Nov 23 //
Aaron Linde Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings (DS)Developed by Square-Enix / Think & Feel, Inc.Published by Square-EnixRelease Date: November 20, 2007Square-Enix's renewed focus on Ivalice was an unexpected but not at all unpleasant change in direction for the RPG giant. Developing and evolving the fledgling universe originally depicted nearly ten years ago in Final Fantasy Tactics, Ivalice has expanded rapidly from its one-shot roots into a world with characteristics all its own. There's a neat sort of cyclical nature to it -- informed by Final Fantasy characters, themes and motifs, Ivalice itself informed and inspired the development of Final Fantasy XII, one of the most wild departures in the series to date and perhaps the most detailed glimpse into the universe we've yet seen. Expanding upon the foundations established in Final Fantasy XII, Revenant Wings is just as surprising a departure from previous standards as its forebearer while managing to capitalize on the magic of its surrounding universe.Taking place a year after the events of XII, Revenant Wings puts players back in the shoes of Vaan, XII's protagonist and arguably the most underdeveloped character in the game. Inspired by Balthier, Vaan and fellow XII alum Penelo secure a ship of their own to pursue dreams of becoming fully-fledged sky pirates like their comrades. On their first treasure hunting expedition to retrieve the Cache of Galbados, Vaan stumbles across an airship which takes him and Penelo to the sky continent of Lemurés. They meet the denizens of the sky continent, a winged race called the Aegyl, besieged by other less-than-noble sky pirates hunting for the treasure the continent is said to hold. Vaan and crew vow to rid their land of these swarthy bastards, setting them along a quest that will unravel the mysteries of the sky continent and (of course) risk the catastrophic ruin of everything that is, y'know, good. This is Ivalice, after all.Shirking the tactical RPG roots of the Ivalice world, Revenant Wings takes Final Fantasy XII's real-time battle system a step further, taking the form of a sort of RTS-lite gameplay model. Those of you familiar with the unfortunate failure of this year's Heroes of Mana, take heart: Square-Enix did some homework and created a fun and functional spin on the RTS genre that actually fits the platform. Using the stylus (natch), the player can control Vaan and crew as well as their summonable cannon fodder, the Espers, with a variety of conventions we've come to expect from the genre. It has its ups and downs, but we'll get to those in a minute. Like a certain other alternative RTS released this year, combat in Revenant Wings is remarkably simple, boiling down to what is essentially a rock-paper-scissors sort of arrangement with its controllable units. Vaan and his cohorts, designated by the game as "group leaders", as well as the Espers they summon are all dumped into one of three categories: melee, ranged, and flying. As you might expect, each is strong against one and weak against the other, but Revenant Wings complicates things further by tossing elemental alignment and special abilities for team leads and the bigger, burlier Espers into the mix. Espers are unlocked via the Ring of Pacts, a curious spinoff of the licensing board in which weaker Espers (chocobos, bombs, et cetera) lead to stronger ones and, ultimately, the beefy Shivas, Ifrits and such that we've come to expect from the Final Fantasy series.The control functions for the most part, but isn't without its share of shortcomings. Most of your time with Revenant Wings will be spent with the DS firmly gripped in one hand and the stylus in the other, using the digital pad to navigate the camera's perspective over the field of battle while doling out marching orders with the stylus. Team leaders and the Espers in their command are represented by icons in the HUD, and the player need only click on one to select each member of that group and send 'em off to fight, scavenge the battlefield for items and treasure, and so on. But the limits of the control scheme makes it difficult to achieve complete mastery of your units -- selection is limited to everyone, individual groups, or whoever you can grab via a drag selection tool. I can't hold a button and make precise selections -- two diablos, a chocobo and two tonberry, for example -- as units are always paired with a group leader of the same type.Unit coordination becomes a bit difficult on some of the maps featuring tighter terrain or corridors, which Revenant Wings features fairly regularly. Often times you'll find that your units crowd and glom together, making the selection of a particular ally or enemy for a quick heal or devastating spell a bit difficult. The alternative, of course, would be to send your troops in calculated waves, but often times sheer numbers is the best offense, and tossing three or four Espers at a pack of six to twelve enemies makes for a swift slaughter. Creating custom groups on the fly -- all flying espers, all group leaders and no espers, or all fire-elemental espers, that sort of thing -- would've been an absolute godsend in the more heated battles later in the game, and is the sort of feature that is standard in RTS for a reason. While you'll certainly get by without it, when you lose hard it likely won't be for lack of proper planning or underdeveloped stats, but rather a giant pit of fury and hell in which an inability to designate attacks or use unit types to your advantage is constant. Frustrations aside, there's a load of crap to do in Revenant Wings, including optional monster hunts and weapon crafting on top of the plot-advancing main quest. Mission objectives remain fundamentally simple throughout the bulk of the experience (capture summon points, defeat enemy group leaders, destroy all the monsters), and for many of the game's early battles, victory is as simple as selecting the right elemental affinities and sending your horde at opposing forces to take 'em out brute force style. But at the end of the day, Wings plays pretty well and can be loads of fun, especially when the battles get interesting in the latter half of the game and the player is granted access to the optional missions. Revenant Wings' closest ties to its predecessor is wrapped up in the aesthetics, particularly the music. The game features plenty of familiar faces, locations and references to the events in XII, but the music was lifted outright from the game -- hardly a detraction, really. Unlike the absolutely soul-destroying dischord featured in Final Fantasy X-2, it was actually refreshing to hear songs that I was already familiar with from the original XII, if only for the way in which it carries the themes and emotional gravitas to the new title. The transition is made pretty well, so much so that it's almost surprising to learn that the music was rearranged and not just piped through crappy speakers at lower bitrates. But there's something of an absence in the original game's epic scope, which is to be expected in a jump to a portable platform, but I believe it to be more closely related to the art style. Ryoma Ito's character design resembles what we've seen in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and the upcoming DS sequel Grimoire of the Rift, and though the world is certainly an expanded Ivalice as presented in FFXII, a fair bit of emotional weight is lost in the transition to these softer, cuter sprites. I wouldn't mark this as a detraction unless you play Wings expecting the same sort of epic scope as the original; there's a lot at stake in the game's story, but pre- and post-battle dialogue is often spent scrolling adorable exchanges between adorable sprites representing characters we only recently watched unravel a massive plot to destroy an entire kingdom. It's a preference thang, but might irk some gamers the same way the lighthearted shenanigans of Tactics Advance burned gamers looking for another bloodthirsty political epic like Tactics. At the end of the day, Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings is a fine alternative RTS that expands upon an already fantastic universe and one of Final Fantasy's most compelling stories and casts to date. But while their grip on the gameplay end of things has improved dramatically over Heroes of Mana, Wings makes a few mistakes that keep things a little less strategy and a little more mob slaughter. Look past the shortcomings of the gameplay, however, and you'll find a limited yet worthy sequel that stands as one of the better RPG/RTS/WTF experiences on the platform.Incidentally, did you know that it's been just over a year since I published my Balthier mancrush article? Oh, I still swoon at the very sight of that son of a bitch. Score: 7.8
If you're feeling bloated and half-retarded from eating enough starch to make a crude cement mix, a strategy RPG might be the last thing on your mind. But don't let something like feeling disgusted with yourself for stealing ... read feature
Nov 19 //
Aaron Linde Our Great and Glorious MissionWe at Destructoid are like you -- we play games by the boatload. We live, breathe, eat, sleep, and write our experiences, and though the focus of the site proper is spread across the great expanse of topics related in one way or another to gaming, when you get right down to it, we're in it for the playing. Accordingly, we take our Destructoid reviews very seriously, and strive to be your number one destination for raw, brutally honest opinions on the games that we feature every week. We love games, and we want them to be as great as we're led to expect -- more than that, we want them to be better. So we believe that no matter how much we love a developer, a publisher, or a concept, the finished product must be held responsible for its failings and praised for its successes. Our commitment to honesty is fierce, fierce like bear, a bear which mangles any fanboyish tendencies that might spring up in the process of reviewing a product. It's our hope that by adding our voice to the already crowded arena of game reviews, we might affect some change in the way that games are played, reviewed, and made. Most of all, we want to give you the best, most honest and informed opinions on the games we play as possible.The Team, the Games, and How We ReviewOur core staff is Rev. Anthony, Nick Chester, Brad Rice, Leigh Alexander, headed up by me, your snuggly and lovable reviews editor. While reviews are open to the entirety of Destructoid staff, you'll likely see the bulk of them handled by the aforementioned crew, who've made regular reviews part of their personal responsibilities as Destructoid staffers. Regular review staff were selected for their diverse taste in games, varying points of view and keen eyes for technical and creative excellence in games. They all look damn good in lingerie. Games reviewed on Destructoid are selected on a per-case basis. In addition to marquee releases, we often review games that fly under the radar or might go otherwise ignored by many gamers, and we try to distribute our attention evenly among both camps of games. Sometimes we get copies sent to us, sometimes we pay for them ourselves, but regardless of the source our dedication to brutal honesty remains our primary goal in our reviews. If a publisher sends us a game that makes our heads explode into joy-joy rainbows, we'll tell you. If a publisher sends us an overhyped pile of crap, we'll tell you. The only thing that bugs us more than wasted money is wasted time, and we're not interested in letting our readers waste either when selecting games to play.When reviewing a game, we judge a title against similar games already released, genre peers, and the title's success in accomplishing what it sets out to do in respect to overall fun -- in other words, our reviews aren't meant to be directly compared to one another. If one author reviews Big Nick Chester's Gun-Totin' Bitchslap Adventure and gives it a 7, and a day later another reviews Brad Rice's Block-Droppin' Hootenanny and scores it an 8, this doesn't mean that Destructoid is unilaterally firm in the belief that block-droppin' is always, always better than bitch-slappin'. What it does mean is that Block-Droppin' Hootenanny reached a higher level of block-droppin' achievement than Gun-Totin' Bitchslap Adventure had in its own respective genre. When in doubt, read the text. I'm going to repeat that: please read the text. If our scores confuse or frighten you, try to figure out why we gave it such a score before you look up our addresses and firebomb our homes. That being said, let's move on to the 400-pound gorilla--Our Review MetricsIf you haven't noticed by now, Destructoid takes issue with the handling of game reviews, or specifically the scores that accompany them. By and large game reviews are handled like academic grades, which has led to an overwhelming glut of games falling in the 7-9 range, with reviews declaring a game virtually unplayable often receiving scores of 5 to 6. When our reviews content was overhauled in May of 2007, those of us committed to bringing more reviews to Destructoid's front page agreed to try to break our habits and adopt full use of the 1-10 scale, as initially described by our own Reverend Anthony in one of his features. Here's a rundown of our scores and what they mean:1 – Unbearable. Practically unplayable. An exercise in absolute madness.2 – Awful. Maybe the idea was kind of clever, or you may have fun accidentally, but everything else is horrendous.3 – Bad. Some aspects are terrible, others are either so-so or kind of fun.4 – Poor. An admirable effort with a sliver of promise, but essentially mediocre.5 – Average. Half of the time the game is fun, half of the time it isn't, for whatever reason. This game is absolutely average in every single way -- neither exceptional nor face-melting awful.6 – Decent. Slightly above average, maybe a little niche. But you wouldn't recommend it to everybody.7 – Good. Replayable, fun, but nothing innovative or amazing. The game potentially has large flaws that, while they don't make the game bad, prevent it from being as good as it could be.8 – Great. Very fun -- its essential gameplay aspects are cool and interesting, but may not be implemented in the best way.9 – Fantastic. Negligible flaws. Otherwise very, very good; a fine example of excellence in the genre.10 – Incredible. As close to perfection as we've yet seen in in the genre or gaming on the whole. A polished, unparalleled experience.Going by this standard, bear in mind while reading Destructoid reviews that a sub-7 score doesn't mean terrible. It can mean a lot of things, and is usually the product of a variety of failings on the part of a given title. But unlike many publications, a 6.5 or 5.5 never means unplayable, it doesn't mean awful -- it means flawed. But many of the games to which such scores are assigned are fine experiences for a particular group of gamers, be they fans of the genre or the series or simply someone looking for an experience that only the game in question can offer. Once again, when in doubt, read the text.Moreover, the reviews editor does not police scores given to games by the reviewers. If a writer believes a game deserves a 7.0 and the spirit of the text reflects the score, it remains in the hands of the reviewer to determine an appropriate point value. As such, reviews published on Destructoid are the opinions of the individual author or authors and not the staff as a whole. As stated earlier, the review crew is made up of a diverse cast with varying opinions on which games are fun and which are not -- find a writer you agree with and look for his or her opinion. If you've read this far, we congratulate you. Keep an eye on this post; we'll be linking to it in every Destructoid review, and making amendments as this great trainwreck lumbers ever onward into infinity. Thanks for reading our reviews, and if you have any input on the state of things, don't hesitate to let us know.
There's been a general consensus among Destructoid staff and readership alike that clarification of our reviews process and metrics has been sorely needed for some time, and it's something that I've been wanting to do for awh... read feature
Nov 12 //
Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)Developed by Nintendo EAD TokyoPublished by Nintendo of AmericaReleased on November 12, 2007
I remember thinking while I played through the opening hours of Super Mario Galaxy that Miyamoto and crew were making my job easy. I was having a gas. Zipping from planet to planet, dispatching baddies and collecting crap along the way, having an amazing time -- but as it turns out, this is one of the most difficult reviews I've ever written, and I hope you're all real happy that I'm still awake at six in the morning trying to articulate what I love about this goddamn game.
Slap yourself in the face. That's my pay.
Trying to drill down an experience like Super Mario Galaxy to its most essential components seems somehow contrary to its nature as one of the most complete, well-constructed games I've played in recent memory -- it truly is more than the sum of its parts. But since the parts and the discussion thereof is the stuff of reviews, I'm more or less obliged to dig into it rather than take the easy route, mumble "holy shit awesome" and haul my ass to bed. So what is it about Galaxy that makes it such a compelling, engaging game? Just about everything. If your hyperbolometer just went off the charts, well -- blame EAD Tokyo. Those jerks.In a lot of ways, we've been here before. The game's plot is more or less lifted straight from every previous Mario title ever, gussied up and tweaked to suit Galaxy's interstellar digs. Bowser and a fleet of airships interrupt the otherwise peaceful goings-on in the Mushroom Kingdom (you'd figure they'd form up a military or something by now, wouldn't you?) to nab ol' Princess Peach by cutting a hole in the very earth beneath her castle and whisking her away to the deepest reaches of space. Mario takes after them, meeting a cast of helpful characters along the way and exploring a series of galaxies to collect stars and eventually unlock the path that will lead him to Bowser and a mighty final battle. The common conventions don't end there, but Galaxy's appeal and worth aren't about innovation or reinvigoration of the series with a heady dose of unnecessary gravitas; it's about adopting the successes of previous 3D Mario titles and pushing them to the limit.
Super Mario Sunshine wasn't a bad game -- far from it, I'd say. But those of us who yearned for an entire game stocked with the sort of fun packed into those all-too-rare and insanely difficult stages in which Mario ditched the FLUDD in favor of some pure platforming action will find a lot to love about Galaxy. This is platforming bliss, the genre at its finest. Spot-on control of Mario makes an anticipated return, fleshed out and refined to best fit the spherical level designs featured in the game. Mario moves, jumps, maneuvers and attacks with startling accuracy; Galaxy controls so well that it's hard to imagine anybody, veteran gamers or Wii-era newbies, having trouble getting the hang of things.
Galaxy also has the honor of being one of the few games developed specifically for the Wii that actually makes damn fine use of the controller without feeling forced or tacked-on. Pointer action is limited strictly to menu navigation and collecting star bits by hovering over them anywhere on the screen with the cursor, which can be used to knock away approaching enemies in a point-and-shoot fashion. Mario's trademark spin, his primary and most useful attack in Galaxy, is performed by shaking the Wii remote. There are a couple of levels that make further use of the Wiimote, but these tend to be extremely few and far between and serve as clever diversions as opposed to shoehorned Wii shenanigans so often observed in the platform's exclusive titles.
Having established that, what makes the control really shine is the fantastic (and at times, utterly insane) level design, most often structured in the above-mentioned spherical orientation. The emphasis on gravity provides ample opportunity for Nintendo to screw with your expectations and create some truly inspired moments in gameplay with creative twists, turns, traps and tasks to keep you busy. One star in the Toy Time Galaxy, for example, requires that the player scale a massive Mecha-Bowser and dismantle the robot as you move up its body. The game is chock full of "holy crap!" moments like this, and a consistent "wow" factor presses you ever onward rather than lulling between set piece battles or encounters.
The combination of these new and unusual schemes of gameplay alongside the now-standard control makes for some of the most compelling platforming action yet available. The game is challenging -- particularly in later stages -- but never unfairly so, though you can expect to lose a number of lives (no biggie, though; the game deals out 1UPs by the truckload). With 120 stars to find and a massive variety of stages in which to hunt 'em down, you can bet that newbies and seasoned vets alike will find a lot to love in Galaxy.
Maybe it's Nintendo's keen eye for a cute, colorful game, but despite the Wii's limitations as a not-quite-powerhouse in the graphics department, Super Mario Galaxy is one of the most beautiful games I've seen in years. The enemies are extremely well designed, the animations are fluid, and the environments (particularly some of the deep space vistas) are simply gorgeous. But one of the biggest aesthetic surprises in Galaxy is the music, which stands as the best in the series -- really epic orchestral tunes built to match the scale of the game.
What details detract from the experience are minor, but worth noting in that damn near perfect but not quite sort of way. The camera, though very much cleaned up and refined versus previous installments of the 3D Mario titles, still has a couple of issues, namely in the areas in which camera control is scripted to focus on the action. While it's a godsend to not have to worry about camera orientation in these areas and focus instead on precision platforming, you're often put a little bit too close to the action and can't get a good grasp on what's very nearly ahead of you. The various suits are a welcome addition to the game and shake things up similar to those found in SMB3, but Spring Mario -- though graciously uncommon in appearance -- serves as a jarring break in an otherwise excellent control scheme. The others are so well implemented that it feels as though Galaxy could've done without the spring suit altogether and not missed a beat.
This is the first game on the Wii that I can recommend without hesitation to gamers of any stock, from any background -- a truly must-own title. In creating Super Mario Galaxy, Nintendo had the unfortunate task of besting itself at what it does best: platforming. To say that they've succeeded almost isn't enough; Super Mario Galaxy is so incredible that it improves upon flaws in Mario 64 that I hadn't even noticed until, y'know, Galaxy did it better. And though there's little in the way of "innovation" of the genre, it's the refinement of the genre that solidifies Galaxy as the most essential platforming experience yet created.
Given the hour, I'm assuming that a lot of you are likely waking up to this review. Perhaps some of you have fancies of Nintendo's latest flagship title Super Mario Galaxy dancing in your heads, holdovers from the dreams cult... read feature
After days (weeks? [months!?]) of painful anticipation, Super Mario Galaxy finally showed up on my doorstep, thanks to a kindly ol' FedEx delivery driver who knew not the bounty of wonder that he carried. Nintendo also sent a... read
I've gone on record more than once over my distaste for MMOs, but EVE Online has always been an exception, an asterisk slapped on an otherwise lengthy list of games I'd sooner rip my toenails off than play. Its single-shard, ... read
After two hours by shuttle, twelve hours by plane and an hour cab ride into the city, I've finally arrived in Reykjavik for this year's EVE Online Fanfest 2007, CCP's yearly get-together at the top of the world for players, d... read
Owing to sagging profits and and a less-than-firm grip on their once invulnerable spot at top of the third party heap, Electronic Arts is looking to make some changes in their corporate structure, starting with Mythic and the... read
What's inside The Orange Box? Sex. Sex and heroin. And with those contents firmly tucked in our pants, we embark upon Podtoid 34, in which two editors of Destructoid (plus one Weekly Geek) cover some news, answer some questio... read
While some of the staff is off in LA meetin' important people and playin' lots of games, the rest of us are here holding the fort, left home because we're just not pretty enough to represent Destructoid publicly. So us fuglie... read
Oct 19 //
Aaron Linde FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEAKSYS GAMES ANNOUNCES SUPER DODGEBALL BRAWLERS FOR RELEASE EXCLUSIVELY ON THE NINTENDO DS IN SPRING 2008The playground favorite returns with a twist!Torrance, CA (October 19, 2007) – Aksys Games, a publisher of interactive entertainment software has announced Super Dodgeball Brawlers for the Nintendo DS™ for release in the spring of 2008. Based on the classic Super Dodgeball released on the Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Dodgeball Brawlers brings back the old-school Kunio characters with an all new arsenal of super throws and attacks in an all-out war for playground supremacy."Super Dodgeball Brawlers maintains the great pick up and play feel of the classic Dodgeball series while adding in over 100 new super throws, as well as melee combat--a first for the series," said Akibo Shieh, President, Aksys Games. "Fans of the original will be pleased that the fantastic versus mode of the original game has returned along with an all new 8 player ‘Brawl’ mode. If you’re a fan of the old-school Super Dodgeball, you have a lot to look forward to in Brawlers."Key Features:• Over 100 ball-busting special attacks! Dish out a variety of pain with over 100 special attacks with their own special animations and effects, like the Cactus Attack, Panda Shot and Spear.• Finally, an open season for violence! There are some new rules on the playground this time around. If the old-fashioned way doesn't work for you, you can now use punches, kicks, and even weapons against the opposing team.• Introducing the Super Gauge System! Activate a “Team Upgrade Attack” with the Touch Screen when your Super Gauge reaches its maximum level. Boost a team member’s status or unleash an “Instant Kill” special attack to turn the tide of battle.• Create-a-character mode! Create and customize your own dodgeball dream team.• The perfect game for multiplayer mayhem! Compete in a traditional game of dodgeball against a friend or take part in a multiplayer street brawl with up to 8 players.Super Dodgeball Brawlers has not yet been rated by the ESRB and has an MSRP of $29.99.
I swear to God I won't let this degenerate into a nostalgia-fest, but c'mon -- Super Dodge Ball was awesome. It taught me two lessons that I reflect upon almost daily in my adult life: first, always run and leap before hurlin... read feature
Being a fan of rolling, nonsense, and the rampant homoerotic gestures of intergalactic regents, I picked up a copy of Beautiful Katamari earlier this week, eager to sink my teeth into the latest installment of one of my favor... read
Oct 14 //
Aaron Linde Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions (PSP)Developed by Square-EnixReleased on October 9th, 2007I've poured a lot of time into FFT, as evidenced by my somewhat rotund physique. Hours upon hours that might not rival even the most casual MMO player, but a substantial sum of time nonetheless -- probably in the two to three hundred range. The only notion that keeps that figure from being the most depressing goddamn thing I've ever typed is thus: it was worth every minute. Sure, I didn't do the things that most blokes did in high school like study, socialize or date, but fuck it. There was JP to be earned. It's been nearly ten years since Final Fantasy Tactics was originally released in the states. Old though it makes me feel, a span of a decade is the kind of time that usually merits a look back -- hell, in our cash-hungry remake-fueled industry, ten years might even be considered late. The original game was a triumph; it introduced scores of gamers to the tactical RPG within a universe that they could feel comfortable with while still finding room to innovate the genre. It became the gold standard for the tactical RPG, and informed development for leagues of games to follow. Tactics was a damn good game. But much like your brother who plays a mean game of basketball but can't quite spell basketball, Tactics' advent was early enough that it fell victim to the same weak-sauce standards of localization that the industry had back then, which is to say that it read like the booze-fueled ramblings of an aging historian struck with dementia. Not all of it, mind -- just enough that the story, already quite complicated, was made more difficult to follow (names changing randomly, some awkward wording, etc). The tutorial and battle cries were so bad, in fact, that they stood alongside some of the earliest "A Winner Is You"-level writing as the dumbest shit ever realized in text. If there was any part of Final Fantasy Tactics that demanded an overhaul in War of the Lions, it was the translation. Tom Slattery, who previously worked on the Final Fantasy V and VI Advance retranslations, really went above and beyond with his work in cleaning up War of the Lions. The backdrop of Ivalice and the middle ages sort of tone inherent to the world (further developed in the Ivalice-centric Vagrant Story and Final Fantasy XII) prompted language appropriate to the period, which in short terms means that War of the Lions reads like a Shakespearean drama -- a little heavy-handed at times, but very interesting to read. Everything's been changed, from the ability names to the battle cries, the intro movie text and the job reports. Though Slattery's work on VI Advance got some purists up in arms over a distinct lack of submariners in the new script for that particular game, it's hard to imagine much upset over War of the Lions' new script. A game with a story this complicated demands text that can keep up, and the new script is a rousing success.Also new to the PSP port is a collection of cinematics which replace some of the more important cutscenes in the plot. It's likely you've seen these before as part of Square-Enix's marketing campaign, but I can't overstate just how beautiful they are -- managing to capture Akihiko Yoshida's character designs (read: noseless kids with swords and guns) in full motion while maintaining a sort of storybook aesthetic. It's almost hard to believe it's actually 3D when you see it in motion. Shitting one's pants over CG cutscenes in a Square-Enix game seems a weird throwback to 1997 when we gave a crap about that kind of thing instead of flaring our nostrils and threatening brutal dismemberment, but War of the Lions introduces some of the most tasteful, appropriate FMV in recent memory, so it earns a pass. Beautiful stuff. But there's a game here too, y'know, to play. And where previously mentioned improvements turned your faithful reviewer from a thinking, reasoning being into a stuttering lovestruck buffoon, the romance comes to a halt from the first battle, due to a bit of slowdown. This is different from frame rate issues; the game actually slows to a grinding pace during certain sprite animations in battle, causing a desync between the audio you're hearing and the sprite effects you're seeing. It happens for just about every ability that isn't a basic attack like sword skills, summons, Cure spells, items, et cetera. And though a small minority of previews, reviews and PR companies have said different, this is not something that happened in the original PSX version. Just isn't. Go back and play it. It's not there. The game is still fun, mind. But while the lag itself isn't game-breaking, it is showstopping, and will smack you out of your "holy crap this is awesome!" trance the minute it gets rolling. Load times are to be expected, as they go hand-in-hand with the UMD medium, but once a match is queued up I was hoping things would go a lot smoother. This sort of technical screw-up is inexcusable, particularly when working with a ten-year-old game that was relatively visually simplistic even when it was new back in 1998. The first rule of the re-release is to repair the failings of the original, not add to them. As far as fresh additions go, War of the Lions doesn't stop at cinematics or translations -- there are new battles (most of 'em brief and almost always winnable, but still pretty neat), new characters and new job classes. Luso from the forthcoming Final Fantasy Tactics A2 and FFXII's dreamcake Balthier show up well into the plot's progression, but not so late as they can't be whipped into shape before the climactic string of battles that make up the endgame. To accommodate War of the Lions' burgeoning list of unique playable characters, the party roster has been boosted to 24 total members, meaning you won't have to ditch Rafa and Malek (now Rapha and Marach) as soon as you get them. Except that you'll probably want to anyway, because they still suck. Jerks. Mainstays of the series Onion Knights and Dark Knights make a return as new classes in War of the Lions, neither of which you'll be seeing much of without some serious grinding. Moreover, the best items for both classes are usually only to be found as rewards in the game's multiplayer component, in which you can play versus or cooperative missions via ad hoc wi-fi mode -- no internet play here, unfortunately. Should you be so fortunate as to find a partner, the available matches are livened up with a slew of options to make things interesting, including some Paper Mario-esque timing and button-mashing commands that allow you to lock swords with an enemy, knock them back and lay traps that must be disarmed with complex button sequences. It's a nice diversion, but sort of broken if both parties aren't pretty evenly matched -- a disparity in levels means a quick and crushing defeat in versus or enemies ranked as high as the team's biggest character laying waste to the weaker characters in co-op. With no option to level the playing field, it's hard to recommend the multiplayer beyond wasting time or collecting those hard-to-find items for the new classes. And speaking of the items, I'd like to make a plea to Square-Enix: stop it. Similar to some of the new additions to Final Fantasy III for the DS, Square-Enix makes the mistake of restricting content to circumstance, and much like how I didn't want to send a bunch of Goddamn letters via the Nintendo WFC to unlock dungeons and classes in FF3 DS, I don't want to rely on having a readily-available second PSP to get my hands on all the new stuff War of the Lions has to offer. It's a stupid trend that Square-Enix needs to abandon outright, or at least find some decent "I Don't Have Friends" kind of alternative.I'll say this again: Final Fantasy Tactics is one of the best titles in Square's catalog, and one that most certainly merits a revision. But War of the Lions' technical issues and lackluster multiplayer component represent a missed opportunity to make this the truly definitive version of Tactics. I can't recommend this game enough to newbies -- it's likely that the game's failings won't sting quite so much for all y'all, and the game itself is an amazing experience that simply should not be missed. For us veterans, the new translation alone merits the price of admission, but like the original, War of the Lions falls short of what it rightly could have been with a little more time in the oven.Score: 8.2Verdict: Buy It!
Oh god, Final Fantasy Tactics. What I knew in my youth as the Bane of Academia, the Unholy Timeslayer. It's on a shiny new platform and has a nifty subtitle now, some additions and new job classes, but it's the same game and... read feature
Oct 11 //
Aaron Linde Portal (PC)Developed by Valve SoftwareReleased on October 10th, 2007Ever seen "Cube"? We were made to watch it in my Canadian Literature class, the last literature course I took as part of my English major requirements. I had seen it before, but not in such a way where I was expected to, y'know, think about it. From the film we were supposed to cull some sense of Canadian identity or aesthetic, but I struggled -- all I could see was a bunch of anxious folk stuck in a deathtrap and killin' eachother slowly. Thinking about it academically gave me a nosebleed. Having endured the film in such a way, you can imagine how warped my fragile li'l mind was going into a game like Portal. Incorporating the same sterile, clinical sort of aesthetic and limited understanding of the circumstances surrounding the character's involvement in the Aperture Science Enrichment Facility's testing program, this was a game that I knew I was going to overthink. The constant disorientation of moving through portals into different parts of a map where my view has to adjust to compensate for the new direction of Goddamn gravity doesn't help, either. Fortunately, there's quite a bit in Portal to overthink and dissect. Dumped into small quarters containing little more than a toilet, a sleeping pod, and a radio, the player isn't given much information as to what exactly is going on in Portal. The vaguely feminine mechanical voice of GLaDOS, the only other character in the game, rings out over intercom and informs you that the test has begun. Nineteen test chambers to acclimate you to the use of the portal gun await, along with some... less than desirable consequences should you fail. And that's it. You're off. The mechanics at work in Portal's gameplay are similarly simple. Once you pick up your Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device (zee gun), you have the ability to plant a portal on any flat plane available to you, with some exceptions. Certain walls and floors can't be portal'd (usually those which are darker or textured in particular ways), and any planted portals will dissolve the moment the player passes through certain fields. Though these restrictions might sound stifling on paper, there's actually quite a bit of freedom to be had once you're granted use of both orange and blue portals. Your weapons are your portals, weighty objects like storage cubes, and your mind. No guns, no explosives, no nothin'. Just you and your portal-slingin' device.Portal includes nineteen test chambers, the first 13 or 14 of which you'll blaze through in less than an hour. Designed to acclimate you to the subtleties of portal-based gameplay, these initial chambers are almost embarassingly simple. The final five chambers will be where you spend most of your time, and demand a good two and a half hours versus the preceeding 14's thirty-plus minutes. Once things get rolling you'll be doing some truly amazing stuff with your portal gun, particularly with the momentum puzzles -- using gravity to slingshot yourself out of a portal at high speeds. The puzzles demand not only a keen eye for solutions but a quick finger in pulling them off, confirming Portal's "action-puzzler" status. Perhaps most noteworthy about the game in this respect is the way it gets you to really think differently about a level; like Crush before it, Portal demands review of how we associate with level design, particularly the first-person variety. The game is short, though -- almost cruelly so. It spends much of its content just getting the player rolling, and while the remaining puzzles do take a bit of time to complete (particularly the last -- I'll say nothing, but trust me, it's the bulk of the experience), I was really hoping for more time to screw around inside the testing facility. Once the game is completed you're granted access to "advanced" versions of some of the levels, which are frightfully difficult and should take a bit of time to work through. Portal's brevity will hopefully be remedied by future map expansions and additional content, but for now the game feels just too short. Hopefully we'll be seeing some exceptional user-created content in the near future. Valve's trademark storytelling makes an unexpected but undoubtedly exceptional appearance in Portal. It's a hilarious game, chock full of some of the darkest humor I've ever seen. GLaDOS, the mechanized voice which reports on your progress and offers backhanded pick-me-ups and promises of cake at the test's conclusion, is the source of just about all of it. She's condescending and mockingly bureaucratic; her lines begin with an informative tone and become more sinister and malicious as the game goes on. By the game's end you won't be able to imagine Portal without her voice ringing in your ears, and the credits solidify GLaDOS as one of the best antagonists to appear in a game in ages. Though the game itself is remarkably sparse in exposition and environment design (again, sterile and clinical testing facility), there's a surprising amount of context and story information to be drilled. I won't say much, but there are moments -- you'll know them when you see them -- that the environment makes huge reveals about what's going on at Aperture Science. Though the game itself is heartbreakingly brief, Portal adds a great deal to the Half-Life universe thanks to these particular moments, the game's conclusion and GLaDOS' contributions to the narrative. This brand of storytelling is uniquely Valve's. Portal is a fantastic game and well worth the price of admission, particularly for those netting the title as part of The Orange Box. Valve has put together a remarkable title with intriguing and ultimately rewarding gameplay as well as some of the funniest writing in gaming today. But much like GLaDOS, Portal might strike some as huge tease -- an insanely promising play scheme cut short by criminally brief length. If the game was miserable this wouldn't sting so badly, but unfortunately for Valve Portal is one of their most brilliant titles among a catalog of brilliant titles. Buy it, play it and pray for map expansions. Score: 9.0Verdict: Buy It![Look at me still talking while there's science to do!]
[This is just one of the new games available in The Orange Box. Don't forget to read our reviews of Episode Two and Team Fortress 2, and keep your eyes peeled for forthcoming console reviews.] It's no big secret that I've bee... read feature
I think I totally jinxed us when I was talking about, y'know, delays when soliciting requests for questions this past weekend. Turns out our recording software was listening and said "Hey, I got a crazy idea -- let's mak... read
If I've learned anything from almost a year workin' this gig, it's this: an episode of Podtoid without unexplained delay simply ain't Podtoid. We had some terribly sexy plans for a Tokyo Game Show Wraptoid, but Niero was take... read
Sep 30 //
Aaron Linde The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS)Developed by Nintendo EAD Released October 1, 2007 Zelda's recent history is a tale uniquely shapen by the internet -- one that, if you really think about it, might've gone in a much different direction had the masses not called for Miyamoto's freshly-plucked skull after the fateful E3 in which Wind Waker was formally introduced. Remember that? The "Celda" business, the outrage, the liberal sprinkling of the word "gay" throughout discussions on the deepest reaches of the GameFAQs message boards? A trying time for the developers and indeed for us all, one which led us down a path which inevitably came to a sputtering halt at the feet of Twilight Princess. That game, billed as a more adult experience, was praised as a messiah for some and akin to a swift kick in the face for others. My own feelings about the game aside, I'll say this: despite its many flaws I missed Wind Waker dearly the day I got my hands on Princess. Wind Waker was daring. It had balls so massive that, more than once, it tripped over said balls. But balls nonetheless.That being said it should come as no surprise that Phantom Hourglass, a direct sequel to Wind Waker, takes risks with a similar brand of reckless abandon as its predecessor. As the first Zelda tite to hit the unstoppable Nintendo DS, Hourglass has the responsibility of representing both Nintendo's latest hardware offering as well as their new campaign to put games in the hands of all living creatures with hands to fill. Killing two birds with one stone, then, is as simple as implementing touch-screen controls for virtually everything that a directional pad and set of buttons used to handle. Virtually all of us present at this year's E3 got a chance to try it out for ourselves, and while reactions were mostly positive, I couldn't get behind it with the same fervor as most. Not even an option for us who prefer the traditional means of getting 'round?Nintendo promises that ten minutes is all you'll need to get a handle on things, but gamers who have been rockin' Hyrule since the late eighties might require a bit more time. Everything, everything is controlled by the stylus. The player simply points in the direction they want Link to move, putting more distance between the point and the player for greater speed. Attacking is also simplified; the player need only tap on a nearby enemy to make Link close the distance with an overhead strike, or slash the stylus in any given direction for up close and personal attacks. Use of Link's secondary arsenal, however, is where the system will really shine for veteran players -- the boomerang, once engaged, will travel along a path sketched by the player with dizzying speed, and the bow and arrow is now literally "point and click". To equip subweapons, a menu at the bottom of the screen can be called upon with the touch of an on-screen button, or by pressing right on the directional pad. The shoulder button equip shortcut (L for right-handers, R for left), used to engage an equipped subweapon at a moment's notice, is an invaluable asset for those who hate tapping the touch screen exclusively for access to their arsenal. As I said, it takes a little time to get used to it, especially for gamers with big burly man-hands like yours truly. Being right-handed, moving Link to the left almost always meant that some of the screen would be obscured, and my obsessive need for, y'know, seeing the Goddamn screen necessitated a change-up in how I held the stylus. Less like a pen and more like a small stick, braced against the end of my index finger with my thumb, increasing the reach of the stylus by the precious inch-point-five needed to keep things comfortable. It takes some adjustment, but after an hour of play or so, it'll feel as natural as anything else. After five, you'll never want to play a 2D Zelda the same way again.Phantom Hourglass is unquestionably the prettiest game currently available on the platform, taking advantage of the creative 3D art style kicked off by Wind Waker while keeping the gameplay itself in a more or less 2D arrangement. The low resolution of the screen and available texture memory makes the graphics a little blocky, particularly in cut scenes in which characters, objects and other miscellenea are viewed up close. But what's really surprising is that the game is even in a position to be viewed under such a critical light -- the game runs so fluidly, is so colorful and well crafted, that holding it to standards we might have previously had for, say, last-gen home consoles seems only natural. It's a marked achievement for Nintendo's mighty portable, one that really makes you reconsider what the DS is capable of.The influence of Nintendo's quest for accessibility permeates almost every aspect of Phantom Hourglass's gameplay with mixed results. Most notable (and perhaps most present throughout the game) is the ability to make any sort of mark or note you like on the in-game map which appears on the top screen of the DS while you make your way through the game. At the press of a button the map can be shifted to the touch screen where you can write whatever you want -- bombable walls, inaccessible chests, et cetera. An outrageously useful tool for a game like Zelda, but Phantom Hourglass makes the mistake of manufacturing uses for the map-marking system all too often throughout the game. Many of the puzzles peppered throughout the game rely on marking down a correct sequence found a couple of screens away, marking the number of palm trees on a beach, or locations of burning torches, that sort of thing.It's not all bad -- for example, one puzzle in which a symbol to be drawn on a door must be divined by finding vertices of the symbol represented by tablets scattered throughout a level -- but many of these puzzles need only require legwork on the part of the player rather than any sort of creative thinking, making them less like puzzles and more like busywork. My frustration with this sort of thing hit its peak when, prior to granting me entry to a dungeon located on a Goron island, I was asked to count the number of goron children, homes, and know the location of a chest. There's simply too much of this, and every time it comes up I find myself struggling to achieve the same sort of flow that I had going prior to the interruption. Hourglass makes great use of the map system, but not in the way that I would have hoped. Much of it feels somehow artificial, born not out of the player's need but because of puzzles designed specifically to utilize it. This complaint isn't likely to be shared by audiences new to the Zelda series, but for us jerks who spent our youths sketching out our own maps on graph paper, it isn't quite as successful.Map shenanigans aside, the dungeons and environments are very well designed, if a little sparse and brief. While the puzzles that don't involve sketching symbols and marking locations are also a little simplified versus previous titles, they still make for pretty solid experiences when they come around, thanks to a bustling populace of monsters to beat up and the awesome subweapons at your disposal. Most notable for the dungeon experience are the bosses, which have been scaled up to almost console-level size and require some pretty complicated methods to take 'em down. One dungeon you'll be seeing a lot of is the Temple of the Ocean King, a cursed dungeon full of traps and evil bastards that resets upon every entry, making each trip inside a start from the beginning. Further complicating things is the Phantom Hourglass, a mystical item from which the game's title is derived, which allows you to make your way through the dungeon without succumbing to its horrible curse -- but only for a limited amount of time which increases as you defeat more bosses. Prowling the halls of the temple are Phantoms, fierce and evil jerkfaces that will chase Link around the levels and, if they succeed in smacking him with their swords, strike 30 seconds off of the ever-ticking clock. The levels are spotted with safe zones in which Link can hide from the Phantoms and time will not decrease, but you can't stay there forever -- there are puzzles to be solved, after all.You'll be solving these puzzles over and over, as the game's plot necessitates visits between many of the dungeons. Thankfully, there are waypoints on certain floors that, once activated, will allow you to skip ahead to a particular point with your most recent record of time taken to get there decreased from your Phantom Hourglass. Furthermore, the dungeons are full of secondary and tertiary routes that are made available by way of the items and subweapons you find along the way, making the trips down quicker and leaving more time for exploring the unknown. I'd complain about the fact that I did get a little sick of it by my 5th or 6th descent, but it's difficult to ignore the fact that, in the end, it is creative level design, one that evolves as you progress through the game. The world itself is full of all kinds of creatures to kick around, including an appearance by the Pols Voice from the original Zelda, defeatable only after stunning it with -- you guessed it -- a loud roar into the DS microphone. (Fun fact: This is a throwback to the original Zelda on the Famicom, which were vulnerable to attacks via the built-in microphone on the second controller.) While combat in Phantom Hourglass is never too difficult, thanks to the streamlined touch controls and a rich beastiary, it's almost always fun. Speaking of that Pols Voice, it's worth noting that Nintendo has made full use of the capabilities of the platform, and not just in terms of visuals. Everything -- everything -- that the DS can do is represented in one way or another, be it the microphone and screaming a Pols Voice into submission or even the DS's sleep mode, engaged when the system is closed shut. The touch screen naturally gets a lot of use, but often times in ways that you wouldn't quite expect. It's an outside-the-box brand of cleverness that is representative of Nintendo's attention to detail.Navigating the seas makes a return appearance without the hangups of Wind Waker -- no more managing the direction of the wind to get from A to B, no more needless hunting for Triforce segments in the vast blue ocean. Plotting a course is as simple as, well, plotting a course on your sea chart for the ship to follow, leaving the player able to fire the cannon upon enemies along the way. Salvage operations (optional!) are managed via an inventive minigame in which the player must guide the equipment down to the murky depths without getting tore up by the monsters inhabiting the deep along the way. Getting to your destination was never this much fun in Wind Waker, and it feels as much a part of the game as anything else -- definitely a step in the right direction.If the campaign's not enough, Hourglass offers an online versus mode based loosely upon the Temple of the Ocean King in which one player takes control of Link and the other manages the paths of three Phantoms on the hunt. The goal is to retrieve Force Gems from the map and return them to your home base in a weird, decentralized sort of capture the flag arrangement. It's a nice diversion and features eight stages in total to battle it out with friends and strangers, but like most online DS components, it feels a little shallow compared to the main game, and particularly against previous multiplayer Zelda experiences.Phantom Hourglass's value comes down to a question of audience. Clearly, Nintendo was looking to attract a league of gamers not as familiar with the series as those who have been following it since its inception, and in so doing have created one of the most accessible action-adventure titles ever created, portable or otherwise. Hardcore players might be left wanting a challenge geared a little higher, puzzles and combat a little fiercer, but the cleft between these gaming experiences, the hardcore and the casual, is probably no more than a point. Either way you swing, you can't look at a game like Phantom Hourglass and not feel a profound sense of respect for Nintendo's attention to detail and their ability to craft a quality, complete adventure that can appeal to both camps.Score: 8.8Verdict: Buy it!
Feel that? Zelda's in the air. Oh, that special time of year (or, y'know, span of years) where we finally get our hands on Link's latest adventure in Hyrule -- er, Hyrule or Some Neighboring Kingdom -- and consume ourselves i... read feature
Jeez, Bungie. Releasing Halo 3 and muscling out the other worthy releases of September 25th without even a thought as to the lives you're ruining and the families you're destroying. Good thing Mega64 created a dramatic re-ena... read
Sep 24 //
Aaron Linde The thing of it is, Halo 3 is almost two separate games; the multiplayer and the engine Bungie has built around it could stand alone as a completely individual retail release, and is likely to keep gamers occupied long after they’ve finished with the campaign. But I can’t ignore my traditional boner for the single player campaign – we’re gonna do this sequentially, one after the other. Sound good to you? I’ll see you after the big bold header. The Campaign, plus some nuts and bolts During a post-grub interlude of our day-long Halo 3 campaign marathon, I caught Jonty Barnes on his way out of the office headed for a soccer game. We talked a little about the campaign, and he told me that special attention was paid to the single player campaign to please those gamers left a little cold by Bungie’s previous efforts. As a member of the aforementioned club of malcontents, I’m pleased to report that they have, with some exceptions. Halo 3 picks up quick, tossing you headlong into the story while assuming some knowledge of the story so far on the part of the player. Without mentioning too much of the plot’s specifics (because I rather like my legs and would rather them not be broken in the dead of night), it’s certainly worth noting that the game answers most questions players are likely to have from Halo 2 without taking the J.J. Abrams route of creating several hundred more. The problem, then, is where exactly do you go when all you’ve got to do is cover a handful of unknowns? The game sarges onward on with battles that, in the end, remain largely irrelevant to the story; they happen and you move along towards what you’re hoping will be a moment pivotal to the plot. It’s bound to satisfy many gamers just looking for some good, solid action, but in an age in which engaging, well-constructive narrative is possible even beyond the big mystery reveals (or the “Would You Kindlies”, which I’m demanding everyone call them), Halo 3 falls short. Story should remain distant second to gameplay, but not so distant as demonstrated by a game like this, particularly when the developers have had two previous titles to develop such a rich backdrop to build upon. As I mentioned a second ago, most of the questions are answered, but the means by which they’re handled was devoid of the kind of gravitas I’d expect from the end of the series. Similarly, the ending left a rather sour taste in my mouth, and brings to mind a long history of first-person shooters with brief and ultimately unfulfilling endings. This was one of BioShock’s few flaws, and while I made the argument that in light of the game’s myriad successes it simply wasn’t a big deal for me, Halo 3 is an altogether different monster – having been preceded by two campaigns and their build-up, the anticlimax of Halo 3’s ending seems all the more disappointing. Completing the campaign on Legendary difficulty will win you a precious half-minute of additional ending after the credits, but – well, you’ll see for yourself. While I don’t expect that the ending will ignite the fury of a thousand-nation army as Halo 2 had, it seems a missed opportunity to capitalize on the gridlocked attention of an absolutely massive audience by doing something truly spectacular. Once the narrative is set in motion, combat rightfully maintains a firm grip on the experience as a whole. Halo 3’s combat remains largely what it has been since Halo’s inception; the formula room of baddos + forward march = tiem2fite seems to work, so why scrap it, right? This time around there’s a bit of variation thrown into the mix by way of secondary items already seen in use in the beta such as bubble shields, invulnerability, deployable cover and so on. What’s really cool about these isn’t the way you’ll use them – it’s the way your enemies will. Halo 3 definitely makes some huge strides in enemy AI, most of which you’ll see (and often even hear) in action as Brutes shout commands to grunts, toss out bubble shields to defend the little ones, and ask their comrades to cover them as they move in on your location. As you play you begin to notice that the enemies use every inch of the terrain against you, taking back routes and drawing your fire across the battlefield while a pack of sneaky bastards up and flank you. Such a marked improvement in AI demands a heightened attention to the lay of the land – if you die as often as I do, you’re probably going to have to rethink your approach. The levels, fortunately, allow for many. A common criticism of Halo and Halo 2’s campaigns was the repetitive and arguably uninspired level design; the same corridors and canyons, ancient temples with repeating halls, that sort of thing. Halo 3 steps it up a notch with some really creative stages and takes many opportunities to mix things up, and won’t have you barreling down the same tunnel hour after hour. Many set pieces will truly take your breath away, and rarely will you find yourself bored by the environs. The pacing of the action is a bit marred by the vehicle segments which, while fun at first, can become the most mind-shredding experiences a gamer will ever endure thanks to wretched friendly AI. The marines can handle themselves on foot pretty well, but put them behind the wheel of a Mongoose or Warthog and it’s like they left a chromosome or two on the rear bumper. On more than one occasion I realized that my ranks were thinned not by hails of gunfire, but simple disinterest – I’d turn away from the Scarab looking to spill my intestines and see marines on a cliff edge just kickin’ it, probably talking about horses and glitter and stuff in the Warthog, braiding each other’s hair. Being that most of the big epic vehicle battles pretty much intend to be fought against a crew and not one lone Spartan, this can make for some particularly frustrating fights on Heroic and above. The game looks plenty pretty, outfitted with very detailed texture work and some pretty wicked environment modeling. Some of the frame rate hiccup concerns raised in the beta still exist; you’ll see some stuttering when the action gets particularly hairy or hit up the split-screen cooperative modes, but nothing game-breaking. Those with decent sound systems will get quite a kick out of the game’s impressive sound design – you’ll be hearing bullets zip past your head and distant sounds with outstanding clarity. The campaign is no waste; it’s flawed but still enjoyable, especially if you match up with three buddies and take on Legendary in online co-op. While many of my hang-ups from previous games have been mended, Halo 3’s campaign suffers from a similar overreaching ambition that seeks to accomplish just a bit more than it actually can. If you’re not expecting perfection and can handle a little bitter in your metaphorical storyline tea (I should be fired), you’ll find something to like in the campaign. Multiplayer: or, The Reason You’re Probably Buying This Game (I Would Imagine, Anyway) I'll get this out of the way quick: believe the hype, because Halo 3 is the new hotness in terms of console multiplayer. Sure, this seems like an inevitability given the fact that Halo 2 is still one of the most played games on Live, but once you get your hands on it, you'll understand just how important Halo 3 is to the genre -- important enough that it's completely turned me around on console FPS multiplayer gameplay.As expected, the game as most have come to love it is back in fine form, now enhanced by the integrated Live system which makes dropping into games and meeting up with friends easier than ever. As we saw in the beta, it's practically impossible to go looking for a particular game to play and not find it. Once you do, pulling parties out of matchmaking and into a custom game lobby or co-op campaign is unbelievably simple. Halo 3 is likely to be the new benchmark for ease-of-use in future titles. The maps, both new and updated classics, are very well balanced and make for great theatres of war for the host of game types, which I'll get to in a second. There are wide open spaces and tight corridors, and even after a 10-hour multiplayer marathon, I found I was still engaged by all of them, still learning nooks and crannies, developing tactics -- a good sign of quality design.In addition to game types found in Halo and Halo 2 are a host of new features to the latest installment in the series. The honor-bound "Zombie" mode is back, now regulated by the game itself -- no more chiding jerkfaces for not switching teams upon death. Custom game variants are also available, allowing for the kind of customization we've come to expect from the series. But what's most exciting about Halo 3 is the Forge, an engine that allows players to customize the objects and their placement in any map. Limited by a budget (which tends to be plenty), any object available in that map can be moved to any location. Spawn points and map objectives can also be replaced, and compounded by the custom game variant settings, the Forge allows for a virtually unlimited number of possibilities for community-spawned game types.As Bungie has undoubtedly learned since releasing Halo 2, the best ideas tend to come out of the millions of hours logged by the community, and the Forge is the perfect arena for those ideas to come to fruition. Once saved, map variants can be distributed via a simple filesharing system and passed to friends and recent players, ensuring that the truly quality setups and custom game schemes will rise in popularity and become new standards for the Halo 3 online experience. Users can also share videos of their antics to be played in the included Theater mode over the filesharing service as well. The cream'll rise to the top, and like Zombie mode, it'll provide Bungie with plenty of inspiration for future updates and DLC expansions. They've set a good example by providing Bungie-approved variants and films for download like the utterly insane rocket race variant; it's likely we'll see a slew of interesting content from Bungie and their community alike in the coming months. Multiplayer combat brings focus back upon the "tripod"; the gun, grenade, and melee standard set forth from the first game. Unlike the "dual-wield or die" standard from Halo 2, balance has been tweaked to allow players to play how they'd like. While I'm certain that after a few months of diehard community play gamers will find a tried-and-true formula for success, right now things feel very stable -- in my experiences I've found success using any number of weapons and tactics. Yeah, in the mess of weaponry available you'll find your favorite (oh god, how I adore the hammer), but you're never screwed with any one weapon -- everything can be lethal in the right hands. No matter how you feel about the campaign, you’ve gotta hand it to Bungie for their work on Halo 3’s multiplayer; they’ve created a sandbox that the community’s going to be screwing with for years, and in so doing stand to reap the benefits of having one of the largest gatherings of creative consultants in gaming history to help ‘em dream up new ideas. Meanwhile, we get to play one of the most robust and fleshed-out multiplayer schemes ever created and enjoy the fruits of our own labor – win win, right?The Verdict, and Linde's Silly DilemmaLike I said earlier, Halo 3 is almost two games in one. The campaign can stand on its own two feet, but multiplayer is what'll keep gamers coming back for years afterward. That being said, it seems difficult and even somewhat unfair to slap the game with a lower score for the faults of the campaign which, after digging into the game, feels very much secondary to the multiplayer component. But Halo 3 is a complete experience and ought to be measured as such. It's not perfect -- far from it, actually -- but Bungie's accomplishments with multiplayer are so outstanding that it's difficult to get uptight over it. Those losing sleep over the game's impending release, you who are already dreaming up your excuse to get out of work so you can tear through the game -- you won't be disappointed. And for us bitter punks who were never much for the first two Halo titles, plan on being pleasantly surprised. Halo 3 is a solid effort, and one that'll be dominating late nights for quite awhile.Score: 8.5/10Verdict: Buy it!
If I may beat a cliché firmly into the dirt just a few inches deeper, Halo 3 is a game that needs no introduction. I mean that literally. If you’re not decked out in your homemade MJOLNIR armor lovingly crafted... read feature
When I was young, I had dreams of becoming a doctor, fostered as dreams tend to be by the games I played. Had I taken that long and expensive road through med school, I would have invariably been asked what prompted my pursui... read
Evening, kittens. We’re coming up on a near year of Podtoid, and to celebrate this milestone the higher-ups thought that it’d be best if I destroyed the outfit as soon as possible, and therefore positioned me as h... read
Right, Aquaria. We're still waiting patiently for the release of this game, and if you're not along with us, you should just get off this short bus at the next stop. In this latest footage of the game provided by Bit-Blot, we... read feature
Great civilizations often crumble at the height of their decadence. Last week on Podtoid 31, Nex and I were drizzling chocolate on bundles of hundred dollar bills and shooting them out of a flaming cannon -- it should come as... read
What's this? Linde's posting not one, but two stories 'bout Halo in a single afternoon? Truth is, the real Linde was brutally slain by one Dick "I Hate Fatties" McVengeance weeks ago. I am his replacement, the Linde... read
As a means of breaking up our day-long marathon Halo 3 campaign experience earlier this week, the good people at Bungie brought us sandwiches and showed off a series of ads for the forthcoming release. Honestly, I was kind... read
Been awhile, kids -- it's your favorite Linde, freshly returned from the barbaric wastes of Hungary, where goose liver serves as both key component to every meal and a common substitute for drinking water. Them folks are craz... read feature
You guys already know the score -- when there's movin' and shakin' in the way of EarthBound or Mother news, I'm usually the nerd on call to give you the skinny. And since almost every ounce of movin' and/or shakin' these days... read
I'd like to think that one of the most impressive tests of a game is the verdict rendered by a player who isn't necessarily an enthusiast of that particular genre. It's certainly not an opinion that you'd necessarily stack ab... read
Aug 17 //
The first character introduced to the player in BioShock's sprawling narrative is the unnamed protagonist, plummeting down into the sea after his plane crashes over the mid-Atlantic. His refuge, Rapture, is the second. After making your way out of the waters and onto the deck hanging off of the monolithic tower in the middle of the ocean and venturing inside, it becomes quickly apparent that Rapture isn't just a place where BioShock, y'know, happens -- no mere backdrop, the doomed city and all of the philosophies, ideologies, and excess inextricably bound to it infuse every moment of play within the game.
Those of you who've played the demo (or, like me, tracked down one of them criminal copies leaked onto the market prior to street date) know that moment: creeping into the dark of the tower, the door shutting behind you, the lights clicking on in measured succession. A colossal statue of Andrew Ryan, creator of the underwater utopia, hangs ominous over your route downward, holding a massive banner that reads "No Gods or Kings, Only Men". An appropriate introduction to the city of Rapture, where just about everything -- the characters, the artwork, the music and the masterful level design -- aims to realize this world for the player in breathtaking detail.
From the moment you start the game to just moments before the ending, BioShock never tears you out of first-person view. No cutscenes, no camera zooms, nothing -- everything from behind the eyes of the protagonist. Similar to Half-Life, this choice serves well to amplify the atmosphere and immersion you'll feel as you make your way through Rapture -- a notion absolutely key to the BioShock experience. Most of the "action" has happened long before your arrival, which puts quite a bit of weight upon the environment and audio logs to convey the story, which it does phenomenally well. Through the audio logs, radio transmissions from a very limited cast of NPCs and the set pieces scattered throughout the city, the history of this once magnificent monument to excess is pieced together by the player, resulting in one of the most organic and effortless narratives since the game's spiritual predecessor, System Shock 2. Moreover, BioShock features one of the most compelling plots I've ever seen in a game -- a brilliantly measured story delivered at the perfect pace.
Nothing tells the story quite like the city itself, however. Established as a utopia in where citizens were promised absolute freedom to research, create, and build, Rapture now stands in ruin, utterly destroyed by its own decadence. Propaganda on the wall reinforces the Randian philosophies at work in Rapture -- take everything for yourself and leave nothing for anybody else -- and the advertising promising citizens the best life they could ever hope for is scattered everywhere. Evidence of comings and goings, parties, and life in general is found in every nook and cranny throughout the game. Messages written in blood are found on the walls and floors, and hey, here's an audio log to accompany it. With BioShock, it's not so much about telling a story as it is letting the player experience it.
Rapture is so thoroughly realized that it genuinely feels like a place that very well could exist -- not so much something created by the art and design team, but rather lifted from some preexisting pocket of hell deep under the ocean. It's an absolutely stunning game with some of the best graphics you're likely to see on the 360, bringing to life the gorgeous art deco environs of the city. You'll hear footsteps, mumbling, and the creak of metal buckling under thousands of pounds of pressure. The level designs are top notch and filled with crap to pick up, search, sift through and explore. Nothing is extraneous; no item, no prop, nothing seems out of place. Rapture is -- or was, anyway -- a living, breathing place, and is absolutely breathtaking to behold. It's also claustrophobic, dark, wet, and terrifying, which makes it a perfect place to be hunted by the genetic mutants who want to peel your skin off.
Simply put, BioShock is a FPS. Owing to its roots in System Shock 2, however, the game is also one of the most interesting takes on the genre I've ever seen. Through your travels in Rapture you'll stumble across six weapons, each with three interchangable ammunition types, all of which can be beefed up at upgrade terminals stationed throughout the city. You've also got a huge amount of genetic and personal upgrades at your disposal, which can be found, researched by photographing enemies and technology, invented or purchased with ADAM -- I'll get to that in a minute. You've got a limited number of slots to equip these abilities, however, which makes for ample opportunity for character customization. Do you want to increase your melee power or reduce the damage you take from fire? Speed boosts, sneaking ability or both?
Plasmids add further complexity to the FPS experience. By finding or buying new plasmids, you can equip a wide variety of abilities that will allow you to freeze, enflame, or enrage your enemies. You can mark them as security targets or cover them in swarms of fucking bees. Combining these skills with the variety of weapons and upgrades you can equip makes for some extremely interesting opportunities in dealing with your foes, and you'll need all of 'em, especially if you want more ADAM to purchase new abilities. If you want ADAM, you'll have to claim it from the Little Sisters who scour the hallways of Rapture, gathering the blood of the dead to be recycled for the precious resource. And if you want to get to the Sisters, there's a big, scary bastard you'll have to get through first.
The Big Daddy battles are some of the finest moments in BioShock. You'll encounter a set number of them on every level, and they come in two varieties: the iconic Bouncer, who carries a drill and is featured in most BioShock imagery, and Rosie, who wields a rivet gun. Both brands of Big Daddy fight in altogether different manners, but neither can be dealt with swiftly or easily -- the first encounter with a Big Daddy, a Bouncer, is likely to be marked up as one of the most intense experiences in gaming. They've got a staggering amount of health, beefy defense, and are awfully spry for such hulking bruisers, particularly the Bouncer. To survive and succeed, players can use any combination of plasmids, abilities, weapon and ammo types to bring down the Daddy, and it's up to you how you want to do it.
Unlike many other games that tout "multiple ways to play", BioShock actually brings this feature to the table, thanks in no small part to the huge array of weapons and abilities it offers. There's a lengthy list of different enemies, traps, security devices and bosses to be dealt with, and with each encounter is a new opportunity to try something new. The absolutely outstanding enemy AI ensures that no battle will be quite the same -- they will give chase, run away if heavily damaged, seek water if en fuego, and find new and interesting ways to tear you to pieces. The game encourages and rewards using all of your resources and the environment itself to your advantage, so much so that combat is never, ever boring in BioShock. The controls are tight, the keymapping effective -- this, mind you, coming from a guy who typically abhors console first-person shooters -- all in all, an absolute blast to pick up and play.
On top of this solid foundation is an amazing amount of polish. Water cascading down the POV and leaving small droplets behind, the sound of your protagonist coughing as he walks through a cloud of dust, and the way your point of view staggers and is knocked back by the crushing blow of a Bouncer. A few of the Splicers, warped by extensive genetic modification, will even scream "I am good enough!" and other tidbits of story context at you before they strike; a small touch, but one that really brings to light the culture of excess and outrageous expectations that the people of Rapture once placed upon themselves. These little additions really draw you in, even if you don't notice them right away -- they serve to make the world of Rapture seem that much more real.
I could certainly draw attention to some extremely petty faults like the occasional audio glitch (nothing more than an absence of sound once or twice), the lack of a player's shadow, and the somewhat shallow ending, but I'd feel kinda silly doing it. Vague disappointment over the game's very final minutes doesn't lessen the impact of the preceding 14 hours. BioShock is to the FPS genre what Super Mario 64 was to platformers, what Chrono Trigger was to RPGs -- such a drastic leap forward that you wonder if it will ever be topped. Whether it will or won't be is largely irrelevant; what matters is that, after BioShock, the first-person shooter will never be the same.
Verdict: Buy it!Score: 10/10
I had almost lost hope. Almost. You know what article I've had sitting in my queue for almost two months? It's called "Requiem for the Single Player Campaign", and it was gonna be good ol' Linde up on his soap box complaining... read feature
Psychonauts. Yeah, I know -- sort of like Beyond Good and Evil, one of those games that needs no introduction, that almost hourly enjoys some sort of running of the mouth by one journalist or another. I'm introducing it as su... read