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Hands-on with L.A. Noire: The Complete Edition on PC

Sep 29 // Robert Fooks
L.A. Noire: The Complete Edition (PC)Developer: Team Bondi / PC port by Rockstar LeedsPublisher: Rockstar GamesRelease Date: November 8, 2011 (US) / November 11, 2011 (EU) Not too long ago I had the pleasure of sitting down with Rockstar Games to put L.A. Noire through the paces on their seriously beefed up PC. Given that the system I was able to play the game on could most likely be used as a down payment on a mortgage, the game ran smooth and stutter free -- but how will it run on a PC which exists in the realm of reality? If Rockstar's recently released system requirements are to be believed, it should run quite well provided your graphics card meets or exceeds the minimum of a Geforce 8600 GT 512MB, Radeon HD 3000 512MB or better. If you still need some extra incentive, L.A. Noire: The Complete Edition will come complete with a multi-use code which will unlock all previous downloadable content for the game at no cost to you. The case which was available to me, entitled "Nicholson Electroplating," started off with a bang. Literally, with a bang followed by a large mushroom cloud in the distance. After stealing a fire engine, I raced to the scene of the disturbance with my partner who continuously reminded me of how idiotic we looked cruising the streets of Los Angeles in a giant red fire truck. Upon arrival, a scene of chaos and carnage would herald the beginning of my first investigation sequence. As if I had never missed a beat, that familiar L.A. Noire jingle brought out the super sleuth in me. With that, I was ready to make a fool of both my self and Cole Phelps by failing every interrogation from here on out. Visually, the experience is just as engaging as the game's console counterparts, though the lips and ears did, at times, have a slightly blurred appearance to them. I would normally pass this off as a minor nuisance were it not for the fact that the clarity of facial expressions is so paramount to the gameplay. Those of you with access to a 3D-enabled monitor are in for a special treat as L.A. Noire not only supports 3D, but it implements it beautifully in a manner which succeeds in the subtle application of 3D imagery in nearly every scene without shoving it down your throat. The 3D visuals truly shine, especially during your time at the arson desk where the smoke spewing ashes of every crime scene jump out at you quite brilliantly. When I first begin a game which has been ported to PC, I generally begin my journey in the options -- specifically, in the settings menu. If I find myself staring at a picture of an Xbox 360 controller and it boldly informs me that my left mouse button is in fact a pressure sensitive trigger, I often take it as a portent of the not so good times which likely await me beyond. In short, does the I/O scheme properly represent that of a PC, can I customize my keys, and will it inform me that my PC's subscription to Xbox Live has expired (I'm looking at you Modern Warfare 2)? After initially inspecting L.A. Noire, I nearly launched myself from my seat in raucous revelry as my concerns were not only abated but downright obliterated when it became apparent that Rockstar had scrubbed nearly all heretical references to the dark console origins. It's not that consoles are bad, there's just been this almost lazy habit where console versions are influencing the UI design of their PC counterparts with limiting results. If you have had the pleasure of groping dead people on either the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, your first hour or so on PC will most likely be spent familiarizing yourself, yet again, with the ins and outs of the controls. Admittedly, I had a rough time coping, especially in regards to the cover system and driving, with the new keyboard and mouse control scheme. Once that obstacle had been defeated, I fell back into the role of Cole Phelps as if it were a perfectly fit glove. For many PC gamers, the gun play will have improved with this version since you are no longer required to free aim with your thumbs. Conversely driving using the WASD keys has always been limiting; keen maneuvers requires the precision offered by a standard controller. All in all, if your preferred method of gaming is by PC you will be pleased with the final outcome of Rockstar's lone toiling. Regardless of your individual feelings for L.A. Noire, the game represents a milestone in facial performance for videogaming which will contribute tremendously towards mainstream recognition of games as more than the products of the musings of men who sell electronic toys to adult children. It's breakthroughs such as these which help cement modern gaming's claims as this generation's great art form.
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When Team Bondi and Rockstar Games set out to make the great undertaking that was L.A. Noire, they chose to explore many gray areas of gaming which are most often hidden away from the all-consuming hype and limitless budgets ...

Preview: What's in store for Rift's 1.5 patch!

Sep 26 // Robert Fooks
Rift: Planes of Telara (PC)Developer: Trion WorldsPublisher: Trion WorldsReleased: March 1, 2011MSRP: 29.99 (STEAM) Recently, I trekked on down to Trion Worlds in Redwood Shores for a chance to experience what the creative minds behind Rift have in mind for the future of the game. After three trains, two buses and a one hour long self-guided tour of the biggest maze in the world (I got REALLY lost in Redwood Shores), I found myself in front of a building which could have only been architecturally inspired by a mix of the Parthenon and a Star Destroyer. With Rift being my current MMO of choice, I had to sheepishly suppress the urge to frolic through the rows of cubicles, needlessly pilfering “mementos” from every desk in view like a kleptomaniac as I walked through the doors. I might like Rift a little too much. Patch 1.5 Hopes to bring hundreds of hours of casual friendly content for players who have reached level 50 but are unable to experience the end-game; they aim to do it like this: Planar Attunement: Planar Attunement is Rift's response to the general feeling of not giving a damn once the experience bar stops moving. Essentially, it replaces one experience bar with another. Players will be given the ability to earn Planar Experience after they have reached max level which they will then be able to apply towards unlocking new and useful abilities. As the name suggests, all of the new abilities granted through Planar Attunement trees will correspond with one of the six planes -- Life, Death, Fire and so on. Planar Experience can be earned through more than just senseless killing though. The completion of daily quests, dungeons and rifts are among the extensive list of activities which will garner experience to spend on Planar Upgrades. Chronicles: For most, myself included, the addition of a new raid encounter can be blown off as little more than an unneeded use of hard drive space. Fear not the addition of new raid content from this day forth! Chronicles allows two casually geared players to experience the likes of Greenscale's Blight and Hammerknell without the hassle of adhering to strict schedules which occupy multiple hours of time that you just can't spare. Now the encounters will not be carbon copies of their bigger, beefier brethren. None the less, they are difficult and require understanding of complex mechanics. Library of the Runemasters: It's a new Warfront! That about explains everything, but for the sake of not sounding lazy I will elaborate. Library of the Runemasters takes place inside Hammerknell and will play similarly to The Black Gardens. Players must capture multiple "fang" like objects which will damage the holding player in a similar fashion as The Black Gardens. All I will say is I pity the pug which is given nothing more than a lone Chloromancer in this one. U/I Addons: For those of you currently playing Rift, I am confident in stating that you are probably familiar with a parser and what it does. I am equally confident in stating that you are most likely confused by it. Damage meters, swanky U/I mods and whatever Rift's version of Deadly Boss Mods will be are all on the horizon, folks.  Veteran's Rewards: Most MMORPGs have them, now, so does Rift. When players have reached such subscription milestones as 1, 3, 6, 12, 18 and 24 months, they will be rewarded with fabulous prizes in the mail. The items which will be rewarded to players were described to me as "cool ass shit." For those of you just beginning your journeys in Telara, you will most likely feel very little heat from this patch. This patch is in no way pretending to be made for everyone and it does address serious problems with the genre in general though. Only time will tell if all the above mentioned material will move Rift away from the problems of a general lack of content in MMO end game or if it will leave the game as yet another example of why theme park MMOs tend to have a short life span after level cap.
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It would seem that all massively multiplayer online games, in one way or another, suffer from a flaw common among the games of the genre. While it is true that no MMO truly has an ending, it is also painfully obvious that onc...

Preview: All Zombies Must Die!

Aug 18 // Robert Fooks
All Zombies Must Die! (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC)Developer: Double Six GamesPublisher: Double Six GamesTo be released: Fall 2011 From the creative womb of Double Six Games, All Zombies Must Die (AZMD) sees the players goal to, well, make all the zombies dead. You need not study the game for hours on end to discern that the creators of AZMD opted out of the usual atmosphere of hopelessness which permeates most zombie experiences. The commonplace aura of the undead which exudes horror and dread has its place in film and games alike; Nosferatu and Dead Space stand as classic spine-chillers for both mediums of expression. Conversely, films like Shaun of the Dead, lacking the overall air of gloom of the above mentioned silent film, are brilliant in their own right. With its pervasive humor and off the wall characters, AZMD hopes to bore its way into the lighter facets of your heart this fall much in the same way as Shaun of the Dead did in 2004. AZMD features top-down zombie slaughtering gameplay with arcade RPG features which add depth and meaning to the serious business of squashing the undead menace. A healthy arsenal of deadly weapons is of dire importance to the zombie formula. As such, Double Six has provided intrepid zombie hunters with several varieties of pointy sticks and shooters, some of which have awesome powers in the classical sense of the word. Flaming sticks, chainsaws and assault rifles are just some of the more mundane implements of doom which will be at your disposal. Then there are the special instruments of war like a cricket bat which punts zombies off the screen or a katana that, once powered up, allows you to move as a British Ninja should. Players also have the option of crafting weapons which are unique to chosen character. Rich in RPG features, AZMD features several characters with their own unique classes. Each character has their own story line which players may progress through in order to further their own understanding of the events which take place though the calamity. Two of the most humorous classes which comprise a portion of the playable characters are the Alien and the Girl. That's right, girl is a class. The Alien, named Luxo, is a traveler of the cosmos and a visitor from another world. Luxo's story is that of many American teenagers, he learned most of his English from The Big Lebowski. I'm not joking, at some point in his story line, Luxo gets hold of a copy of The Big Lebowski and crafted his persona in the likeness of The Dude. As well as unique storyline, each character has their own take on a special weapon. The girl, for example, can combine her cell phone with a mega phone in order to stun zombies with a deafening palaver about shoes and who at the office she hates the most. Elements of the RPG genre can be found all around this arcade style arena-shooter. Quests, crafting and leveling all attempt to fill the void which can often plague similar games. Leveling allows players to modify stats such as health, damage and speed while crafting gives them access to new and unique weapons. All of this is designed to come together and provide the player with a feeling of persistence and to add a level of importance to the events the player takes part in. For those who played Burn Zombie Burn on the PlayStation 3, you should be familiar with the concept of burning things without letting your inferno get out of control. AZMD takes that concept of controlled arson and runs with it. Whether you prefer to burn your zombies to a crisp or irradiate them until little remains save a puddle of goo, AZMD has you covered. Just don't lose control or you may find yourself staring down the gazes of several mutated freaks. AZMD allows you to change the "state" of a zombie in many ways. This is accomplished by applying various types of debuffs such as fire, radiation or exposing them to extreme levels of acoustic energy. Each individual status effect is achieved by using a specific weapon and has varying effects on zombies such as damage-over-time and they can even slow the zombies as they advance upon you. Applying a status effect will also alter the types of power-ups dropped by zombies. AZMD will allow you and your friends to hack, slash and electrocute hordes of ravenous undead in a two to four player local co-op mode. Now don't go thinking that bringing in your gaming sidekick will make the challenge any easier. AZMD promises to scale the size and difficulty of the zombie hordes based on the amount of users present at any given time. All Zombies Must Die hopes to offer a few laughs and multitudes of zombies to kill come this fall when it officially releases. Developer Double Six has pledged continuing support for the title through numerous DLC and considers the game a long term proposition. AZMD looks to be a fun little title to burn the midnight oil with and in all honesty, it plays quite brilliantly.
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There exists quite a few rules which one must follow in order to craft the perfect undead apocalypse. Key ingredients include a small ground of survivors, weapons aplenty, and of course, it must be set in either a shopping ma...


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Trion's End of Nations will be Free-to-Play


Aug 11
// Robert Fooks
Trion Worlds, the minds behind the recent MMORPG prodigy, Rift, have long been feverishly working on their next behemoth, End of Nations, to rock the massively multiplayer world. They are certainly on their way to rock things...

Preview: King's Bounty: Legions

Aug 07 // Robert Fooks
King's Bounty: Legions (PC)Developer: Nival and KaranX ProductionsPublisher: NivalTo be released: Summer 2011 In a recent meeting with the people behind King's Bounty: Legions, I was treated to the first hour or so of gameplay. Being fully aware of the game's presence on Facebook, I was slightly skeptical of how it was claiming to be a legitimately challenging strategy game which would garner lasting appeal for the mainstream gaming community.  In order to properly train fresh knights and commanders for service to the king of the realm, KBL begins new recruits with an informative tutorial which will help to familiarize both veterans of the King's Bounty Series and new comers alike. Those already accustomed to strategy games such as Heros of Might and Magic will immediately breathe a sigh of relief as their eyes browse over the hexagonal game board which we all hold so dearly. Initially KBL feels as fit as a glove, perfect in every way. Battles are frequent and often decided through equal parts cunning and brute strength -- the strategically inept need not apply here. Once the initial tutorial ends though, players might find their world strangely alien for a short time. The people at Nival have clearly put the conglomerated efforts of their top men to good use as KBL does a fantastic job of masking it's roots as a Facebook game. Conversely, the stamina bar remains garishly displayed atop the UI as an ignominious reminder of the limitations which yet remain. Gone are the sprites so coveted by Zynga, the omnipotent paramount of social gaming. KBL has replaced them with fully rendered 3D environments and vivaciously animated characters and units which were only made possible through Unity, the browser friendly engine. Having had experience developing mobile applications on the Unity engine, I can say KBL is simply a hop, skip and a jump away from appearing on a mobile platform near you. Featuring over 30 units for you to apathetically order to a premature death, KBL provides an impressive army building experience which, once fully understood, contains more depth than meets the eye. Soldiers are broken down into classes and categorized in several ways which will allow the more astute of captain's to craft an army tailored to meet individual threats. Each unit in a player's army belongs to one of five classes; these classes possess inherent strengths and weaknesses when engaging units of another class. This allows players with superior situational awareness and knowledge of the inner workings of the game to better direct their units, resulting in greater success. As if that were not enough, each unit type's potential strength is heavily taken into consideration when restricting the units one can use in their army. The weakest unit type available, mortals, are plentiful and may be used with little discretion where the more awe-inspiring immortals and legendary soldiers can only be used in limited numbers. Resourceful commanders will have access to much more than the keen blades of their legion should they choose to utilize the full array of their arsenal. Magic, available in the form of scrolls which are outfitted prior to battle, will play an integral role in a player's ability to win the day when the killing fields are particularly gruesome. Ranging from simple healing spells to AOE slowing effects and everything in between, the power attributed to magic scrolls can be the ultimate bane or burden of any foe if used to its full potential. Most units on the field of battle also possess secondary, and in some cases, tertiary abilities which may be tapped to terrifying effect. Those returning to the King's Bounty series have yet to experience the challenge of a human opponent, KBL seeks to change that. As the story goes, KBL was designed as an interoffice conflict resolution program where, like the gladiatorial days, human resources disputes and sexual harassment claims would simply be resolved on the field of battle. That would be a much cooler story were it true, though KBL was conceived and designed out of the desire for PVP in the King's Bounty series. Players killing other players also happen to be Nival's solution to the limitations of the stamina bar in KBL. Costing no stamina to initiate PvP, you can thrash your mother's army and call her a noob regardless of the status of your stamina bar. In fact, so heavily encouraged is PvP that taking part in it, win or lose, will see your stamina bar refilled. KBL plays host to an intriguing single-player campaign which features dozens of quest and some rather quirky characters to meet along the way. The campaign map allows players to travel between cities and towns called nodes. Quests, shops and battles of all sorts can be found in these nodes with the assortment of specific items and units available unique to the node you occupy. As the player progresses through the single-player story, they will gain access to greater numbers of troops as well as various rare magical scrolls. In the event you lack the time to play, the option to send your soldiers on patrol exists as well. Initiating a patrol will send your soldiers off to fight your battles for you, luckily you keep the spoils while your men risk life and limb for the most meager of salary.  KBL valiantly tries to hide its membership in the realm of social gaming by reducing the emphasis put on social hallmarks such as the ultimate buzz kill that is the stamina bar and dry combat scenarios which ultimately have more in common with a slot machine than even antiquated gameplay experiences such as Pong. Having explained how KBL is the new maverick of social gaming, here is how this apple fails to fall far from the tree: micro-transactions. Micro-transactions have become the pariah of the gaming community of late. Antipodally, thousands of gamers gobble up multiple 15 dollar DLC over a games lifespan which would have been included in a fully fleshed out expansion pack for the same price not but ten years ago. Through clever maneuvering KBL has managed to design a system of micro-transactions which minimally affects a player's effectiveness on the battlefield. Facebook credits may be purchased and applied to the standard fare items such as stamina potions and experience increasing items. Gold and units may also be purchased though they are almost unreasonably expensive and the units received are random. Consequently, the most economical and effective items available are those which advance a players ability to make strategic decisions. Such items take the form of licenses that vary in effect but generally allow the player to view useful information about an opposing armies health and the units it is comprised of. King's Bounty: Legions looks as if it will provide the most relevant experience to the mainstream gaming community on Facebook to date. Lacking the aspect of oversimplification which plagues other entries in the social gaming arena, KBL seems to be a true contender for all of our idle time at the office and the home.
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King's Bounty: Legions, like many social networking games, has by and large had little relevant exposure to the "hardcore" gaming community. It should come as no surprise that many of us who have grown up alongside the videog...

Hands-on with Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2

Aug 03 // Robert Fooks
Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 (DS)Developer: TOSE Publisher: Square Enix (Japan) / Nintendo (US, Euro) To be released: March 31, 2011 (Japan) / September 19, 2011 (US) / October 7, 2011 (EU) The first thing new players will notice is the host of new and improved fully 3D graphics and effects which outshine the visual experience of the original Dragon Quest Monsters Joker in nearly every way imaginable. After taking in the graphics, I got some hands-on time with the head-to-head local multiplayer tournament portion of DQMJ2. After receiving a brief overview of its features, I felt confident in my ability to choose a competent line up of monsters. Naturally, I made a team which rivaled the 2008 Detroit Lion's considerable ability to defy the laws of chance. I was soon competing for victory with my first, and equally under informed, foe in a similar fashion as two Tee Ball teams might “compete for victory.” After a short battle, I found myself basking in the sweet, sultry essence of victory. That was simply the rise before the fall. The final battle saw me crash and burn, earning myself about as much glory as Battlefield Earth earned money. Wi-Fi and local multiplayer is supported by DQMJ2 in several formats and all three regional versions (US, Japan and Europe) are compatible with each other when utilizing the Wi-Fi features. Players can engage in “Tag Mode” which will exchange the monster party data of two players, allowing both individuals to fight each other’s parties without the player's input. Owners of Dragon Quest IX may also engage in tag mode with the new game. For those of you who would rather get together with some friends and flip open a couple of DSs, head-to-head and eight person tournament modes are available locally. One-on-one Wi-Fi battles is also included in the game's already impressive suite of multiplayer functionality and players may choose to have opponents selected for them at random or they may even challenge those on their friends list.  Such small scale competition may sate the thirst for dominance of some, but for the truly competitive at heart, the Wi-Fi tournament will be your bread and butter. The Wi-Fi tournament, held every week, will see players all across the country duking it out for points as they fight for the honor of being “that guy.” Prizes for winning the tournament range from rare monsters to access to items which will help give you the upper hand in your future Dragon Quest endeavors. Just in case you require proof of your exploits, a leaderboard, hosted by Nintendo.com, will be available should the need arise to validate your gaming prowess. Combat was sufficiently streamlined and quite intuitive to my beginner’s eye. Even though I lacked a great deal of experience with the games platform and genre, the controls felt natural and after a single round of multiplayer I would say I could demonstrate a competent grasp of the combat mechanics. DQMJ2 allows players to exercise varying levels of control over their minions during combat such as letting the computer handle the decision making for them. Control freaks may also plan out their own intricately woven assaults, forcing their foes to weather their wit as well as their brawn. Different physical attacks and spells are available for use depending on the monster you use. Provided the user is familiar with the effects of their available magic, knowing ones opponent can go a long way towards winning as certain elemental attacks will have varying consequences when used on different monsters. Monsters come in three sizes; small, medium and large. Having personally witnessed a medium sized monster fill most of the screen, I can only imagine the large ones are comparable to battleships with legs. The size of your monster will also determine how many monsters you can have on a battlefield. So you can either have three small monsters, one small and one medium monster or just one giant monster up against your opponent. Players will be able to easily swap to different monsters right from the item menu too. Through a process of Synthesis, players may attempt to combine monsters with the goal of creating a new and unique creature which will hopefully dispense win while pwning in your name. This system of combining and creating monsters seems promising as the game boasts over 240 unique skill trees which can be “bred” into your new monsters. Finding the right monsters to mix and match might not be as easy as it first seems though. As in previous installments of the Dragon Quest series, a full day/night cycle will determine which monsters are roaming the wild at any given time. If one wishes to scout the perfect pair of monsters for their next synthesized creation, they just might have to explore the island in every condition possible. The game’s single-player storyline, though nothing to get overly excited about, succeeds in providing context to the events of the game. As players advance through the single-player story, they must rescue missing people by exploring and defeating boss monsters of epic proportions. To put it simply, a child who wishes nothing more than to be a Monster Scout, has stowed away on a massive airship destined for the World Monster Championship. Under mysterious circumstances, the ship, passengers and all, becomes marooned on a feral island inhabited by the very monsters he wishes to scout. With little more than able feet and a thirst for the destiny he so desires, the child ventures forth from the relative harborage of the airship’s mangled husk in search of adventure. Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 is a fun and charming game that anyone will be able to pick up easily. Dragon Quest fans will definitely enjoy the latest DS offering and it's just nice to see there's still some good support left on Nintendo's non-3D handheld.
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Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 (DQMJ2) is the upcoming monster hunting role-playing game for the DS. The player assumes the role of a child who quite possibly aspires to follow in the footsteps of Michael Vick as he captures...


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