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Call of Duty: Black Ops Review

Posted: November 28, 2010 by brice42 in Uncategorized

I heard a story once about an instructor who put a bunch of rocks into a glass jar until he couldn’t fit any more, and then asked the class if the jar was full.  When they all agreed it was, he poured in some marbles.  When they said it was full again, he poured in some sand.  Then water.

Black Ops is a lot like that glass jar.  The rocks are, of course, the campaign and the multi-player, the butter-smooth matchmaking, a brand new Theater mode, and the endangered split-screen (even online).  Gameplay looks and runs great, and the Campaign offers all the amped up war shooter action we’ve come to expect, plus that Treyarch twist that makes it a little rough going down, but will definitely show you a good time.  Multiplayer has been tweaked from MW2, but remains just as interesting.  I was really annoyed by the RC cars until I put on the Flak Jacket.  Now I don’t even bother to hurry when I hear that little one-stroke, and I take grenades to the chest and laugh.

Best 2000 credits you’ll ever spend.

There is actually a lot of gear and perks that interact with each other, producing some very interesting moments to go back over later in the theater.

Then come the marbles.  Zombie mode is back (“5” has the best intro ever), and Treyarch has upped the ante with the Wager Match modes, which are surprisingly entertaining.  The use of in-game credits to unlock attachments, perks, contracts, etc. is a very suitable system that lets you build your classes the way you want from the get-go, but there are still challenges that encourage you to fully explore your options.  Purchase Contracts to capitalize on your mad skills, or cowboy the hell up and risk your hard-earned credits in Wager Matches.   Also, what kind of lame Playercard is that?  Simply put, you will be very busy.

So now you’ve scoured the menu, making sure you’re at least aware of all the possible gametypes and knick-knacks, even if you tend to stick to your favs.  Is that everything?  Is the jar full yet?

Never go full retard.

Hell no.  You forgot about the sand.  In what I consider to be the coolest main menu ever, don’t you notice that you’re strapped to a chair?  If you manage to pull free, you can get up and walk around in the room.  You’ll find a computer terminal in the corner that has, among other things, two more games for you to play, all waiting to be discovered withinin the DOS-like setup.

Honestly, this game is packed with so much cool stuff to do, and even after the novelty wears off, it’ll still be a great game to keep in the library for those seemingly endless stretches between worthy titles.  Good thing, too, because the future of the franchise might be a little hazy now that Infinity Ward is no more.  It’s a lot of fun for the money, and if you’re one of the 12 shooter fans who haven’t bought or played it yet, you’re really missing out.

8.5/10

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Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Review

Posted: October 26, 2010 by brice42 in Reviews

So I just finished Lords of Shadow…finally.  The game has so many cool levels they couldn’t fit it all on one disc.  And damn, those levels look amazing.  The environments are absolutely top-notch, with ambient weather and incredibly dramatic (and dynamic) lighting.  Would you expect anything less than blazing visuals from a game bearing the name Hideo Kojima?

Before I go any farther, I should note that this was the first Castlevania I played all the way through.  I did play SOTN, but only relatively briefly.  Still, I was amazed at how deep that old side scroller was.  As for Lords of Shadow, I am amazed at how deep it is as a brand-new fighting game.  At first, it seems just like a God of War clone, there are your quick attacks, your heavy attacks, and your blocking/dodging.  You even buy new moves and abilities as you go along.  I was amazed at how good it looks and how natural it feels, but in the back of my mind I felt like I had already played this game before, only the main character had more weapons and less hair.

A good trade.

Then, they drop the magic system on you.  Kratos only had to charge up one badassery meter, but Gabriel Belmont has to keep track of three.  During combat, it is up to you not only kill the enemies (of which there are many different types, and they rarely attack alone), but to make use of Gabriel’s Light Magic, Shadow Magic, and Focus.  If you are getting your ass handed to you, turn on your Light Magic.  Gabriel glows blue, and each attack you land earns you back some precious health.  Okay, now you’re all better, and it’s time to bring the pain.  Activate your Shadow Magic, Gabe flares red, and now your attacks hurt a lot worse.  Each magic type also has specialized moves and combos that are amazing, but drain your juice faster.  Damn, there’s still more of them, and you’re out of both magics.  Time to get ninja.  By changing up your moves and avoiding damage while using no magic, Gabe builds a focus meter.  Special moves fill it much faster, and getting hit pretty much drains it instantly.  Once it’s full, every attack you land makes your enemies drop magic orbs like they suddenly became yen.

Almost enough for a McMuffin.

The orbs hang around until you can find a split second you’re not actively fighting for your life to draw them in.  You can fill one, the other, or both of Gabe’s magics at the same time, according to your needs.  Don’t take too long, though, or they’ll disappear, leaving you powerless.  I cranked up the difficulty, so there were hundreds of times my very survival depended on building that Focus meter enough to fill my Light Magic enough to heal, all the while dodging or blocking blows that are falling like raindrops.  It was damn difficult, but I definitely felt like a badass when I managed to pull it off.  Throw in ranged weapons like daggers, dark crystals, fairies, and holy water, each especially effective against certain enemies, and strategies get even more complicated.

Other than the brilliant magic system, LOS doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but what it does bring are classic recipes that have finally been perfected.  Of course Gabe is a parkour master, but the platforming is never boring because your combat chain is also used to swing around on/climb up and down with.  It goes a lot smoother than it does in a lot of the other adventure games, and is mainly used as transportation instead of thrown in as an obstacle course, though there are some very notable exceptions.  They borrowed the “take on enormous bosses” concept from Shadow of the Colossus and gave it a new coat of paint, and those sequences blew me away.  Quick-time events happen regularly, but they are more often than not based on timing rather than just pushing the correct button.  And of course, the timing always lines up dramatically with the animations, so it’s really cool when you nail it, and suprisingly hard to do correctly all the time.

You get neat equipment along the way in the form of relics.  Once Gabe gets a relic, he has a new ability that helps him get around better, and of course makes combat even more awesome.  By the end of the game I had more moves, combos, and abilities than I could keep track of, but thanks to the intuitive controls, it you try to make a certain thing happen, it usually does.  Or Gabe will knock out some other awesome move you didn’t even know you had.  Either way, it’s fantastic.

With a fighter that plays so well, I honestly wouldn’t mind if each level was just a huge oval filled with enemies for me to cut bloody swaths through.  It’s precisely that kind of thinking that would have gotten me fired from working on LOS.  I can’t sing enough praise about the brilliant level design this game sports.  I was genuinely amazed at every new environment in the game, and no two levels felt the same.  From scaring crows from post to post to flinging open huge hanging curtains so that sunlight will hold the vampires at bay, each level has a unique and delicious taste, and they just keep getting better and better as the game progresses.  Ryan, a much more avid Castlevanian than I, remarked on the similarity between some of the new levels and those in old Castlevania games.  I didn’t catch a lot of those references, but I was still impressed nonetheless.

Also, Patrick Stewart is the narrator, and I swear about half of the phrases he says come out of my favorite movie of all time, Excalibur, which HE WAS IN.

Move over already.

So this was pretty much destined to be my new favorite action/fighter before I even threw the first punch.  For others out there less biased, I assure you that this game will not disappoint.  My only negative comments are that the story, though it did throw a couple of curveballs, isn’t something you could write a paper on, and that Gabriel’s head looks kinda tiny on his hulking figure.  But hey, that just means it’s a smaller target.

9/10

 

Medal of Honor Review

Posted: October 23, 2010 by brice42 in Reviews

 

I can see why Medal of Honor has been getting mixed reviews.  It’s a strange Modern Warfare/Bad Company hybrid that has some (but not all) features from both games, and some really cool features of its own.  It’s like the Jeff Goldblum of war shooters.

Danger Close

Some of it’s hybrid abilities include your standard modern weapons and tech, familiar mission types (stealth, sniping, etc.), semi-destructible terrain, and plenty of bad guys to neutralize.  Anyone who’s played a war shooter before will feel right at home with the setup and presentation.  The single-player mode does have a really cool lean feature that I only started getting into later in the game.  Hold down the left bumper and it fixes you in place, but lets you lean in whatever direction you move the left stick, so you can easily peek just above/around cover, or duck and weave as you see fit.  If you activate it while you’re moving, you can lean left or right as you run.  It’s really neat, and really makes you feel like more than just a floating gun arm.  It’s only there in single player, though, so you’re back to either standing or crouching when there are humans shooting at you.  I really wish the leaning could work its way into the multiplayer so I could stop claiming that every bullet that kills me miraculously curved around a corner because my slow ass didn’t strafe fast enough.  Snipers would have a field day with it, only having to expose a fraction of their heads to other cowardly snipers out there.  Also, they’d be so preoccupied with learning the mechanic that I could easily sneak up behind them, knife them, and then do a funky leaning dance over their corpse.  I hate snipers.

Anyway, the single-player campaign is short but sweet.  It has lots of exciting moments, but they’re not so Jerry Bruckheimerish.  You never infiltrate an enemy gulag to free a former commander, you never bring a satellite down out of orbit, and there are no downhill snowmobile engagements.  The events of Medal of Honor are more down to earth.  You infiltrate an encampment to mark enemy vehicles, you snipe bad guys from a mile away with a .50 cal, and you desperately hold position against an entire regiment of bad guys in a stone hut that gets smaller and smaller as they blow pieces of it apart (one of best levels).  Every line in the game is legit, even the ones they lifted out of Generation Kill.

Pretty fuckin’ ninja, indeed.

You can tell the developers really paid attention to the soldiers they consulted while making the game.  In fact, the game itself is a tribute to the soldiers of Special Operations and Delta Force, and I think it does them justice.  The developers paid rapt attention to detail, nailing things like proper reload animations, remembering the bullet in the chamber if you switch mags without running completely dry, and the actual range of shotguns.  Virtual Afghanistan looks amazing, and the encounters play like they should in such hilly, rocky terrain.  Plenty of cover means lots of troop movement, and if you’re not on the ball, the enemy AI will flank you.  Hard.  It’s extremely intense, and even more so because it’s so believable.  Strangely, nobody wins a Medal of Honor during the plot, but they all deserve one.

Dice helped out with the multiplayer, and it shows.  It looks a lot like Bad Company, but it plays more like Modern Warfare.  The engagements are smaller, like skirmishes, but with Bad Company-style modes.  My favorite has got to be Combat Mission, which is the most similar to the Rush mode in BC2.  You either attack or defend a position, and either advance or retreat to the next one after it falls.  Other modes are Objective Raid (attack or defend a single pair of objectives), Sector Control (think Domination), and Team Assault (TDM).  There is a hardcore mode, but sadly it doesn’t feel that hardcore.  They don’t seem to have upped the weapon damage at all, and it’s a constant source of frustration.  I dump half a mag into a sniper’s face, and he still manages to kill me, kill the dude next to me (who is oblivious, and probably also shooting at me), and then call in a mortar strike to kill us again just after we respawn.  It also doesn’t remove much in the way of HUD.  The center part of the screen, usually regarded as the most important, is obscured anytime you are even remotely related to the death of an enemy soldier, which for me is ALL THE TIME.  The map/radar only shows up when UAVs are about, but the score, the time remaining in the match, and other non-essential information still takes up valuable pixel real estate that could be used for spotting snipers.  Another complaint I have is that not every square inch of the map can be blown apart by explosives.  Some materials can be destroyed, but I’m spoiled by BC2.

There are only three classes, but between them you have some useful skills.  Spec Ops are great for close quarters and for blowing up vehicles and stationary guns.  Riflemen are good for covering ground and anti-sniping.  Snipers are good for nothing, but if they rack up enough kills in between setting up their campsite, roasting some marshmallows, and getting knifed in the back by me, they can provide all kinds of cool support for their allies.  Whatever your class, chain kills together to earn the right to call in airstrikes or issue cooler gear to your team.

The multiplayer is solid, but the hardcore mode needs an overhaul if it wants to hold my attention for much longer.  I’m already feeling the pull back to BC2, but there’s some DLC on the near horizon, so I’ll give it a look.

If you know anything about a true military environment, you will enjoy the hell out of this game.  If you just enjoy a good FPS and already have the staples, you can live without it.

8/10

Enslaved: Journey to the West Review

Posted: October 6, 2010 by brice42 in Reviews

Imagine a game that looks like Uncharted, feels like Beyond Good & Evil, and fights like Batman: Arkham Asylum.  The amazing game you’re picturing in your head doesn’t exist, but Enslaved will almost fool you into thinking it does.  It smoothly blends puzzle situations and combat, all amidst near-constant platforming of the acrobatic variety.  It looks amazing, Monkey, Trip, and Pigsey (the only 3 characters) are entertaining and very well-performed, and the story (when you are finally clued into what’s going on) is not bad, but doesn’t cover any new ground.

BG&E fans will love the staff-based combat, the tactical puzzles, the wide open Cloud sequences, and the sense of wonder and awe Enslaved puts forth (also the porcine sidekick).  Fans of Arkham Asylum will be familiar with the combat setup, but will really miss the Batman come fightin’ time.  Fans of Uncharted can remain aloof for now, Enslaved isn’t quite as smooth, but it is just as pretty.

Fans of platformers will not be disappointed at all.  Imagine if Nathan Drake and Korban Dallas had a child and only fed him steroids before abandoning him to be raised by a family of trapeze artists, and you’ve got Monkey, our protagonist.  Enslaved has some really wicked platforming sequences, but it throws some old tricks at you too, in case you’ve had a brain aneurysm since the last time you had to time your leaps to avoid hitting the moving sawblade/gear/flamethrower.

I’m not sure who passed the law among video game developers that every protagonist should be a master of parkour as well as kickassery, but I’m kinda starting to want to track him down and have stern words.  It blew my mind in Sands of Time when the prince would run on walls and flip around on flagpoles to get across levels, but that was seven years ago.  Now, leaping from one obvious handhold to another is easy, and rapidly approaching boring, even if it still does look awesome.  Also, I’m getting kind of tired of the run-around-and-collect-shiny-things game mechanic.  I do appreciate the ability to improve my character, but I don’t appreciate running around the levels like a maniac collecting orbs that are just lying around.  I mean come on, Ryan and I were comparing Enslaved: Journey to the West to Sonic the Hedgehog.  Just give out the XP for smashing robots, and put more of those image-mask icons around the level.  Those were cool enough by themselves to warrant exploration.

While I’m talking trash, I have to mention the most glaring flaw in the game.  As Monkey, you are literally enslaved by a hacked headband that will administer pain and death for not following orders.  Your master is Trip, the token hot redhead.  During the course of the game she gives you exactly three commands.  Two of them are during the same cinema you first see the headband, and the third is immediately after that cinema, and she just commands you to follow her across the room.  Not once did I ever chafe at the yolk of servitude, because not once was it ever forced upon me.  The only thing you must do is keep Trip and Monkey alive.  Before the game came out, the developers promised to fully explore the concept of slavery between the characters, but all you do is threaten to kill her a couple times, rip a couple deadly robots apart while she watches, and she never sasses you again.  The emotional climax in which (SPOILER!) Monkey tells Trip to turn the headband back on after she frees him is utterly devoid of meaning because he never suffered the pain of disobedience (well, he does in the cinema, but I as a player was never compelled to do…anything).  Plus, that headband looks freakin’ sweet, I’d tell her to leave it on too if all she ever asked me to do is stuff I was going to do anyway.

All in all, Enslaved is a decent little action-adventure title.   If they ever continued the Advent Rising story (PLEASE!), this team would be who I’d give it to.

7/10

Brice’s Halo: Reach Review

Posted: September 24, 2010 by brice42 in Reviews

Yeah yeah, Halo this, Halo that.  Halo releases have always been a big deal, and Reach was no different.  Bungie can no longer laugh to the bank because they are too exhausted from carrying all the money people spent on their franchise, despite the grim economy, and despite the fact that none of them have been anywhere near as good as Halo: Combat Evolved.

I didn’t plan on getting it at all, I was in the throes of a Bad Company 2 revival as the days dwindled on that ridiculous Reach countdown my 360 dashboard insisted on showing me, and perfectly content to watch it run out.  But at the last minute I reserved it, and inwardly cursed myself as I joined the midnight masses, who were all a lot more excited than me.  I really wanted to believe them as they chatted excitedly, but I remembered all too keenly how disappointed I was with 3.  Still, I couldn’t bring myself to miss Bungie’s farewell.

I’m very glad I didn’t, because Reach is amazing.  I feel like I could look up a review on Halo: CE back when it was sensational, and just plagiarize the hell out of it.  Tight controls, butter-smooth gameplay, ridiculous graphics, blood-stirring soundtrack, incredible features; Bungie poured on all of these things like they always do, but this time they found where they hid all the heart they were using when they made the first one and threw it in as well.  It is both a beginning and an end, and it feels like it.

It pained me greatly when I met up with a friend shortly after the release and discovered that he had gone straight to Matchmaking and hadn’t even touched the campaign.  Not that I can blame him, the multiplayer is finally the perfect mix of the best they’ve done in the past and features that are the new convention, such as challenges and rewards that bring out the player’s mad skills and encourage them to try new weapons and modes.  It’s just as good as everyone says it is, and it turns me into a snarling, screaming beast.  Ah, just like the old days.

The campaign is also just as good as everyone says it is.  You know from the start that you’re fighting a losing battle, and that makes all your jaw-dropping feats of valor bittersweet.  For the Halo kiddies too young or retarded to grasp the concept, they went ahead and named your squad Noble Team.  You’re the nameless, faceless Noble Six who does most of the fighting while Nobles One through Five soak up all the cutscene glory, which I don’t mind at all.

Both in and out of combat, Reach satisfies that chronic Halo nostalgia I’ve had for nearly a decade.  Strange alien enemies with stange weapons, wide open expanses dotted with pockets of Covenant, all waiting to be killed by me.  The highest praise I can give it is this: It feels like the first time.  And though I won’t be trading in my copy of Bad Company 2 anytime soon, it is collecting a surprising amount of dust.  Not that it matters to you anymore Bungie, but you finally made me a Halo fan again.  Thank you.

10/10

Demon’s Souls Review

Posted: September 24, 2010 by brice42 in Reviews

They’re coming to get you Barbara.

I hate Japanese RPGs.  I hate any RPG that encourages grinding through starting zones again and again just to farm for items/money.  I hate enemies that respawn as soon as you re-enter an area.  I hate pointlessly intricate menus and gear.  Demon’s Souls has all these things, and yet I love every minute I spend playing the game.  Why?  The answer is as simple as it is awesome: Demon’s Souls is absolutely unforgiving.  The game puts the fear in me.

If you’re like me, you hate games that hold your hand and treat you like you’ve never held a controller or played a video game before.  DS does the opposite.  Each encounter can be fatal, especially during the first few hours of gameplay.  There is a tutorial, but it is very brief, and any questions that don’t pertain to attack, block, dodge, or heal go completely unanswered…forever.  There’s no map, no journal, no quest log.  Because this game is so vague, I’ll try not to give away anything in this review, since the element of exploration and discovery is key.

The only help you’ll get comes from other players through one of the strangest, most unique forms of multiplayer I’ve ever experienced.  Other players are all around you, but you see them only as phantoms, fighting their own desperate struggle in a parallel realm.  Players can leave preset messages for each other on the ground, and it pays to be honest, but can you really trust them all?  At any moment, another player could invade your world as a Red Phantom and try to murder your candy ass (as if you weren’t already getting it handed to you by everything else).  You can do the same to some other fool, and victory means resurrection, which is a serious boon.

Most of the time you’ll be alone, but you can also enter another player’s world as a Blue Phantom and help them out.  If you take out a boss together, everyone gets rezzed.  Once I tried to Red Phantom some poor shmuck, only to discover he had two Blue Phantoms helping him out, and they made very quick work of me.  Whether fighting with or against other players, there’s no voice communication, only a limited system of gestures, but that serves to increase the sense of mystery, which is one of the core facets of DS.

Your basic goal is to vanquish enemies, collect their souls, and use them to better yourself.  They can be used to upgrade your stats or as currency to buy/repair equipment as you see fit.  What makes souls so precious is the fact that if you are careless, you can lose them for good.

The game feels tense.  The lack of map has you really paying attention to where you are and where you’re going, and the animations, textures, and environments look amazing.  It’s also pretty vast, with plenty of different scenery/enemy types to keep you occupied for quite some time.  Each world has multiple bosses that must be defeated in order to explore further, and each one will put your skills to the test.  At its heart, DS is a pure JRPG.  You will be compelled to grind and farm for souls and healing grass.  You will learn some of the levels intimately through sheer repetition, and you will fight the same enemies over and over again.  And yet, because there is always the danger of losing those souls, and thus any means of progress, every fight is exhilarating.

You will see a lot of combat, so there are a lot of options.  Different weapons do different types of damage that different enemies may be vulnerable to.  What weapon do you prefer?  One-handed with a shield or two-handed?  Two weapons?  Are you strong enough to wield those properly?  Your weapons, armor, and equipment are chosen from a list in your inventory, but everything else happens in realtime, and it’s deadly.  All you have to worry about is a health bar, a mana bar, and a stamina bar.  The controls are very simple, but your strategies must change to fit the enemy you’re fighting.  If you fail to block or dodge an attack, you feel the pain, regardless of level.  Some enemies don’t hurt so bad after a few levels, but you will not believe some of the things they pit you against.  Such simple, uncompromising combat leads to many frustrating defeats, but also to moments so sublime you feel like a total badass when you pull them off.

There are many weapons, pieces of armor, and items to be found and utilized, such as turpentine, which allows you to set your weapon ablaze for a short time.  Since a large part of this game is experimentation, I won’t reveal any more, but if you just have to know the secrets, there’s an amazing wiki that has everything you need to know.

You will lose tragic amounts of souls, but the high price for failure makes exploration very tactical and exciting.  Do you have enough healing to handle the enemies up ahead?  Are you willing to gamble your souls on it?  No other game has given me quite the same feeling I got when I accidentally fell down into a deep mineshaft in one of the levels.  I was foolishly exploring in an area I was not equipped to handle, and I had around 10,000 souls.  With certain doom lurking around every corner and over each narrow ledge, I somehow managed to desperately fight/flee my way out and back into safer territory.  I felt a genuine sense of accomplishment, and I hadn’t come close to beating the level at all.  The true beauty of Demon’s Souls is that every time you make it back to the Nexus with enough souls to level up your character, or get that sweet new piece of equipment, you feel as if you’ve leveled up as a player too.

The only thing I could fault the game for is the very subtle story.  I like deciding what to do and where to go, but I also like to know why.  The NPCs you meet out in the world feel floaty and disconnected, and it’s only because of the loading screens I even know who some of them are.  I hesitate to bring that up because, as I said before, the sense of mystery and discovery was an element I strongly enjoyed.  One other thing I’d change if there were to be a Demon’s Souls 2 would be to make movement and combat a bit more fluid.  Again, I hesitate to mention it because the token Japanese clunk forces you to mentally map out your tactics well in advance, which can be such a delightful challenge  when frantically fighting multiple enemies, but I liked how they loosened up the player character a bit in Lost Planet 2, so I know it’s possible.  I’d give this ruthless game a hefty score.  But then, I’m a glutton for punishment.

8.5/10