Month: February 2011

Bulletstorm Review 1

Bulletstorm Review

In Space No One Can Hear Your Infantile Jokes

Bulletstorm is a game that has been released just in time to head up an emerging trend of playful, consciously stupid shooters. It’s a game that delights in the absurd, intentionally fuels an inevitable media backlash and anticipates general accusations of poor taste by gleefully embracing a 12-year-old boy’s sense of humour and implementing it into its very foundation.

Fortunately, despite all of the trappings that surround it, Bulletstorm is good.

Much has been made of the title’s “trick-shooting” mechanic and it turns out that the hype, for once, lives up to itself. Bulletstorm was advertised as something different for the FPS and it actually is. This is because of a simple set of mechanics that serve to encourage endless abstractions of the genre’s typical “get from A to B” objective set. Instead of pushing players through linear shooting galleries, Bulletstorm asks us to spend time experimenting within each level, trying to pull off the most ludicrously violent acts possible.

Points are awarded for successfully completing these actions, and the combination of rewarding deviant activity and naming these acts with bad puns (kill an enemy using level hazards and “Enviro-Mental” pops up on screen or take a goon down with a shot to the posterior and “Rear Entry” skill points are awarded) works well. The system is also instrumental to the game and, rather than exist as a feature point for the back of the box, “Skillshots” are made into the primary mechanic for advancement.

Bulletstorm points players in the right direction by offering up a menu that shows exactly which actions will earn the most points and builds in incentives for inventive playing by rewarding variety. It puts an achievements/trophies list into the game’s foundation and taps into that same narcotic sense of delight that accomplishing these (usually arbitrary) goals brings.

The skill system is fleshed out further through upgrades (Dropkit sites) wherein accumulated points can be cashed in for wilder weaponry to accompany the game’s built-in sliding, electric whipping and kicking abilities. Upgrades work in service to the skill point mechanic so that, by the game’s end, the combination of endless action-based rewards and strange guns has turned every battle into a frenetic, frothy-mouthed encounter. The whole thing has a very nice, very arcade-y feel to it that acts as a great throwback to the kind of FPS play that predominated before the titles like the Call of Duty series sparked a genre-sweeping focus on realism.

It has, in many ways, a touch of the excitement that Grand Theft Auto 3 brought to gamers back when it was first released in 2001 (“I can actually do that? And the game was designed for it?”). It also carries direct overtones of its two developers’ legacy. Shades of People Can Fly’s Painkiller and Epic Games’ Gears of War are ever present in Bulletstorm. It knows it’s silly, it doesn’t care to hide it and gameplay is designed with skillful, yet frantic, combat firmly in mind.

Fortified with Extra Pulp

Bulletstorm could have gotten away without much in the way of story but it provides a surprisingly good, pulpy tale that helps provide a sense of drive and purpose to the game. The single-player campaign is driven through a comic book revenge plot wherein you, as Grayson Hunt, seek revenge on a former employer by chasing him across the ruins of a desecrated “resort planet.”

It’s beautiful to look at as well. While main character models are somewhat underwhelming, enemy and level design is gorgeous and, best of all, brimming with a full colour palette that underscores the fact that Bulletstorm is meant to be a departure from the industrial greys and battlefield browns of many current-gen shooters. The aesthetic is mixed between lush jungles, dark caverns and war-torn cities that resemble a bombed-out Caribbean retreat.

The locations never become stagnant because Bulletstorm constantly changes set-pieces from level to level, providing new visual thrills and the opportunity to fight enemies in a number of inventive ways. An early contender for my videogame moment of the year is a particularly inspired segment, early in the game, in which you remote-control a half-robot/half-Tyrannosaurus in the ultimate culmination of insipid boyhood fantasies. The usual case of “FPS-fatigue” is handily avoided here. Bulletstorm never stops throwing new and interesting scenarios at the player, maintaining a sublime pace and great momentum.

Because of this commitment to variety — and the nature of the malleable gameplay mechanics themselves — replayability and overall value is incredibly high. Bulletstorm features a standard, single-player campaign (that takes roughly 8-10 hours to complete on average difficulty), an arcade mode (the score-centred Echoes feature) and an entertaining multiplayer component.

The only aspect of the game that feels lacking is the puzzling exclusion of a co-op mode. Bulletstorm practically screams for it with its single-player AI companions that interrupt more than assist and a set of online and offline play modes that seem custom-fit for local (or, at least, online) two-player. Echoes mode could have provided the same entertainment of Modern Warfare 2’s Special Ops or Resistance’s local multiplayer — but with the added benefit of intentional jokes for fodder. Although it doesn’t seem fair to knock a game for what it didn’t choose to do, it is frustrating just the same.

Multiplayer itself will also stand as a point of contention for many. Online play is confined entirely to matches that place you and up to three others against increasing waves of enemies and, at least as of yet, no other modes exist. The reasons for this are pretty clear — maintaining the single-player campaign’s Skillshot mechanic in a group setting — but the lack of even a few other cooperatively-based objectives is unfortunate. Other titles have proven that non-deathmatch styles of multiplayer can be exciting (such as Left 4 Dead and Uncharted 2) and, by failing to provide them, the game has essentially guaranteed that no lasting community of players will develop around its online component.

In spite of these problems — all sins of omission, really — Bulletstorm is still very easy to recommend. The game itself, once you look past its over-the-top trappings, is a mechanically interesting title that accomplishes a lot by digging back into what has made so many past FPSs fun and then amplifying these traits so that they translate to contemporary sensibilities.

Bulletstorm feels like a breath of fresh air in a genre that often forgets that too much of a focus on intense simulation can turn games stagnant. The game brings a welcome change of pace, packed with content, polished to a mirror sheen and bursting with an undeniable sense of joy, even in its most twisted moments.

Despite its rough exterior, Bulletstorm is clearly a labour of love, a heart-studded letter to a different kind of shooter and an invitation for players to fall head over heels for something that, for all intents and purposes, is really kind of gross.

Killzone 3 Review 1

Killzone 3 Review

The Helghast Are Not Happy, But We Are

For a lot of PS3 shooter fans, this is the Big One. Killzone 3 may not have the mainstream awareness of Halo or Call of Duty, but for Sony, this is the flagship FPS title. It also has a lot to live up to, with its predecessor considerably upping the ante for the kind of visuals players expect on a console. Killzone 2 was, like of God of War III and Uncharted 2, the defacto showpiece for PS3 owners of what their black box could do when all cylinders were firing. Killzone 3 takes up that mantle once more with surprising ease.

The Struggle For Survival

Killzone 3 takes place literally moments after the previous game ends, with Sev and Rico watching a mammoth enemy fleet arrive just in time to annihilate the ISA invasion force. Visari the Helghan leader is dead, the ISA is scattered and the player as “Sev,” takes up arms once more first simply to survive and eventually strike back against the Helghast. The story isn’t going to win any awards, and is certainly not up to the calibre of BioWare’s best efforts, with some problematic dialog and an ending that doesn’t feel “earned,” but while it fails to strike the chord it was aiming for, at least it tried to do something that wasn’t a stereotypical, near brainless FPS narrative.

On the visual side of things, there’s little to complain about. Killzone 2 was gorgeous, and Killzone 3 is slightly more so. While there’s an improvement to the overall visuals in both technical accomplishment and artistic direction, it’s not a giant leap forward, which should come as no surprise considering Killzone 2 was already pushing the PS3 pretty hard. The single-player campaign is where the game is at its best, with a steady frame rate, rich, sharp textures and plenty of particle effects with little to no impact on performance. The same almost holds true in local co-op mode, which is a pleasant surprise, although textures can take slightly longer to load in during this mode. 3D is also added as a feature for those that have the TV for it, though it suffers from the same lack of volume that all stereoscopic 3D does, but does convey a sense of depth. Sound is mostly a triumph. Being a first person shooter, a lot of directional audio is utilized throughout, with heavy explosions and thunderous gunfire that feels meaty. The score is mostly the sort of horn-heavy orchestral compositions expected from a military game, and the voice acting is mostly competent with Malcolm McDowell being an obvious standout, despite his fairly pedestrian dialog. As with the visuals, the audio is a great showcase for your surround sound system for both clarity and use of all your speakers.

It’s Old Ground, But It’s Shiny

In the gameplay department, Killzone 3 plays it safe, introducing nothing to new the genre, and borrowing heavily from the successes of other franchises, notably Call of Duty.KZ3 takes the patch from the previous game that gave players tighter, faster controls to make Sev more responsive. He no longer moves like a heavily armoured solider carrying a lot of guns—which he actually is—and move more like conventional FPS heroes for whom weight, encumbrance and actual physical limitations are not considerations. Aside from that, the same intense gameplay from Killzone 2 carries over here with smart that AI flushes players out using grenades or flanking manoeuvres. The levels still show a lot imagination with some open areas for more varied combat that still have some vertical elements to keep gamers on their toes. The only major new addition to the basic mechanics this time out is the inclusion of many vehicle based “on rails” shooting sections. They occur with regular frequency, which some gamers may object to, but they’re usually neither too difficult nor too long. It’s a short campaign, which can be finished in 5-8 hours depending on player skill.

Multi-player is the real heart of Killzone 3, as it is with most FPS games, and here Guerilla manages to stand on good ground as well. The big change here is a reduction in maximum number of players from KZ2’s 32 to a new ceiling of 24 players. There are 8 sprawling maps and three modes, “Guerilla Warfare” being traditional death match, “Warzone” from KZ2 with its randomly generated mission directives, and “Operations” which is like a mini-campaign mode for teams with players moving through a series of directives that result in the best performing players appearing in in-game cut-scenes. All of them play well and incorporate the RPG-lite mechanic of players getting experience points and rank to increase their abilities as they progress in their multi-player career. A broad range of professions and perks for advancement exist and the gameplay and maps are nuanced enough that competitive multi-player FPS fans will have very little to complain about. The only minor gripe in the multi-player department is that classes are less configurable and so is the creation of matches, so people that preferred a Warzone match with only a few favorite gametypes no longer have the option of restricting it to those types. That aside, Killzone 3’s multi-player is still well balanced, compelling and rewarding for those that stick with it.

Some other additions to Killzone 3 are co-op and Move functionality. Co-op, as to be expected, is an incredibly fun way to play the game, particularly since the enemy AI gets confused by two humans working together. Unfortunately, it’s not playable online, which is an extremely baffling omission considering that in some ways it’s actually easier to implement than local co-op or 3D functionality. Move works surprisingly well, though it’s still likely not going to be the preferred way to play, especially in multi-player. There’s a definite trade-off between mobility and accuracy, with accomplished Move players making excellent snipers and long distance gunners, but being woefully under-equipped when dealing a circle-strafing shot gunner or melee attacker, as the Move system relies on a Wii-like mechanic of moving the reticle to the left or right edge of the screen before recognizing a command to turn.

In the end, Killzone 3, with its impressive complement of frills like 3D and Move functionality, is still an incredibly solid first person shooter with an accomplished multi-player component and sharply refined combat mechanics. The campaign story is uneven and ultimately fails to reach the lofty heights it was clearly shooting for, and some tweaks have reduced the former configurability of multi-player, but the shooting itself is one of the better experiences on the Playstation 3. If you like FPS games and you like multi-player with longevity, you pretty much want this in your collection.

Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds (XBOX 360) Review 1

Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds (XBOX 360) Review

Before I start this review, a confession: after over 100 matches, I still suck at Marvel Vs. Capcom 3. This isn’t to say I’ve lost every match – my win ratio hovers somewhere around 30 per cent. I wish I could say it was the hardware, but I went out and purchased myself a Hori EX2 Fight Stick in preparation for some killer combos. And while I can definitely pull off special moves at will and perform some low-level counters, the sheer depth of Marvel Vs. Capcom 3’s combat system sometimes leaves me feeling like I’m dead in the water. Regardless, I keep coming back for more. Why? Because despite my poor showing, MVC3 is doing everything in its power to encourage me to insert another virtual quarter and I’m happy to oblige.

When Worlds Collide

The Marvel Vs. Capcom series has always been known for three things: frenetic, fast paced tag-team action; gorgeously over-the-top Hyper Combos; and finally, a healthy dose of fan service. MVC3 has largely remained faithful to its predecessors, but with a few significant changes. While old favourites like Ryu, The Hulk and Spider-Man return to the fray, new characters such as Chris Redfield, Thor, Trish, Super-Skrull, Amaterasu, Dormammu, Wesker, X-23, Arthur, Deadpool, Nathan Spencer, M.O.D.O.K. and Dante give MVC veterans new fighting styles to master.

Visually, the detailed hand-drawn 2D visuals used in previous iterations have been replaced with a three-dimensional comic book style that is best described as a mix of Super Street Fighter 4 and Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom, the last two fighting games released by Capcom. Any fear that the series’ signature charm would be lost following the graphical transition can be put to rest. On the contrary, Capcom has pulled out all the stops with their graphical overhaul in terms of both character animation and visual pizzazz. From Deadpool’s exaggeratedly macho strut or the way Zero bursts into energy particles when he’s KO’d, Capcom has done its due diligence in staying faithful to the tone and style of each character. These may just be minor flourishes, but it’s nice to know that the developers really took their time to wow the fans.

A New Challenger Enters

MVC3 stays faithful to most of the core mechanics of its predecessors: 3-on-3 tag-team combat that emphasizes chaining together multiple attacks for deadly results. While this principle remains the same, Capcom has made some significant changes to the controls. Rather than being separated into kicks/punches, there are now only three normal attack buttons – light, medium and hard. Many special moves can use each button interchangeably, which generally affects the range and severity of the attack. Another two buttons are used to trigger assist attacks and switch between characters like in previous games. However, the biggest new addition is the “Special” button. A single tap launches your opponent into the air, prepping allowing you to quickly segway into aerial attacks and combos. In previous titles, the complexity of air combos meant only advanced players utilized them. The special attack button is a welcome change for novice players looking to get in on some aerial action. Despite this, a certain amount skill is still necessary to truly master aerial combos.

X Marks the Spot

Another new addition is the X-Factor mode. By hitting all four attack buttons at once, your characters start become temporarily faster, stronger and more resilient. The length and effectiveness of your X-Factor depends on how many characters you have left – a lone X-factored fighter can do a devastating amount of damage in a short period. Since your X Factor can only be activated once per fight, it becomes a major strategic gambit that can be used to quickly turn the tables in a match.

Advancing Guard Aerial Cancel Hyper Combo Madness or Simply Fun?

MVC3 is a game with a ridiculous amount of depth. For every offensive attack there is a respective guard that can be used to counter it. Most moves can be cancelled mid-execution and replaced with another attack to further befuddle your opponents. While all of these options are definitely a large part of combat, just know that an average player can get by without using some of the more complex tactics. However, if you’re looking to take your game to the next level, you’ll definitely need to master them. On the flipside, MVC3 also has a Simple mode that allows players to perform special attacks and Hyper Combos with the click of a button. While definitely a great option for beginners, people with even a slight amount of combat prowess will probably tire of this mode quickly. After all, you can’t use it online, and let’s face it – competition is what this game is all about.

A License To KO

Fighting games have always been a notoriously double-edged sword when it comes to online play. When it works well, it’s the ultimate fighting fan’s dream – a limitless world of unique competitors beamed directly into your living room. But when it falters even a little, it quickly becomes their worst nightmare. Nothing is more frustrating that perfecting a combo only to have it fail due to a millisecond of lag, except perhaps not being able to connect to opponents at all. In these respects, MVC3 earns a tentative pass. While I’ve experienced a little bit of lag and had some trouble connecting to opponents, the majority of my time online has been largely rewarding – save for the occasional cheap player. This is because Capcom has taken a page from other games (most notably the COD and Virtual Fighter franchises) and made multiplayer a separately engaging experience in its own right. Even before you jump online, each player is given their own unique License, which displays your entire fighting career, both on and offline. Progressing as a fighter in either mode earns you PP (Player Points) that unlock achievements and other bonuses, such as new titles and avatars. I think Capcom should be particularly lauded for doing what so few games do – create a fluid bridge between single and multiplayer modes. Whether you’re losing in Ranked Match, beating the game a fifth time or simply working on your Guard Counters in training mode, MVC3 rewards you with Player Points. It’s an excellent system that makes getting your ass handed to you online sting a little less. Hey, you can’t argue with progress!

Lobbying For Fights

Another new multiplayer feature that I’m slightly less enthused about is the ability to create Lobbies. Up to eight players can jump in to a Lobby, where they can immediately jump into a battle queue – and do some verbal sparring before the real fight begins. While this is a great idea in concept, its execution in MVC3 is sorely lacking, for several reasons. First, only one fight per lobby can occur at a time. This wouldn’t be so bad if you could actually watch the fight in progress, but all you can do is watch tiny little life bar indicators of the current match. This isn’t so bad when I was playing in a private lobby with two friends, but I cannot imagine spending upwards of ten minutes between matches engaging in small talk with random players. Anything would have been better – a sparring mode, the ability to leave and be “paged” when your turn was up, even a little mini-game­– although these wouldn’t make up for the fact that you’re essentially dawdling, it would at least make the wait somewhat bearable. Still, the idea that I’m twiddling my thumbs waiting to fight in a lobby when there’s literally the entire world waiting to play me outside is mind-boggling. While interesting in theory, Capcom has managed to bring the most tedious part of the arcade experience – waiting for your quarter to be up ­– to console gamers. Hopefully this will be addressed in further updates, but until then most people will probably steer clear of Lobbies unless they’re making a concerted effort to play with friends (and catch up on vacation plans).

The Battle Continues

So, is Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 worth your money? If you’re a fan of either universe, you’ve probably already picked it up just to play as Super-Skrull and Zero, so I’m not talking to you. Also, if you’re already a hardcore fighting fan, I know my review has already fallen on ears deafened by the sounds of colliding fists. However, if you’re like me, a casual fan looking to give the fighting genre a solid try, or someone who’s never mashed a button in their lives (but wants to), buy this game. It’s fun, gorgeous, and guides you every step of the way until – like a baby Ryu bursting from his shell – you’re able to Shoryuken on your own two feet.

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Drive Angry (2011) Review

Nicholas Cage can be a frustrating actor as his taste for cinematic fast food can often undermine his talent. Sure, it would be nice to see Cage focusing more on complex character pieces like Adaptation, but the guy clearly prefers living out his 12-year-old fantasies by blowing things up real good while ogling beautiful ladies. His taste for trash and inability to accept his receding hairline makes him a laughing stock more often than not. Fortunately, Drive Angry 3D is possibly the perfect vehicle for Cage’s basest instincts. The movie is a lovingly R-rated sleazefest, boasting the bloody violence and jiggly nudity of a 1970s exploitation movie along with some delightfully tacky 3D and just enough tongue-in-cheek humor to avoid being despicable. The filmmakers and Cage clearly have no illusions about what type of movie they are making and ensure that the audience has just as much fun watching the absurdity unfold as they did making it happen.

Good ol’ Nic plays John Milton (a curiously out of place literary reference amidst the drive-in shenanigans), a spurned father who manages to escape from the clutches of hell to avenge the death of his daughter. The undead Cage is on the hunt for a sleazy satanic cult leader who plans to sacrifice his infant grandchild. Since this is an exploitation movie, Cage also picks up a hot young blonde (Amber Heard) along the way, who can spit out curses, pack a punch, and sex it up whenever the movie threatens to slow down for a millisecond. Cage is also being pursued by a bureaucrat from hell who wants to return him to the underground. Played by the underrated William Fichtner in a deadpan creepy/funny manner that feels like it may have been written for Christopher Walken, Fichtner’s character is so hilarious and unique that he threatens to steal the movie away from the perpetually mugging Cage. Fichtner’s character is a man who has been in hell so long that he’s forgotten what the real world is like and can barely contain his joy to be firing guns, admiring the female form, and driving muscle cars again.  It all sounds like ludicrous pulp and absolutely is, but sometimes we all need a Big Mac and empty calories rarely feel more satisfying they do than in Drive Angry 3D.

The film was directed by Patrick Lussier, the man responsible for thoroughly disposable My Bloody Valentine remake. The highlight of that mediocre movie was an almost indescribably bizarre sequence in which the masked slasher hunts down a naked woman and a midget. That scene suggested a hilariously tongue-in-cheek approach to sleaze that should have been more thoroughly integrated into that film. Drive Angry is fueled by this campy approach and often feels like it was made by a hyperactive teenage boy on a sugar-high gleefully raising a middle finger to guardians of good taste. A scene in which a fully clothed Cage has sex with a bubbly blond while smoking a cigar and shooting a variety of bad guys has to be seen to be believed. Backed by a talented cast who are all in on the joke, Lussier just might have established himself as a new king of blockbuster sleaze. Hopefully the film is successful enough to give Lussier a crack at turning self-conscious B-movies into a career. The guy clearly has the right combination of reverence and sarcastic dismissal of pulpy trash to create a variety of ludicrously entertaining guilty pleasures.

The bottom line on Drive Angry is that if you’ve got a soft spot for campy Nic Cage movies, this flick delivers your drug of choice. The film has more in common with the campy bad taste glee of Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans than it does with the embarrassing incompetence of Season Of The Witch. If all bad Nic Cage movies were this knowing, the guy might actually be respected. Hopefully the acclaim of Lieutenant made Cage realize that if he approaches overacting with irony rather than misplaced sincerity, he could be loved by the critics again. Only time will tell if he’s learned that lesson and given that he already has another bad action movie lined up for 2011 followed by three more in 2012, chances are he’s too batshit insane to tell the difference between good trash and bad trash. Ah well, at least the guy gives us a ridiculously entertaining movie like Drive Angry every now and then when he isn’t busy forging out a career as a late night talk show punchline. That’s something. It’s not much, but it’s something.

Hard Corps: Uprising (XBOX 360) Review 1

Hard Corps: Uprising (XBOX 360) Review

Since the release of Contra on the Nintendo Entertainment System, the many developers behind the series – starting with Konami and since branching off to Appaloosa Interactive, WayForward Technologies, M2 and Arc System Works – have released countless sequels, prequels and re-imaginings of this challenging, yet addicting run and gun shoot-‘em-up series. The newest title in the series, Hard Corps: Uprising, may be the first game without the Contra brand name in the title, but from the moment you lay your hands on this game everything becomes familiar. Uprising isn’t like Contra; it is Contra.

Nostalgia has a way of getting to people. That’s not saying you had to play the older titles to get it, but it was a pivotal part of the charm. Very few games released at the time were quite like Contra and while various clones were later produced none compared. Perhaps what made the series so successful was its on-going retro appeal. Similar to the remakes of Bionic Commando, the Contra series never strayed too far away from its side-scrolling roots. The series is consistent in difficulty as well – despite most developers fears that extreme difficulty will scare away new players – and continues this tradition in amazing ways. Tradition is an extremely important part of any series, and the Contra series has proven that big things come in small packages.

Uprising follows this sentiment, bringing you everything you loved about the series and more. Serving as the prequel to Contra: Hard Corps, the story opens up new territory for the series, exploring some unanswered questions. That said, the story is still quite vague and confusing, as usual, but you’re essentially one of two soldiers – Contra: Hard Corps villain Bahamut, or female protagonist Krystal. Both of the heroes are members of a rebel faction and are fighting a tyrannical empire known as the Commonwealth.

The run-and gun gameplay is unchanged and remains as difficult as ever – if the onslaught of soldiers coming your way don’t kill you, the endless bosses will – retaining its trial-and-error, memory-based strategy. Uprising also manages to keep its scenarios as interesting as they are outrageous. One minute you’re rocket sledding away from a killer robot; the next, you’re avoiding wave after wave of traps. It’s safe to say Uprising is sure to keep your attention for hours.

Even if you’ve never played a Contra game before, the controls are generally easy to learn, and only a few things should cause frustration. Holding the left or right trigger while firing allows you to lock the weapon while running. As usual upgrades fall from the sky and allow for classically styled ammo selections. The shooting in Uprising is generally quite simple, however, it can be tricky to lock your weapon in the opposite direction while in motion – such as in the first boss fight. It takes some practice, but minor annoyances such as these disappear quickly after multiple playthroughs – that’s a given.

As mentioned, Uprising offers a broad range of weapons to choose from including your iconic spread gun and homing laser as well as reflecting laser and improved napalm gun. Two weapons can be held at a time, though you lose your weapon if hit so flip-flopping between both is key in order to best utilize all the upgrades. Finding all of these weapons is tough, and many of them are pivotal for certain boss fights, but ultimately worth every minute.

Uprising offers two different modes: Arcade and Rising. Arcade is self-explanatory and is, not surprisingly, extremely difficult. Rising Mode on the other hand cuts players some slack and integrates a leveling system in which you can optimize your health and power-up abilities. The things you choose to optimize are directly dependent on the amount of points you’ve earned while playing the game – the longer you’ve played, the more you earn. Earn enough and you can buy whatever you need to help you make it through the game, whether it be extra health or automatic upgrades. The mode is great for everyone, never sacrificing challenge while still helping you in a jam.

Gameplay in mind, Uprising offers both single player and co-op. The latter tends to be the most enjoyable experience, which should come to no surprise considering how agonizing it can be playing a game this difficult alone. This might not seem to be the case when playing for the first time but Uprising quickly ramps up in its difficulty to the point of being near impossible – well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration. By no means is the experience going to be any easier in co-op, but by playing co-operatively with a friend or online this game becomes more tolerable and, most importantly, more enjoyable despite the steep learning curve.

Another nice addition comes in the game’s graphics. Unlike past installments in the Contra series, Arc System Works makes sure to add some extra style thanks to their impressive character design work – the designs will undoubtedly look familiar, they worked on the Guilty Gear and BlazBlue series. Each character has their own unique look and colour customization is available in order to make your character just they way you want them. While the anime stylization may be a bit off-putting to older Contra fans, these new characters are extremely fitting for the series and the way they interact with their environments is surprisingly fluid.

It should go without surprise that Hard Corps: Uprising is a game worth checking out and, ultimately, purchasing. Not only is it a great addition to the Contra series, but it’s a genuinely addicting game. Though Uprising definitely has a steep learning curve Rising Mode makes up for this – just check out the game’s amazing replay value. In addition, the sheer amount of variety Uprising offers makes it more than worth the $15 price range – the game is available on both XBLA and PSN. Uprising is certainly not for the faint of heart, but once you immerse yourself in this intriguing game it’s hard to let go.

Mindjack (PS3) Review 1

Mindjack (PS3) Review

Mindjack is not the best cover-based third-person shooter you’ll ever play. It’s flawed, and a number of the developer’s decisions are nothing short of baffling. Even so, the intriguing core concept makes up for a lot of the deficiencies, and the game has a certain campy charm that’s worth a second glance if you’re looking for a new spin on multiplayer design.

The game is set in a high-tech 2031, where FIA agent Jim Corbijn is helping a woman named Rebecca Weiss investigate a shady corporation called NERKAS. The company has invented a new technology that allows people to take over the mind of an oblivious third party, and the premise exists primarily to justify the gameplay.

In Mindjack, you can leap out of a host body and become a Wanderer, a floating cluster of pixels that can hack into (and take over) other individuals. You can mind-slave defeated soldiers to turn them against their former allies and every stage will have multiple mechs, civilians or other NPCs.

The real gimmick, however, is that you’re never really playing alone. Other players can hack into your campaign at any time and they’ll either join the blue team and help you through the missions or join the red team and take up arms against you. It’s all slightly reminiscent of The Matrix, insofar as you’re either a freedom fighter seeking to liberate the minds of humanity or an authority figure looking to keep everyone mentally sedated.

The team set-up distinguishes Mindjack from other multiplayer titles. You’ll seldom play with more than one or two human players and there are no conventional death matches, capture the flag contests, and etc. You’ll instead choose whether to enter a host portal or a hack portal every time you fire up the game and the events play out as a series of instances, each one ending either when the blue team kills all of the enemies or after the red team keeps Jim and Rebecca down for more than ten seconds.

It’s a cool premise (and yes, you can prevent other players from joining your game if you so desire), and there are a few flashes of brilliance. The game never explains why every civilian carries a firearm, but the ability to mind hack construction workers on the other side of the room makes for some extremely dynamic battlefields and the game is at its best when it capitalizes on the unpredictable nature of scenarios that involve multiple player characters.

The problem is that the execution seldom captures that potential, and Mindjack is both inconsistent and severely unbalanced from a level design perspective. Jim and Rebecca are able to revive each other, but the two heroes are heavily outgunned and many of the stages – such as the battles against giant mechs – are nearly impossible to clear if you’re matched against an opponent of a similar skill level.

Some players will switch sides to help a struggling opponent, but the haphazard attention to structural detail nonetheless makes Mindjack feel like a griefing engine that obscures many of its own ideas. The AI, for instance, will intuitively know that you’ve taken over an NPC, so the mind hack ability isn’t as useful in practice as it is in theory. When you leap into a solitary civilian only to find that she’s armed with a handgun and is surrounded by five men with assault rifles, you’ll start to wonder if there’s any point.

Many of the other design elements – from the graphics to the interface – are similarly substandard, and the movement controls are limited and clunky when measured against other cover-based third person shooters. The sprint function is inexplicably mapped to the same button that you use to take cover and navigating between obstacles is always more challenging than it should be.

Enemy soldiers can also absorb an absurd amount of damage. The men in space suits can withstand three sniper rounds to the face, and even unarmored soldiers won’t go down after multiple headshots. Any weapon with a single rate of fire is practically useless, and it makes it doubly frustrating when the game resets your weapon load out after every scene.

Mindjack ultimately plays like a rail shooter, and while the writing is appropriately on par with anything you’ve seen in House of the Dead, Mindjack lacks the self-referential awareness that has come to define that particular franchise. You just get the sense that the scriptwriter isn’t in on the joke as the narrative barrels forward with an inane internal logic that defies all subtlety or explanation.

That’s a concern considering that Mindjack bills itself as a multiplayer shooter that prioritizes story. It’s a bit ridiculous when Corbijn beats someone to death after explicitly being told not to make contact, and I’d given up on coherency by the time I stepped into a boss fight with a giant battle gorilla and his army of robotic monkey minions.

Fortunately, the cut scenes are short and skippable, so Mindjack is able to deliver a steady stream of action and the game is far from broken. Everything is perfectly functional once you’ve adjusted for the cumbersome mechanics and I never encountered any technical glitches while playing. The online servers are equally stable, and it’s easy to jump into any type of session.

That’s why – perhaps against my better judgment – I’m left with a positive impression of Mindjack. The unique take on multiplayer gameplay appeals to a certain aspect of my psyche, and the mere semblance of a plot creates the impression that you’re fighting for something other than a kill streak. It’s a refreshing step away from the de-contextualized free-for-all that dominates the average shooter and I’d actually like to see other developers experimenting with the concept.

So while I wouldn’t say that Mindjack is a good game, it is an entertaining game, and sometimes that’s all that matters. There’s enough novelty to interest armchair game designers and I definitely had fun playing through the various chapters. Rent it if you’re curious and don’t go in expecting much, but keep an open mind and Mindjack might prove to be a surprisingly enjoyable way to kill an evening.

YOU DON’T KNOW JACK (XBOX 360) Review 1

YOU DON’T KNOW JACK (XBOX 360) Review

The trivia genre hasn’t always had the easiest time getting a foothold in the gaming industry. Titles like Buzz! and Scene It? have come and gone with mild fanfare, leaving no lasting impression. When if first released in 1995, You Don’t Know Jack changed the way a lot of people thought about trivia video games. Rather than emulating existing shows it sought to be its own beast with a unique sense of style and substance. With its modern re-release You Don’t Know Jack returns in full force by delivering an incredibly polished experience with a plan to stay relevant long after its completion.

What makes You Don’t Know Jack so different from previous trivia games is that instead of loading the disc with thousands of questions and having them randomly appear to the player, the game is structured around the idea of a succinct episode. In addition to the questions, each of the 75 episodes on the disc offers a subtle narrative arc and topical commentary from the show’s hip quizmaster Cookie Masterson.

Played by Tom Gottlieb the character comes to life with a biting wit and unparalleled amiability. So much of the game’s enjoyment rests on his performance but it pulls through for a majority of players. Like Max Headroom or Wink Yahoo, Cookie Masterson carries every episode on his disembodied back; thankfully it’s not an incredibly heavy load.

You Don’t Know Jack is the definition of minimalist design; apart from a few graphical splashes the game is mostly text with clever typography. With no flashy 3D sets or wacky player avatars the game relies heavily on audio to set the scene. Existing entirely in the mind’s eye, You Don’t Know Jack lets the player’s imagination do the heavy lifting and consequently feels more like a real game show than any game before it.

The game itself is designed to be equal parts knowledge and reaction. Questions range from the mundane to the bizarre, with a skew to pop culture references. There’s room for deduction in every question but like every good game show, those in the know will always out-buzzer the clueless.

You Don’t Know Jack capitalizes on this by offering players the opportunity to ‘screw’ one another once per game for added bonuses. It’s a fun little trump card to play on your friends when you know they’re oblivious to the answer, adding both tension and guile to those moments when you just don’t know.

All the hallmark segments from the series’ history have returned; Dis or Dat and Jack Attack make an appearance once per episode. Fans of the classics will naturally have an edge here, but there’s nothing that isn’t learned by the end of your first episode.

Dis or Dat provides a fun mid-game disruption, requiring players to make quick classifications between absurdly contrasting categories; was Marie’s Creamy Ranch the name of a brothel or a salad dressing? Meanwhile Jack Attack offers end-game redemption for those who can quickly connect words based on a single clue, making every episode worth playing to completion.

There are few new additions to the format, but chief among them are per episode sponsorships by odd fictional companies. Somewhere in each episode there’s a wrong answer that corresponds with the sponsor’s name, netting the players who catch the rogue answer a tidy sum of cash. It’s a game changer for those who can stay mindful and it encourages players to look at things before they buzz in, which in a game about getting the fastest correct answer provides some balance between tortoise and hare mentalities.

Naturally You Don’t Know Jack is best experienced as a multiplayer game and there’s full support for local and online. Because of its episodic nature the game cleverly looks for an episode none of the players have finished yet and runs it, eliminating the possibility for repeat questions or providing advantage to the one player who’s already gone through most of the game.

With that in mind, this does mean there is an expiry date on the game. You Don’t Know Jack only features 75 episodes on the disc, which means that after all the 10-20 minute episodes are through there’s not much else you can do with the game. Within a week of play most players will likely complete more than half of the included episodes and it won’t be long afterwards for the game to be over completely.

Thankfully Jellyvision and THQ are working on a string of DLC expansions, and considering You Don’t Know Jack’s background as a daily episodic flash game the content will logically be frequent and topical. However, this does mean that long term fans of the game will be forking over $5 at a time for 10 more episodes. Normally this would be a major deterrent, but considering the game’s low $30 price tag there is some wallet wiggle room.

In addition to new DLC it would be nice to see a technical update for the game as well. There seems to be a small amount of host advantage when it comes to the Jack Attack finales. The netcode doesn’t feel as refined as it could be and can lead to frustrating defeats in the game’s final moments for guest players. It’s not exactly game breaking – I’ve won more than a few games via Jack Attack – but some additional transparency or optimization would be beneficial.

While we still need to wait and see if You Don’t Know Jack’s long-term plans will pan out, it doesn’t sacrifice quality, value, or fun for its future. What you get on the disc is well worth its price and the promise of expansion is sheer embellishment.

You Don’t Know Jack is one of those games you need to have in your library; it offers a completely different experience from anything else out there, including other trivia games. From its quirky host and incredible writing to the absolute ease of play, there’s no doubt that You Don’t Know Jack is officially the genre champion.

Test Drive Unlimited 2 (PS3) Review 1

Test Drive Unlimited 2 (PS3) Review

The Test Drive series of games is one of the oldest ongoing series when it comes to racing games, in recent years though it has been surpassed by titles such as Forza, GT5, and Need for Speed. Eden games with Test Drive Unlimited 2 (TDU2) attempts to compete with great titles in the racing world and have constructed a game that emulates what made the first Test Drive Unlimited great. But sadly what we get is a formidable online racer wrapped in a horrible story. That hampered with some dated visuals and cumbersome car handling may make this a hard sell in today’s gaming landscape, but the online component is worth half the price.

Touted as a new feature, the story in Test Drive Unlimited 2 (TDU2) is abominable. Once a lowly valet, your character races in the Solar Crown championship and becomes a fixture in the vapid Ibzia social sphere. Your racing earns money and fame. Rival racers taunt and attempt to intimidate you. The problem here is the whole world has the feel of Playstation Home. Your character and the rivals you race seem like they where ripped straight from a social MMO or chat room. They have a very artificial feel and fail to convey the luxury or realistic atmosphere of a genuine high-society racing affair. Mix this lacklustre environment with a bland story and the you end up with a bunch of sequences you’d rather skip.

The concept of owning a Yacht or a mansion on Ibiza after winning circuits is appealing, and adds a dimension to the rewards system so beloved in the original title. Your house is fully customizable, placing furniture to the style of the decor. That paired with over 90 cars to view, buy and drive giving you an extensive range of driving machines to explore Ibiza with although not nearly as many as seen in other driving titles. Character customization is available via in game plastic surgery, further cementing Unlimited 2’s single player as designed for the hedonist in us all.

Beyond the luxury advantage in owning a house it grants players access to garages, and therefore to mass collections of cars. With so many different classes of circuit you will need various cars, from off-road SUV’s to supercars. Each car pertains to a specific event. For this reason the game forces you to take advantage of the real-estate market if you want to enjoy the single player in any aspect beyond the first few series of events.

The controls in TDU2 are serviceable but not near the precision the genre has come to expect. There is the ever handy driving line when needed that allows you to understand how the cars take a corner or handle a hair pin. There are three modes for control (full assist, sport or hardcore) The only problem is none of these modes really get the job done well. They all feel a bit like you are driving on water and vehicles lack proper weight. When placed next to Gran Turismo for comparison, the controls in TDU2 fall far short of the mark.

The licensing events – half training, half challenge – are determined more by trial and luck rather then skill. Also many of the things learned could be pulled off in much simpler ways when in an actual race, rendering the learning un-necessary. That being said it was good to see some sort of tutorial mode thrown in the game. It is often a failure on the developers end to assume a game is self-explanatory, without some direction many of a game’s deeper challenges can be extremely difficult. In Test Drive Unlimited 2, the developers have thought hard about accessibility.

This brings us to the online – where the game really has a chance to shine. With an online world that boasts the ability to handle thousands of players at the same time, and the freedom to drive virtually any road in the Ibiza countryside, the online is vastly superior to the single player. Once the basics are learned the game actually becomes fun again. I was able to race against real people and bet on the odds, making it more Fast and the Furious and less Redline. Basically it is an MMO with driving: the races are there to get you started and the real world people are there to keep you coming back for more.

This online world comes with a price though. The visuals of the title leave something to be desired. Despite newer racing titles looking absolutely beautiful (Need for Speed, GT5) this title looks like it is stuck in 2005. Most of the environments look flat and lifeless, and the character models look wooden. The cars shimmer and shine with real world reflections, but the game is graphically inferior to many racing games out now.

The island world of Ibiza is a refreshingly open world to explore. If you just want to get into your favorite car and drive, this may be the game for you. With over 3,600 KM of road to explore there are hours of racing just to see the island itself – also with 900km of off-road track it is like Metropolis Street Racer: Ibizia Edition. It is a shame the level of detail in the visuals is lacking since a second coat of visual polish on the world would enhance this game profoundly. I found myself exploring the world for hours seeing what new paths I could explore or what new way I could find to escape the police in the game, but I was constantly disturbed by the cardboard foliage.

TDU2 does many things but the problem is none of them are done to perfection, it often feels that features were added yet never finished. The off-road sections are nice but simply feel like a bumpier version of the on-road game. The car damage is only visual and does nothing to effect driving and the police seem like an after thought that can be avoided completely if you never happen to ram into an officer during your exploration. Overall these added features do little to elevate the title and instead hamper it’s ability to deliver a great driving experience.

This is a title that will miss achieving mass market appeal because of various technical mishaps. If you are a driving fan that wants to explore the world of European luxury this will be your title, but if you are a casual gamer that just wants to jump into races quickly without any extras added this game will stand in your way and may be worth a rental before you slap down the $50 for it.

 

Superman #708 Review

Superman #708 Review

I indicated in my prior review here, that I have not been a devotee to the Superman “Grounded” arc. Both this and the previous issue have been very absorbing. Initially, I was reading Superman as a tie-in to his up-coming re-appropriation of Action Comics from Lex Luthor. However, I am now an admirer of the simple sophistication of this comic.

This month’s story takes us on a short jaunt into the expectations of Superman’s legacy. It proclaims the foundation which he can engender or topple, by internal rumination in the present. I cannot help but feel, all the time travel going on in the DC universe, is bringing us closer to a major paradoxical occurrence. In the Fortress of Solidarity Superman was given a glimpse of the Crisis In Infinite Eras; perhaps that was foreshadowing.

Clark, infected by depression, has been contemplating on his valuation to Earth, and this issue distinctly demonstrates that plight. Will his journey across America, reconnecting with people bring him back to us, or will it take something more tragic, or is there an outside influence causing his depression? It is only going to get better, with appearances by the Flash and Batman in up-coming issues.

DL

For more reviews visit my website http://www.DangerousLee.com

The Walking Dead #81 Review

The Walking Dead #81 Review

I am still engaged with this series; you can read my review of #80 here. Being only the second issue I have read, I am becoming familiar with the characters’ names. Even with my paltry acquaintance I see evidence that the individuals are well refined, with distinctively singular dispositions. Traits congruous to attentive writers. Still, I do not concern myself with or lament the victims of this issue.

The persevering have barricaded themselves in a compound with failing walls. One survivor was left outside and this weighs heavily on several of the populace. They formulate a recipe to rescue their companion, and draw the walkers away from the wall, so the others may attain liberation from their present purgatorial citadel.

I find this comic compiled as a soap-opera would be. Each page or two a dialogue allocated to a specific character; the next for another character. It has that entice and cut rhythm. There are a lot of people and a lot of elements to comprehend. I empathize with the writer’s struggle to incorporate everything into the allotted pages, and bring together the denouement. This comic is real life; no super-heros, just an undigested, sullied sentience in a zombie apocalypse. There are highs and lows, action and drama. A premonition of how ordinary people would cope if the dead were walking.

DL

For more reviews visit my website http://www.DangerousLee.com



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