Month: October 2012

Need for Speed: Most Wanted (PS3) Review 1

Need for Speed: Most Wanted (PS3) Review

Yet another year has passed and that means another Need for Speed title hits store shelves. After last year’s foray into racing with Need for Speed: The Run the series left a bad taste in the mouths of many fans. Although it took the series in a new direction, it felt dull, uninspired and overall an unpleasant experience. This year Criterion takes the helm, bringing their signature style, love of speed and crashes as from Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, and layering it on an open world. The mix should be a winning combination, but odd design choices hamper what could have been a great racing experience.

Real Cars, Arcade World

If you have played the previous Criterion developed Need for Speed title Hot Pursuit, the handling will feel instantly familiar. You will be racing with real world cars, but they are not realistic in the way they handle. Cars feel responsive, even down to the low level Ford Focus. Weaving in and out of traffic with these cars is fluid and natural. That said, the skill of breaking and utilizing the cars weight for “take downs” is key. Criterion give you the tools to race but it is up to the player to find out how to turn the car into a finely tuned racing machine.

Police play a large part in NFS: MW, with racing sometimes being interrupted cop cars chasing you in the middle of races. Squad cars, Setting up road blocks, spike strips and SUV’s all play a part in keeping you away from that all important finish line. Even after the race the cops don’t stop, leaving you to race ahead to either evade them or get caught. A successful evasion will lead to more points so the choice is ultimately up to you.

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The police although adding some tension, will make the exploring of Fairhaven a chore at times. They show up on the map as blue arrows, but if you’re trying to make a race for the first time and lack the ability to fast travel, they grow tiresome. Couple this with the repetitive police banter and you will soon find yourself avoiding the police like the plague. In previous titles you could play the cops, allowing for variety. Sadly that is not present in this title, although they do offer a nice challenge, and a great way to earn points quickly when needed.

The Most Wanted Stand In Your Way!

As the title suggests, Need For Speed: Most Wanted is about becoming the most wanted racer in Fairhaven. You do this by earning Speed Points and rising up the ranks for the ability to challenge the ten most wanted racers in the city. These races are built around win the race with a large force of cops in pursuit. Once you win the race, you can “take down” the car you just beat and unlock for your own use. This means briefly returning to the road to knock your rival off and add it to your car collection.

These races show the most diverse styles of driving in the single player game. Each of the most wanted have a style of driving they are good at. You need to equip your car with the appropriate mod to take on the competition. From tight corners, to lengthy off road sections, these races will challenge you to adapt. The challenge grows with longer tracks and more police blocking your path as you progress. Unfortunately these races grow tiresome, with a lack of a variety that bogs down the pace. It leaves an overall lacklustre feeling for one of the key components of the single player.

This is a recurring problem with the game; the options are sparse. With such a large world it is sad there was so little variety to the events in the single player campaign. There are only a small handful of event types, and it’s easy to see most of what the game offers in a short time. Then the feeling of repetition sets in quickly. There is a real sense of missed opportunity to do more with the potential inherent in a world of this size. The size of the map actually works against when driving to events the first time. The EasyDrive option mitigates this later in the game, but people wanting to just jump into a race will be pulled out by the tedium in the opening stages. Even the speed the franchise relies on can work against players. Crashes are costly, and the crash cam stretches out the error, showing your slow motion tumble as the competition whizzes by and you wait out the sequence so you can get back to driving.

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There’s also an RPG-lite mechanic that breaks down very quickly. Winning races yields mods for various performance factors like tires, chassis and the like. The mods themselves are improved by winning yet more races. The problem here is the mods are specific to a certain vehicle, meaning every time you get a new car you have to start from scratch racing it to get the desired mods. It would have been better to use a currency system so you could simply buy what you want from your winnings, but Criterion wants you to do this the hard way for each and every car.

Bring On The Real Life Opponents

With such an open world it is nice to see Criterion created a multiplayer mode that lived up to the promise that the solo mode failed to keep. The thrill of the online more than makes up for the sour taste the single player leaves. The ease of use and always on nature of the multiplayer is the crux Criterion should have built the entire game around. At all times you will be able to compare the single player stats with anyone on your friends list playing the game. Beyond that you can setup a game and race a selection of events against your friends in seconds leaving little downtime between matches.

Along with an always on feel NFS: MW does offer a surprisingly large amount of exclusive multiplayer modes especially when compared to the meagre selection in single player. The SpeedList makes the multiplayer something truly unique. A selection of five race types back to back it makes for a frantic racing experience. From a King Of The Hill mode all the way to a team race, the multiplayer in NFS:MW is some of the best online racing I’ve played in a while. It is fast, fun and easy to get into. With enough people the races are chaotic but always fun.  With a group of friends, this is where the majority of the time will be spent.

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If Only They Squashed The Bugs

Criterion have crafted an enjoyable—if flawed—racing game but there were some bugs that took away from the experience. Autolog, the system to compare scores with friends, randomly logs out for no reason. That coupled with occasional log out when playing an online match got frustrating, taking away from the experience. The game also suffers from the frequent frame-rate drops and sound drop. These are sad to see, considering past games from Criterion have run at a steady 60 FPS, even Burnout Paradise, managed to keep that sense of speed and still maintain a densely populated world. These issues vastly diminish the fun of the race, especially when a spot on the track drops in frame-rate just as you are about to pass someone leading to a crash. This is something that is unacceptable, especially for a game released this late in the console lifecycle.

Even with the bugs and the odd design choices, Need For Speed: Most Wanted is a good racing experience. The odd design choices and lacklustre single player keep it from being great.  The expansive open world is nice, and the selection of cars is refreshing but if it were not for the multiplayer it would be hard to recommend this title. For the online racer fan this is a must own, for everyone else I would say look elsewhere.

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We Need More Books Turned Into Games

Over the years, particularly with today’s technology, this one glaring absence in our gaming choices has continued to amaze me. With the wealth of fictional worlds out there that have built a built in fanbase, ready for more interaction with their favorite world or characters, we don’t see more books turned into games.

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Doom 3: BFG Edition (PS3) Review 1

Doom 3: BFG Edition (PS3) Review

What’s Doom 3 And Where Are The First Two?

Before I started writing this review, I thought everyone (who played videogames) knew what Doom 3 was. Even if they hadn’t played it, I was sure they the title had come up in conversation. This is why I was perplexed when I asked some friends if they wanted to play Doom 3, and they had never heard of it. Granted these friends aren’t the biggest video game fanatics, but they play a variety of games. I was not prepared for the lack of knowledge as to what the game was, or that it even existed. Doom 3 was a big part of my childhood and a gateway into games without adorable Italian plumbers running around, saving princesses.

All that surprise about the ignorance of an iconic series has led me to the actual review for Doom 3: BFG Edition. There isn’t much to say about the game if you’ve played the original PC version. It’s the same storyline, same weaponry for the most part, and the same characters. If you haven’t played the game, here’s a really quick introduction. You play as a new recruit aboard a military transport bound for a Martian research outpost. On arrival, you’re sent to go oversee some of the workers, and encourage them to leave the base. Before you can get your warning out, however, something goes terribly wrong and you’re left to fight off an army of monstrous enemies. It all may sound like a game you’ve played before; Dead Space or Mass Effect. The original Doom series inspired them all, paving the way for modern day survival based horror shooters and the FPS genre itself.

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What’s Different About Doom 3 This Time?

Fans of the original game can rejoice knowing players will be able to use a flashlight with a weapon. This may not come across as gigantic news for newcomers who haven’t played the Doom 3 before, but the either/or nature of flashlight use in the original was such a controversial topic, id decided to tweak it for the rerelease. Other than the flashlight though, those in possession of a 3D monitor or television can play the game in 3D. While I played it in the standard 2D mode and can’t comment on how well the game plays in 3D, it’s certainly one of the few games to incorporate the latest technology. This version of the game is also one of the first—if not the first—game to be compatible with the Occulus Rift VR headset. This is one of the first games you can play without a monitor or television set. Instead, you can wear the headgear and play the game in virtual reality.

How’s The Switch From PC To A Console?

As stated, I played this game on the PS3. I’ve heard the graphics are superb on the latest PC version, and a little better than the PS3 on the Xbox 360. I was disappointed with the graphics I had to endure in mission after mission. I understand the difficulty in trying to reinvent a beloved game by proclaiming it’ll play like new and look modern. Again, I can’t comment on how the graphics looked with other versions available, but with the Playstation it just fell flat. I was hoping for crisper edges and slightly updated styles in features like faces and movements. Instead, it felt like a brighter version of the original game which wasn’t particularly needed.

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The gameplay mechanics, on the other hand, were quite good. I won’t say they were perfect as there was room for some improvement in a couple of areas. The actual movement was still a little sloppy. It doesn’t impact the gameplay all that much, but it was something in the original version which carried over to the rerelease. The lighting was also an issue, and not because it was too dark. The original game was phenomenal because of the terrifying, paranoid ambience while sneaking through empty—or are they?—hallways. In this instalment, not only have you been given a gun mounted flashlight, but the entire game is much brighter. You can manually go into the settings and fiddle around with the lighting, but there doesn’t seem to be a great balance between outrageously dark and extremely bright.

Here’s what makes the game enjoyable for hours; the shooting. Back when the original game was released in 2004, the shooting mechanics were what set the game apart from almost every other PC title available. There was a precise shooting style which to the combat which made killing evil zombie-aliens that much better. It didn’t necessarily make the game easier to play, but allowed the player to not have to worry so much about perfect aim in the darkest corners of the hallways you investigated. This has been changed slightly to work well with the mechanics involved while using a console based controller, like on the PS3 or the Xbox 360. For any fan of first person shooters, the controls come easy and you can play almost immediately without having to worry about dedicated buttons for various controls. One of my favourite features this game kept from the original PC version, was the lack of a load out. I am a big fan of first person shooters, but I reminisce sometimes about the good old days where your protagonist had one gun and a knife to survive. Doom 3 delivers that nostalgic feeling of desperation, and creates a unique environment in the realm of modern day shooters.

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Is it fun? Is it worth picking up?

If you haven’t played any of the Dooms prior to hearing about this reissue, I would strongly urge you to go out and purchase it. You get Doom: Ultimate Edition and Doom 2 in addition to the more recent, polygonal sequel. This franchise is one of the forefathers for modern day first person shooters and continues to hold up as a heavyweight contender in today’s industry. If you know this series, then for $39.99 on console and $29.99 on PC, you know you can’t go wrong with the pricing. This game will be utterly nostalgic, and may be the game you decide to stop playing Call of Duty for. Well, at least until the next one is released. I had too much fun playing this game, and I’m still playing it right now. I would definitely recommend this game to almost anyone who likes horror or shooting games in general.

The Testament of Sherlock Holmes (Xbox 360) Review 1

The Testament of Sherlock Holmes (Xbox 360) Review

These Aren’t, “Put Peg In Right Hole,” Puzzles.

For people who thought the puzzles in the original Legend of Zelda were too difficult to figure out, the Testament of Sherlock Holmes is completely out of your league. The game provides brain busting puzzles within the first half hour of playing the game. While the difficulty of the riddles can be off putting to any player, even a veteran puzzle solver, they feel completely in place accompanying the character of Sherlock Holmes. Players who are purchasing this title are fans of the highly functional sociopath. Whether they’re fans of the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle series of novels, or perhaps fans of the 2010 BBC miniseries, they are aware of this character. If you weren’t familiar with the character of Sherlock Holmes and decided to pick this game up on a whim, you wouldn’t have a fun time. I’ve been a Sherlock and Watson fan since I was eleven or twelve years old and read my first Sherlock tale. This game, pushed my brain to the limit, and I loved every single second of it.

Here’s the deal with the puzzles; they’re not your run-of-the-mill puzzle. In one circumstance toward the beginning of the game, Sherlock must break into a safe to discover what the murderers in this particular case were after. You must use a chess piece to try and figure out the code. In a game where the possibilities of moves are endless, the inclusion in the game is fantastic. It’s also controller throwing worthy. This puzzle alone took me over forty five minutes to figure out. About halfway through my hundredth attempt, I practically threw my controller at my television, before deciding to grab some grub. I had high hopes it was a lack of food which was making this seemingly impossible riddle block me from discovering who the murderer was. What keeps you going, then, when the aspect of having fun in a video game is removed? When I eventually figured out the puzzle, the utter elation which crept into my bones made the entire experience completely worth it. This is how the puzzles play out throughout the entire game, except the difficulty intensifies with each new discovery made.

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Considering the puzzles make up the entirety of the game, it’s absolutely fantastic the game switches up the types you must complete. Most of the puzzles occur at the actual crime scene you are called to. After walking around the room, investigating certain areas Sherlock must examine, a puzzle is brought up on the screen which must be solved. One of the more logical puzzles which pops up throughout the entire game is in Sherlock and Watson’s, “Deduction Notebook.” This puzzle is a matching game and to solve it, you must associate the proper answer with the question being asked. This requires some rational thinking about the case on hand and provides a challenge as you must come up with the proper answers the case provides. For someone like myself who is utterly obsessed with Sherlock Holmes, the feeling of being on the same level of brilliance as he is for a short period of the time makes the game completely worth it.

Is there any action?

One of the problems with the game is the complete lack of action. Understandably, a puzzle game is not going to hold up against a game like Uncharted, but the exclusion of action makes the game drag on at certain points. While the plot thickens, the anticipation you as the player feels also grows. The perfect offset to this would have been to include some kind of simple action, like a chase or a fight. Sherlock fans will know of Sherlock’s love for boxing and any form of sport which will get his heart pumping while on a case. It would have been absolutely fantastic if Frogwares had included a fight between Sherlock and a  murdering felon, or a chase to find the fleeting fox. Action would have provided a clean break between the complicated, brain frying puzzles and the extensively long cutscenes.

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Does It Resemble The Books Or Movies?

While there isn’t a direct correlation to either the books or the movies, this Sherlock title leans more toward the traditional Sir Arthur Conan Doyle characters then the Stephen Moffat versions. Setting the game in an early 20

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century plays out extremely well with the case you have been selected to solve. The gruesome murder plays heavily on beliefs associated with this time period, while the macabre occurrences work well with the overall noir tone.  There were some factors missing which I thought should have been included. Not once throughout the duration of the game does Sherlock use cocaine or methamphetamines. Sherlock is a well-known drug user who uses the stimulants to hasten his thinking while working on a case. Considering the ERSB has rated this game mature, the inclusion of a drug scene wouldn’t have been out of character, and would have been a nostalgic throwback for fans. John Watson, Sherlock’s only friend and trusty sidekick, played an excellent boy scout in this game; a feat no one should ever be proud of. Instead of the witty banter which has been carried throughout each medium over time, Watson spurts out obvious statements and becomes increasingly annoying. The combination of all the different aspects makes the game its own, but not very successfully.

It’s A Text Adventure Without Text.

The best type of game to compare this to would be the old school text adventure games. Some of you who are reading this piece won’t know what a text based adventure game is and this section will seem completely useless. Text or graphic adventure games, however, were very popular before the age of major consoles and allowed players to delve into a variety of plot lines, having full control over the game and using pure thinking power to get to the end. The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is precisely that, minus the text. Like the early CD hit Myst, You must use only your brain to come to the conclusions Sherlock would. Once you’ve mastered this remarkably difficult concept in today’s modern age, you can sit back and vicariously enjoy the cinematic experience as the world’s greatest consulting detective. Sherlock, like the text based adventure games, doesn’t change the gameplay mechanics. The puzzles change, but the overall mechanic is the same. Go to a crime scene, investigate, go home, and begin to solve. You know exactly what to expect, in terms of actual playing, and was one of the first examples which drew me to the text adventure based games analogy.

Did You Have Fun?

The concept of fun in videogame reviews gets left out quite a bit these days, instead replaced with grunting and moaning. The biggest question I know I have when I’m looking where to spend my next $60 dollars is will I have hours of fun. If you are a puzzle fanatic, if you like to endeavour on ludicrously difficult challenges, and if you’re a die-hard Sherlock fanatic, this game is right up your alley. If your idea of a fun game is Battlefield or Bioshock you may want to save your money. I had a ridiculous amount of fun with this game, and found it an excellent accompaniment for bed. It’s a game you can throw on and not have to worry about high scores or online cred. This game plays excellently for fans of single player campaigns and heavily involved plot lines. The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is a complete toss up though, and if there are any doubts in your mind, I’d wait until it drops in price.

Naughty Bear: Panic in Paradise (PS3) Review 1

Naughty Bear: Panic in Paradise (PS3) Review

Horrifying For All The Wrong Reasons

Naughty Bear is back after a not very successful debut, which makes you wonder how a sequel got approved. Someone out there must like the idea of a murderous teddy bear out on a psychotic quest for stalker-y vengeance. On paper, that actually sounds like an intriguing idea, but in execution—if the first game was anything to go by—it’s not a successful venture. The sequel, Naughty Bear: Panic in Paradise tries to tweak a broken formula, but doesn’t go nearly far enough to fix the fundamental problems of the game.

Satire Gone Wrong

The carefree and negligent bears of the original have yet to learn their lesson. After the carnage Naughty Bear wrought in the first game for not being invited to a picnic, you’d think everyone would have learned their lesson when they hosted a party on a tropical island. They don’t, and Naughty Bear’s rage knows no bounds as the slaughter (in this case “defluffing” bears) begins again.

Right from start, like its predecessor, it’s clear that Panic in Paradise is a budget game. There’s the deliberate minimalism of something like Journey and then there’s just plain unpolished, and that’s what the overall presentation is like here. Simple textures, clunky animation and a variety of flat or even buggy sound effects underscore a game with a bizarrely dark, cinematic soundtrack reminiscent of John Carpenter’s synth inspired horror tracks. It’s symptomatic of a greater problem for Panic in Paradise where the game simply doesn’t know what it wants to be and so none of its elements mix well.

On the one hand, you have the seemingly satirical notion that a psychotic teddy bear is causing immeasurable psychological torture and outright murder on a bunch of other teddy bears that spurned him. It’s not a new notion; the idea of gruesome violence on cute animals for comedic effect has been well executed by programs like Happy Tree Friends and Robot Chicken, but where those shows play up the ludicrousness of the situation for laughs in the face of graphic violence, Naughty Bear plays it straight. Victims are stalked, harassed to the point where they can go insane and even kill themselves, and murders are committed with QTE style executions that resemblance the brutal finishers of Sleeping Dogs. Naughty Bear himself doesn’t feel like a spurned victim on a quest of righteous vengeance, he feels like a bully picking on innocents. That’s an uncomfortable feeling for most gamers that would like to think they’re not bad guys, and Naughty Bear fails to walk the line. Mechanically, Panic in Paradise is quite complex, with a number of rules and features that are inefficiently blasted at speed with lengthy verbal explanations at the game’s start. It leaves players with a sense of disoriented information overload and is hardly an acceptable tutorial considering most contemporary games will ease players into mechanics by drip feeding them one at a time and letting players DO the assigned lesson, rather than pausing the action to lecture them.

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That is perhaps the most surprising and confounding thing about Panic in Paradise. For all its aspirations to be a game about dark comedy, it asks a lot of its players. Each of the 30+ victims on Naughty’s “kill list” must be killed in a specific way. These win conditions rapidly ramp up in complexity, and get very obtuse, such as one kill that requires the player get clothes from a bear that can’t normally be dragged off into the woods and killed like other bears. It takes some experimentation—with no hints from the game at all—to figure out that putting the bear in the injured, limping state is required before the disguise can be grabbed. At the same time Panic in Paradise utilizes a bizarre RPG component that requires leveling Naughty Bear through the clothing and weapons he uses. If you “master” a clothing or weapon item by maxing out the XP it can accrue, Naughty Bear will stop getting XP from that slot until a “virgin” item is equipped again. It makes little sense in writing and even less sense in actual gameplay. The bizarre RPG/“kill puzzle” concept is coupled with a stealth based game that badly cribs from the playbook of classics like Metal Gear Solid and Hitman, with nowhere near the same amount of success. All of this is tied up in a somewhat buggy game that has a tendency to freeze at odd moments. It’s more forgivable in a high caliber game like XCOM, but here merely gives you a much needed excuse to stop playing for a while before subjecting yourself once again to the overwhelming sense of repetition that is Panic in Paradise.

There is a core of originality to the premise of Naughty Bear: Panic in Paradise, and even some occasional moments of genuine humor. But it’s lost in a design concept that is awkwardly executed, with too many disparate elements that don’t gel together in an enjoyable way. At $15 or 1200 MS points for an overly long game that wears out its novelty early in the proceedings, this is a hard game to recommend. Had Behavior Interactive cut both the length of the game and its price by half, this might have been an easier pill to swallow. As it is, only those with an absolute hatred of teddy bears will see any long lasting value in this downloadable game. It’s not a horrifyingly broken game, but neither is it well designed enough to keep you wanting to come back for more.



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