Dead Space: Event Horizon = Cake Walk

•November 13, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Before I get started, please completely ignore the review that OXM did: OXM review.  It is horrible and completely unjust.  It’s quite obvious that the writer does not like survival horror games and didn’t want to deal with this… so sad.  Obvservor bias is a terrible thing to have in that profession.

I also highly recommend that you watch the 6 episodes of the animated comic, which are free for download in the Xbox Marketplace.  They give a background to what happened before the game takes place.  Don’t worry, there are no spoilers.  In fact, you get nothing less than a good story and some bonus factoids which you discover later on in the game: well worth your time.

Now onto the review…

We’ve all played survival horror games before: *cough* Resident Evil.  Sadly, this genre seemed to be dying, as the games got easier and very cheesy.  Enter stage right Dead Space, a survival horror game which takes place on a seemingly deserted spaceship out in the depths of space.  You play the silent protagonist Isaac Clarke, a technician aboard a rescue vessel charged with the task of figuring out what happened to the USG Ishimura.

The minute you step aboard the Ishimura, events take a sour turn and leave you separated from the crew you came with, only to discover for yourself firsthand what happened here.  Armed with only a plasma cutter and an armored tech. suit, you creep your way through the decimated halls with very little light to guide you.  You quickly discover that the only way to defeat these creatures is by dismembering them.  It not only slows them down, but does massive damage and helps you conserve ammo, which is not exactly plentiful, as the genre suggests.

The level layout is superb with tension and suspense moments plentiful.  The lighting throughout the game is a thing of beauty, giving a false reception that there is something behind you or in the corner at every moment.  Just when you get used to these points, something happens and you’re back to looking everywhere at all times.  Dead Space provides you with an incredible sense of paranoia and chilling fear that you’ll feel in your gut.  It is best played with headphones or a very good surround sound setup and little light in the room.  My eyes usually hurts from staring at a TV without light on, but the dim environment aboard the Ishimura will test you, and the pain is well worth it.  The movie Event Horizon looks like a training ground compared to this bad boy.

As with every game in this genre, you are constantly searching for inventory items, as well as running back and forth to reach your objectives.  But these are mere necessities.  My first play through was around 15 ½ hours on normal, as I spent a lot of time soaking in the immense environment and figuring out what the hell was going on.  The second play through took me 8 ½ hours on hard, but it only took that long because I was only using the cutter (hard, but fun).  I’m currently working on impossible mode, which is almost just that.  The replay value to more than enough to get you throwing it in again when you feel like getting the crap scared out of you.  Even better, if you load the completed game you already finished, you start the game over with everything you had and even unlock some cool gear.

The combat system is very well designed and the upgrade possibilities are tough to choose between, but are essential and well crafted.  The team did an amazing job with this game, especially since it got bumped forward almost 2 weeks, finishing ahead of schedule.  If you are a fan of science fiction and the survival horror genre, this is a must have.  While I love this game to death (no pun intended), it is not one of the best games I’ve played, so it can’t rank up there with BioShock, but it definitely deserves a solid 9.0.  I have highly recommended this game to everyone I know with a 360.  Originally, I gave this an 8.75, but after how many times I have played this game and still enjoy every minute of it, I had to bump it up to a 9.0

For those with Mirror’s Edge, I suggest you play it for a good week, then throw Dead Space back in.  It’ll be like you barely played it before, making you jump at things you should already know are there.

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Viking: Blood, Limbs, Heads, and Mead

•October 17, 2008 • Leave a Comment

This is one of those games that I never got around to playing until now.  I saw it on the shelf of a CEX and decided that now was the time to test drive this guy, despite the poor reviews that a lot of people gave it.  To me, the concept seemed interesting: a Viking warrior who has been recently granted immortality by the goddess Freya in exchange for battling Hel’s forces across Midgard. Now I’m a completely sucker for Ragnarok and all the lore behind it, so this game has been in the back of my mind for a while.  Please note that given the fact that I got Viking used, the reduced price I paid will definitely reflect in my review; at least I’m being honest.

Now it is true that this is a hack-n-slash styled game, but not as mundane as playing Dynasty Warriors 5, 6, 7, and whatever else they come up with; once you’ve played one DW, you’ve played them all.  Viking, on the other hand, gives a bit of an RPG feel to the game and has 3 separate islands full of open ground for you to explore.  You can pretty much go anywhere at any time, provided that you have a key to unlock a gate or something to that regard; it gives a more realistic feel to having boundries.

A great part about the RPG aspect is that it’s not experience-based, but rather gold-based: the spoils of war.  You go around collecting gold bags, smashing urns with gold in them, and opening up chests for gold.  There are a lot of these, but it’s worth investing the time and effort in order to increase your character’s abilities.  Luckily, the developers knew how tedious of a task searching for bags would be, so for about 800 gold total, you can purchase 3 maps which will show these gold sources on your mini-map.  To “level up” your character, you must visit an arena to buy new fighting abilities, or moves if you will.  Now let me say that I am not a fan of fighting games, because I am horrible at memorizing 5 buttons combos.  However, I’m great with concepts: learning versus memorizing.  The most difficult combo to remember is a 5-button (A) combo followed by a strong blow (X).  Not very hard.  The rest of the battle controls feel a little awkward at first, but by the end of the first island, you’ve definitely gotten the hang of it.

I’ve said that it’s a hack-n-slash, but Viking is more than that; it’s also a stealth-like game, to a minor degree.  On each island, you must infiltrate an enemy infested base to obtain certain items.  This requires a lot of planning on the fly about how to go around hoards of Hel’s beasts.  And don’t try taking them all on at once.  I did for the first mission and died numerous times before deciding that I should follow the instructions given to me.  One move that is crucial is a sneak attack that cuts your enemy in two if you go unnoticed while sneaking up.  It’s a move you’ll use throughout the game.  There really is a certain glory that you feel after stealthly moving around a huge enemy fort and then try to make it out.  Sure, you could just jump off a cliff and kill yourself, but that’s lame and not half as entertaining.  By the way, killing yourself doesn’t rid you of any items you’ve picked up: a very useful trait.

The storyline isn’t completely original, but at least they do a good job in not botching the notion of Ragnarok (Too Human kind of did, but they tried it with a futuristic twist).  The in-between-island scenes, as well as the ending, has a narrator who’s not only too brief, but is trying too hard to sound almost prophetic.  It’s honestly a little cheesy and makes it seem like the script writers just wanted to get the story done, as if it were a chore instead of an honor to work with the game.

Each island gets larger and more difficult, so you’ll find yourself getting frustrated with having to run around so often, all for a stupid key that you could have saved a lot of time doing if you weren’t so curious in the first place; yes, I did this a lot.  Luckily, there are large stones which you can use to teleport around.  Also, once you leave an island, you can’t go back.  At first I thought this was lame, but after running around, performing rather silly chores, I thanked the gods that I didn’t have to deal with 3 islands at once.  All this searching can bring the game down a little bit, but the terrain isn’t so vast that it can’t be done somewhat quickly.

All in all, Viking is a good game, and one that I’ve recommended to friends already.  Had I paid $60, I probably wouldn’t be as pleased with it as I am, but it’s still a lot of fun.  And if you’re an achievement whore, one detailed run through the game can land you 865 points, but you’ve got to be thorough.  The camera is a little annoying at times, mainly because you are so close to the protagonist, but the right-stick can move the camera in any direction.  My guess for this is to force the player to personally explore rather than zooming out and using the camera.  The replay value is yet to be fully determined, but I think it will be one of those games that you’ll pick up after a couple of months (in between game releases) and play it on hard for those last 135 points.  My overall rating is a 6.75.  I’m trying to keep in mind that I bought this for $20 and paying full price for it would have me felt it was almost worth a 7.  In regards to used games, this is definitely worth picking up.  Don’t let kids under 14 play this, though.  The amount of bloodshed, beheadings, and whacking off limbs is sure to give them nightmares.  Mead?  Play and you’ll see what I’m talking about.  It’s nothing special, but who doesn’t love mead?

Coming Soon… but after Dead Space

•October 13, 2008 • 2 Comments

Sorry for the hiatus; lost of “real world” things going on (e.g., hockey season starting).  I’ve got a few games added to my list to write about.  Some are games from a few years back (F.E.A.R., Prey, BioShock), which I either never wrote about or finally got around to playing.  Some games are new (LEGO Indiana Jones, Star Wars Force Unleashed).

Unfortunately, those will have to wait, as Dead Space comes out on Wednesday and I’ve been longing for its arrival.  For those who don’t know about it, check out the downloadable content in the Game Videos section of the Xbox Live Marketplace: its free.  There are 5 animated comics which tell the background and 5 diaries which will give you some insight to what you can expect: a shooter/horror/survival in space, complete with zero gravity.  Let’s just say that I had a dream about it last night and woke up drenched in sweat… freaky stuff.

For anyone who actually checks back every now and then, my apologies for slacking.

UPDATE: Thanks to FYE accidently selling my reserved copy of Dead Space, I had to wait until Friday to get my well-deserved copy.  So I went ahead and wrote a review for Viking: Battle for Asgard.  At least FYE is giving me a 30% discount.  Makes me wonder if they’ll do the same thing with my Fallout 3 reservation… god help them if they do!!!

Unreal Tournament III: Old School Enhanced

•August 15, 2008 • 1 Comment

For fans of the original UT on PC back in 1999, your long wait has finally come to an end.  And man did it take a while to finally bring back the old school feeling into the next-gen age.  When UT 2003 came out, I found it to be blasphemous and a horrid attempt to extend the franchise.  Well, so did the creators, as they’ve Xed out UT 2003 by naming the fourth game UT III.

This game was created solely for the online multiplayer experience, so if you can’t handle face-paced and intense online battles and prefer campaigns, stop reading and move onto another game: this isn’t for you.  While there is a single/co-op campaign, it’s there to teach you the basics of all game types, as well as introduce you to levels and weapons (in case you’ve been in a cave and never played any of the other UTs).

The newest edition to the franchise is the Warfare game style, where two teams fight to destroy each other’s core by linking nodes.  At first, this will seem so foreign that you’ll become intimidated and refuse to play it again.  However, constant practice will have you reaping the benefits in no time.  While the other game modes focus on killing each other in a massive frenzy of carnage, Warfare is a strategic mode which not only requires teamwork, but also the use of a headset.  Well, it doesn’t require it per se, but communicating with your teammates puts a huge advantage in your favor.  Even more importantly, how can you own a 360 and not have a headset?!  Warfare is by far my favorite game mode; I can even brag about being ranked 44 in the world on the 360 release.  It’s intense and all sorts of entertaining.

The other game styles are the basic ones: deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag (CTF), and vehicle CTF.  I believe those games speak for themselves.  If you aren’t feeling up to a heated competition, try out the player matches.  In these, you don’t have to wait for a full room to start a game and can jump in the action at any time.  You can even invite your friends into the game at any point, provided that the map hasn’t been maxed out (up to 16 players).

However, if you feel ready enough for big-league competition, test your skills out on ranked matches.  This is where the big guns come out and true sportsmanship tends to shine.  Of course, there will always be those foul-mouthed, arrogant players out there, but ranked matches tend to be filled with professional gamers who are in it to win, but always appreciate a good match.  A thing to keep in mind is that while it is frustrating to lose a match, rankings are not based on your win-lose record, but on how you perform.  For instance, your team may get rocked in a warfare game, losing 4-0 without a single hit on their core (and you can thank the commentary for stating “humiliating defeat”), if you score 300 points, that’s a big boost to your ranking.  Only the good and experienced players tend to realize this.  If you continue to let your fingers do the talking and practice good sportsmanship, your gamertag will begin to get recognized, respected, and feared.  There are a few downfalls of playing a ranked match, but they’re so minute yet worth mentioning.  Just like many other games, you cannot invite friends to a ranked match.  Also, every ranked match will spit you back to the main menu after each is finished.  Lastly, you have to wait for the match to fill up to the minimum capacity before the host can start the match.  This is warfare’s biggest problem, as many are still intimidated by the new mode, but it’s completely worth waiting.

Unreal III is an incredible relief to a franchise which could have been easily destroyed had another UT 2003 been developed.  A lot of thought was put into level development and gameplay.  The weapon system has been balanced out better than almost any game that has come out in years.  Some of the old guns have been combined while other have been reinvented.  The biorifle, for example, is much more useful than it was in the past.  Then there’s the addition of the hoverboard.  This could have been botched so bad as to make it useless and really bring the game down, but the verdict is out: the hoverboard is amazing!  You’ll find yourself trying to use it in other games, then quickly realizing how much you miss it.

If you’re in it for the achievements, then you’re in for a long battle, as the majority of the achievement are based on how many times you receive certain rewards (e.g., Flakmaster).  Each reward requires fragging opponents a large amount of times with a single weapon.  Each achievement require that you obtain this reward 20 times, so you’ll be playing a long long time to be getting all of these achievements.

All in all, Unreal Tournament III is a blast and well worth the $60 you’ll fork out.  At almost any point in the day, there are people playing, although Warfare tends to be more of an American fascination, so you’ll have to get on during the US night time if you want to enjoy the mode.  While I fully love the entire game, design, and online enjoyment, there are a few bugs (using the hoverboard sometimes has a glitch) and requiring the gamer to press right on the D-pad to talk is just annoying.  The latter, however, has a glitch, just like CoD4.  Hold down right on the D-pad so that the mic icon is displayed.  Unplug the headset, then let go of the D-pad.  The mic icon should still be displayed.  Plug the headset back in and BLAMO, you can talk your head off without having to use a button.  The price is that if everyone is using the glitch, it can slow the server down by hogging up all the bandwidth.  The controls are quite smooth in the default mode, but if you want to change things up, you can highly customize your layout, which has greatly improved my game.  Unfortunately, there are certain functions which are considered “required” and can be a burden.  The weapon select function is useless, but “required,” so you’ll have to sacrifice one button for this.

That being said, UT III gets an 8.5 in my book.  I’d give it more, but the campaign gets boring and beating it on the insane difficulty is just that: insane.  I spend over 1.5 hours on one level without a decision as to the winner.  The graphics are surprisingly smooth, considering the constant action which you are engaged in.  For those who enjoy realistic and slow-paced FPS games, you’re going to hate this.  Take a look at the name and decide how the action is going to be: Unreal.

Turning Point: Fall of… coding?

•March 5, 2008 • Leave a Comment

When I first read of this game, I immediately got stoked for its arrival. The entire concept is something that has always appealed to me: a simple shift in an action of the past could have devastating effects on the rest of the future. The introduction recalls the trip Winston Churchill took to New York in 1931 when he was struck by a taxi cab. While he survived the accident, he was left with a limp for the rest of his life. As history shows, he was quite influential in the defeat of the Nazis during WWII. What if he had been killed by the accident?

As the protagonist, you are a simple member of the American working class, atop a skyscraper during its construction. Out of the blue, the Nazis invade New York with a force enough to make you just stand there staring into the sky with hell raining down upon you. You eventually make your way down the skyscraper and join a small militia force in an attempt to repel the invading Nazi forces. As the story progresses, you find yourself fighting as an insurgent… very cool. The plot is original, provided that you ignore the fact that you’ve already played too many WWII games in the past.

Despite all of the somewhat realistic weapons you are giving, this game was obviously rushed. There are so many graphical and mechanical glitches that it will downright annoy the hell out of you. A rescued scientist apparently can glide across the tiled floor without moving from his “running” stance? What the hell is going on here? Numerous times, you’ll want to drop your tommy gun so you can briefly use a shotgun to clear a narrow hallway filled with Nazis shouting German at you. Once done, you return to the spot of the tommy gun no more than 10 feet away from you to find that it has disappeared. Now that’s complete BS, if you ask me!

CodeMasters attempted to include some mini-games, but failed.  Attaching wires to arm a bomb?  No repercussions for failures?  What the hell were you thinking?  Mini-games are supposed to be challenging and distracting enough to help add to the game.  This just got annoying.  It didn’t happen often (thank god), but was just plain dumb.

Then there are the achievements. If you are looking for some easy gamer points, then pick this up or borrow it from a friend. Achievements continuously pop up for the simplest of actions. Sure, I enjoy pumping my gamer score up (currently at 10,377), but at least make them a challenge to get. But then you can point out the multiplayer achievements: they will take god knows how long to get because they are driven on getting 300 wins in ranked team games.

Speaking of multiplayer, it’s kind of lame. Deathmatch is pretty cool because it’s all based on how often you get hit. Just like in the game itself, there are no med-kits; if you get hit too much within a certain period of time, you die. This actually makes deathmatch entertaining, because if you are getting sliced to pieces, you can simply hide behind something and hope that you regain enough health before your enemy can get another shot off on you. Team matches, though, are frustrating. You can only tell what team your target is on when you are close enough to them. It might prove to be a plus in this category, but I’ve yet to find that out.

Had this game be developed 3-4 years ago, these problems would be considered a minor oversight. But in the age of next gen consoles, these types of mistakes are completely unacceptable. CodeMasters needs to, well, master their coding if they plan to stay afloat, especially after how they got ragged on about Jericho. Developers cannot be making these errors when you have so much insane competition out there. What saved the game was the fact that I get a 10% discount with my FYE card on all purchases, plus the $10 mail-in rebate, which I fully intend on sending in. I feel a little gyped, here. I’ve been expecting this awesome game to tie up the endless amount of WWII games that have flooded the market over the past 5 years and I receive an glitch-filled shooter that can’t even deliver on the promises I was given? Not cool, CodeMasters. I truly love the stories you have created, but you need to smooth out all of these issues.

I highly recommend that you wait until the price on this guy drops. Over all, I’m going to have to give this a 6.75. It’s concept is awesome. The story line isn’t too cheesey; in fact, it’s actually entertaining to see how things develop. The glitches really bring the entire experience down too much to give this a 7.0. Sorry, CodeMasters, but you cannot rely solely on story lines anymore.

RezHD: Shooting to the Beat

•February 7, 2008 • Leave a Comment

For any of you who remember and enjoyed Nitrous Oxide on the original PlayStation, then you need to check this game out.  It’s a 3rd-person shooter which coincides with the music.  If you don’t like electronic music (e.g., house, trance, breakbeats), then you might find this game a little annoying, as the entire soundtrack is electronic.  Then again, it might make you appreciate the genre a little more and pull you away from generalizing it with all the crap on the radio.

The story line is pretty simple: you’re a hacker breaking into a system which suposedly has a virus at the core.  If virus = synthetic female being saved, then okay.  It’s a little bizzare, if you ask me, but it does fit in with the level design and how you progress through the game.

Essentially, you are a human-form-like program using a box (controlled by the left analog stick) to shot at all the enemies coming at you.  By holding down A, you can lock onto up to 8 targets at once.  Once you release A, old-school-styled missles (like from Missle Command) head towards their victims and explode in sync with the music.  At the end of each level layer is a box which has to be breached.  As you ascend through each layer (10 total) the music intensifies, as do the enemies in both size and quantity.

 Seems basic, right?  That’s because it is, but it’s done so in quite a creative manner.  And new aspects of the game keep unfolding, as you can only reach certain game types by completing areas in a certain way.   By the time you finish all five areas, your thumbs are sure to be aching, yet your mind wants more.  That’s the type of arcade game we all know and love!

Being 800 credits, it’s well worth the purchase.  I’d suggest checking out the demo first, just to make sure that you’ll actually enjoy the game.  I can easily see how some people might not enjoy this type of game.  Then again, if you are that type of person, what are you doing with a console?  All in all, I’d have to give it an 8.5 is respect to Xbox Live Arcade games.

Rock Band: If Your Wallet Can Dig It, So Can You

•January 31, 2008 • 1 Comment

First off, let’s just start with my stance on this genre: not a big fan usually.  I liked all the old school versions of rhythm games like Frequency and the music games from Fusion Frenzy (I’d love to include Nitrous Oxide, but it was definitely more of a shoot-em-up with kick ass music).  These were some insane games which only required a few buttons, but highly addictive.  Then came Dance Dance Revolution (DDR)… I thoroughly loathe that game.  Really, I do.  I finally was convinced to try it out at a party, only because I was completely drunk.  I spent less than a minute on it before saying “This sucks,” grabbing my beer, and walking away.  I never played it again.

Guitar Hero?  Eh, it’s okay, but nothing I’d really want to spend any money on.  Well, my fiancé wanted Rock Band for Christmas this year, but she really wanted the drums.  Unfortunately for me, the drums only come in the bundle pack, which cost me almost $200 (including parts warranty extensions).  Normally, I would never do this, but all of our Christmas present had been stolen, our roommates split on us without paying rent, and sold a bunch of our DVDs and my games to support his crack habit…jackass (nice guy, huh?); and all of this happened just two weeks before Christmas.  So I figured Rock Band would cheer her up.

What I didn’t expect was how much fun I actually had with it.  Playing alone, well, it’s more for practice than anything else.  It got very repetitive playing the same songs over and over and over.  Now when you get multiple people playing together, now “That’s freakin’ sweet!” as Peter Griffin would say.  Me on guitar, her friend on drums, and her on the mic: bliss.

The only downfalls with this game are the cost associated with owning it and… cables?  Yeah, it’s wired.  Sucks, but it makes sense seeing as all the instruments have to connect to the USB hub, as the 360 only has one USB port.  As for the costs, you got about $170 for the bundle pack (game, guitar, mic, drum set, USB hub, wires, bla bla bla, pretty box), music downloads, plus the additional guitar if you want to be able to have a guitar and bass at the same time.  Is it a lot?  Yeah, for game it is, but it’s just so damn entertaining and addictive.

I fully condone paying for additional music, as you can simply expand your game instead of waiting for the new one to come out.  They have to make up the development costs for each song, plus music licenses, plus make a little off it in the end in order to make it worth their while.  Remember: this is a business, people, and it’s about making money.  It’s not too expensive either, provided that you stick to downloading the packs and not do what my soon-to-be-wife did: download individual songs, then realize you could have just downloaded a single pack which had all three of the ones you just bought separately (which is more expensive).  I just looked at her blankly as she bowed her head and said sorry.  Yeah, it’s a waste of points, so make sure you know what you have available before you get all trigger happy with your points.

The initial music selection is just plain amazing.  It’s so diverse, almost too diverse.  I was forced to play a Rush song… god, I hate those guys!!!  Now I’m more of a metal-head (Tool, Acid Bath, Isis, Clutch, to mention a few), but there were still some great riffs on there, man.  Who can refuse grooving to Mississippi Woman?!  Of course, you’ll end up with half the songs you played the night before getting stuck in your head.  Honestly, it’s time to become very good friends with your MP3 player or discman.  It’s the only way to free yourself from Rock Band playing in your head all day.

By far, the most innovative aspect of the game is the drum set.  Yeah, I know you’ve eyed that set in Best Buy and wanted to go give it a shot.  It’s sick, really.  But keep in mind that it is probably the most difficult instrument to start with, as you not only have four pads to pound away at, but the bass pedal takes some getting used to.  The guitar is way too simplistic at first, but gets insanely challenging later on.

Now I’m not very good at these games, so you may find yourself progressing with much more ease than myself.  Regardless, this game rocks!  As cheesy as it sounds, this game is actually a damn cool gathering instrument; you can entice people to come over and jam away.  All in all, this is definitely a 9.0.  I’d love to give this something better than a 9.0, but in comparison to other games, it wouldn’t be fair to rate it any higher.  Still, it’s an amazing game that almost anyone can enjoy, provided you have the cash to throw down.