky-scrapper sized Leviathan that stomps through Chicago and swats helicopters out of the sky as if they were nothing but irritating gnats. For as big as they are they arenít too groundbreaking from a gameplay standpoint. You memorize their attack patterns and go in for the kill, but itís all in good fun at least and one of them actually looks like a monster from Ratchet And Clank: Tools of Destruction.

What the average player really isnít going to like is the amount of times youíre going to see the game over screen. You will be bombarded with wave after wave after wave of bloodthirsty monsters that want to take their pound of flesh straight out of your ass. These are the times when you need to plan when to take cover and when to attack and with what weapon. When you finally get with the flow and mow down each and every adversary in your path is when the game is highly rewarding. When you get cheated by a cheap death then youíre not too happy about it. As a word of warning avoid water; for as nice as it looks itís pretty much an instant death. There are these creatures that get introduced early on in the game that inhabit water. Once you go in the water they kill you. When you see them in the water it makes sense, but when you donít it comes off as really cheap. There are also invisible land based monsters called Chameleons that also kill you with one hit, but at least they have a tell so you can anticipate them. And that tell is ďif the screen shakes then prepare to shoot.Ē There is another thing that does this, but I shouldnít spoil everything.

While a lot of new weapons havenít been introduced they at least polished the reliable Bullseye and Carbine because thatís what youíre going to be packing a lot of the time. The Bullseye is a lot more accurate and packs a good amount of punch making it a great standby weapon. The Carbine is still weaker, but it makes up for it with the grenade launcher. While the new weapons may be few they are still entertaining. The most useful of the new weapons is the Marksman rifle, which fires a three round burst and is quit powerful for foes small and large. Nail anything with a headshot from this thing and it goes down. Another good addition is the Magnum pistol. It fires explosive ammo, but also packs a punch. If your foe dies from the first shot you can still kill the guy standing next to him with the same bullet. Its secondary function explodes the bullet lodged in something else, so itís great for setting up booby-traps or dealing extra damage.

While not pushing any boundaries R2 refines and for the most part polishes everything that made the franchise popular in the first place. While I couldíve lived without the extended waves and one hit deaths I still found myself thoroughly entertained and coming back for more.
Rating: 9.0

Graphics:

For the most part the presentation in R2 is superb, but for everything that looks great youíll find something disappointing. For starters I wish doors and anything that wasnít a weapon or Chimera was better looking. This is because doors, boxes and some parts of the ground have a really low-resolution texture. Granted this was probably done to make sure that everything on screen (like the important shooting parts) flowed without a hitch. The frame rate is smooth and barely dips making the experience flow nicely.

While doors look horrendous weapons, enemies the environments look spectacular and have a nice level of detail. Gone are the browns and grays from the previous game. R2 uses a far more varied color palette and it shows in various levels. One level takes place in a Californian forest and the greens of the foliage just pop off the screen. Thereís a lot more detail to the Chimera and it makes it easier to tell which is which so you know how to deal with them. One of the nice things is that even though the bosses are large and detailed they donít affect engine performance. The same goes for the amount of enemies on screen. Youíll occasionally see almost a dozen combatants on screen shooting at each other with lasers flying everywhere, but rarely does the game stutter or freeze. Seeing as how this was the same engine that ran the stunning Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction it makes me wonder how much more can be done to it. Because if the next R&C looks better than this Iíll be a very surprised and happy person. I just hope they donít use low-resolution doors and crates of course.
Rating: 9.0

Sound:

The action itself sounds epic and frenetic. With people screaming, demanding ammo and gunfire all over the place. The voice acting is decent and it isnít cringe worthy, but there isnít much vocal variety. Everybody with the exception of the lone scientist sounds like some testosterone infused military grunt, and by ďgruntĒ Iím talking about how they speak. While it would be out of place for them to sound like Kenneth Brannagh it just gets redundant.
Rating: 8.5

Replay:

There are so many aspects to the multiplayer that a person could get lost in the options, but Iím going to stick with the deathmatch options. Deathmatch, especially Team Deathmatch can be highly chaotic. Once you get over the constant death and find the right weapon for your skill level you will find a highly frenetic experience. The experience of running through the level fragging folks is great and the only remote quibble that I can find with it is the re-spawning. Re-spawning in front of, next to, in back of or turning a corner only to have half of the opposing team spawn right in front of you is irritating and should be taken care of.

When it comes to finding a particular weapon youíre going to have to do some experimenting, which in my case was using everything until you can go a match where my kill count wasnít significantly lower than my death count. And I didnít find a weapon that I liked until I started using the Auger. Maybe itís the noob weapon for this game and everyone is good with it, but finding the right time to bust out the energy shield to block projectiles and spray people was rewarding and made me fall in love with the gun. As you shoot and kill enemies you gain experience, which allows you to level up and gain different options for customizing your character.

Other than deathmatch you can partake in Skirmish where several squads of five men are on the same battlefield trying to take an objective. Other then this there is an eight-person co-op mode, which is class based. There are three classes, which is soldier, medic and special-ops and you are able to level these up to level 30 for different rewards. It doesnít follow the story, but there are several different objectives that need to be tackled. Multiplayer for R2 is diverse enough for any type of gamer to find something for them to enjoy.
Rating: 9.0

Overall:

While R2 is not groundbreaking it proves to be a highly entertaining and refined experience with a bevy of play options. With ruthless enemies, interesting weapons and rewarding multiplayer.
Rating: 9.0

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3:46 PM on 12.03.2008  

This Game Sucked!!! (Legendary review)

There are several things a person should not do. Some of these things are mate with a close sibling, snort Cocaine cut with rat poison and play a game called Legendary. Thatís because doing acts such as these come with serious repercussions. These consequences would be conceiving some sort of deformed mutant baby, brain damage or death.



Story:

Legendary has you playing the role of some thief hired to steal Pandoraís Box. The heist goes wrong fast and you end up unleashing mythological beasts upon the world. The premise is so bad that it sounds like it could be the premise of the next Uwe Boll movie. You donít care about the characters; you donít care about the story and as soon as it begins you wish that it would end.
Rating: 2.0


Gameplay:

After Turning Point Fall of Liberty, which could best be described as a pile of demon poop, the very talented (wink wink) developers at Spark Unlimited decide to drop this bomb in out laps. Everything that could be done wrong with a first person shooter has been done wrong here. The aiming is sluggish and the hit detection of the enemies is piss poor. The experience of aiming at an enemy and emptying an entire clip into him only to have him get out of cover and keep on shooting at him is disheartening. I donít know if itís because the guns are inaccurate or the fact that precision aiming is a lot easier said then done or if itís because when you move and shoot at the same time you will not hit the target most of the time. But this isnít the only aspect of the gameplay.

Because of the botched heist the Pandoraís Box stabs you in the hand with some kind of spike and leaves some kind of stupid Satanic tattoo on your hand. This allows you to absorb the essence of the mythological creatures. This essence allows you to regain health and used for some special attacks. Because of this there are no health packs. While I donít mind the omission of a regenerative health bar, I hate that what you use is tied to magic youíre never going to use and your acquisition of this is tied to enemy encounters.

Levels are also rather linear as well. In fact I havenít come across levels this linear and tiny since I played Kingdom Under Fire: The Circle of Doom. When something important like a building for example goes down it will fall in just a way for the rubble to come down and restrict your movement to a constricted path. On top of this there are a lot of events that are scripted. As youíre running across the street in the opening level youíll see a lot of Griffins flying around and eating hapless pedestrians. You think to yourself, ďmaybe I can save someone by killing this Griffin.Ē So you take your mighty axe and thrust it into the Griffin only to find that your axe has no effect on it. It doesnít even hit it, the Griffin doesnít respond to it either. All it does is sit there, eat the person and then fly away.



Another thing gone horribly awry is platforming. Your character behaves like somebody that flunked out of Phys Ed. He canít even hop over an ant and to add further insult to his lethargic physicality he caní even throw a grenade no more than two feet in front of him. There are the obligatory jumping puzzles. One such puzzle has you in a warehouse and you have to get a higher elevation. You donít know where to go or how to get there, but eventually you realize that you have to shoot down an elevator. Sadly as your there trying to figure it out youíre attacked by infinitely re-spawning werewolves. While on the topic of these werewolves; they look terrible. On top of that theyíre bullet sponges, and can only be killed after downing them and/or decapitating them. The A.I. tends to just stand there sometimes while you shoot them. If you do down them it takes several whacks to the head from your axe at a precise spot to decapitate them.

After about two hours (which is anymore then any sane individual should tolerate) you turn it off. After you do that you seek psychological counseling and do your best to wipe the experience from your memory. While you are presented with an interesting premise that has you shooting werewolves and Griffins and other crap instead of aliens, you quickly realize that Legendary is a steaming pile of garbage of epic proportions.
Rating: 1.0


Graphics:

Upon start up you're greeted with the Unreal Engine logo, which gives you a false sense of visual hope. You think to yourself ďthis game should look kick ass!Ē This is a sentiment that quickly fades. The shadows are terrible and boxy, your character model is some loser in a bad used car salesman suit and the textures at times are of PS1 quality, especially when you look at the ground. This is pretty much the first person shooter equivalent of Vampire Rain. The animation on the creatures is stiff and comical. The only remotely interesting thing I saw was when the Golem cobbled itself together out of buildings and cars like some sort of urban Voltron.
Rating: 2.0

Sound:

I guess I should keep this as brief as possible. The voice-overs are terrible your weapons, especially the submachine gun sounds like a semi-automatic super soaker and the music is terrible. Itís like they took the worst Stabbing Westward or Gravity Kills tracks (not insulting either group), mixed them turned off the bass and treble, and then gave them the audio fidelity of a worn out record and then proceeded to play it on a turn of the century Victrola.
Rating: 1.0


Replay:

Nonexistent. Sure thereís multiplayer, but no one in their right mind would dare touch it. Besides other people actually have to own the game for it to serve its purpose anyhow.
Rating: 0

Overall:

The only way to enjoy Legendary is to gather up Tom Servo, Crowe T. Robot and Mike Nelson of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 fame and have them crack jokes as you play it.
Rating: 1.5

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3:09 PM on 11.06.2008  

Silent Hill: Homecoming Review

With Resident Evil straying away from the confines of the survival horror genre that it helped to create; there are still some that decide to embrace and then strangle these confines. This is the best way to describe Silent Hill: Homecoming.


Story:

Alex Shepherd a recently discharged soldier comes home only to find his hometown in a shattered state. Pretty much every inhabitant has either disappeared or went psychotic and in the middle of all of this he has to track down his little brother. As we tag along with Alex you meet the people he used to know, a woman he has some kind of feelings for, and get to know his family. To be honest if I had a mother that switches erratically between despondent and Nurse Ratched, and a brother so irritating that he makes Arnie from ďWhatís Eating Gilbert GrapeĒ seem cool I would only have two options. Iíd leave on the first semi truck, Volkswagen Bus filled with homicidal lunatics, or pick up truck being driven by the Ku Klux Klan I see or murder them. But of course Alex being the good man that he is helps out.

The main concern with the story is that it takes forever to unfold. You seem to spend the first half of the game looking for your little brother. The moments where you actually interact with people and try to figure out what in the name of God happened to the town are nice. And itís also nice to know more about Alexís past when he was growing up. But moments such as these are too far and few between and you spend most of your time walking around darkly lit environments. So the story of SH: Homecoming takes a lot of patience to get into.
Rating: 7.5


Gameplay:

Pretty much every staple in the Silent Hill franchise makes a return. Everything from the occasional mind numbing puzzles to being freaked out by the creatures exists in SH: Homecoming. The most notable change is the revamped combat system and camera angle. SH: Homecoming uses the now standard over the shoulder perspective, which gives you a front row seat to your descent into the macabre. Since Alex Shepherd used to be in the military he knows how to handle himself. In fact this makes him the most formidable of the Silent Hill protagonists. Youíre no longer confined to pipe swings that look like they couldnít kill a cockroach and blind shots with your pistol.

The melee system is leaps and bounds better than what it used to be. Youíre able to combo using heavy and fast attacks, plus you can dodge. When you time a dodge properly and avoid an attack you can perform a counterattack. This does more damage to the enemy, but you canít combo again until after a brief pause. While this is nice because there is a huge emphasis on melee combat it all doesnít work well. is nice because there is a huge emphasis on melee combat it all doesnít work well. First and foremost the main problem with Homecoming is that it bucks modern controlling trends. The main trend that it decides to do away with is invert aiming. On top of this it teases you with the option. In the options menu thereís the Invert Y axis option, you click yes and the controls just stay the same. If youíre a person that lives and dies by the invert option then youíre in for one hell of an irritating ride. The part with the most problems seems to be the dodging. There were many times when I tried to dodge either left or right and I just stood there. Fighting really doesnít work well in narrow corridors. This is because you will just get caught up on a wall and get diced to pieces. Another key problem is how ineffective the light is. Itís like the flashlight is running on batteries that Alex found in a sock draw with the expiration date of 1985.


Another problem seems to be with weapon balancing. For the most part I can accept fighting something fast with my weaker, but faster knife, but the axe really feels underpowered. With an axe you shouldnít be wailing on something for almost a minute while dodging and attacking. The axe should kill something with 2-3 combos max. While discussing the weapons it seems like SH: Homecoming took a page out of Condemned: Criminal Origins book. Weapons also have a purpose in exploration. You wonít be able to open certain doors or pry something open unless you have a pipe or an axe. This really just gets irritating when you actually try to apply some kind of logic to the situation.

Just like with every survival horror game ammo is kept to a minimum, so if you use it you better not miss because you donít know when youíll find it again. The same also goes for health items. Youíll have to unearth the whole game to find stuff (especially in the middle) because there arenít many. It seems like you can find 3 health drinks per stage and if you have to fight a lot of things you just might use all of them if youíre not careful.

While this adds to the suspense and punishes mistakes it also becomes a headache. One thing I noticed is that some enemies (for the most part Smogís) are dangerous at close range and need to be shot. And if you try to melee them youíre going to go through a potion or two. A lot of the conflicts you canít avoid because you will get chased. Itís amazing the amount of persistence these creatures have. They will follow you to different rooms, hop over obstacles and really just force you to kill them. It actually feels like they did this to make up for the lack of puzzles in the game. I played a good portion of the original Silent Hill and I think thereís more combat in the first quarter of Homecoming than 50% of the original.


While the combat just gets tiresome you can at least get sucked into the atmosphere. Homecoming does itís best to be scary and in some points it is. When you begin in the hospital and make your way through it you realize that the environment is cold and sterile and it just makes your stay there eerily creepy. Other environments such as the abandoned hotel and Alexís hometown look desolate and depraved. This facet of the game is the only thing that makes it feel like a Silent Hill game.

I would actually have enjoyed Silent Hill: Homecoming a lot more if save points werenít so sparse, but it really turns SH: Homecoming into a chore. This is because there tend to be a lot of fetch quests and if you die you might have to recollect all of those items and do all of those conversation scenes again. What couldíve been ďIíll play for five more minutesĒ and then after that another 45 minutes elapse. Turns into ďAfter I hit that save point Iíll finishĒ and then save and quit. Thereís still the monotony of jiggling anonymous doorknobs and nothing seems to have eclipsed what was mastered in Silent Hill 2. So while it does make an enjoyable game for a person that is a die-hard fan of Silent Hill it just doesnít make an enjoyable experience for other players. It doesnít even do much to make strides in the genre; it just does what the franchise pretty much did when it first started. The only thing different is the amount of graphical sheen that SH: Homecoming contains.
Rating: 7.5


Graphics:

Homecoming isnít much to write home about. The textures on a lot of objects are bland, the character models arenít mind blowing and anything human oriented isnít remotely appealing. For some odd reason Homecoming comes to life in regards to creature design. Everything you fight looks like it crawled out of Satanís bunghole and looks like it can easily kill you. Since American developers Double Helix made Homecoming they decided to use the visual style of the Silent Hill movie. When you seem to get transported to the demon portion of an environment you would see the scenery turning gray and the environment starts to peel away. Also on top of this the environment is more sepia toned and has the scratchy appearance of a bad 8mm home movie. While you wonít be impressed by the humans or even the human environments; everything with itís toes dipped in evil is pretty interesting looking.
Rating: 7.5

Sound:

The voice work is pretty good, but the only thing that really sticks out is the musical score from Composer Akira Yamaoka. It strikes the right blend of ethereal melody and haunting. It really just lets you relax, yet keeps you on edge at the same time.
Rating: 8.0


Replay:

There are multiple endings that you can unlock and there are hidden weapons to unlock as well so it warrants a play through or two. But this all depends on how much you liked the game in the first place.
Rating: 6.0

Overall:

What starts off as something that you slowly get engrossed into quickly becomes infuriating. With itís sloppy and forced combat, minimal health items and ammunition. While this used to be the crux of the survival horror genre they now become detrimental factors. Instead of finding new ways to innovate within the genre Double Helix just stays within the confines of it. While there is some enjoyment to be had, but in order to find it you have to be a die-hard of the clichťs of the genre.
Rating: 7.5

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3:57 PM on 11.05.2008  

The Forced Unleashed Review

Who here can honestly say that they have never fantasized about being a Jedi? I mean really why not? You have a laser sword that can cut through almost anything and choke people from across the galaxy. Theyíre like the ultimate fictional destructive force but the only problem is that there has always been a focus on being good, but this has now been solved in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (SWTFU).


Story:

You take the role of Galen Marek (Starkiller) the new lightsaber swinging, Storm Trooper throwing guy on the block. Marek is the secret apprentice of Darth Vader and his main objective is to assassinate Jediís in hiding and bring down the Emperor. The first part of the plan works, but the latter really doesnít. The problem is that he has to remain hidden from the Emperor and survive the arduous task of being Darth Vaderís apprentice.

He isnít alone in his journey and there are some rather interesting characters, but the most interesting is actually a droid by the name of Proxy. His main objective is to aid Marek in his training and he does this by using programs based off other Jedi. He takes the demeanor of a friend, but at other times he keeps his intentions truly ambiguous and he keeps you guessing. Another character is Juno Eclipse whom serves as your personal chauffeur to missions. While she isnít integral to the plot she serves as someone for Marek to be attached to and have feelings for.

Not only is the story about Vaderís secret apprentice, but it also reveals the birth of the Rebellion Alliance. Many other things are entertaining to see like the incomplete Super Star Destroyer and the innards of the Death Star as itís being constructed. More character development wouldíve been nice though. This is because youíll see allegiances made and by the time the game ends you would like to see a couple of things fleshed out.
Rating: 8.0

Gameplay:

SWTFU can be described as a less polished Heavenly Sword with force powers. Itís a rather competent action adventure that couldíve been great, but it falls short on a mechanic or two. For starters Iím going to be in the minority and not complain about the lightsaber not killing people with one hit. Your giant sword in Devil May Cry doesnít kill things with one hit, the Athena Blades from God of War 2 donít one hit kill and Ryu Hayabusaís cavalcade of chopping utensils donít one hit kill so itís nothing new to the genre. What I donít like is how uneven the use of the force is.

According to SWTFU a Jedi can yank a Star Destroyer out of the Sky, grab Tie Fighterís in mid-flight, but they canít push around an AT-ST or a Purge Trooper. Another thing to note is that a lot of these Storm Trooper variants were not included in any of the movies. Though SWTFU is to bridge the gap between Episodes 3 and 4 it takes several liberties with the license. You have Storm Troopers that have flamethrowers, ones that are resistant to the Force; ones that shoot electroshock flechettes at you and snipers. In the movies these guys couldnít hit Han, Chewie, or Luke when they were running towards the Millennium Falcon.

The only way to come to grips with the enemies thrown at you is to develop strategies for everything that comes at you. Your average Storm Trooper is pretty much a red shirt in the original Star Trek series. Theyíre only there to get killed by you; they pose no threat unless one is manning a gun emplacement. But all you have to do is wait for them to reload the turret and kill them. Killing is where a lot of the fun lies in SWTFU and this is because there is a wealth of options depending on what youíre fighting.



Say you walk into a room and Storm Troopers just come barreling into a room. You can either take a lightsaber to each one of them or you can use the Force and grab one and throw him into his own comrades. Or you can take a barrel and shoot it with force lightning and hurl it at your enemies only for it to explode and take out about five or six men. One of my favorite methods of death is throwing people into energy shields. Thereís just something so satisfying about picking up a hapless soldier, toying with him for a few brief moments only to then throw him into an energy shield, and see that body disintegrate on impact.

I also like using the Force Grab to launch people into orbit. The only thing that I donít understand is that when a person comes crashing down back to earth they SURVIVE. Regardless of energy a person should just die after falling 200ft. If you donít want to rely on the Force you can use lightsaber combos. Once you get over the fact that your lightsaber might as well be made out of stale French bread you get used to it and use a bevy of combos to take down your foes. Once you level up enough times and put some skill orbs towards your lightsaber proficiency it will become stronger. It also helps to unlock combos because some do some rather interesting things. One combo combines the lightsaber with Force Lightning and does some serious damage to robots. It also does a good job on the Storm Troopers wearing jet packs. This is because the electricity will actually overload the jet pack and will launch them skyward uncontrollably.

You get access to more combos by leveling up and acquiring force combo spheres, but youíll only rely on a couple of them. And you seem to gain a new force power after every level. You then get to upgrade those with force power spheres. You can also upgrade health, force usage, force recovery and other attributes.

The one thing that Iíve remembered being hammered into my skull is DMM (Digital Molecular Matter). Itís a physics engine that determines how things break. Say if I was to use force push at a certain angle the door would break or implode a certain way a different time. They always hyped it to be something really ground breaking that would change the way we look at games (or something like that), but itís really not. Another piece of tech that is impressive, but falls short is the Euphoria animation engine. We were promised Storm Troopers that would grab onto each other and crates in an attempt to save their own skin, but this doesnít happen much. What I do notice is that they do attempt to dive out of the way and struggle to get back up after theyíve been knocked down. The best case where I have seen it work the best was when I smashed a window in a space ship. Everything was being sucked out and I happened to notice that one of the Storm Troopers was grabbing onto the edge hanging for dear life only for his grip to weaken and fade into the vacuum of space.


For the most part SWTFU is a good load of fun, but there are times when the whole game just seems to fall apart. The best example of this is when you have to bring down the Star Destroyer. For starters you have to fight Tie Fighters and when you see them you think ďWhat the F**k do I do?Ē You can either Force Grab a piece of debris and hurl it at one or you can actually grab one, or use Lightning (best option). The problem is that for starters that piece of debris is not always going to go where you want. The other problem is that you donít always know if youíre going to grab a Tie Fighter. This is because the lock-on system is too loose and seems to lock on to anything that youíre facing. This is a huge pain because there are times when you will try to shoot lightning at an enemy only to hit a barrel above, in back or next to it.

The other problem is that during this sequence the lock-on icon is impossible to see. When you do manage to destroy the fighters you then have the opportunity to pull down the Star Destroyer. Just when you think youíre home free more Tie Fighters pop up to interrupt you. And while youíre busy fighting the Star Destroyer is repositioning itself. The process of waste Tie Fighters, pull down Star Destroyer, get interrupted and doing it over lasts for a while and took me anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to finish. This right here sucked a lot of fun out of the game for me.

When The Force Unleashed works it can be a blast and you believe that youíre a whirlwind of death and destruction. As a Star Wars fan I find The Force Unleashed to be a pretty serviceable and for the most part a really fun game, but the lack of polish on the targeting system and one key segment that couldíve been great is just terrible.
Rating: 7.5


Graphics:

The first thing that threw me off about the graphics was the character model for Galen Marek. This is mainly because he looks a lot different than he did in Soul Calibur 4. He looked older and more detailed in Soul Calibur 4, but after a while you get used to him. When you cause a wide range of destruction and watch DMM and the Euphoria physics engine at work youíll appreciate the game. Just charging up Force Push and unleashing it to send a wave of men hurling to their deaths is great.

There is a good amount of detail in the character models (especially Vaderís) and the CGI is excellent. In fact theyíre almost too good as you wonder for a minute if they actually brought on live actors. The environments are also nice and varied. SWTFU has you planet hopping pretty often and the worlds that you inhabit are well detailed and have rather appropriate characteristics for that level.

For example the planet Felucia is a rather colorful jungle world with deadly plants and creatures with many hues. While on that contrast the scrap metal planet of Raxus Prime consists mostly of scraps of metal and molten metal on itís surface. Thereís also a lot of scrap iron just floating around in the air. The worlds in SWTFU are definitely nice to look at, but that comes at a price. There are some stability problems and most of them actually appear when youíre in Felucia. Thereís something about having one too many Rancorís, Felucians and poisonous plants on screen along with you jumping and flipping that the game engine does not like. You will come across instances of major slowdown on top of the occasional freeze.

One more problem is the amount of glitches. One problem I had was that I fell out of a level. This happened in the Sarlaac pit level and I ended up getting blown out of the level. The next thing I see is my character swirling around a void of black. Another thing that happened was that I ended up getting trapped behind the dismembered head of an AT-ST. It took me about three minutes to get out of it using jumps and various attempts at Force Pushing and Force Gripping it out of the way. While this does mar the experience it doesnít take too much away from the enjoyment from the game.
Rating: 7.5


Sound:

Well whatís a Star Wars game without a sweeping score and composer Mark Griskey does an admirable job. The music provided seems to borrow a lot from the usual John Williams score, but the original music provided seems to fit right in. The voice acting is pretty stellar. Actor Sam Witwer provides a rather convincing portrayal as the secret apprentice. Marek is filled with rage, confusion and confidence amongst many other emotions and they all get conveyed. A lot of the other voice actors are pretty good, minus the person providing the Emperorís voice. Other than that the usual fare of blaster fire, Tie Fighter roars and lightsaber hums are present sounding the way they did in the movies.
Rating: 9.0

Replay:

For those that follow the rule of ďno multiplayer=no replay valueĒ should just stay away from or rent SWTFU. For those that have nothing against playing solely the campaign you might find a reason to pick it up again once or twice. For starters you can search for holocrons, which provide a couple of bonuses. The main holocrons to look for contain lightsaber crystals. These come in two varieties. One changes itís color and the other gives it a special ability. For example one crystal will increase itís ability to block blaster bolts, while another will absorb an enemies health. Another reason to play it again is because itís actually rather fun. Thereís just something about throwing things at people and discovering a new way to kill something with the force is entertaining. The best barometer would be to download the demo thatís available on XBL or PSN. If you find yourself playing it 5-8 times then you might want to buy the game.
Rating: 7.5


Overall:

While I wish SWTFU were more polished I still have to give it some credit. Itís fun enough to keep me playing to the end and go on to a second play through. If you can stomach the loose targeting system and the glitches that will have you trapped between walls; youíll find an entertaining game that almost any Star Wars fan should own.
Rating: 7.5
Next review: Silent Hill: Homecoming

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12:14 PM on 10.26.2008  

Dead Space Review

Have you ever watched the movie Aliens and ask yourself; ďHow would I handle this situation?Ē Would I be like Hicks and stay cool and calm under pressure, like Ripley and take command or like Hudson and panic. Iím pretty sure that I would be like Hudson. At the first instance of some real jacked up predicament Iíll be the first one to scream, ďThat's it man, game over man, game over! What the f**k are we gonna do now? What are we gonna do?Ē In some ways this is how EAís Dead Space makes you feel. Youíre thrown into some hellish situation and you have to survive it.


Story:

Dead space is set in the distant future. The planet Earth has used up all of its natural resources and now entire planets have to be mined for those resources, then those resources have to be shipped backed to Earth. They use ships called Planet Crackers to get the job done and their most important one the famed USG Ishimura (might as well be called LV 426) has gone silent. A repair crew is sent to find out what happened to cause the communication breakdown. One of the crew members is engineer Isaac Clarke; unlike most of the crew he has another reason to go on the mission. This reason is Clarkeís girlfriend Nicole, whom sends him a rather cryptic message before the game begins.

After Clarke and his crew (involuntarily) enter the Ishimura the situation goes from bad to worse then to tits up. Clarke and his colleagues are attacked by strange creatures called Necromorphs. The Necromorphs are the reanimated dead bodies of the IshimuraĎs crew and come in some of the ghastliest shapes ever, but more on those later. Eventually the crew decides to go back to their shuttle and in Aliens fashion your only means of escape explodes and along with it every sense of security that you have. You only get about a second to shed a tear for your only means of escape. Then you grab your balls and throw yourself into the most nightmarish undead infested hellhole since Raccon City. By the end of the game Iím surprised Isaac doesnít unzip his suit and hose out the feces that must have been collecting in his suit.
Rating: 9.0


Gameplay:

Dead Space falls into the category of survival horror and plays a lot like Resident Evil 4. The only difference is that the Necromorphs seem to be deadlier and a lot more blood thirsty than the Ganados. For starters you quickly learn that a headshot really doesnít mean anything in the world of Dead Space. Youíll shoot a Necromorph in the head and it will fall off, but they donít die. Every time I did this to one they would swing their arms wildly and stumble into your general direction. The key thing that you have to learn is how to take out the wide variety of Necromorphs thrown at you. In order to do this you have to utilize strategic dismemberment. While at first I thought this was some meaningless PR buzzword, but you actually do need to learn this. For the most part you have to go for the tentacles on them or some other sort of appendage, but the question you have to answer is which appendage and the answer is different for each Necromorph. This leads to several chaotic situations especially when they throw new ones at you and several different types in one confrontation. These situations send your mind into a panic. You wonder which do I kill first? Do I kill the one thatís easier or do I do my best to kill the most powerful first? Granted you can try to make a beeline to a door, but they can always just follow you. One time I ran about four of these things came crashing through the ceiling to get me.

The weapons you use to combat these monstrosities arenít exactly weapons. Theyíre just tools used to mine minerals. But to be honest if itís capable of breaking rocks then flesh doesnít stand a chance. The three guns that prove this the most are the Plasma Cutter, Line Gun and the appropriately named The Ripper. The Plasma Cutter is the only one that you actually find. It has the ability to blast off chunks of flesh in either a vertical or horizontal path. Knowing which one to use and when is key to survival and ammo consumption. The Line Gun is almost the same, but itís limited to horizontal. Its secondary setting is a mine launcher. The Ripper launches saw bladesÖneed I say more. There are more in Dead Space, but these are the ones that stuck with me. In addition to these weapons you have the Stasis and Kinesis modules. Stasis acts like its own self-contained bullet time mechanic making that object move slower. It works best on the fast vicious Necromorphs, and it also plays a part in puzzle solving. The Kinesis module is pretty much just the Half-Life 2 gravity gun.


Each weapon and your armor can be upgraded using power nodes. Itís very reminiscent of Resident Evil 4, but it was a lot more strategic. Since your weapon upgrades will carry over to another play through; it makes the most sense to upgrade one weapon at a time. The same goes for other equipment as well like the Stasis and Kinesis modules.

Another thing to take note of is; despite them essentially being zombies theyíre a lot smarter than the shambling Resident Evil corpses. They seem to realize that you have weapons that can hurt them and they do their best to not attack you head on. A lot of the time they will come bursting out of air vents. There have actually been numerous occasions where you actually hear them in the vents or even see them jumping into the vents. This all ties into the sense of atmosphere thatís provided. While skulking through the blood smeared corridors of the Ishimura your skin will crawl, the hairs on the back of your neck with stand up and you will become the most paranoid person in your house.

You walk through rooms with corpses strewn about. Every room looks like a warzone where the crew held their ground to the last man and inevitably lost. Youíll look at a wall and read words smeared in blood. Itís like they wanted to leave a last hint in an attempt to make their death mean something. Youíll occasionally read ďcut off their limbsĒ or ďdonít go near the vents.Ē And the dead seem to be the lucky ones. Anybody left alive (except one person) wishes they were dead, and they have no qualms hastening their departure to the afterlife while theyíre right in front of you.

There have been many occasions where I cleared Necromorph filled rooms, which lulled me into a false sense of security. Soon afterwards some monstrous contorted freak of an ex-human being crashes out of an air vent and gnaws off my head. One would think that Isaac would just fortify himself in some kind of room and let somebody fix the ship and establish communication with the outside world but he canít. This is because he is the one that has to do those things. There are a lot of times when you will get missions asking for stuff to either be repaired or just plain turned on. While this makes Dead Space feel a tad on the repetitive side you really donít mind. For starters itís because youíre a maintenance engineer, so it would be like a plumber complaining about fixing toilets all day. Itís also cool because there are a lot of different ways for you to fix or turn on said crucial apparatus.

One of the big hooks attached to Dead Space is the use of Zero G environments. These allow you use multiple angles to traverse the environment. This also plays a part in puzzle solving. There are numerous times when youíre ordered to clear a room full of hazardous materials. In order to do this you have to use your telekinesis gun to grab things and shoot the materials out of air locks or gravitation beams. While this is great for puzzles it does have an affect on combat. There are times that the camera will shift so you will have to take a second to get a grasp on what the new up is. Also the Necromorphs can and will use the Zero G environment to their advantage, making combat slightly confusing. While you get used to it, you might not like having some ugly thing launching at you from some unseen angle.


Most of the innovation in Dead Space lies in the HUD, or the lack of one. Your vital stats and other forms of useful information or found on the character itself. For starters your health can be seen as a segmented bar on Isaacís back. The ammo for your weaponry can be found on the gun. When you ready the gun a holographic readout will be displayed presenting to information. You will receive mission updates in real-time from holographic and audio transmissions. Your inventory layout is also in real-time. This is where you will find your health packs and ammo amongst other stuff. At first you rely on this to access health packs, but eventually you realize that they hot keyed it to the square button. At first you think that this takes away from the pressure of curing yourself, but it really doesnít because you tend to just attacked when you least expect it. Besides when you hear something wailing or groaning in the background while your counting health packs it puts you on edge.

Other than the small nitpicks Dead Space borders on perfection. It does an exceptional job of making its foray into the survival horror genre and should do a good job of holding people over until Resident Evil 5 is released.
Rating: 9.0


Graphics:

The graphics in Dead Space are a sight to behold. From the interviews Iíve watched the development team said that the lighting is based on dentist chair lights. And if this is the case Iíll let my teeth rot out of my skull before I ever set foot in a dentistís chair. The lights cast everything in some sort of ominous glow. The lighting casts some of the most freakish shadows as well. Youíll look at one and just wonder if itís something that is capable of killing you. It gets to the point that youíll ready your gun with every new room you enter.

The creature design is just plain nasty. You can tell where a person is still a human, but then you notice the protrusions and fangs and claws and parts of the anatomy bent in ways that just donít seem possible. Then it just gets worse. You look at the monsters known as Brutes and say to yourself, ďThereís no way in hell this thing was a person.Ē Even babies lost their innocence in Dead Space. Thereís this one room on the Ishimura where babies are born and left floating in some goop. When you see them you donít say ďOh, how cute.Ē You say, ďWhat the f**k?Ē And when you see what they become under the influence of the Necromorphs you shudder.

The architecture in Dead Space has a nice attention to detail. The Ishimura seems to be meticulously detailed echoing numerous ships from other horrific sci-fi movies. Every room looks like it has a purpose and some of the rooms try to showcase it. There are numerous recreation rooms and you can even see posters to movies that one would watch on the Ishimura. It just goes a long way in showcasing that actual people used to inhabit this ship.

The use of gore is just insane. Not only does it play to the strategic dismemberment, but it teaches you a lesson. That lesson is, ďif you donít want your head ripped off, or get chopped into sections then learn how to shoot.Ē I have died in so many horrific ways that I lost count. And after seeing what happens to Isaac when he doesnít use something for shelter, while running across some open area in space, youíll see why the game was banned in several countries.

There are a couple of times that the shadows look horribly pixilated, but thatís it. Visually Dead Space does an epic job in showcasing one of the most nightmarish locations in the survival horror genre.
Rating: 9.5


Sound:

After about ten hours of hearing Dead Space Iím shocked that my hair isnít gray yet. Part of the reason is that you hear things, but you donít know whatís coming. For the most part the ambient noises are haunting. You can hear the creaking and the groaning of the Ishimura as it floats through the vast darkness of space. And that only gets interrupted when some things waiting to pry the flesh from your body appear. The music will pick up and go into typical horror movie fare. The only other thing you hear is Isaacís breathing. While Isaac Clarke joins Gordon Freeman in the mute protagonist club, he at least breathesÖand screams. His breathing seems to echo underneath that tin can that he calls a helmet. It sounds like his lungs are working over time trying to force each gasp of air out. When he screams itís just blood curdling and makes me wonder what they did to the voice actor to get him to scream like that. The voice work for regular dialogue is well done with actors that convey the right sense of panic and urgency. The same goes for the audio logs. Just like in Bioshock youíll find a lot of audio logs that help fill the story in. These things are so chilling and disturbing. The highlight of one for me was when you found one with a guy worrying about turning into a Necromorph. So to do people a favor he hacked off his legs. Dead Space is just chilling and haunting in itís vocal delivery.
Rating: 9.5

Replay:

Very much like Resident Evil 4 there is no multiplayer and it doesnít need it. Just mastering the game and upgrading weapons is enough to come back to it. Figuring out different strategies with different weapons for different scenarios is rather entertaining. The story is good and the atmosphere is nightmare inducing. Pretty much for anybody that has ran through Resident Evil 4 at least nine times and still continues to play it Dead Space is right up your alley.
Rating: 9.0


Overall:

Iíve never played a game that made me wish I had toilet built into my bed, but Dead Space is that game. Itís creepy, itís paced nicely and itís influenced by the right sci-fi horror movies. Dead Space handles beautifully and doesnít make the player feel like playing it is some kind of chore. Dead Space is a passion project from the developers at the EA Redwood studio. And I have one more thing to say. If EA Redwood has anymore passion projects then give them the money to make it.
Rating: 9.3

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8:20 PM on 10.23.2008  

Brother's in Arms 3 Review

I'm pretty new to the site but most of my blogs will be reviews to games that I've written. I actually have a good amount from years past so not all of them read the same. If you like them or have any criticisms you want to tell me don't be afraid to. So here's the first of hopefully more blogs.

It takes a special kind of man with big hairy brass balls to lead a bunch of men to their possible deaths. That special man is Staff Sergeant Matt Baker, and he and his men from the 101st Airborne Division charge head long into the gaping maw of death in Brothers In Arms: Hellís Highway.

This series especially now seems to receive a lot of flack because of itís World War II setting. Granted Iím sick of the time frame too, but if the game itís based around is good then I donít mind. The last good WWII shooter (In my opinion) was Call of Duty 2, which was released in November 2005. Ever since then there hasnít been a good one. I remember splurging a couple of weeks ago on Medal of Honor: Airborne expecting something decent. What I was met with was a game that got worse and worse as the stages advanced, several days later it was banished to the bowels of hell (got traded in). Luckily BIA:HH wonít be meeting the same fate because itís actually pretty good.

Story:

BIA:HH takes place during Operation Market Garden. This was the disastrous brain child of Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery. This ďplanĒ called for the airdropping of three divisions (82nd, 101st and 1st airborne divisions) to secure multiple bridges. While troops were able to capture 2/3 bridges they got holed up in Arnhem. Troops were spread thin and supply drop zones ended up getting captured leading the German forces to receive them. Due to a serious of German counter attacks the 101st Airborne has to take position on a narrow stretch of Dutch land leading to Eindhoven. This stretch of land was known as ďHellís Highway.Ē

While BIA:HH doesnít serve as a History Channel documentary it does a more than serviceable job of showing you how soldiers used to interact. Almost everybody has some sort of nick-name and the sense of camaraderie is palpable. You can tell just by looking at them that they are more than willing to sacrifice their lives to protect someone else. There are numerous scenes where the depiction of war is just brutal. Thereís this one scene where Baker and his men have to charge across an open river with little to no cover available. There are men dying around Baker with mortar fire sending bodies upward with bullets knocking off helmets, the scene is intense and riveting. Unlike most WWII games it doesnít ooze patriotism or try to get random gamers to sign up for the armed service, it just depicts war as something brutal with men and even teenage boys stuck in the middle of it.

The overall storyline between Baker and his men just isnít that memorable and ties into the previous games. You can see that watching numerous men (especially Leggett) is something that haunts him. On a side note there are numerous times where youíll either see something the references Leggett or hear is last words, so itís something that is interesting to look for.
Rating: 8.5

Gameplay:

Unlike a good chunk of console FPS fare BIA:HH requires you to utilize tactics, such as cover and flanking maneuvers to get the job done. This is not a run and gun game like Halo and Baker is not a one-man army. If you run out in the open expecting to charge an MG42 nest youíre screwed. Youíre urged to take cover, pull out your map and search the surrounds to look for a flanking position. Luckily youíre not alone and are able to utilize your men for help. Their job is to provide suppressing fire to pin down the enemy while you and another group of men (if you have some) sneak around and shoot them while theyíre caught off guard.

This is just a blast once you get the right rhythm of it. Going from taking out three teams of entrenched men, and then silencing a machine gun nest is great. Itís even better when they give you access to a man with a bazooka. Once you have an enemy pinned with machine gun fire you can use the bazooka to easily wipe them out. Along with the Bazooka squad you have access to a heavy machine gun squad. These guys can also pin an enemy, but they can also destroy soft cover (fences, crates, anything wooden). This can also be done to you and your men, so it pays to watch what you put your men behind. There was sequence where all of the breaking cover and flanking tactics really shined and came together to be really exhilarating. My mission was to silence a bunch of German 88 artillery cannons. One of them was right down the road taking aim at my men and I so I had to find a good route. For starters I had to use my firing squad to pin down enemy soldiers while I made a route somewhere for my bazooka squad to travel through. When the coasts were clear I brought in my assault to assist with back up while also using the bazookas to wipe machine gun nests. Eventually we made it through and took out the 88ís. While the flanking maneuvers are a blast they tend to take you away from them.

There are numerous situations when they take you away from the team and youíre forced to go solo. When this happens youíre forced to rely on the unintuitive cover system. Unlike Gears of War or Uncharted you donít hit the aim button to pop out of cover you use the sticks. While this is something you get used to it doesnít work as well. To be honest if they used Rainbow 6: Vegasí cover system I would not have a problem with it. Thatís because you hold the trigger to get into cover and depress it to get out. But the cover system in BIA:HH is just too sticky and there are times when you just donít out of the cover or get into it fast enough. Granted the cover is a pain and you grow rather used to it, but the main problem at times is your ally A.I.

When you order them to take cover there are times when two of them will take cover properly. Then one of them will take cover on the opposite side (the one that wonít protect them from the bullets) and get Swiss cheesed. Granted there pathfinding does seem to have gotten better. Instead of taking the long way to where I would point them they do hop over obstacles a lot more. Yet on the flipside of that their aiming isnít so sharp. Youíll definitely notice this with the bazooka squad. There are a lot of times where youíll tell them to shoot something, theyíll shoot and theyíll hit 20ft to the left or right of the target. Eventually youíll reposition them and they will hit the intended target. The oddest thing Iíve seen involves your allies running; itís honestly something straight out of a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. When you order them to go somewhere theyíll run for it, and every now and then you will see them running in place for a couple of seconds, only for them to literally zoom off to that destination at twice the pace.

While not perfect BIA:HH can be likened to an interactive version of HBOís acclaimed Band of Brothers series. As long as you donít let the fact that itís a WWII shooter disenfranchise you from a purchase you will enjoy it.
Rating: 8.5

Graphics:

BIA:HH is full of rich detailed graphics and actually offers a color palette outside of grey and brown. Skies are blue and grass is actually green. Thereís a lot of detail on the character models. Bakerís face is scarred from his constant battles. Itís nice picking out the little details on uniforms like what some people have written on them. Your weapons arenít shown to be in pristine condition like in most shooters. Your weapons in BIA:HH actually look like theyíve been used with nicks and scratches on them (sometimes covered in blood). There is the occasional time where there is texture pop in and this even occurs during some of the games cinematics. Itís not going to give you an eye orgasm, but the visuals are pretty good.
Rating: 8.5

Sound:

The voice work for the most part is good. In one scene you have Captain Dale Dye barking orders at people. This just helps to make the game more authentic. Matt Bakers screams orders at his crew shouting over machine gun and mortar fire. When the battle situation goes into dire straights your teammates will scream at you to do something. All of the weapons sound different and they do a good bit of service to the MG42. The MG42 was known to be a rather intimidating sounding weapon and in Hellís Highway, when I hear it I donít want to stick my head up. During some of the spoken dialogue between the crew every now and then there really just seems to be a lack of emotion between them.
Rating: 8.5

Replay:

Well thereís the prerequisite multiplayer which Iím not touchingÖever. Brothers in Arms isnít known for outstanding multiplayer and Iím pretty sure that it wasnít fixed for this version. The single player is a blast though and if youíre looking for shooter action where using your head is emphasized then it can be found here.
Rating: 7.0

Overall:

Gearbox Software has slowly been able to polish the gameplay mechanics that the Brothers in Arms franchise is known for. Anybody looking for a good bit of strategy in their first person shooters knows where to look for. While itís not as groundbreaking as Road to Hill 30 when it was first released it still provides players with an engaging experience. As long as they can iron out their little A.I problems I canít wait to play Aliens: Colonial Marines, which is currently being developed by Gearbox Software.
Rating: 8.5

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