02
Feb
10

The only thing Sabotaged was my free time: The Saboteur review

Gamers kill a lot of Nazis. But, The Saboteur is the first time killing the endless goose-stepping horde of the Third Reich has ever looked this cool or copied the Grand-Theft-Auto play style so much.

The Saboteur is a stylistic third-person sandbox game where players take the control of Sean Devlin, an ex-racecar driver who’s taken on the duty of being the backbone of the French resistance and the pleasure of hunting down the occupying Nazis of Paris.

The story, for the most part, does an OK job of giving you the back story of our hero’s anger towards the Nazis, but after the first couple of missions it’s just like any other B-rate action story: predictable and nothing special with some pretty terrible voice work.

Devlin’s actions will seem awfully familiar to if you’ve played any other sandbox game that’s come out in the last 10 years. There will be a mix of carjacking, gun play, running around an open city and, of course, keeping the ladies at the local burlesque house dancing.

Saboteur’s carjacking differs from its GTA roots because the cars you steal can be taken back to a resistance garages where they can be stored and then upgraded. The problem is the all cars handle relatively the same. There are some faster models later in the game but by then it’s too late and you’ll be past the point of caring.

The same thing goes for the guns. There are a wide variety to choose from with a bunch of different upgrades that can be bought with contraband material that you’ll pick up from across the city. But, there isn’t a lot of difference in the weapon styles and the later guns carried by the elite S.S. troops are so over powered there really isn’t a point in spending your hard earned cash on an upgrade for the earlier models. Just save it for more dynamite, the game will be more fun that way.

The other side of the controls are the stealth mechanics and the Assassin’s-Creed inspired parkour movement. The game’s loading screen tells you that the easiest way to move about the city is by rooftop like an Irish ninja. What it doesn’t tell you is the controls for the climbing are clunky and slow.

The stealth game play is just as bad. As you infiltrate Nazi installations, like POW camps and zeppelin stations, Devlin can disguise himself as various guards and Nazi officials. But the guards can and will spot you if you get too close or do suspicious activities, like wiring the general’s car to explode shortly after he leaves for Berlin.

This so broken that the game is less of a headache to simply run through the game with guns blazing. The only downfall with this approach is you’ll need to run from the Nazis once the mission is over.

The majority of the game, from fighting Nazis Indiana-Jones style, to running odd jobs for the resistance and the occasional train bombing, will leave you vastly underwhelmed and there is only one true redeeming factor for this game.

That one gem is the black and white, Sin-City inspired art style.

When the game starts, before Devlin starts cracking skulls and when the Nazi occupation is at its highest, the game is almost entirely in black and white with the exception of certain accents like red swastika armbands, the gold glow of windows at night and the spilled blood of assassinated Third Reich leadership.

As you finish story objectives and wrestle control from the Nazis, Paris will explode into color from its black and white oppression. The problem is the game looks better in black and white than it does in color. Once it’s in color the city and the surrounding countryside look pretty boring by comparison.

Other than the early art style, the game falls flat because it hasn’t done anything new in a substantial way. The majority of this game has a been there-done-that feel. And if it wasn’t for the art and color scheme this game wouldn’t be note worthy at all.

21
Jan
10

Good, Evil and Moral Choices in Video Games

article was originally featured on Sleeperhit.net

Save the princess and be the hero. Since video games have been able to tell stories players have been tasked with being a kingdom’s hero. Now the industry has shifted in ideology to letting the player choose to be the hero and villain by the choices they make and the morals they keep. Morality as a game play mechanic is, more often than not, seen as something that’s polar. Either a player chooses the path of virtue and basks in the praise of the video game world, or players choose morally ambiguous path, where the virtual world scowls and shuns them for their selfish choices.

There are problems with this formula. For the majority of video games featuring moral choices, the first problem with morality games is the major morality deciding moment is placed in front of the players while the rest of the game stops and waits for players to decide. Second players are forced to pick between the two polar opposites: good and evil.

The most recent presentation of stop-and-decide game play is in Sony’s inFAMOUS for the Playstation 3. As players trot through the story they’ll run into moments where they must decide to be Empire City’s nine-volt hero or the electrical menace. InFAMOUS is a great game but these moments don’t help the story. The reason being is the choices aren’t the most life or death threatening decisions you’ll have to make. One morality moment had Cole deciding if he should save someone from being beaten to death by an angry mob or simply walking away because it would take too long. This decision isn’t a good or evil moment as it is good or lazy.

Another example of these clear-cut good and evil choices comes from Lionhead Studios’ 2008 flagship game, Fable 2. Like inFAMOUS, Fable 2 presented its moral choices in stop-action moments where players are given a moment to decide if they were going to be good or evil. A particular choice in Fable 2 is the choice about the young maiden who’s kidnapped by evil spirits and the hero must decide to sacrifice his dashingly good looks for the maiden or vise versa. The fallout of the choice was, well, there wasn’t any. If Players choose to stay a stud they would just need to grind positive morality points to gain back the repercussions of the choice. Otherwise there was no incentive to be, or not to be, virtuous.

This trend has become so ridiculous it’s now popping up in games that you wouldn’t expect. Don’t believe me? See Army of Two: the 40th day. The new Army of Two will feature a decision system that will have players make choices about certain characters and if they should be spared of executed. Regardless of choice players are shown the aftermath. Kill a crime lord’s wife you are shown the life of what will happen to her to young kids as they try to make it as orphans on the streets of Shanghai. Make the choice to spare her and you see the monster her son becomes when raised by his father.

The problem with this tried and tested formula is its structure. When the game stops all momentum to force a player into choosing an alignment then their actions are no longer candid. Meaning that players are actively choosing the alignment they want, which isn’t necessarily bad thing. But there are other options to make players decide on a moral alignment.

The second issue with morality games is the cut-and-dry decisions that are presented. Taking a look at our real world and the pop culture world it’s rare to have a true good and bad. This is because the notion of good and bad is subjective to the decider’s position on the matter and how they relate to it. And more often than not the choice is setup in the outlook of “is this in the need for the common good of the world?” instead of a deeper overlying theme.

A medium that has done this type of moral choice well is the comic book world and most notably the book you may know by the name “Watchmen.” As the USSR invades Afghanistan and the world hurdles ever closer to nuclear war the characters in the book are faced with a means-to-an-end choice: Fake a catastrophe and kill millions of innocent people to stop the nuclear powers in their tracks to save ten fold the amount you’ve killed or as Rorschach puts it, “Not even in the face of Armageddon. Never compromise.”. This finale is awe inspiring because good is debatable. Is it right for one man to make a sacrifice of millions of lives for the common good or is it right to hold your principles and let humanity run towards its destruction?

Many games have tried for a momentous decision like the one in Watchmen but they are often presented too late in the game. Thinking back to games likes Fallout 3 and the Fable series, both series present a moral choice that their world. But both series offer the choice at the very tale end of the game when the repercussions of the choice are barely felt. This may work for other mediums where the consumer isn’t directly involved in the story, like movies and comic books, but video game choices should be presented earlier so the outcome of the decision can be played through.

Another problem with presenting the finale choice at the end of the game is that most games offer a cope-out deal to the player. Regardless of earlier decisions—good, evil or some where in between–players are presented a choice for all three alignments. Allowing players to drastically switch their affiliation to simply cash in on the ending they want—or all three if players save right before the choice is made.

There are ways to fix the flaws in this great game play style. First, have game developers present a world where players act independently from two warring factions. This would have a player’s actions indirectly influence the world and their moral stance. The next big step in fixing this genre would be to hold players accountable for their decisions and no longer offer a forked-road exit out of the game that ultimately compromises the character and story development.

Two games come to mind when I look at this improved formula. Both Deus Ex and Mass Effect did morality game play well because it made a player’s choice matter in the long run of the game. And in a series like Mass Effect where the choices of part one affect parts two and three, it should make for a compelling experience that is rarely seen in any medium, if it holds true to its ideals.

31
Dec
09

Going to Get Edumacated: Encleverment Experiment review

Encleverment Experiment is a mix between the thinking games made popular by games like Brain Age and Big Brain Academy and party game-show games like Buzz!. But this game isn’t as clever as its name may lead you to believe.

The game is broken up into two parts. The first being the once-day tests that will track your progress in memory, math, reaction time and patterns. The variation in the tests are pretty basic and act more like glorified flash card exercises than a mental workout. One test will have you memorizing objects as they fall onto the screen, while others will have you lead a dog on the trail to find his misplaced bone and another will have you complete basic arithmetic problems before time runs out .

The problem with the tests is the goals aren’t as intuitive like with other games like Brain Age. So, if you want to just skim over the instructions, which there are a lot of, and get right to the game you’ll end up scratching your head wondering what’s going on pretty regularly.

Another issue is the difficulty of the quizzes can vary between the ridiculously kindergarten simple to the downright pulling-your-hair-like-you-did-for-your-SATs-because-you-were-too-busy-to-go-to-the-prep-classes hard.

The best worst example is the face recognition quiz. You are shown a face for a few seconds and asked to memorize the features after which you’ll be given four faces to choose from. In back-to-back questions, the faces I was asked to choose from had no similarities what so ever–I was asked to memorize a woman’s face and I was given one that looked like a man–and then the next question had nothing but small variations in the nose and upper lip between all four choices.

The next part is the game show. Here you’ll compete in the quizzes with computer opponents, or if you can find someone else that’s willing to improve their mental abilities through the Xbox, a friend. The game show basics are all here. You and your opponent will go through the tests and compete for points so you can unlock more in-game mascots that will keep you company as you play. This section of the game some more playability because of the computer opponents you’ll face, but it’s not a big enough difference from the daily tests.

Aside from the inconsistent difficulty, Encleverment Experiment is an average thinking game with a funny and engaging presentation and with an art style and narration that seems like it’s pulled off of a Saturday morning cartoon. But the real problem with this game it missed the bus for the mental-exercise craze that was all the rage a few years ago. With other games, like Big Brain Academy, that got the degree of difficulty and playability just right then Encleverment Experiment can’t compare. But if you need a quiz game for the Xbox, this would be an OK choice.

24
Dec
09

More Mutants than You can Shake a Stick At: Marvel: Ultimate Allaince 2 DLC Review

article was originally featured on sleeperhit.net

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 updated its roster with five more characters from across the ever-expanding Marvel Universe and added more challenge-room missions to use them in. The characters added for this DLC are: red symbiote and long-time Spider-man foe, Carnage; the leader of Wakanda, the Black Panther; and the mutants Psylocke, Cable and Magneto.

The selection of heroes offered in this content bundle is a good mix of well-known characters, like Magneto and the Black Panther, as well as some lesser-known characters like Psylocke. A plus for this DLC is each of the five characters plays drastically different from each other, which is refreshing since the majority of the original cast’s play style was very similar.

Like the original 24-character cast, the new heroes are great adaptations, and they look like they’ve been ripped from the pages of a weekly comic. On the powers side of the game, each character continues to control differently. The two standouts are Carnage, who plays like the animalistic nature of Wolverine mixed with the brutality of Venom, and Psylocke, who is agile and deadly like Daredevil and Iron Fist.

The underperformers of the group are Cable and the Black Panther. Cable is strongest when he stands back and shoots at bad guys with the hefty cannons he brings to the party. This is understandable because of his comic book back story, but it makes for some awfully boring button mashing. The Black Panther, on the other hand, gets up close and personal like the majority of the characters already present in MUA2 and is just more of the same.

Fusion powers stick to the same routine like the original content of the game, with one exception. When Magneto and Wolverine team up to perform a targeted attack, Magento lifts Wolverine’s metal body into the air and hurls him at the soon-to-skewered enemy. This attack is technically just like the other targeted combinations in the game, but this attack in particular has a warm place in my comic-book-nerd heart because it’s something you’d expect from the panels in a weekly book.

Beyond the characters, the DLC offers more missions to run through. The high point of these missions is the Overlord stage where you can fight Magneto in all his metal-manipulating glory. These missions add some replay value to the game, but only for another couple of hours. The characters and extra missions in this DLC pack add some nice touches to Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, but it still isn’t enough to warrant throwing ten more dollars at it. If you absolutely need more characters, then by all means go for it. But otherwise, you might as well save your money for the comicbook shop.

01
Dec
09

Fairytale Fights Review

article was originally featured on sleeperhit.net

Gamers kill dinosaurs, roll random things into balls, and control a plumber as he kicks and stomps mushroom monsters into the ground. There are some weird games out there, but Fairytale Fights is the first time gamers take control of well-known bedtime story characters in their blood-covered escapades in fantasy land, and for good reason.

Fairytale Fights is an M-rated brawler set in “once upon a time” where players pick from Beanstalk Jack, the Naked Emperor, Snow White, and Little Red Riding Hood, and relive classic fairytale stories. But these aren’t the stories you grew up with.

Players are tasked with quests like finding the three little bears’ porridge pot and saving the princess all while hacking their way through an endless amount of enemies, all of which squirt blood like there is no tomorrow. The game looks like it’s a kid’s cartoon on an LSD trip. The colors are overly vibrant and pop off the screen, and the character models look like they’re something taken from the warped minds that came up with the Happy Tree Friends.

Fairytale Fights is an interesting idea and a fun game to look at, but, like the head cheerleader back in high school, that’s all it has going for it. This game is boring, overly simplistic, and lacks any real reason to play more than five minutes.

The game’s combat, which should have been the highlight of this god-awful experience, is overly simplistic. All the combat is controlled through flicking the right analogue stick. It is intuitive by design, but it’s held back by the complete lack of depth. For hours on end, or as long as you can stomach playing, all you will be doing is flicking the stick without any skills or abilities to upgrade.

The game is spiced up with special moves called “Glory attacks,” but it still isn’t fun. After you slaughter enough make-believe character, you’ll be able to pause time and jump between enemies to smack them around. Too bad the Glory attacks aren’t functional. When you try to jump between multiple enemies the game is particular about how close the enemy has to be, even though there isn’t a visual cue to judge distance. This makes the Glory attacks more of a pain to use than they’re actually worth.

As players prance through the forest, a plethora of weapons–like swords, candy canes, and wooden spoons–are available in bladed, blunt, ranged, or thrown varieties. All of these have different levels of attack power. Bladed and blunt weapons will be what you’re working with most the time, and the only real difference between the two is if you want to chop your adversaries into more manageable pieces.

This is the other highlight of the game, albeit a small one: the amount of blood splattered with bladed weapons is hysterical. After short skirmishes the colored background will be covered in the blood of wolfs, would-be prince charmings, lumber jacks, and the crumbs of gingerbread men. The violence is entertaining for the first 20 minutes of the game but, like the rest of Fairytale Fights, its appeal is outlived by its monotonous game play.

This game is wait-in-line-at-the-DMV boring. The levels lack any sort of pacing and stretch on longer than what should be allowed under cruel-and-unusual-punishment laws. To make matters worse, there are sections in the levels where you’ll be blocked from progressing and forced to satisfy an undisclosed kill count before you can continue. This is mind-numbingly bad, because for the majority of the level you can avoid all enemies until you hit these invisible walls where you’re forced to actually play the game. Some life is pumped back into the game with small puzzle sections and light platforming elements spread throughout the levels, but the puzzles are simple process-of-elimination problems and only last for a couple of minutes.

The platforming elements are worse than the puzzles because of the terrible camera and awkward control scheme. The camera is too far out and is often blocked by stage pieces in the foreground. Once you figure out where you’re supposed to jump, the controls will be so unresponsive that you’ll die over and over on a simple jump. Not to worry though, there is no life system in Fairytale Fights so you can respawn again and again to relive all the fun you’re having.

If it isn’t clear by now, here it is: avoid Fairytale Fights. This game could’ve been fun if it came out 10 years ago and was in an arcade where you paid a quarter instead of full retail price. Adding insult to injury, this game has a grab-bag of aggravating problems that’ll make you curse the time you spent playing.

26
Oct
09

The not-so-spectacular-or-amazing Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2

article was originally featured on sleeperhit.net

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The idea behind the Marvel Ultimate Alliance franchise is great on paper: Take your favorite Marvel superheroes and make your own team to fight the forces of evil. To a comic book nerd this idea is a dream come true. But the franchise has let us down before, and Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, by Vicarious Visions, is only so much of an improvement.

The premise of MUA2 is based around Marvel’s 2006-2007 series, Civil War. The Civil War is sparked by the reckless behavior of a naïve super team that plunges the entire Marvel Universe into chaos and pitts friend against friend and Avenger against Avenger.

In this war of ideologies the super hero community was split in two, each side lead by a strong leader, and backed by certainty of righteousness. Iron Man backed the pro-registration act, a bill that would have all superheroes become government workers and essentially a super police force, while Captain America stood for the individual rights of all heroes and lead the anti-registration movement.

The anti-registration movement eventually lost after Captain America’s surrender and his realization that heroes were no longer fighting for the common good of the people they swore to protect. In the comics, the events of the Marvel Civil War eventually lead to the assassination of Captain America, the downfall of Iron Man, and the rise of Norman Osborn, Spider-man’s long time foe the Green Goblin.

The problem with MUA2 is it’s only loosely based on the comics. The first half of the game follows the story set in the seven-book series, down to every panel and dialogue box. The second half goes off on an odd tangent that isn’t anywhere near as compelling as the comics it’s supposed to be based on.

If you’ve read the comics this is a huge disappointment, because the events of the civil war had a profound impact on the Marvel Universe. If you’re oblivious to the original storyline then it’s just another mediocre story with superheroes that happens to look pretty.

The graphics are a huge improvement over the first game. The 24 playable characters look great and are fantastic interpretations of the print superheroes. The powers are impressive to look at, while the levels are colorful and highly detailed. Later in the game when you’ll explore the Black Panther’s techno-jungle home of Wakanda, which is a delight to behold.

The camera is another improvement and easily the most notable change from the first Marvel Ultimate. The camera is now closer to the action and gives a better perspective of the gameplay, making it more fun overall. But it does occasionally revert to being too far away.

Control wise, the game hasn’t evolved much from the original. The one addition to the control scheme is the fusion powers that mix-and-match two heroes’ powers for devastating effects. If you add Thor’s control over lightning to Captain America’s star-spangled shield you get arcs of electricity bouncing off the shield and frying the enemies who are unlucky enough to stand in the way.
MUA2_PAX08
The problem is there are only three fusion match-ups: clearing, guided and targeted. This drastically limits the effectiveness of certain teams if they lack specific powers like energy or elemental. This can force players to select heroes they don’t care about for the sake of one fusion power. And when you can’t have the team you want, be as effective as one that fits the mold it defeats the purpose of the Ultimate Alliance games

The targeted fusion power – which has two characters perform some variation of the fastball special made famous by Wolverine and Colossus–is the only real efficient way of taking down bosses and ultimately makes the boss’ fights less of a challenge and more of an inconvenience, since gamers will have to mash buttons to charge up for another fusion attack.

Another simplified aspect is the character customization. Vicarious Vision gutted the majority of the features from the two X-Men Legends games and the first MUA, leaving gamers with very few options and a lack-luster customization tool set.

Gamers won’t be able to equip items with the wide variety of attributes seen before, like poisoning strike or increased critical hit percentage. Players now have to pick three attributes which the entire team will share. It doesn’t seem like much but it greatly limits the combinations available.

Like other action games, as the heroes level up gamers will be able to spend points on both passive and active skills. The problem here is that the game doesn’t broadcast when characters level up. This left me checking my character stats to see if there were more points to spend. And if you go too long without checking the character sheet the game will automatically spend the points. The changes can be undone but it’s insulting to have a game auto spend experience points for you.

The last details that seals MUA2’s fate are the things taken away from the first game that made it a memorable comic book experience. This time around, there are no specific missions for heroes and fewer alternate costumes. This disappoints because of the amount of history characters like Captain America, Iron Man and the fantastic Four have. After all Marvel did just celebrate their 75th anniversary. This is ultimately a disservice to comic book fans and gamers.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is a game of give and take. Every time something new is given or fixed, something that wasn’t broken is taken away. The game is fun to play but when compared to a great comic book game that holds true to its roots—say, Batman: Arkham Asylum—MUA2 can’t compare and ends up feeling quite mediocre.

19
Oct
09

DJ Hero Preview

article was originally featured on sleeperhit.net

When the flood of music games hit, from Guitar Hero to Rock Revolution to everything in between, we all knew a DJ game had to be coming our way at some point. On Oct, 27 Activision will release DJ Hero for the home consoles, and it’s something gamers should be looking forward to if they’re not already.
DJ Hero
Compared to DJ Max, the Konami predecessor commonly found in arcades, DJ Hero has an easier learning curve–like Guitar Hero compared to Guitar Freaks. But DJ Hero isn’t a rehash of the Guitar Hero formula that gamers will be able to jump into right away.

The first thing that’ll jump out is the amount of multitasking needed to play. Like other music games, DJ Hero has notes that scroll down on different colored paths asking gamers to press the corresponding button. What breaks the norm is the addition of the cross fade, which mixes the left and right tracks, and the scratching elements that create an interplay between the turntable and the three colored buttons.
DJ_HERO_-_Mixy_Trix_in_Krunk_House
This is where the multitasking element comes in. As players tap to the beat, they’ll have to flick the slider to the correct track while scratching in the correct direction on the turntable. Then players will have to adjust an effects knob that affects their multiplier on certain notes (the equivalent of the guitar’s whammy bar), all while maintaining accuracy to build up “euphoria” and a score multiplier.

It sounds simple in concept, but it’s hard to execute at first–especially on the higher difficulties.

Another feature that’s specific to DJ Hero is the rewind ability that’s gained after holding an x4 multiplier. The rewind is activated by spinning the turntable backwards 360 degrees and it causes the track to rewind so players can perfect a prior section for more points. When this seemingly small feature is combined with euphoria, DJ Hero’s version of star power, it adds a unique, new level of engagement.

The demo offers three mixes on one setlist: (I Heard It Through the) Grapevine/Da Funk, Hollaback Girl/Give It To Me Baby, and Boom Pow/Satisfaction. There’s a short break between mixes, which keeps players involved until the end of the three songs–much like how a real DJ wouldn’t stop the music between songs. Each mix has a different gameplay style: tap-, mixing- or scratch-heavy. The three tracks are a lot of fun, and if the full game lives up to these songs then wannabe DJs should have plenty to look forward to.

A fourth song is available, a Beastie Boys/Foo Fighters mix, but was on the demo’s guitar-and-turntable option. This mode wasn’t playable with a guitar, but it showed how the two instruments are compatible by converting the other half of the song into a standard Guitar Hero track. This feature will be worth its weight in proverbial gold if there’s one turntable and plenty of guitars lying around.

The accompanying visuals are what you’d expect from the Hero line of games, with lots of colored backdrops and trendy camera angles. The demo only offers one generic club setting, but Activision boasts that the full game will have iconic nightclubs along with house parties set in the Hollywood Hills to spin tracks in.
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On the hardware side is the turntable. The worst possible scenario that could happen would be if the turntable were like the first generation of Guitar Hero controllers: small, cheap, and not much to look at. Fortunately, that’s not the case with the DJ Hero turntable. Its buttons, knobs, and sliders are laid out intuitively, and it isn’t nearly as cheap as it looks in the photos.

One problem with the controller is the cross fade slider. In the middle of a game, it’s hard to tell whether or not the slider is centered or slightly off to one side. This can cause a missed transition to the other track when you unexpectedly have to push harder to overcompensate for the center notch. It’s something that won’t ruin the game, but it will take time to adjust to.




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