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Lurfadur's blog

8:55 PM on 01.28.2010

The Future: Are we there yet?

Game developers and PR people are always promising us something (some more than others). And those of us that have been around long enough know that a lot of these "next big thing"s either don't happen or get changed around so much they end up being something else entirely. Sometimes they do come through and we get some amazing games. But more often than not these ground breaking features are just full of hot air.

So what promises have been kept? Online play is now an industry standard and is now expected to come with a game as opposed to being a neat little feature. Some advancements in communication with voice chat and in-game commands have gotten better and easier to use. HD and improved graphics are a given and sound quality, along with implementation (Dead Space), have also come a long way in the past few years. Stories and characters have become more complex and have gained emotional attachment by many of us. Control schemes have remained basically the same except the Wii (Power Glove anyone?). It seems that advancements in controller technology only come in slow numbers and only when absolutely necessary.

So with all these promises of "totally awesome" games that are "totally not ripoffs or sequels of other games" where do we stand today? The current environment seems somewhat stagnant; not bad but not moving forward at all. We do have better graphics but the games remain the same and even the Wii is plagued with boring games. Have we reached the pinnacle of gaming innovation?

In some sense yes we have. With processors getting maxed out and graphical achievements becoming harder to notice I think we have reached the furthest we can go with the current state of things. We really are playing games from 10 years ago but with better graphics and gameplay being more refined. Again, I'm not saying it's necessarily a bad thing, it just means the industry isn't moving forward much.

What's needed to truly make the "Next Gen" experience? The Wii was on the right track but got pounded with shovel-ware. Natal looks really lame but could have some potential for the gaming industry later down the road. Sony's push for 3D sounds only like a 1/2 step forward because the controls remain the same and the price for a 3D TV is something I don't even want to think about.

Clearly the best option is to have all of the above (3D and good motion control...Star Trek's Holodeck?) mixed in with the best of what we have today. Simple improvements in rendering, compression techniques and more online features is nice but it's not doing anything to really advance the future of gaming.

What would I like to see in the future? Assuming everything we have now is still around I thin that:
1) More emphasis on smaller studios to encourage originality, outside thinking, independence and innovation.
2) Allow interaction between players and game makers to be encouraged and perhaps directly implemented within games.
3)New ways to control the game and to experience it.

With these 3 simple changes we could truly enter the "Next Gen" age and avoid rehashing games from the lat 90's again.   read

1:39 PM on 10.08.2009

Nothing is Sacred: Review Scores and Why We Should Keep Them

Yes that title is correct. It seems like many people are of the opinion that we should strip away these arbitrary number scores placed on games because they don’t really tell us anything. What does an 88.5/100 actually mean? Well I’m here to tell you that these staples of the industry are actually important and we need to keep them, though not for the reasons you might think.

It seems that in the last few years there has been an outcry of gamers to do away with numerical scores. Solutions vary from simply changing to a star or thumb up/down system (both of which still use numbers) all the way to removing them completely and to force people to read/listen to the content of the review rather than jump straight down to the number. This second solution is actually a great idea and I was totally behind it for a long time. But after thinking of ideas for this month’s Monthly Musing I am retracting my previous stance on the issue and here’s why.

The numerical scores placed on games are actually less about the game and more about the reviewer. Having a score attached to a game helps us to understand the person or people reviewing the game. If you think of the number more as “___ out of all-the-games-I-have-ever-played” rather than ___/100 you may start to see where I’m coming from. Offering a number score to accompany the written or video version of a review offers us more general insight into the person reviewing the game.

But why would I want to know more about a reviewer when there are a billion of them? It allows for trust between you and the reviewer. How many times have you read a review and then saw an unexpectedly high/low score compared to what you thought they would’ve given? By sticking with certain reviewers (or more likely a publication or website) you start to understand how they write. Maybe they don’t spend enough time going over the negatives in the written portion and that’s why the score seems out of place. Or perhaps they used the wrong words to illustrate their opinions. But knowing that they tend to underrate/overate games allows you to trust that reviewer. You don’t need to find a reviewer you see eye to eye with, just one you can trust.

Trust in gaming reviews can of course be broken. The pinnacle of this broken trust and seemingly upstart of the removal of scores seems to have stemmed from the Jeff Gerstmann/Gamespot review of Kane & Lynch. I’m sure most of you are familiar with this and are aware of all sides of the story. But still, trust was broken and GS suffered greatly from it. The bias of all their reviews was brought into question (arguably a bit overboard) and I don’t think they have gained back the trust from a majority of the people they lost it from. This was a horrible time for everyone involved but I believe that it was a fairly isolated incident. Perhaps I think the best of people and am a fool for doing so, but I believe that most reviewers are honest and open about their work.

What else can numbers tell us about a game? Sites like Metacritic can help give us a general overview of the gaming community as a whole, or at least the ones who use that site. There are plenty of trolls, fanboys, and non-justifiable game bashing that go on there but now we know that those people make up a significant portion of gamers. Sadly though, knowing that these people abuse the system gives a lot of people justification to not use numerical scores altogether. Most of the time I think that sites like Metacritic do what it’s supposed to do well enough.. It’s only on occasion, usually with a console exclusive title, that the fanboys come out of the woodworks and intentionally lower the score because they don’t favor that system.

So in review; numerical scores given alongside game reviews are a great idea and one that we should try to keep. The score tells us more about the person or people reviewing the game than about the actual game itself. I do believe in keeping the actual content of the review above the score given but that doesn’t mean we should toss aside the number altogether. The system of course can be abused but I think it’s an example of a few bad apples ruining the batch. Understanding who the people reviewing a game are is just as important as what they have to say about the game. By using a numerical score associated with the review it makes trusting the reviewer(s) an easier process.   read

2:55 PM on 04.18.2009

Those About to Die: Tutorial Enemies

Oh tutorial enemies, how I admire you. You appear in almost every game dating back to as far as I can remember. Youre never well respected and most people look down upon you but you deserve much more than this. There are many of you and you all deserve recognition, but these are the three that truly stick out amongst the rest.

The first tutorial enemy that is brought to mind is the initial Goomba in the original Super Mario Brothers game on level 1-1. You are all by yourself, sent ahead to take on Mario; the first of many to succumb to his jumping head-squish of death. You stand little chance of success. Surprisingly though, you are still able to vanquish noobs, outmaneuver drunks and stoners, and irritate the person attempting a speed run. Even I fall for your seemingly childlike skill after coming back to the game after a long break. For your trickery and constant pattern of timed perfection, I salute you!

I would next like to recognize an enemy that appears in most games nowadays and especially in training levels for stealth games: the oblivious standing guard with his back turned to me. Simply standing there you pose no threat and even if you do detect me the level will often restart, denying you of taking my life. Basic kill after basic kill, you rarely die in exciting ways. Clearly your commanders lack any strategy for troop placement or just really hate you. For your eternal understanding and patience for simply standing there and letting me snap your neck in two, I salute you!

Finally I would like to give my respects to all the low level imps, slimes, forest animals, and other lowly creatures in RPGs. The long road ahead is paved with your lives in order to increase my wealth and power just to end up defeating you masters. Though simple and easy to pick off, you can surprisingly gain the advantage if the wrong party combination is brought forth (four white mages). For constantly being slaughtered in large numbers and still having the cohones to send out more fellow soldiers for me to butcher; I salute you!

Oh tutorial enemies, your numbers grow and grow every year but the war you fight is an unwinnable one. In reality, your mere presence helps us to defeat your comrades and overlords. But the fact that you always return, still wanting the blood of our characters and occasionally are able to catch us off guard, I salute you!   read

1:11 AM on 11.24.2008

Rant on Zune games and color blindness.

So there was a Microsoft Zune update (try not to die from a heart attack while laughing at me for owning a Zune) that included a few more games for the device. One of the additions is a shmup titled Space Battle aka Zauri. Its pretty basic stuff that only offers very little in entertainment. There is an upgrade system with different stats that dont seem to make a huge impact except in the extreme highs/lows. The controls are horrid. I have one of the older models and the control pad makes doing anything other than going left/right/up/down a pain in the ass. Sound effects are what you would expect.

A description of the game reads as so: Prepare to save the universe from the evil Zauri armada! Battle through five stages through the Zauris solar system and stop their plans for galactic domination. Pick up powerups to increase your firepower and your ships abilities.

This guy seems to be doing pretty good

The main complaint I have about the game is that the incoming fire from the bad guys is a weird color of red. Being slightly color blind makes tracking these things difficult. On the second level (of four), the background is yellow and the enemy ships are also yellow which leads me to make surprise kamikaze attacks (a surprise for me anyways). Do developers not test for colorblindness?

If youre color blind you can see a picture of me doing your mom last night.

Ive noticed this with a handful of games in the past, mainly from puzzle games. I havent really thought about it much because a majority of games made within the last 10 years either dont give me much of a problem or I just dont end up playing the ones that are especially bad. Hexic (which is also on the Zune) gave me some problems in that I had to really concentrate on a specific zone of the board to tell the colors apart. If I looked at the entire board I wouldnt notice the difference between light colored greens and yellows.

I guess the moral of this story is:
When making a game, please test or account for color blindness because it really sucks when we cant see vital information on screen. It doesnt take that much extra effort and if you do it at least nobody will complain.
Dont buy a Zune

Ill leave you with one of my favorite Frank Zappa songs which I was listening to while playing Zauri: Watermelon In Easter Hay

[embed]112500:16010[/embed]   read

3:36 PM on 11.22.2008

Left 4 Dead Review (PC)

4 player co-op? Check
4 vs. 4 balanced multiplayer? Check.
Simple and straight forward gameplay? Check.
Huge gaggles of the living dead? Double check!

Valve seems to have a habit of making great games with balanced multiplayer and it really shows in Left 4 Dead. For anybody living under a rock for the last 10 years, Valve has helped to shape the FPS genre into what it is today with classics like Counter-Strike, Half-Life 1 and 2, Team Fortress, and Portal. They are also known for putting a lot of high quality work into their games and continue to update them for better performance and gameplay. Their latest release, Left 4 Dead, proves that multiplayer co-op is not dead but that many developers have been doing it wrong. Its simple, easy to pick up, difficult to master, and a hell of a lot of fun.

This game is designed for multiplayer. A single player campaign is present and the AI controlled partners work great (something that Army of Two couldve learned from) but it just feels empty and lonely. Having other warm bodies playing along with or against you in all videogames just adds a certain something.

Multiplayer is where the key gameplay is at and it comes in 2 types: 4 player co-op and 4 vs. 4. The 4 player co-op speaks for itself. You and 3 other buddies run from one safe room to the next while dispatching waves of zombies in between. There are several boss zombies that have their own special attacks and will usually show up at the worst time possible. Working together is a must because if 1 person wanders off and gets pinned down, it can devastate the rest of the team just to go back and help them. Dont want to play along with random n00bs but dont have 3 other friends? You can create a private match and have the excellent AI control any of the empty slots. Sharing of supplies between each person is important (the AI will even help you out) and friendly fire is on at all times which helps to emphasize the need for cooperation.

One aspect that enhances the replay value of Left 4 Dead is the AI Director. The Director is a part of the game that determines when and where enemies, weapons, ammo, and other objects will spawn at. Whats even better is that it will change stuff up in the middle of a game depending on the difficulty level and how well or poor your team is doing. Overall, the Directors job is to keep things surprising for your team by mixing things up and actually making you work towards your goal. Its like playing D&D with a crazy DM who likes to throw random stuff at your party to make it challenging and fun.

The second multiplayer mode is 4 vs. 4 and this is where a lot of the replay value will come from. One team is comprised of the 4 survivors getting through each chapter alive. The second team is made up of the boss zombies found in the co-op mode (excluding the Witch). The infected team is tasked with making the survivors lives complete hell. It is important to note that the zombie team doesnt need to kill all 4 of the survivors; they are there to confuse, scare, and incapacitate them. Each of the 4 boss zombies has their own unique abilities and play style. The Director will randomly pick the boss zombie characters for players which helps keep people from hoarding one particular class. Having 2 very different teams for versus mode keeps the game from getting dull and repetitive.

Ive heard some people argue that:

Its short. Perhaps too short for some people. On the easiest difficulty you can literally rush through a single chapter within 5-10 minutes.

The weapon selection is a bit small compared to other FPSs.

Crysis looks better than Left 4 Dead.

Servers on the PC can be wonky at times.

Yes it is short. But the longevity of the game rests within the 4 player co-op and 4 player versus. Much like Rock Band, the game is more entertaining and just all around better when playing with or against other people. On the Easy difficulty you can run through a chapter within a few minutes but on Advanced and Expert it can take upwards of 45 minutes just to get through 1 of the 5 chapters offered in the 4 campaigns. The PC has the potential for some great community made mods and additions as well as DLC in the future from Valve that will most likely be free.

The weapon selection is fairly small but it keeps the game balanced. Everyone starts out with a pistol that has unlimited ammunition and you can usually find a second pistol to dual-wield latter on in the chapter. At each starting point you are offered a choice of what to use as a primary weapon. There are Shotguns, an Assault Rifle, Uzi, and even a scoped rifle. Each gun is unique, useful, and has advantages and disadvantages over the others. There are also Molotov Cocktails and pipe bombs scattered around the levels to help deal with the gynormus waves of zombies. When playing versus, the small selection of weaponry mixed with the specific boss zombie classes offers a very unique and balanced side of gameplay we dont see much of from other games.

Crysis looks better than pretty much anything else out there. Left 4 Dead runs off of the Source engine which has been around for several years but it looks especially good this time around. The animations, textures, and overall design for the characters and zombies are wonderful and they did a great job of creating the right atmosphere. There is also a color blind option which alters the health bars and crosshairs colors a bit that really helps clear them up for me (being that Im partially color blind). Music doesnt play much at all during the game but sound plays a vital role. Each boss zombie gives off a specific sound associated with it. When approaching a Witch, eerie music starts to play and creates great tension. Being on the Source engine also means that you dont need a $1000 computer to run everything smoothly.

Servers on the PC can act strange at times. When launching a game you have the choice to look for a dedicated server. If a server cant be found the host will make a server and still be able to play but may be a bit laggy. I did run into the occasional random server boot while playing the demo, but several updates to the retail game since then I have yet to encounter a problem. The system is great for getting a couple friends together or randomly joining some and getting into a game quickly. There is also the standard server selection screen which can be activated through console commands for those who want to use it.

Left 4 Dead is an amazing game that any fan of FPSs should go and pick up (unless they are under 17, the game is rated M for many reasons). Great multiplayer co-op and versus modes will keep this game going strong for years to come.

*Note, in L4D they use the term infected in place of zombie. I just like the word zombie more.   read

3:22 PM on 07.28.2008

Much ado about cheat codes.

In the last few weeks I have rented a couple games for my 360 that have both gotten a pretty bad rap: Alone in The Dark and Bully: Scholarship Edition. Both games were plagued with glitches, control issues, and both left a bad taste in my mouth. More specifically, AITD was filled with great concepts and ideas but failed to deliver either. Constant death animations and level restarts/skipping was what the core gameplay was like for me. If I were playing this on the PS2 I would have loaded up the Code Breaker/Game Shark and put in infinite health, allowing me to actually *GASP* enjoy the game!

After failing one mission on Bully over five times in a row, I would have also put in infinite health. There are cheat codes that you can do on a second controller, but I'm too lazy to get a second one and have it on every time I go to play. Other issues aside, I would probably have played this game more if easy-to-use cheat codes were available.

This brings up one of my questions: Are certain games more enjoyable when you are able to cheat?

I am completely against multiplayer cheating (except map exploits, that's ok). But for single player games I'm fine with cheating. And after ditching AITD, I would actually encourage cheating for certain games. When a story for a game is the only reason worth playing it, being able to skip over poor gameplay aspects should be fine. But with achievements, cheating is kept down pretty tight. As for AITD, I might actually look for a copy on the PS2 and fire up the old Game Shark.

Another question is this: Do game reviewers use cheats and if so, what are your thoughts? How much of a game do reviewers play through before making their final judgments?   read

10:40 PM on 07.22.2008

Realization about schooling [NVGR].

I'm trying to get some sort of degree in English/writing mainly so I can get my foot in the door (of pretty much anything ATM) and to improve my chances of not having to wash dishes for a living ever again. Now, I always complained through school about why I should have to take Math classes when I was originally going for a Music major and had thoughts about English. Why would I need to know how to solve simple algebra like 4x+7y=10? My principal even gave the classic excuse, "so when you're building a deck..." If I'm going to build a deck, I'll hire some people to do it, that is how our economy works. In college, why do I need to know the Y-intercept of an equation and graph it if I know I'm not good at Math and I'm focusing on English?

One of life's greatest challenges is to understand what you are good at and what you are not. I'm semi-color blind (classic red & green or whatever), so having me choose the paint color of ANYTHING is a bad idea. I'm not good at Math and never have been, so why force it down my throat when it only causes me stress?

I think I figured out why:

It's so that the school can keep you enrolled for longer and gain more $$$. Even Math majors have to take English comp. which I'm sure to some people is much like my "Math". By keeping you at the school longer and forcing you to study subjects you know are unimportant to you, doubt starts to settle in. People change their majors many times because of doubt or "second-thought" and stay in school longer, thus causing you to pay more money.

But all-in-all, modern schooling in America is FUBAR. Something really needs to change.

Any thoughts?   read

5:36 PM on 07.11.2008

Obnoxiously Late Review: GRID

GRID is the latest racing game from developer Codemasters. Their previous game, DiRT, was an off-road adrenaline rush that was certainly different than other racers out at the time. About a year has passed since, and while not a direct sequel, GRID takes the traditional racing game and kicks it up a notch. Offering a new Flashback feature, amazing graphics, and arcade style gameplay, this is one excellent game. GRID is easily one of the top racers this generation.

Graphics: 10/10
Racing games have come a long way in the past few years and GRID certainly shows off some of the best graphics for any racer and is even comparable to other mainstream games. The texture work is beautiful. Every scene looks fantastic. Great attention to detail has been made in everything from paint jobs on the cars to the gloves that the racers themselves are wearing. Backgrounds look realistic and have just a slight occurrence of pop-in, but only if you're really looking for it. Several camera views are offered including an in-helmet cam that shows you a realistic point of view from the driver.

When the cars take on damage, everything is taken into account. The speed of the collision, angle, and where on the car the damage shows up, all seem very accurate. After taking so much damage, the car will behave like how it should. Front hood and wing severely damaged? You get loss of control and speed. Rear Axel is about to fall off? Good luck trying to stay on the road! Normally with this much detail to damage you would often need to restart the race from scratch. But not with GRID.

Gameplay: 9/10
Introducing a new “Flashback” feature, you are now able to pause the game and rewind back a couple seconds at any given time. This helps prevent the annoyance of restarting a race from scratch after spending five minutes fighting your way to the front only to take the last corner too fast and spin out. Based on the difficulty level you choose, you are able to have 5 rewinds per race on basic mode and increasing the difficulty will bring the rewinds all the way down to zero if you so desire. For most people this added feature is a miracle but to others it can be a bit frustrating. After playing for quite some time, I began using my Flashbacks whenever I would make the slightest mistake and in turn caused the game to slow down some in its pacing. If you can avoid overusing this feature, you'll want it in every game after.

Single player career is divided up into different sections based upon location and the race type associated with it. USA has more muscle cars, Europe offers touring cars, and Japan has street racers. Each of these three sections have race types mixed together somewhat, but the overall feel to each race coincides with its region. There are plenty of tracks to select from but you'll end up repeating the same ones just with higher-end cars. GRID seems to lack somewhat in the variety department. After spending many hours with the game the tracks get repetitive and only appeal for so long. There are just over 40 cars to choose from in GRID, which seems a bit short compared to other racers out there and the customization comes up a bit short as well. You won't find any fine tuning, hand drawn paint jobs, or car upgrades in this game.

The cars themselves handle strangely in that they are able to accelerate and break at incredible speeds but cornering seems to be very technical. When selecting a car to race in, you are presented with some stats like top speed, acceleration, cornering, etc. But in-game the stats don't seem to add up. You'll often notice other drivers passing you on strait stretches of open road in cars you didn't pick because the stats were less than the car you selected. This doesn't mean much though because in GRID, mastering the corners on each track is the important thing. If you are passed by another driver you can usually take the next couple corners aggressively and be able to catch up to your old spot. Just don't take them at high speed and expect the walls to “assist” you in the turn.

Enemy drivers and partner A.I are different compared to most other games. Rather than having the other drivers follow a strict path, GRID gives them human judgment and error. Don't be surprised if all of a sudden the car you are trying to pass suddenly spins out or takes a corner sharply and hits you. In fact, the drivers seem like they will do anything to get ahead of you. This creates some intense races and makes you feel like you really earned the finishing spot you got. A little ways into the career mode, you are given a selection of other racers you can hire to be on your team. After the initial selection, you can fire and hire a new driver. Each one has a specific type of race they excel in and they have stats like awareness, aggressiveness, and driving consistency only to name a few. You can search for drivers who have better stats in each field but be prepared to shell out some cash to buy them and keep them on your team.

Sound: 8/10
Not much to say about the sound except that it is great. All the cars sound unique and detailed. Muscles cars have a low roaring engine sound and each car class sounds different. In-game music is what you would expect and thankfully you can play your own music through the Xbox 360 dashboard. The main problem is with the voices in the game giving you information about what is going on. Most of the time, it is completely irrelevant or late in getting it to you. Often times you'll hear: “Hey, it looks like (insert name) has spun out!” only you already passed (insert name) 30 seconds ago. It can get annoying at times but you can just turn it down in the options menu.

Multiplayer: 7/10
Multiplayer suffers from the same reasons the single player career does. The tracks just get boring and repetitive. Another factor is also included when racing on-line and that is you're playing against other people, not A.I. Though the A.I in GRID seems life-like, it is nothing compared to real people who really want to win. Almost every on-line race I entered, my car was either destroyed within the first major turn or was damaged to the point that it reacted like a drunken fool, slowly meandering down the street weaving back and forth. Thankfully there is an option to turn off damage but doing so ruins the feel of the game. Being able to take corners going over double the recommended speed is fine since there is no damage and the game quickly becomes a high speed version of bumper cars. There is a ranking system available but it is nothing more than bragging rights and achievement points.

Final Recommendation: 9/10
GRID has some flaws and offers up a fairly short gaming experience, but more importantly the game is just fun to play. By introducing the new Flashback feature, it takes the stress off of the player and allows them to really push their skills to the limit. The graphics are some of the best ever seen on modern consoles. Some people may complain about the lack of customization offered compared to other racers, but having all the customization in the world won't make a game good if it isn't fun to play in the first place. If you're put off by the need to constantly tweak with your car before every race or if you are just looking for something a little different, GRID is your best bet.   read

3:16 PM on 07.09.2008

Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 Review

Like most of the Tom Clancy franchise you'll typically know what you're getting into before you start reading, watching, or playing it. Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 is no different. While the first Rainbow Six: Vegas game took the franchise into a new direction by offering a cover system (among other things), its sequel adds little to the previous title. RS: V2 improves upon the first game by refining it and changing things here and there to make it just the perfect fit. Think of this game as a top notch version of the first.

Plot: 7/10
The plot is typical of most Tom Clancy games in that your character is a military operative who has one of the hardest days of their life. If you're looking for a deep plot with characters you'll remember for years, this is not the game. In fact, I can't even recall the name of the main character. You do play as a different person not directly related to the previous game but it doesn't matter because you could swap the two around and there would be no real difference. The story does take place before and during the previous game, so if you played Rainbow Six: Vegas and remembered the plot and also the characters from that game, this one will offer a different perspective along the same time line. It does a good job of tying in the two stories. There are some cool and “oh snap!” moments, but you'll see them coming before they actually happen. You don't hit the strip of Vegas in this sequel either, but there are plenty of new and interesting locals like a sign graveyard and the Las Vegas Convention Center. Though they all involve getting behind cover and shooting bad guys, it helps to break up the repetitiveness.

Graphics: 8/10
Compared to other shooter games on the market, RS: V2 looks pretty good. All the characters and weapons look much better then the previous game. The maps and objects in the world also look a bit better but sometimes get repetitive when going down a hallway with the same dark gray bricks you've seen a thousand times. Night Vision and Thermal Vision make a return in the game and look about the same as last time. Though the Thermal Vision tended to make me nauseous, you don't need to use them for an entire level like the previous game and using Night Vision as a substitute works fine.

Sound: 7/10
One problem I have with this game is the sound. While not bad, most of the sound effects and music seems taken directly from the first game. The enemy vocabulary is larger this time around and they have some funny dialog if you stop and listen, but you'll often hear them shouting out the same lines as they did before. Music also suffers from this but overall, if this is your first time playing the RS: V series, you won't notice anything wrong. It just seems a bit lazy to reuse the exact same sound effects as the previous game with over a year between the two.

Gameplay: 9/10
Single Player/Co-op:
RS: V2 plays almost exactly like the previous title but improves in a couple of areas. First of all the added sprint feature helps getting from cover to cover a bit easier and quickens the occasional slow pace of the game. Controls are pretty much the same as before and seem a bit refined. The X and Y buttons do different actions depending if you tap them or hold them down and can be complicated at first but you won't be confused for long. A new and much improved tutorial level has been added that slowly introduces you to various actions and tactics. Hiding behind cover is just as easy and smooth as before, but think twice before moving to that flimsy overturned table because you are now able to shoot through that thin cover!

Using the AI controlled partners is still the same. Giving orders can be a bit complicated but will become second nature after the first level. The problem is the actual AI of your partners. Most of the time they will do exactly what you order them to do, but every once in a while they'll take the “scenic route” to their destination which will alert nearby enemies. This isn't a huge problem because your squad can clear out a room in half the time it takes you to get to cover. You'll tend to rely on your God like partners, which isn't a problem at higher difficulties but can seem a bit cheap at times.

One of the new features is the A.C.E.S system. Unlocking weapons is now done by your style of play, divided up between Marksman, CQB (Close Quarter Battle), and Assault. If you tend to get head shots and like shooting targets at long range, you'll fly down the Marksman line getting weapons more suited for that role. The same goes for the other two play types. You don't need to use a specific weapon for each style, but it helps. Upgrading your armor though is done the traditional way by gaining ranks. But instead of only having to play versus to get the upgrades, both the A.C.E.S system and rank progress can be done in single player, co-op, versus, and terrorist hunt.

Playing Co-op is a bit different this time around. Instead of having up to four players, you can only have one other. The trade off is that you can now use your two man AI squad in co-op just as you would in single player. You can also invite your friend at any time while playing and they can come and go as they please while not having to restart the level. Terrorist hunt is back and offers bringing the AI partners along and adding limited respawns. At the time of this review (4/4/08) there are many bugs and glitches plaguing the game like falling through the world, not being able to take cover behind an object you're supposed to, and a handful of others. While hosting co-op with a friend joining I have not personally experienced any of these bugs but my friend certainly has, causing us to restart a level many times. If a patch is offered to fix these problems and others, I will edit the review to include the patch.

On 4/23/08 Ubisoft released an update for the Xbox 360 version. While fixing the achievement glitches that most everyone had, the patch did not address some of the other issues. These include not being able to take cover behind certain objects one minute and then being able to the next, falling through the world, and poor partner AI. The patch seems to have fixed most other glitches (even the XP farming on the first level) and is a great improvement overall. Changes to the adversarial modes seem to help the slow pace of the game by improving spawn rates and weapon switching among other things. The huge change for Team Deathmatch is that now respawning players will randomly be placed on the map and not in a specific spot like before. Though this seems to remove spawn camping, an option to toggle this on/off should have been implemented and detracts from the tactical team gameplay from before. It is wonderful to see Ubisoft releasing a patch that fixes some of the major issues the game had and hopefully they will continue to do so.

Another update was released in early July 2008 which set out to fix some of the things the previous patch wronged and to add more features. Among the new changes is that there is now a total of 99 ranks after reaching Elite, but it offers nothing more than bragging rights. The A.C.E.S now have 100 total ranks. Each rank after 20 will offer an extra 5000 xp towards your rank. This makes leveling up and acquiring new weapons and armor even easier than before! There is now a toggle option for random respawns in adversarial mode and the spawning points are better when playing Terrorist Hunt. A new "High Stakes" mode has been added which alters aspects of the adversarial game to more of a "hard core" match from Call of Duty 4. The update once again improves areas of the game. While some problems with cover still exist, I feel the overall rating of gameplay deserves to be increased from 8/10 to a 9/10.

Not much to say about the adversarial modes. There are your standard Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and other modes from the previous game make returns. Two new modes are available called Total Conquest in which your team must capture and hold three points on the map for 30 seconds to win. The other is Team Leader which is like Team Deathmatch but with an objective point and one person on each team is designated as the leader who must make it to that extraction point. You are able to respawn on the leader to quickly come to aid if you die, but after the leader dies the respawns are turned off for that team. Taking out the ranking system from just the versus mode and applying it to all modes of play seems like it hurt the game for the RS: V hardcore veterans out there, but improves vastly for the casual player.

Final Recommendation: 8/10
Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 is essentially an expansion pack for the first RS: V. While not much has been added, the core game has been refined to near perfection excluding some bugs. It offers an updated co-op game, improved single player portion, and refined versus mode. If you didn't play the first RS: V game, go out and pick this one up.   read

4:24 PM on 07.08.2008

My First Review: Army of Two (3/12/08)

I wrote this review and posted it on on 3/12/08. This was my first written game review and first lengthy article that I had written in 2+ years. I'll have more up soon...

Army of Two:

Many games include some type of co-op. Most classic games offer only a single player mode with one more body added into the mix. Others offer more depth to playing with another person or group of people by including special abilities or attacks that can only be used when there is more than one player. Army of Two is a combination of the old “run 'n gun” co-op from classic games, mixed with a bit of the newer “think before you leap” style of gameplay. By combining these two gameplay styles, AoT excels in some areas but lacks in others.

Originally supposed to be released in late 2007, EA decided to delay the game at almost last notice in order to fix up some gameplay elements and improve the HUD. While many of the great concepts originally planned for the game were removed, I cannot compare the current retail version of the game to one that was never released. The review of this game is of what is currently available and what it might offer latter on via DLC. It is not being compared to an earlier version.

Plot: 7/10

The two characters you'll be playing as are Rios and Salem, who start the game by dong missions for the Army but quickly learn of a less restrictive and more profitable job by becoming guns for hire. The plot is painfully predictable but you'll be able to ignore most of the dialog pertaining to the story and still be able to enjoy the game. Cut scenes in between each mission do help to tell what little story there is but are fairly good looking and help break the tension by adding slapstick humor. The plot won't grab your attention, but it also won't turn you away.

Graphics and Sound: 8/10

The Unreal 3 engine is at works yet again and does what you would expect out of it. Metal objects look fantastic and are detailed but cloth, skin, and most world objects are lacking in comparison. A smooth frame rate for both off-line and on-line helps make the action in the game go by quick and seamless, but most things still have that “shiny” texture to them that other games using this engine do (Gears of War for example). The locations you'll visit are varied and will keep your attention from wandering most of the time. Animations for Rios and Salem are great and help add to the feeling that you're a trained militant who knows what he's doing, though be it a bit cocky at times.

Sound effects are good, but compared to other shooter-heavy games released in the past couple years, AoT does little to impress. The music in the game is hardly noticeable, but when it does blast in it fits the mood of the game and helps to get the adrenaline pumping. Voice acting is one of the spotlights for AoT. The voice actors for Rios, Salem, and other characters are top notch. They may not be dramatic and are predictable as the plot, but they are not overly cheesy. You'll hear Rios and Salem verbally bashing each other with sarcastic remarks that will keep you laughing throughout the game.

Gameplay: 9/10

AoT is built for co-op with an added versus and single player gametypes seemingly thrown in as an afterthought. While playing single player, the AI controlled partner is fairly good at doing his job and will be helpful most of the time. Controls to command your partner are basic, are not overdone, and can be used to communicate via co-op mode in place of a headset. Occasionally though the AI will try to heal you in the middle of a firefight while getting shot at and cause you both to die, or will drag you too far away and waste your time getting back to the action. It will sometimes also be over aggressive by chasing enemies clear across the map.

The cover system in AoT is a bit different then other games released in the past. Instead of pressing a button near a wall to lock yourself against it, AoT simply understands that you are behind something and will automatically switch to blind fire when close to cover. Your back never goes against a wall, you don't slide around side to side, and you don't preform an action to get to the next point of cover. This might seem lackluster at first, but being able to quickly maneuver behind cover and aim at enemies is well worth the simplicity.

The one thing that sets this game apart from other shooters is the aggro system. Most mmorpg players are familiar with gaining “hate” on an enemy to allow other players to do damage and heal without the worry of taking damage. AoT does an excellent way of explaining the aggro system in a short video when first playing the game and again during the tutorial level. Basically, one of the two players gets the attention or “aggro” of the enemies while the other player sneaks around and takes them out from behind. A meter at the top of the screen displays which one of the two players has aggro and how much. The player with the most aggro will start flashing red around their body, while the player with no aggro will start to fade and become transparent, helping the player judge quickly who has aggro during a firefight without looking at the meter. When one player gains enough aggro for a certain amount of time, either player can activate Overkill mode. Overkill will give players in aggro mode the ability to charge in like Rambo, while players trying to flank the enemy will nearly disappear from their sight. Pimping your guns by adding gold plating and intricate designs can help gain aggro while adding a silencer will decrease your aggro gain and make it easier to flank the enemy.

Upgrading your arsenal can become addicting and will offer more than one or two playthroughs in order to purchase every upgrade for every gun. The detailing on most of the weapons when “pimped out” is stunning. Having a SAW with gold plating on its sides and intricate designs on the ammo container might seem odd at first but will look awesome and does fit into the context of the game.

Aiding to the co-op style gameplay are co-op maneuvers. The most used one will end up being the Step Jump, which allows one player to boost the second one up a wall to take out any enemies, then pull the first player up to the same level. This can be tricky at first because the player giving the boost will determine how fast and far up the other goes. There is a Back to Back sequence you'll preform throughout the game that makes everything go slow motion to help dispatch waves of enemies. A hovercraft is provided during a couple missions but becomes a hindrance more then a help. It controls like a brick submerged in a pool of syrup and the mounted machine gun does too little damage against enemies at higher difficulties.

Replay: 7/10

Multiplayer versus is not very fun at all. Not being able to use the upgrades you purchase during story mode is a disappointment. Instead, you can purchase new gun outfits ala Counter-Strike to help win the next match. A few well placed grenades though can make one team dominate over the other quickly and makes it hard to catch up. The lobby system is horrible because it is over simplified and is missing the most basic of options, like saving your team to play against more then one other group, so you'll have to re-invite your friend to play again after the matches are done. Also when one of the players in the match leaves it makes everyone leave, causing large amounts of time being wasted because of one person. Interesting idea but they should have put more thought into the versus mode.

Not including the versus type matches, you could play through the multiplayer co-op in one sitting for about seven hours. With three difficulty settings it'll take around 15-20 hours to complete them all. While upgrading all your guns and mask types could take longer than that, replaying the same missions multiple times will only last for so long. If EA can add DLC to the co-op portion of the game it'll help in the overall replay value.

Final Recommendation: 8/10

Having a game made for co-op is certainly a pleasant surprise in the mass of single player and multiplayer versus games. AoT looses a couple points for being repetitive but gains others for being one of the best co-op action games currently available on the Xbox 360. If you have a friend or want to make one, put in Army of Two and enjoy!   read

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