Thursday, December 18, 2008

Influx of Reviews.

There is going to be a large influx of reviews over this winter holiday to toss some last minute input for the shopping season.
Reviews will include:

Left 4 Dead
Saint's Row 2
Red Alert 3
Fallout 3
Fable 2
and more!~

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Defense Grid: The Awakening Review

Defense Grid: The Awakening is a stand alone tower defense game built with its own custom engine, available on Valve’s Steam platform. If you don’t know what a tower defense game is, this title may not interest you much. However, if you’ve dabbled with the likes of Warcraft III TD’s or Desktop TD, then you will likely love what Defense Grid brings to the table.

For starters, the game sports good looking modern graphics. A TD game has never looked so good. You will play along side a computer AI as you set up a ‘Defense Grid’ to repel alien invaders. The story serves as a nice backdrop to the game, but certainly isn’t memorable.

Defense Grid offers up 20 different missions, each composed of a unique 3D map and anywhere from 3-30 or so waves of enemies. To stop such aliens, you have 10 different towers at your disposal, all of which are upgradeable. The missions themselves start out quite simple. A single road on which the aliens travel that twists and turns through a 3D environment. Several build points dot the areas next to the road, and allow the player to build their towers. These earlier levels do not have any opportunity for the player to ‘maze’ and alter the routes of the alien waves. However, as the levels progress build points do pop up on the alien paths allowing for some extremely unique mazing. Many of the later levels have multiple spawn points and paths for the aliens, and offer the opportunity for extensive and complex tower mazes.

The towers themselves are all unique and powerful in their own ways. In my first playthrough, I tended to favor a few towers over others, but almost all of the towers can be used to great success if built at the right point and the right time. The aliens you kill are also all varied and interesting. Some are weak and clump together, requiring area of effect towers to kill, while others have shields making them immune to such area of effect towers. There are easily 10 or so different types of enemies, each of which come in multiple colors signifying different amounts of hitpoints. There is really great variance here, and they will often spawn in combinations which will test your defenses in innumerable ways. Each alien can be your undoing, and as such I greatly applaud the developers for creating such a great mixture of aliens who are all balanced and fun to fight.

The 10 different towers are equally diverse, including some of the usual TD suspects (the slowing tower, for instance). My personal favorites were the Concussion Tower (which launches grenades in all directions making for a great area of effect tower) and the good old Gun Tower (which is cheap and great for mazing).

Since the game is built from the ground up as a TD and not as an RTS, there are many unique and well thought-out features built into the engine that will please anyone who has played a TD before. For instance, you can speed up time by simply pressing the ‘F’ key. This removes the often boring wait if you’re quick to wipe out a wave of rushing aliens. There is also an orbital laser that can be fired every few minutes, and serves as a nice lifesaver to kill off that one alien who managed to slip through your defenses.

The game itself takes about 6 hours to play through, but there are additional challenges for every mission – such as tougher alien waves, limited money, limited number of towers, etc. On top of that, your performance on each mission or challenge is posted on leaderboards so you can see how you compare to your friends and the public in general. These added features are compelling, and you will likely spend time going back and playing some of the added challenges or beating your friend’s best scores. The challenge of finding the best spots for certain towers or the most efficient maze was enough to keep me coming back for more. All in all, the game could easily net you 15-20 hours of good fun and many more if you’re a perfectionist and want to unlock all the achievements.

It should be noted that the one item missing from Defense Grid is multiplayer. It would have been really fun to have had co-operative missions and vs. modes as seen in many of the Warcraft III TD’s. If these were included, I would certainly have paid a full $50 for the game. However, for $20 you get an exceptionally fun, unique, well-polished, and well-balanced game. I recommend Defense Grid: The Awakening it to anyone who has played a TD before and enjoys the genre.

Overall Rating: 9.5/10


Sunday, June 29, 2008

Wizard World Chicago

Guitar Hero: Bounty Hunter

The Darkness vs. Conan the Barbarian

Futurama Girls

Wizard World was a blast. Some once in a lifetime pictures to be had. Check out my art and the Kotaku article on my picture.

Here's the story of Boba...
I'm running the booth and see Boba Fett walk by.

Naturally, I have to get my picture with him.

After some more thinking before he had fully left my sight, I glanced at the Guitar Hero booth right next to mine.

(We have a phenomenal location. In between Guitar Hero, Futurama and the main autograph signing booths)

So I thought to myself, wouldn't it be an awesome picture to have Boba Fett on Guitar Hero?

I went to Boba and chat with him for a while, worked him a little bit.

We discussed his armor, which took years to make apparently, and the recent oppression of the Rebellion, etc. etc. Then I asked him... "So... Could I get a picture of you?"


"Could I get a picture of you with a Guitar Hero controller in your hand?"

"Um.. ok..."

"Could you stand up on that stage and look at the screen while the song's going?"


So I get Boba on the stage, take my picture, then before anyone else could snap a shot, he puts down the controller, the crowd releases a big "Awwww...." and he states "I'm far too busy hunting jedi to be playing Guitar Hero"

What a wonderful day.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Condemned 2: Bloodshot

Condemned: Criminal Origins showed up on the Xbox 360 soon after the console’s release, and in my mind was one of the stronger titles to show in the platform’ first 6 months or so. The huge leap in graphical technology between the generations of consoles was shown well in Condemned: CO, and the gritty realism and shadowy darkness of the graphics engine came together to create an entirely new type of game experience. The creepy settings looked so realistic that it was hard to remove yourself from the game, and condemned one had me recoiling away from the TV in terror on more then a few occasions. Furthermore, ripping a pipe off the wall and using it to brutally murder hobos was unparalleled in fun at the time. While it was not without its problems (overly linear, repetitive objectives, simple gameplay) the core experience was new and the game was fun. How did Condemned 2 stack up?

Condemned 2: Bloodshot follows closely in the footsteps of the first. The same basic formula is here. Traverse dimly lit environments using a wide variety of blunt objects to bludgeon maddened hobos to death. On first sight, you’ll realize that the game engine is likely the exact same one used for the first game. The graphics are good, and some things are more detailed then in Criminal Origins, but largely the game looks and feels the exact same. The engine really shows its age sometimes and there can be some blurry textures here and there. Gears of War this is not. That being said, the engine provides enough power to create the shadowy environments and mangled corpses that the gameplay requires, it just won’t wow you.

The developers did add a lot to the combat system and to the gameplay in general. In Criminal Origins there was pretty much just a button to attack and a button to block. Bloodshot introduces a much better system where each trigger executes an attack with your left hand or right hand. Additional buttons can be pressed to alter the attacks to hooks, and pressing both triggers together will block. In addition to the new moves, you can do combos that add damage by giving them the old left right, or by countering the opponents’ attacks. The system is definitely better then the old system, and certainly more fun, on paper. In practice, however, the opponent AI is the exact same as the first game, which means that trying to beat an opponent down with a combo, will almost never work straight away, as the dated and unbalanced AI will always be able to hit you before you can complete it. This means that the best way to defeat people is to simply hit them once, run backwards, wait for their counter blow, and then run up and hit them again, rinse repeat… Blocking is actually tougher now because you have to pull both triggers at once. This means there’s some delay before the game decides that you actually pulled both of them, so countering attacks is difficult due to this delay. Furthermore, sometimes you’ll punch instead of blocking which is annoying. Thus, even though they’ve added a lot of cool new stuff to the combat, it plays the exact same as the first. Whack, retreat, whack…

My other gripe is the abundance of guns and the prevalence of the SWAT-like Special Forces enemy type. Shooting a commando in the face with an assault rifle where there’s ammo everywhere is not what condemned is about, but you’ll be doing this in a few levels. Condemned one was all about creeping the player way out. Passing by a mannequin a few times, then passing him again and having him jump down off the display and start attacking you. Or seeing a shadowy figure dart away into the dark before you can even see what it was exactly. Bloodshot has a few of these moments, but not nearly enough, as the focus for much of the game shifted towards combat and away from creepy. Furthermore, many of the enemies have terrible walking/running animations. Something lurking in a dark corner really isn’t that creepy if it’s moving jerkily and unrealistically. Seeing an emaciated drug addict dart through a crack in the wall isn’t that scary if he moves like a robot. This is made all the more disappointing by the fact that the combat animations are amazing, definitely top notch. Hitting someone in the face with a bowling ball is pretty satisfying as it just looks so cool and real.

The forensics are also improved, and you will actually have to do some detective work this time. For example, early on you stumble across a body, and have to relay information back to your “guy with a laptop in the van” type character. Here, you will be asked questions about how the person died and how the body got there etc, and its kind of fun examining a blood trail and realizing that the hand prints indicate the guy crawled there before dying, or that the torn fabric facing outwards from the wound in his back indicates an exit hole from a bullet. Fun stuff. But still, these sections are still just done in small little chunks, and the player is guided in what to do or look for. The developers obviously think that the gaming population is mentally challenged, and I am honestly just sick of that attitude. They have the opportunity to provide some really smart and interesting gameplay structures with the forensic tools they give you, but they really squander them by making the detective work only ever happen in a few short sections. They could have done so much more with the forensic aspect had they just had a shred of faith in the intelligence of the gaming public.

One landmark part of this game that’s really a step back from the original is the magic theatre level. At one point, a body is held onto a bloodied wooden target by throwing knives, a grim display, but seeing as the body is still pretty intact, I figured I should whack it a few times to make sure its dead. I did so recalling the mannequins of the first game’s department store. Sure, they scared the crap out of me the first time they jumped off their displays, but after that I’d start whacking them right away, killing them easily. This time though, walking past the thoroughly whacked corpse on the knife board a second time, it suddenly got up and started punching me in the face. *sigh*. I already beat your frickin head in a minute ago! Not cool!

Another new feature is upgrades after each level. Sometimes it’s a bullet proof vest that reduces bullet damage, or a new taser attack, or boots that let you sneak around quietly, or more health. It’s a nice bonus getting to the end of a level and having your dude get stronger for it. It would have been nice though if they had implemented these upgrades into the game though, like finding the vest on a dead cop and putting it on, or having someone give you the taser if you help them.

Overall, the general result of Condemned 2: Bloodshot is that despite all the positive changes and improvements from the first game, they’re counteracted by a lack of changes in many departments that nullify the improvements. Your combat options are much deeper… but the enemy AI is the same so you can’t use any of your combos. Some slightly improved graphics should lend to even creepier levels… but now you have an assault rifle and the enemies are normal human swat guys. There’s more freedom and more observation in the forensics… but these portions are few and far between and restricted to certain small areas. So, as you can see, the game could have been much better had they spent more time fully improving the game, instead of just improving select sections of it. With this in mind, I’d recommend Condemned 2: Bloodshot to the more hardcore fan who really loved the first game. If you haven’t played the first, or you were just lukewarm on it, then you’ll probably want to skip this one. 7.8/10.
• Significantly deeper combat system
• Improved forensics sections
• Plenty of hobo punching

• Overall lack of creepiness
• Too much FPS, not enough melee
• No improvement in AI
• While fighting is much deeper, still only one effective strategy.

Review submitted by Schmaefe.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Command and Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath

Now I always have been a big fan of the Command and Conquer franchise. Command and Conquer was always a staple for the RTS world along with big names like Age of Empires and the Warcraft series. Command and Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath has been another expansion for a game I enjoyed. However, everything in life is not the depiction of perfection.

Kane's Wrath picks up where I thought C&C3 left off. C&C3 opened up at their release with a typical Command and Conquer style single-player experience. The live-action cut scene sequences to accompany a single player campaign that spanned the GDI, Nod, and even new Scrin forces. Kane's Wrath has you go back in time a bit, between the older games and C&C3. You get to play as Nod establishes itself as a formidable force within the yellow zones of the world. ("Yellow zones" pertains to areas inhabited by the toxic yet valuable resource, Tiberium.) You get to even play through some of the missions that are from C&C3 and get a better understanding of the betrayal within the Nod army.

New units and "Generals" add some nice variety to Kane's Wrath. C&C3 released with some pretty unbalanced forces and a less appealing multiplayer game. After several patches it became a very balanced game with some hard work from EA's QA teams working on it. Kane's Wrath just further balanced the armies within the Command and Conquer 3 world. GDI has some Tiberian Sun usual crowds such as the Wolverines and Titans, Nod gets some new cyborg units that add a nice twist to the infantry game, and Scrin gets some awesome mind-control units. Yuri's Revenge anyone? In the end it adds really nice balance to the units. It made a game where Carriers or Mammoth Tanks used to dominate anything in their path, to a very rock, paper, scissors game. It really builds upon what people have expected in RTS games. Rocket infantry are good against vehicles and air units but not infantry, normal infantry are good against other infantry but not vehicles, etc. etc.

In the end, Kane's Wrath gets a good 8.9/10 from me. It was a really enjoyable gameplay experience. Only down sides to this game would be the stereotypically Command and Conquer cheesy cut scenes with live actors. The online experience with Commentators should be more mature, it adds a nice Madden like commentating on online games, but all you get is vulgar images being drawn on your battles by twelve year olds.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Devil May Cry 4

Devil May Cry 4 was an excellent hack and slash, Ninja Gaiden-esque game. That is not to imply that the Devil May Cry series did not do the style of gameplay first. However, the reason I refer to Ninja Gaiden in this type of game is because I had very limited exposure to the Devil May Cry series and played boat loads of Ninja Gaiden. With that being said I begin my review.

Gameplay, gameplay, gameplay. This game definitely excelled at excellent gameplay mechanics that combine a skill-based combat system with good evasive maneuvers.

Nero contributes to the action in a new way with his Devil Arm. Mash the B Button for a variety of satisfying grabs and throw your enemies all around the place. Nero’s sword, the Red Queen, also has a new Exceed system. The Exceed system allows you to power up your sword with the left trigger up to three levels of power. Later in the game, you receive the ability, with a very perfectly timed swipe of the left trigger, to fully charge your exceed meter immediately after attacking. This adds a new timed mechanic to gameplay and enables your attacks to hit harder, hit faster, and to unlock more elaborate versions of the moves you previously had by utilizing the Exceed system. Nero’s pistol is somewhat disappointing to fans of the guns in the old Devil May Cry games, but fully upgraded, the double barreled revolver can pack a punch.

Dante is also back and better than ever. I had the pleasure of re-visiting Devil May Cry 3 to keep me reminded of the story. Dante has all his basic styles from the older games, Trickster, Swordmaster, Gunslinger, and Royal Guard. In addition to the four older styles, Dante receives Virgil’s style, Dark Slayer, when he receives his brother’s sword, Yamato. I would refer as to how he receives this sword, but that’s called a spoiler. Dark Slayer adds some nice variety to an excellent system already. In the older DMC’s, you had to get to a golden statue to switch between your styles, but now in DMC4, you are able to change through the styles on the fly with the direction pad. It’s always fun to chop them up and blast them back with Swordmaster, teleport to them with Trickster, activate Dreadnought with Royal Guard, perforate their body with bullets in Gunslinger, then release the final blow with Dark Slayer. The options are limitless in the ways you can chain between the advantages of the different play styles.

I wasn’t expecting much from the graphics. I have been skeptical about companies that did PS2 games and upgraded the graphics and some gameplay to make a next-gen title. Capcom blew my expectations away. Maybe DMC4 doesn’t look as nice as say, Mass Effect, but it sure does get better framerates. DMC4 runs smoother than most of the games I have experienced on 360 and PS3. The only time I ever received any slowdown was during the fire lord, Berial’s, fire blast wave of death. The cinematics were also very well done. Capcom apparently hired several extra people for the production of the many cinematics for DMC4. The effort definitely showed in the final product. The graphics were a very distinct Japanese style befitting of the older DMC games while keeping a smooth framerate and some stunning visuals.

The story was excellent. I will not reveal the basics of the storyline, but I was disappointed you never REALLY found out why Nero had his Devil Arm. If you were a fan of the older DMC games, then you know who Nero’s power imitates, and that’s some story in and of itself.

All in all, I give Devil May Cry 4 an 8.8/10.
The only negative points to this game are the skill required to fully beat it with all the achievements and the terrible shoddy camera system that is as old as the monolith.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Super Mario Galaxy

The Mario franchise is by far my favorite of ALL TIME. Mario was the very first video game I ever played at age 5. From then on, I was hooked. Super Mario Galaxy is yet another title that makes me faithful to the franchise. Even though it does contain many starry bits of honey-flavored awesomeness, it is not without its quirks.

Super Mario Galaxy begins very similarly to other Mario games: Princess Peach inviting the plump plumber to the castle after Mushroom Kingdom's creepy Star-worship holiday. Just as Mario is on his way, in comes Bowser to crash the party. It seems that by now, the Lizard King has wisened up and gotten the hook-up with a space ship, which he uses to carry off Peach and her entire castle and jetisons poor Mario into space. Basically, in order to save the Princess, Mario must save Power Stars, which are located in various galaxies around the Universe, protected by race courses, puzzles and Bowser's minions.

Undoubtedly the most noticable quality of this game is the design of the environment. Despite the Wii's lacking graphics as compared with other consoles, Mario Galaxy is designed perfectly to provide a stunning environment and visual feast at every turn. Each planet serves the story and adds a yummy flavor. While gravity is nothing new to the world of video games, Mario Galaxy tweaks Newton's law a bit, giving the oddest shaped planets their own center of gravity, allowing Mario to explore with more freedom and less fear of falling into a bottomless pit (though there are a few exceptions that include freaking huge Black Holes). Along with spiffy gravity tricks and cool planets come the traditional Mario Power-Ups with a few twists. Though I was incredibly disappointed to find that Raccoon Mario was missing yet again, I was more than satisfied with the number of tricks Mario had in store for me. Throughout the game, Nintendo alludes to many previous Mario themes (sadly not Raccoon Mario), which easily delights any fan of this franchise.

I was also very impressed with the simplistic use of the Wii Remote. Unlike so many other laborously repetitive games for the Wii, Mario Galaxy does not demand overly gimmicky use of the remote control. This game serves to remind all that the Wii Remote is a tool. It is not the game itself. While I'm touching on the subject of the Wii Remote, let's mention the co-play function. I doubted this addition at first, but then all those fears were dashed when I actually tried it. Adding in Player 2 makes the life of Mario much easier while providing a bit of relaxed entertainment for P2. Player 2 can collect star bits, just like Player 1, but can also stop most enemies in their tracks, allowing Mario to either kill them or run away (our brave plumber would never flee, would he?).

While the camera angles are quite spectacular and unhindering in most cases, there are just a few spots where I found that the camera just simply did not want to cooperate. This would result in the camera facing a very solid object, leaving Mario to hang out in the shadows. My least favorite part of any mario game is swimming. It takes five minutes just to get your bearings and actually swim in the right direction and then all of a sudden, a camera angle changes and you get to wriggle around for another minute or so to get going in the right direction again, all while running out of air. These are the biggest problems I had playing this game, however after all is said and done, almost anything negative that can be said of this game is pretty nitpicky.

Mario Galaxy definitely deserves a good bit of recognition. It is simple enough for a new gamer (be it a six-year-old or my roommate) to pick up rather quickly, but also manages to provide a good challenge to those familiar with the Mario franchise. Designers also scored some points with me by being able to make this game adorable and awesome at the same time. Kudos, Designers.

I give Super Mario Galaxy a hearty 9.5/10.

Now all we have to worry about is how Nintendo is going to top themselves yet again.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

New Authors

We've added two new authors to the Game Critic team.

Darkfigure and Vernonator.

With the help of more staff, be prepared for a landslide of game reviews.