Posts Tagged ‘Reviews’

Late To The Game: Mass Effect

February 15, 2010 Leave a comment

With the recent release of Mass Effect 2 I decided to delve back into the original Mass Effect again. This was one of the first games I played on my Xbox 360 and I was quickly won over by the game. Bioware does an amazing job of telling a great story with decent game mechanics.  This is one of the few examples where a great story can outshine a few lack luster mechanics. Throw in great voice acting, beautiful graphics and replay value and you have a top notch game.

The game play is a shooter with RPG elements to it. The RPG elements are the stronger of the two but it is a decent shooter. You have a central character and a squad of other characters that you build up as you level. With a 50-60 level character cap you end up with a pretty stout character by the end of it all. There are a lot of skills for you to put points into and each skill either improves your ability with a weapon or power or it unlocks another tier of skills. The variety of skills seems nice at first but I think it is too much. But it does make you feel like you are growing your character over the course of the game.

I admit I am not the greatest shooter player. Thankfully Mass Effect gives me a squad of two additional characters to fight with. They aren’t the smartest squad in the galaxy. They tend to not be able to navigate around objects they get stuck on. They also don’t know how to jump. Of course like most Bioware games neither do you. But when they aren’t stuck they can be killing machines and they tend to take fire for you if you are like me and cant target your enemies very well.

There are almost too many weapons in the game and many of them seem redundant. They have customization too. You can add multiple improvements to them and the armor you get. Generally you want the higher number of whatever you find. Then give your hand me downs to your squad, sell them or turn them into Omni-gel. By the end of the game you have more money and Omni-gel than you will know what to do with.

Omni-gel is useful in that it helps you with two of the weaker parts of the game. The first is that you have this awful vehicle called the Mako that you use to drive around planets. It has guns and rockets and can jump unlike you. It can also get stuck on terrain and flip over. Thankfully much like a weeble it wobbles but it wont fall down. Your Mako will always end up on its tires. With this Mako you will navigate the huge areas of maybe a square mile that contains all of the goods of a planet. When the Mako is damaged, and yes it will be damaged, you can repair it with the miracle that is known as Omni-gel.

The other use for Omni-gel is to circumvent the one mini game to rule them all in Mass Effect. If you wish you can open crates and computers and everything by doing the same type of puzzle over and over. This puzzle is a Simonesque game. Should you wish to skip this game you have Omni-gel to override it. Should you fail to succeed at the game you have Omni-gel to override it. Omni-gel is the duct tape of the future.

Those two things aside though the game is a lot of fun and a great story to play through. You get to save the universe from evil which is always a plus. On the way you have the chance at love and even for that love to be with an alien species.  Great back stories for each of your comrades and a universe full of intrigue and a life of its own to really explore open up a game that treats you like an actor in your own interactive story.

With lots of choices and a moral system the game also gives the opportunity for multiple play-through. A single play-through will unlock the ability to take your next game to level 60 from the previous 50 cap.  Achievements call to you to play with a particular choice of comrades to unlock them which makes multiple play-through ideal for unlocking all of them. If you are like me you will. I really like achievements.

Monday Morning Quarterback: Brutal Legend

January 6, 2010 Leave a comment

Tim Shafer’s Brutal Legend is an interesting game that ends right when the game gets good. I had an exciting 8 hours of doing a lot of different things only to find myself not at the end of an elaborate tutorial but actually the end of the game. Brutal Legend has a lot of things going for it but none of them can carry the game as a whole. I would have played a whole game’s worth of a few of them but I was instead presented an assortment of genres to play. There was driving, action, real time strategy, quick time events, and shooters to name a few. Every new event added something to the mix so I was constantly learning new rules in the game. Even in the final battle I had new and different tactics to use to win.

What did the game do right? Well, it had a very talented group of voice actors. You have Jack Black as the main character of the game which really made the game fun. Add in Ozzy and a few other folks and you see some top notch voice acting which raises the production value of the game a lot. This talent carried the story further and made it a little easier to swallow.

Another thing the game did right was the art style. The characters looked cool and so did the monsters. The world was really held together with its theme. I enjoyed exploring the world and felt comfortable there. It was inviting and fun to interact with.

That is kind of where it ends for me though. I felt the story was rushed. They spent a lot of time in the early part of the game to get you invested. Then it drops sharply only to overload you with big reveals and then bang! It’s the end. I would have liked a little more time to digest it all. The story fits together in the end but there are sizable chunks missing I think that should have been told.

Brutal Legend has so many different genres going. It is an action game one moment. Then it’s a strategy game and then a racer. They did them all well but none of them seemed to be the focus of the game. Also, why would you reward the player with an upgrade that really only has a benefit for racing after you have completed all of the racing? Why do I constantly get new units in the strategy part of the game but never have time to really get used to them? I really think things got cut in production, so much so that we saw a very streamlined version of the game. Usually I am all about a streamlined and compact game experience if it seems complete but here it doesn’t.

I was ready for the rest of the game to start once the game came to an end. I felt the tutorial was finally over and I could play the game. Sadly there was no more game. It didn’t make me long for a sequel. It made me long for the game I should have still been playing. I want that game. I feel tricked since the beginning area was so front loaded and top heavy with stuff to do. Once the map opened up more I was sad to discover myself rushed through and then with little to do in those areas anyway when I stopped to go back.

There is a lot of stuff hidden in the world. You don’t need any of it. Which is kind of a good decision to make but at the same time it really doesn’t add anything to my play experience. It didn’t add much to my play time either since I was still able to get all the garages, solos and half of the dragon statues and songs. Sorry,  I will say the new music did add to my play experience and the soundtrack was all around solid. Kudos to the sound department on this game for great voice talent and music.

What do you get for giving me only part of a story and too many styles of game with no focus? 3 stars out of 5. I suspect there was a better Brutal Legend game out there to be developed sadly it wasn’t the one delivered.

Monday Morning Quarterback: Smackdown vs Raw 2010

December 29, 2009 Leave a comment

Let me start this by saying I haven’t played a wrestling video game since the Super Nintendo. However I have been following wrestling since I was about 5 so that puts me in the fandom category for 27 years or so. When I was younger my dad used to take me to wrestling events at Madison Square Garden. Over the years I have caught just about every Pay-Per-View. To this day I watch or record every episode of RAW, ECW and Smackdown. I enjoy wrestling for what it is which is Entertainment.

Smackdown vs Raw 2010 does an excellent job of capturing that entertainment aspect of wrestling and making a decent video game of it. It has a fairly up to date roster of wrestlers though the landscape has changed a little since the release of the game. The different story modes with the road to Wrestlemania are nice and give you a well rounded experience of the WWE. The creation of your own superstar is fun and can be quite involved. Also the ability to write your own storyline is pretty phenomenal and a great treat for the die hard wrestling fan.

For those that just want to jump into some wrestling the game puts you right in the ring with John Cena and Randy Orton to go over the basics of the game. This tutorial area goes over the all you need to know and after you do all the moves you even get an achievement for it. I highly recommend doing the tutorial and really getting the moves of the game down before jumping into the story modes. The career mode is a little more forgiving but I didn’t learn that until much later. My initial experience with the game was throwing the game in, making my own superstar and then trying the road to Wrestlemania story mode with my superstar.

The first match was a breeze just mashing buttons. The following cutscene was fun and had the feel of a typical wrestling storyline. It was the next fight with two of the WWE’s biggest wrestlers that kicked my butt repeatedly. I admittedly tried about 8 times soundly getting my ass handed to me before I put down the controller and turned off the game. Luck would have it that the next game I put in frustrated me more so I put Smackdown vs Raw 2010 back in.

Having cooled off from my last experience I started from the beginning. I actually played the handy tutorial and then revisited my superstar. This time I started up the career mode. This ramps up at a much smoother pace and I eventually got the feel of the game. I felt challenged but never frustrated. The career mode is a nice setup of matches to earn a contender spot for a belt. You earn a certain number of stars based on performance and wins. Reach enough stars and get a shot at a belt. Each belt unlocks a new type of match like ladders or hardcore.

Superstars also get a bit of a role-playing style advancement in the game. As you win matches you gain points which you can apply to different ring styles. If you do grappling a lot in the game you get access to more points to be a better grappler.  You only unlock points by doing the actions in the match. If you heavily rely on submissions you will get access to more points in submissions but other parts of your styles will be weaker. It is a good system to mimicking wrestler styles you find in professional wrestling. You can also choose a small selection of specialty techniques and abilities to add to your arsenal. An example is being able to use the ropes to gain leverage when pinning someone. More abilities are unlocked as you get better at certain skills.

Creating a superstar is pretty easy and diverse. You have a range of body types and accessories to make a wide variety of wrestlers. It is also easy to create classic superstars or some of the current missing roster with this system.  You can even give your superstar an entrance outfit, a ring attire outfit and an outfit for promos. I am not sure if they have fixed this with an update but one of the most frustrating bugs I discovered was that anytime I added or changed my superstars outfits it reset my character. I lost all of my points and unlocked abilities. Granted I didn’t lose my place in the rankings for belts in career mode but those matches became a lot harder without my earned experience from previous matches. This happened to me twice before I figured out the correlation. So tip from me to you: Make all of your characters outfits at once before beginning the career mode.

Once you get past the easy you can get a lot more complex with your personal superstar. You can design entrances, make highlight reels, create moves, and personalize your repertoire of moves you use. Entrances can be crafted with camera angles, movements, and theme music. Music from your Xbox can be used as a theme song. Each match captures some of your best moves which you can in turn cut apart and create highlight reels which can then be added to your entrances. You can make two different types of moves, turn buckle leaps or grapples. The moves let you adjust trajectory and even has a variety of blends that make the animations look really smooth. Each of your move sets can be personalized and take hours to do. The amount of personalization you can put into the wrestlers really is top notch. Add in that you can design entire storylines, write dialogue, set up matches and watch it all play out you truly have a really fun and replayable game.

The music selection of the game is very limited and repetitive. I can only listen to the same theme entrances on repeat for so long. They could have served to have some other music or sound in the game that was designed to loop over and over. When you are spending hours tweaking your perfect superstar I don’t want to hear Rey Mysterio’s theme song 5o times. Another aspect of the game I was disappointed with was the treatment of the female wrestlers or Divas. Obviously they are considered a lesser part of wrestling and the WWE. They serve as eye candy which is a shame because most of them are also very talented athletes. The game does no better in its treatment of the Diva division. They have silly moves that are more akin to cat fights and pimp slaps than actual wrestling. I was hoping for less of the silly and more of what the men’s division got. Of course when you refer to your female wrestlers as Divas what can you expect.

In the end Smackdown vs Raw 2010 is a respectable game. If you are a wrestling fan you will probably get more out of this game than someone who is not. The attention to details are impressive and are definite nods to fans like me. Yes there are frustrating bugs but they are able to be worked around. I have volume control on my system so I can turn down the games sound and put my own music on when I get tired by the repetitive theme music. Though the Diva’s got the short end of the design they are at least in the game. Smackdown vs Raw 2010 gets 4 out of 5 stars.

Late To The Game: Bully: Scholarship Edition

December 23, 2009 1 comment

I picked this game up a few months ago and then got around to playing it a month later. There was a lot of hype and controversy around this game when it came out. I was interested in seeing how a sandbox world set in a prep school and the surrounding world around it would play out. I was pleasantly surprised and slightly addicted to the game.

Bully: Scholarship Edition for the Xbox puts you in the role of Jimmy Hopkins, a brash youth thrust into the halls of Bullworth Academy. The object of the game is to survive school, dominate social peer groups, and get the ladies (or guys if that’s your fancy), just like real High School. You accomplish these goals by going to class, doing favors for your fellow students and avoiding or confronting other bullies. You are given the ability to intimidate or accommodate your fellow students and teachers which many of us lacked in real life. Jimmy also has an arsenal of items like stink bombs and a slingshot to aid him in his adventures. You even have a back alley bum to teach you special forces fighting techniques he picked up in the war.

The classes are probably one of my favorite aspects of the game. They are a collection of mini-games which vary depending on the subject. Geography has you match names to countries on a map. English has you spell as many words as possible from a pool of letters. Math is a multiple choice math test. Biology has you dissect different creatures by tracing lines and clicking tools. There are a couple of pattern matching and quick time event classes too like chemistry, shop class and music. All of them have their share of challenges and fun getting progressively harder as you pass each class moving to the next level. Biology was one of my favorites in concept but challenging with the controller. Probably easier with a mouse on the PC or perhaps with a Wii wand.

Favors for students and teachers are your standard fair of missions you find in games. Delivery, collect item and use object  missions were the most common. Most of them had a time element to them. The thing that was done well was keeping them in the context of the game and using them to move the story forward. All the missions had a purpose and the rewards were usually worth while. Typical rewards were money, new items to use (like firecrackers) or a new girlfriend.

Every season at Bullsworth was a storyline and advanced you through the social ranks. Each social group gained you access to a new girlfriend to win. You can be quite the player by the end of it all. Kissing girls gets you a boost to your health which is a nice bonus but not needed once you get the controls down. Most fights are easy to accomplish without worry of defeat. Still I found myself picking flowers and buying candy all the time to get the girls. There are ways to get certain male characters to kiss you as well which I guess was part of the controversy of the game but I never pursued that route in my play-through.  Most romances in video games are novelties and have little substance in the game. Bully is no exception.

Your seasonal advancement also opens up new areas of the school and the town surrounding it. Bully: Scholarship edition really gates you in where you can go and what you can do but gives you the sense of an open world. I realize this is a way to give a sense of advancement and achievement. Its a nice reward but I am hesitant to really say its a true sandbox if you are gated in where you can go. Its a small gripe and has no real bearing on my enjoyment of the game but is worth noting.

Bully: Scholarship Edition gives you ample things to do and collect. You have a good variety of clothes to buy and earn to help Jimmy fit in with the different crowds. Jimmy even gets a skateboard and a bike to ride around on. These are handy since they help you not only accomplish certain mission goals but also get you around a lot faster. This handy because of one of my other complaints about the game.

The other complaint of the game is the time of day and the window of time given for any activity. You are not working in realtime in this game nor should you be. However the clock is a little fast for you to accomplish much in this game in a given day. You wake up and have your first class almost immediately. Now you can skip class but then you are truant which makes doing anything on campus or in the town harder since you have truant officers after you. Since most classes are fun mini-games anyway you might as well go to class. After your first class  you can maybe do one task if it is on campus. Then you have to rush to your next class or again be truant. After your second class you have time to do one or two more tasks before you are breaking curfew and then eventually just collapse of exhaustion or head to bed to sleep.  Now there is no rush to finish missions and you can eventually complete all the classes so you have no more to do giving you more time to explore and do what you want with out penalty.

Really the word penalty is false as well. Even if you get caught and sent to the principles office you just get access to more mini games like mowing the lawn or shoveling snow. These lead to more achievements. Not really a punishment. Sure they take all of your stuff but you eventually have plenty of money to buy it back or have your own chemistry kit to make the items like stink bombs as much as you want. I never really felt like getting caught was a punishment in the game or a setback. Only the hands of time were my bane.

Bully: Scholarship Edition gets a four out of five stars from me. It had a decent story, fun mini-games and lots to do. The gated pseudo sandbox environment and short days took away from what could have been a perfect experience.

Categories: Late to the Game Tags: , ,

Monday Morning Quarterback Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2

This weekend I had an opportunity to play Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2. I only played the first Marvel Alliance briefly and will get to a Late To The Game review of that game soon. I was excited about this game though when I heard about it. I am big comic book fan and especially so for Marvel comics. I grew up in comic shops as a kid. My dad owned a comic book store and comics were our way of bonding. While other kids were reading books like they were supposed to I was plowing through piles of comics learning the secrets of these awesome worlds full of adamantium claws and web slinging. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 let me take the best of these characters and have them team up to ultimately fight each other. That is a pretty awesome way to start in my book.

Overall this game wasn’t so bad. As far as games go it looks good, the cut scenes are pretty sweet and the gameplay is solid. They definitely did a nice upgrade to the overall character design from the first game. The game is pretty cut scene heavy to drive the story forward. Some people argue to get rid of cut scenes in games but I think Marvel Alliance 2 uses them appropriately. When there was a need for action, I got to do it. When they wanted to regal me with decent voice over and cool animations I got my fill with the cut scenes.

Gameplay was really simple. Pick a super hero and three other heroes you want along for the ride and then pound those buttons for your powers to blow shit up. You can switch between heroes and doing so is encouraged because you unlock achievements and rewards only when you are actually controlling a particular hero. Even though it is encouraged I stuck with one character the whole play through, switching out only when I got knocked out. May I recommend Johnny Storm, the Human Torch. His powers are fun to use setting the world and your enemies on fire. Your enemies tend to use a lot of fire against you as well which you are immune to because you are the Human Torch. Fusion powers with other heroes are pretty cool as well. I am guessing there a number of combos to choose from but I stuck with the same party all the way through. Basically Fusion powers let you team up with another hero in your group for a super attack. An example would be the Human Torch and the Incredible Hulk. The Hulk rips a chunk of the earth from the ground and the Human Torch super heats it up for the Hulk to serve to their targeted enemy. A couple of those Fusion attacks and most villains are toast.

Did I mention it had a really good story? That is pretty much what drove me to finish the game. I was doing something else with my life and not reading comics when the Civil War storyline was going on in the Marvel Universe. I got bits and pieces of it from my friends and what I read on the internet but it was nice to get a simple retelling of the story in a video game. The writers of the game do an excellent job of setting the mood and pacing of the story. Conversations were an interesting idea which I felt fell flat. You had three options for most conversations aggressive, diplomatic and defensive. Choosing one of the options gave you points towards one of the many buffs in the game. Other than that the outcome seemed to be pretty much the same. I get the sense that there was  more intended originally but it got cut. Still the false sense of choice was more choice than some games.

Marvel Alliance 2 is not the longest game I have ever played. I was able to beat it in about 8-10 hours.That was with watching all of the cut scenes and no skipping. I am guessing a second play through could get me through it all in about 4-6. It has replay value in that the story diverges in one place so it would be interesting to see how the game plays out given the other choice. Add in the options to play with different team configurations and collecting the different set items for buffs in the game you then have a pretty solid source of entertainment.

The levels are well designed and give you ample direction and room to explore. There were lots of visual clues to let me know where I needed to go and only once did the locked camera make it tough for me to figure out where one of the paths was. A few hidden areas with buffs and collectables are on every level and if you are a completionist you will be driven to look for them. On this play through I was more interested in seeing how the story unfolded more than finding buffs which by the end of the game were unneeded to win.

The variety of characters was limited but I guess sufficient. The game had Deadpool and really thats all I wanted till they make an all Deadpool all the time game. There were a variety of X-Men, Fantastic Four and C level characters like Luke Cage and Iron Fist to choose from. I would have liked to have seen more villains to pick from. You eventually get Green Goblin and Venom but they are pretty meh to me. The fact that some characters were limited to certain consoles is kind of annoying. I don’t mind incentives like specialty items being only available to certain consoles but actual character choice is pretty lame. I am sure in time DLC will have these and more characters. There already is one DLC that gives you  access to Carnage and Black Panther which I will probably pick up.

The only real thinker part of the game were the boss battles. Now boss battles ranged from simplistic to annoying. Fighting people like Justice was just a pound fest. Target the enemy and hit him with everything you got and repeat till defeated. When it wasn’t just a prolonged normal fight there was sort of a strategy involved. Usually this ended with more frustration than actual fun. An example can be found in a battle with Bishop. This character absorbs energy. I repeat ABSORBS energy. You spend 3/4 of the battle fighting him to no avail only to wait for certain moments when he recharges health again to stun him. Really? Really? Yes, really. Don’t even get me started on Hank Pym aka Yellowjacket. At least Havok goes down like the bitch he is. /Rant off.

All that said about Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 I give the game 4 out of 5. A good story, solid controls, and the ability to play some of my favorite Marvel superheroes.

Dexter the Game Reviews

September 16, 2009 Leave a comment
Categories: True to Design Tags: ,