Monday, May 30, 2011

Dead Space Review

Every now and then, the horror genre needs a good jolt. Halloween, Friday the 13th, The Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream, for instance, forced horror films to explore new ideals and techniques. In the video game realm, Silent Hill and Resident Evil have ruled the survival-horror roost for so long that it seems most newcomers fail before they even hit retail. Condemned: Criminal Origins, a fantastic yet underrated Xbox 360 launch game, was the lone exception. Until now. Dead Space, a new franchise and a new genre for EA, is downright incredible. The sci-fi game flirts with two genres, action and survival horror, and injects some much-needed intrigue to both. We’ve frankly grown tired of the “same old, same old,” and Dead Space is anything but stale. Dead Space follows the horrific journey of Isaac Clarke, an everyday engineer sent to repair a city-sized mining ship called the USG Ishimura, which lost contact with the outside world after cracking open a planet and coming into contact with a mysterious alien/religious artifact. Religious extremism makes for an interesting plotline in the story, and mixing religion with aliens is a scary proposition that almost certainly results in death, right? Sure enough, what Isaac finds is nothing short of a deep space morgue — only the things on board the Ishimura are anything but dead. Suddenly Isaac’s mission is not one of recovery, but survival, as he struggles throughout the game’s 15 hours to repel the aliens long enough to try to get the ship’s systems back online and help him and his two surviving comrades flee to safety.

In many respects, Dead Space sounds (and in fact even looks at times) like DOOM, but making that comparison would be a disservice to Dead Space. DOOM is a mindless hallway shooter with cheap scares, a formula that’s been compelling enough to warrant great sales but has frankly grown old. Dead Space, on the other hand, boils the survival horror genre down to its core tenets — survival and horror — and builds a game around them that’s so pure and well-executed that you’ll find yourself thanking the development team for being such die-hard fans of the genre. From gameplay and story to audio and video elements, Dead Space delivers what could quite possibly be the best survival-horror game of 2008, and maybe even 2009. And yes, that’s counting Silent Hill and Resident Evil.
The gameplay in Dead Space revolves around the very notion of horror, a concept that only succeeds if the viewer/player is consumed by fear. How do you make gamers scared? By knocking their basic gameplay notions on their ear. Quite simply, if you play Dead Space like a shooter, Isaac will die. If you play it like an action game, Isaac will die. If you play it like anything but a fight for survival, Isaac will die. Dead Space puts gamers in situations in which disfigured “aliens” come at Isaac from all directions, in the dark, with poison projectiles and decapitating limbs — and Isaac may have less than a dozen bullets. That kicks in serious survival instincts, as the very fact that ammunition is so rare past the fourth mission is a scary prospect, since we’re all used to Master Chief-like buckets of ammo. As frighteningly intense as the situations are, however, it’s important to keep a level head, because victory can only be achieved by remembering one important phrase: strategic dismemberment.
In Dead Space, filling an enemy with lead (or lasers, or saw blades) has virtually no effect. Instead, that precious ammunition must be used to take out the most-pressing threats on each enemy, whether that be a projectile-spewing appendage, a spear-like arm or the legs that make it track-down Isaac so quickly. Defeating foes, in fact, is never a matter of decreasing their hit points to a certain level, but of removing them from their limbs one at a time. Hack off its legs, and an alien will use its arms to drag itself to our trembling hero. Shoot off its arms, and its goal will suddenly become running at Isaac to bite or slam him to death. But shoot off all its appendages, and the scourge of space will subside.
If Isaac runs out of ammo, or if players want to conserve it, Isaac has unlimited use of telekinesis, which lets players pick up objects in the environment, including individual hacked-off limbs, and toss them at enemies. Depending on the object, tossing it can be a mere distraction to buy time (a torso, for instance) or a damage-inducing weapon (an exploding barrel). Isaac also has a regenerative power called stasis, which is the game’s equivalent to bullet time. Rather than a universal effect, however, stasis can only be used on individual items or enemies (it’s “shot” like Force Lightning from Isaac’s hands), and it’s extremely limited in scope. Using stasis on a few enemies in a group can be quite helpful, as it will slow the most-threatening of them down enough to remove their limbs or buy Isaac a few seconds while the player gets a handle on the rest of the horde. Stasis can also be used to solve some of the game’s puzzles, such as slowing a fast-moving platform so Isaac can jump on it, or slowing a malfunctioning door just long enough for Isaac to pass through.
Stasis, like all of Isaac’s weapons and his space suit, can be upgraded at the various work benches in each level. Upgrades are achieved using power nodes, which players can either buy for 10,000 credits or find for free in storage crates and corpses on board the Ishimura. Whereas weapons can be improved in such categories as damage, reload time and capacity, stasis can be upgraded in its duration with each use and in the amount of energy each use removes from Isaac’s stasis meter. Upgrades aren’t just mindless button presses, though; the upgrade “paths” look like schematic drawings, so players need to decide where they want to place each power node along in order to efficiently reach the desired upgrade. In some cases, getting that Level Three damage rating may require “wasting” a power node on an empty slot. Sure, it’s “strategy lite,” but it’s a nice cerebral touch in a game that otherwise plays with basic fears.
We covered the environments and levels in our Dead Space Environment Feature, so we refer you to that article for details about the game’s multi-tiered levels and the intricate tunnel system in which enemies travel. Suffice it to say, although Dead Space takes place on a single space ship, the fact that the Ishimura is the size of a city let the development team create cohesive but distinct levels, with different lighting, obstacles and architecture in each. The level design lets players tackle any of the objectives for each mission in an order they wish, but the basic game progression is still pretty linear. Fortunately, the linearity is never tedious or boring, as it often can be in DOOM or Silent Hill, because of the variety of enemies Dead Space throws at players and the need to find creative ways to kill foes.
What can be tedious at times is the use of a central “hub” for each mission. In theory this is nice because it provides both a respite and the opportunity to hit the in-game store for ammo, weapons and/or to store items in inventory. In actuality, it makes gamers endure some backtracking in each level. It’s not backtracking to the degree of Halo’s Library level, but it’s definitely there, and it probably adds an unnecessary 90 minutes or so to the game’s length. The overall length is also boosted by a few sequences that seem ridiculously hard, resulting in a few checkpoint restarts. Some of these are the result of the Zero-G gameplay, which is fun but can be disorienting and lead to Isaac’s demise as players struggle with a camera swinging to which-way-is-up-again? angles. Other instances are the result of the game design itself, such as two mini-games in which players mount a Millennium Falcon-like turret and blast asteroids that are bombarding the USG Ishimura. Although these sections add some variety, they don’t seem nearly as polished as the core gameplay, and they actually seem designed to make gamers fail several times before the asteroid AI adjusts and lets gamers pass. What could have been a fun diversion ends up being more of a pain.
EA created a proprietary game engine for Dead Space, the results of which are nothing short of spectacular. From graphics that display natively in 1080p to lighting and shadow effects that really deliver the horror, Dead Space has the visuals to back up any and all of its “next-gen” claims. The shadows cast by Isaac can be wildly pixelized, but considering you almost never see them (because the game is dark, not because he doesn’t cast them), that’s a minor quibble. Generally speaking, whether discussing the distinct level architecture in each mission or the Ishimura’s cohesive color palette, EA pulled out all the graphical stops. The new engine also supports surprisingly varied enemy design, as players can easily tell from down a corridor “great, not another one of those guys again…” and plan their dismemberment/ammo strategy accordingly.
The biggest multimedia accomplishment, though, is by far the game’s audio. The best horror films and thrillers have fantastic audio tracks, and the same can be said about video games. With its mix of aliens and religious extremism, Dead Space has plenty of ambient cues that something’s amiss on the USG Ishimura. Voices quietly mumbling in a corridor (or is it in Isaac’s mind?). Creaking metal throughout the dying ship. A heart beating quickly “somewhere” nearby. Isaac’s steps echoing down the hall. Dynamic music that reflects the tone of the level and on-screen action. Truly, Dead Space is an audiophile gamer’s dream, as it’s both high quality and highly responsible for completing the horror package that is this game.
Dead Space is both a new franchise and a new genre for EA, a bold move that’s easily justified by the excellent product now borne from the development team’s passion. The game is neither a shooter nor an action game, and people who play it as either type will surely fail. Dead Space is a survival-horror game through and through, a game that’s so purely focused on survival and horror as gameplay elements that it delivers a much-needed jolt to the genre. Look out, Silent Hill and Resident Evil, Dead Space is here, and it’s here to stay. 
Overall Score: 9.5/10

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Red Dead Redemption Review

When analyzing a game that has been in development for 5 years and is rumored to have cost Rockstar San Diego around $100 million to produce, it’s difficult to know where to begin. I suppose we should realize that a large amount of hype and anticipation has been building for quite some time now, and if the game failed to impress, it likely would’ve been one of the biggest bombs of the generation. In truth, it was a tenuous situation for the developer and publisher; either deliver the greatest Western-themed video game in history, or take a flak bath from annoyed and disappointed gamers the world over. Thankfully, there’s no need to let the oaths and hostilities fly; in fact, quite the opposite: there’s little doubt that Red Dead Redemption will be the game by which all future Westerns will be judged in the interactive entertainment world, and although it has a few small problems, fans of Grand Theft Auto IV and Clint Eastwood films will be happy…blissfully happy.

Some Red Dead Redemption Gameplay

The graphics have been a point of some concern for PlayStation 3 owners, primarily because the game doesn’t natively render in high-definition resolution, but the Xbox 360 version can upscale to 720p. Now, although I couldn’t see the two versions side by side, I did see both in motion; there’s very little difference and unless you’re incredibly anal and know exactly what to look for, you likely won’t notice. In general, Rockstar paid very close attention to every last ounce of detail and as a result, this is a Western in every sense of the word. The character design is excellent and the effects are both semi-realistic and very effective. What is most impressive is the overall scope of the production: when you walk outside, you see what one should see; various townspeople going about their business, a hawk winging high above, the gorgeous big sky that is so common out west, and acre upon acre of intricately depicted cacti, tumbleweeds, trees, and wildlife. There’s some anti-aliasing going on but besides that, it really is a satisfying, even breathtaking experience. The animations are slick, too, so mount up cowboy…the Old West has never been so immersive and convincing.
The sound shines thanks to an outstanding cast of professional voice acting, and expert music composition by Bill Elm and Woody Jackson concerning the appropriate soundtrack. The latter can be intimidating or mystically chilling, depending on the situation, and it never intrudes; only enhances. At first, I wasn’t the biggest fan of John Marsten’s voice – handled by Rob Wiethoff – but after a while, I realized it was damn near perfect. He has an offhand yet still gruff tone and it really works. The surrounding cast is fantastic as well (special nod goes to Anthony De Longis as the Marshal) and much like the graphics, the sound works to provide us with a truly believable setting. It’s surprisingly difficult to get great visuals, music, voiceovers and effects to blend together so well, but Rockstar has definitely pulled it off. The ambient effects, like the howl of a coyote, the surrounding conversation of citizens, and the crystal clear crack of a rifle round out a superb sound presentation. So not only does it look almost exactly as you would hope, it sound so unbelievable, too. …tough to find negatives when faced with this.
They’ve often promoted the wide open world and inherent freedom involved in Red Dead Redemption, and as soon as you complete your first few missions, you’ll understand why. Although I’ve heard that Rockstar doesn’t like their new title to be called “Grand Theft Auto in the Old West,” that’s really exactly what it is, with a few extra layers of polish and some unique gameplay tweaks and features that serves to streamline the entire experience. It’s a third-person shooter that controls extremely well; you move as you might expect, jump with the Square button, run faster with the X button, aim with L2 and fire with R2, bring up a quick radial menu to change weapons (and select your fists or lasso) with the L1 button, and toggle the very necessary Dead Eye system by clicking the R3 button. You can also use a big ol’ map to assist in your exploring, sift through your inventory and keep an eye on your Journal, and do everything from tame wild horses, herd cattle, hogtie bad guys, duel, and pick off moving targets while flying down the dusty road in a stagecoach
You can take cover behind a solid object (like a rock) simply by pressing the R1 button, and the system will be familiar to anyone who is used to playing third-person shooters like GTAIV and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. It works just as it should, and although I normally despise auto-aim of any kind, I’m actually going to recommend using it, here. Thing is, all you have as an aiming reticle is a little white dot and many times, your foes are a good distance away and always on the move. The Dead Eye option works very well but it takes a while to refill so you can’t always rely on it. And besides, this is a very subtle auto-centering mechanic; when you first aim your weapon, the dot will be centered over the closest opponent, provided he’s visible. But it’s not a “sticky lock-on;” i.e., you can move the aiming position easily with the left analog to target an arm, leg or head. And by the way, nailing an enemy in the arm or leg will have exactly the result you would expect.
The Dead Eye system slows time to a crawl and allows you to target multiple targets with whatever weapon you have equipped. It’s a great system and is absolutely crucial if you wish to survive; this is because you can really only withstand about four hits when out in the open, and that’s it. This adds a great flavor of realism to the game (even though it contrasts sharply with the very unrealistic Dead Eye) and amplifies the heavy dose of authenticity offered by the overall presentation. I have almost no problem at all with the control you have over your main character, but I have a small issue with how you control your horse: the physics seem about right, in that a horse at top speed takes a while to turn, but I’m not the biggest fan of how you select your speed. By pressing the X button repeatedly, you can spur your horse to go faster and faster until the animal’s stamina starts to drain. Once completely drained, he’ll buck you right off, so don’t let that happen. This is fine, but you have to hold the X button down to keep a certain pace and this tends to conflict with the multiple presses to go faster.

I also found fighting while astride a horse to be a little awkward but I’m positive that’s more of a personal thing because there really isn’t anything mechanically wrong. Well, at least it’s not blatant. Now, the other problem I had came at the start during the missions where you’re still learning things: the tutorials pop up in the upper left-hand corner but it was often difficult for me to read it, process it, and immediately implement the directions into the gameplay. Again, a small thing but it should be mentioned. Beyond that…drawbacks and negatives are few and far between. Initially, you think Rockstar made a design mistake in creating such a massive world while forgetting that our fastest mode of transportation is the horse. But they clearly recognized that; you can take stagecoaches from town to town for a small fee and when out in the middle of nowhere, you can simply pitch a basic campsite, take a rest, save, and automatically travel to towns and settlements. Furthermore, because you can purchase or rent rooms and property across the map, you don’t ever have to be too far from your next mission.

But here is where we come to the meat and potatoes of the game; the two best reasons to own, play, and adore. The first is the aforementioned presentation. It’s just so…so…Western. It’s difficult to describe it any other way, but let’s just say that everything from the scattered ranches and homesteads to what I assume are true-to-life towns to how we view the entire world, is absolutely, positively, and without a shadow of a doubt, phenomenal. As is typically the case with things like this, it’s the little, seemingly minute details that elevate everything to the nth degree. If you’re out at night and you stray off the road, don’t be surprised to be under attack by coyotes; they’ll even get beneath your horse and take it down. And you know, they act like coyotes. They won’t attack stagecoaches and stay away from the road, and if you shoot a few, the rest will likely take off. Then, when I’m wandering around looking for buried treasure, the instant I realized I was in the wrong spot (“hey, there’s no cacti here”), I said to myself, “damn, what am I doing here?” Two seconds later, Marsten said, “what am I doing out here?” …creepy, Rockstar. Creepy.
But oh so very cool. And the other reason why this is a can’t-miss gem? Why, the sheer amount of stuff to do, of course! You can play poker, try your hand at horseshoes, have the guts to give Five-Finger Fillet a go, help out Strangers and citizens (Strangers will give you side missions and are denoted with a “?”), go on patrol for a night, take on a variety of ranch-hand-type jobs, accept Bounties, and purchase everything from weapons and ammo to a broad range of items and even new horses. In this way, it’s set up almost exactly like GTAIV; sorry Rockstar, but it’s the truth…and it’s hardly a bad thing. There are treasure maps, Survivalist Challenges (eg, find 6 of this particular flower), and a host of opportunities to increase (or decrease) your Fame and Honor. If you’re trigger-happy and you start shooting up saloons, or you don’t feel like going to the extra effort to take outlaws alive, you’ll soon get a reputation. And you know, everyone will start to react to you very differently, citizens, authorities, and outlaws included. The best way to take an opponent alive is to shoot him in the leg, switch to your lasso, reel him in, and hogtie his sorry ass. Sure, it’s tougher than just shooting him in the head, but do you want that Honor, or not?

I really believe this is a beautiful blend of GTAIV and Assassin’s Creed II. The latter really excelled due to the ambiance and dynamic style; the city folk and authorities would react to you exactly as you would expect, which is included in RDR. There’s also a semblance of stealth and patience; certainly more prominent in ACII than GTAIV. The game’s structure is GTAIV; no doubt about it, but they really do go above and beyond thanks to the Dead Eye system that never gets boring, a technical picture that is most pleasant to the ear, realism and authenticity we require (and love), top-notch control, almost endless freedom, and yes, even a pretty damn good storyline. I think they could’ve refined the horse control just a bit, some of the world really seems extra empty (even though I know that time period was “wild” for a reason), and a few of the missions seemed rather repetitive (“oh crap, I’m herding again?), but such complaints are minor and indeed, they didn’t really hinder my enjoyment. Should I repeat that I went into this really hating Western movies?
So what does the above score say taking that into consideration? Even the online multiplayer is great; the various host of modes makes everything feel fresh, you really have to take your time and be precise, and there were only a few technical hang-ups during my matches. Never did find a Rockstar employee, though… Anyway, Red Dead Redemption is a triumph and although not entirely devoid of an assortment of little flaws and annoyances, it’s still one of the best of the generation. Saddle up and ride!

Overall Score: 9/10

Saturday, May 21, 2011


I can't believe I got a 100 followers! I just want to thank you all for the support!
I'll be posting my review today or tomorrow I'm not sure, cause I got work to do but it will be posted.
And Once again THANK YOU!!!1

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

New Reviews!

So, I just finished reading all of your guyses comments and I picked the 3 games I will be doing a review on so here they are.

Red Dead Redemption

Dead Space

and finally....

Battlefield Bad Company 2

I'll be working on these reviews over the week so be prepared!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Thank You All!

I want to thank you all, my followers and people who commented on my posts for being so supportive of my blog!
I want to continue writing reviews, but I would like you guys to give me some suggestions on what video games I should review next.
I will take you're suggestions and post what 3 games I'll be reviewing next.
So comment on what games you think I should do a review on!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Dragon Age 2 Review

Many hold BioWare as the pinnacle of role-playing game design. They've crafted masterpieces in both licensed worlds (Baldur's Gate II, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic) and in universes of their own design (Dragon Age: Origin, Mass Effect). They've been able to do this with a dedication to -- and a willingness to revise - their conversation and relationship systems, and they've maintained their reputation as one of the masters of the RPG by adapting to a more big-tent design (Mass Effect 2).

Dragon Age II certainly fits BioWare's current development trajectory. The sequel to 2007's hit streamlines the combat, the customization, and the management of your party. It also focuses its story on a more human tale, ditching the supernatural threat of the Darkspawn for a story about the oppression of one sector of society at the cost of protecting everyone else. But is it a good game? Dragon Age II's direction is going to make old-school RPG fans likely ask why BioWare is courting the masses of console players instead of them, their longtime and devoted fans, and those devoted to story-first games are going to find fault with BioWare's approach for the second tale. But at its heart, Dragon Age II is a fun, fast-paced RPG that rises above its limitations early and in the middle of the game, but sinks under those limitations at the end. I enjoyed my 43 hours with the tale, and while I do have quibbles -- and most importantly, prefer Dragon Age: Origins to its sequel -- Dragon Age II remains one of the best examples of where the Western RPG stands today, even if it can't live up to the epic scope of its progenitor.

Dragon Age 2 Gameplay

With default protagonist Hawke replacing a character you created from scratch, I feared the "Shepardization" of Dragon Age II would ruin the game for me. My fears were silly; Dragon Age II still presents enough customization that your Hawke feels like your own creation (unlike Shepard, who's always felt more like a doll than a personalized character to me). I created a female mage for my Hawke, and as I accomplished quests and answered questions in dialogue trees, I found a personality developing: a sassy but sometimes insecure sorceress who in the end valued extending freedom to all instead of giving in to a society's fears.

The crafting of dialogue trees remains one of BioWare's strengths. Your Hawke has three basic types of responses -- the "good" response (generally supportive of party members or other characters), the humor response (oh, a wiseguy!), or serious (and sometimes aggressive). You frequently may also investigate more about the situation addressed in your conversation, too. It's in these dialogue trees where you can make Hawke your character (and yes, I realize I say this even though you're using canned answers written by BioWare, not you).

Classes are a bit restricted; because of the plot, you can't become a templar, and if you do so choose to play a mage, you're an apostate, not a member of Kirkwall's circle. But I don't feel this restricts your Hawke too much, especially since allowing these would've complicated BioWare's plot.

I found the addition of a family augmented the story, making it feel more human to me than Dragon Age: Origins. Your brother, Carver, you sister, Bethany, and your mother figure prominently into the plot (some more than others, of course), and Carver can enter and exit from your life over the course of your story. I ended up caring about these characters, even Carver, who suffers from an inferiority complex from living in your shadow. They add nuance to the story, making your care more about some of the decisions you make.

With Varric the dwarf, BioWare has continued the tradition of quirky, engaging characters such as Minsc (Baldur's Gate) and HK-47 (Knights of the Old Republic). Varric is a rogue (in every sense of the word), providing humor, insight into the behavior of the other characters, and some memorable in-party banter as you're exploring Kirkwall or other places. He's supported by his faithful crossbow Bianca, which Varric often refers to as a "real woman." Varric may also be your best chance to open locked chests if you don't play a rogue; in my playthrough, Isabella, hyped as one of your companion characters, never appeared. It's disheartening to learn that you can fail to trigger a character who EA's marketed as a key character in your party (she even appeared on the cover of our January 2011 issue).

As for the rest of your party, they're a bit of a sorry lot. Aveline is the most interesting of the rest. The wife of a templar, she hooks up with your family as you escape the Darkspawn sack of Lothering, and she accompanies you to Kirkwall to start a new life. A stalwart friend (at least in my playthough), you end up helping her as she moves on from the death of her husband and fashions her own life in Kirkwall.

Your other companions -- Fenris, an escaped elven slave of the magister of Tevinter disfigured by the same lyrium tattoos that give him great power; Anders, a mage who not only spurns the Circle but the Grey Wardens as well -- and who has joined his soul to a spirit called "Justice," causing you to wonder if he's becoming an abomination or can master the anger inside; and Merrill, an unsure elven mage who leaves the Dalish to research her own dark magics. While each of these characters drive part of the main story (and in the case of Fenris and Anders, were romantic options for my female Hawke), none of them are as interesting as their backgrounds suggest. Anders and Fenris are brooding, suspicious of everyone who are not on their side of the mage/templar debate. And Merrill comes off as a simpering, unconfident child (if you think Japanese RPG characters are whiny, Merrill practically outdoes the lot of 'em) who plays with dark powers.

I have asked myself if the lack of development of these characters -- not to mention the missing Isabella -- ends up making Varric and Hawke look better. This may be happening to some extent, but Varric is truly a special character, and I'm glad to see that the spirit of Minsc and HK-47 (if not the same level of craziness) lives on in Varric.

Dragon Age II does strip away some player choice in order to make the action flow better. Take the lockpicking system -- it's solely based on your Rogue's Cunning. (And yes, you still can't break locks with melee weapons, something BioWare's somehow forgotten how to program since Baldur's Gate II, evidently). Friendly fire is also less of a concern (it doesn't come into play on normal settings as it did in Dragon Age: Origins).

Inventory management is also simpler. Hawke is the only character who can equip armor; the rest find "enhancements" to the duds they're wearing. They can equip weapons you find along the way, but if you're a mage and you pick up a cool set of dragonmail, don't even think about giving it to Carver or Fenris -- they can't use it. This rather angers me as a longtime player of RPGs -- I want to outfit my party the way I want to, not the way the developer thinks I should. I don't need them to hold my hand in this manner.

The biggest difference, for me, is setting. Kirkwall serves as a grand adventure hub in the same way that Athkatla does in Baldur's Gate II. After the prologue, you spend the game in or around Kirkwall. Split into districts, just like Athkatla, Kirkwall also shows the disparities of how Dragon Age II's people live: The high-and-mighty occupy the clean, imposing structures of Hightown; the middle class and workers fill Lowtown (also the location of the elven alienage); while the most pathetic -- the poor refugees who fled the blight in Ferelden -- languish in Darktown, the undercity.Combat is fast and frantic. It's received the "streamlined" treatment as well, but improvements to the Tactics system has made combat much more enjoyable for players who don't want to micromanage their party members. I played half of the game relying on Tactics and the other half giving out individual orders; while I enjoyed the turn-based feel of giving the characters their own sets of orders, I also found myself enjoying letting the Tactics dictate their actions instead of me. The followed their attack routines fairly well. The only problem I had with the system was my allies' failure to use healing and stamina potions under the proscribed conditions (when the stat bars had fallen to 25 percent), but it wasn't hard for me to pause the action and order them to take a swig.

Combat and level advancement is also streamlined. The foes you face essentially come in three varities: swarms of weak cannon fodder that you can dispatch in a few attacks (even one spell can kill these buggers), stronger foes with "full" health bars, and boss-type enemies such as Ogres, dragons, and, of course, actual bosses. Playing a mage, I was still able to take advantage of the many aftereffects of Dragon Age magic: Winter's Grasp and Cone of Cold can still freeze enemies (especially if you take the skill enhancements for these spells that bring about the "brittle" stat), and Fireballs and Firestorms can stun the bad guys as well. I especially like how some melee abilities complement some spells, allowing fighters to smash foes in brittle state, for example. Each set of skills is along its own "tree" (more of a circle in some ways for some) that features improved abilities for basic skills and other abilities that unlock based on your relationship to the character. Gifts are practically gone, too; you sometimes find items that you hand out to your allies, but these are scripted moments. The enjoyable puzzle of figuring out which gift "belongs" to which party member is gone.

But the changes to combat do offer some disadvantages; foes come at you sometimes in waves, throwing sheer numbers at you instead of challenging you strategically. These waves or foes are pretty dumb, too, frequently concentrating on the enemy nearest to them instead of seeking out spellcasters, who frequently pose the greatest threat (spellcasters remain overpowered in Dragon Age II). Sadly, a number of fights fall into the "kill one wave, prepare for the next, and keep slaughterin'" rhythm.

My greatest nitpick to combat is the missing strategic view. PC players could pull combat back so far that they'd get an almost top-down perspective in Dragon Age: Origins. This is missing from Dragon Age II -- the pulled-back view on consoles looks pretty similar to what's in Dragon Age II's PC version. This makes it more difficult to place long-distance spell attacks where you want them, a significant frustration to a player who favors mage above the other classes.

The framed narrative is new to BioWare's story-telling repertoire, and frankly, I found it kinda unnecessary (other than as another opportunity to showcase Varric). The conversations narrators Varric and the seeker Cassandra engage in aren't very interesting -- expect for those few times when she catches Varric (or gets him to admit) when he's "embellishing" the story (this is especially funny at the end of the prologue, despite the serious subject matter it covers as Hawke and family escape the Darkspawn). But the conversations between the two as the story jump from one time period to the next in Hawk's life really doesn't add much to the story. I don't want to label it as unsuccessful, as I relish when developers attempt alternative methods of telling a story, but Cassandra is just too much of a straight man against Varric's outlandishness.

The framed narrative does serve one good purpose: it allows Hawke to live with the consequences of his or her actions. Characters weave in and out of Hawke's life, some offering opportunity, and others dispensing death. It heightens the importance of each decision you make, knowing that, somewhere down the line, you may pay a price for the decision you make.

The rest of the story is engaging. It's a very human tale of freedom vs. protecting society. When someone has the power to destroy civilization, how tight of a rein should they live under, considering the very real dangers demons and blood magic pose to the rest of the world? This mage-vs.-templar debate underpins the story, but BioWare throws in other factors as well: the pathetic life the refugees from Ferelden lead in Kirkwall, the influence corruption can have on a city, and the exploitation of workers. If you import your save from Dragon Age: Origins, decisions you made in that game can be seen in its sequel. Sadly, the game does lack the epic feel of the original. Let's face it -- when you beat an Archdemon in the first game, any other foe sorta pales in comparison.

At the end of Dragon Age II, I'm not sure how I feel about the story. What was the message? Is it one of the importance of freedom? Is it a cautionary tale on how power can corrupt? Dragon Age II flirts with both of these messages. But as a game, its streamlined mechanics and more action-oriented combat should appeal to console players, but hardcore fans of PC RPGs may feel slighted.

PROS: Combat is fast and fun yet retains much of its strategic appeal; Kirkwall serves as grand adventure hub in the spirit of Baldur's Gate II's Athkatla; BioWare creates another memorable character in Varric.

CONS: Game lacks "epic feel" of Origins; framed narrative feels a bit gimmicky; PC players lose large battlefield view of combat; final battle falls flat.

Overall Score: 7.5/10

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Metro 2033 Review

When you think about post apocalyptic settings in games, two names keep popping up in my head; Fallout and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Both are atmospheric tales of a journey through the wastelands and the two games have entertained thousands of players over the years. Now we have a new kid on the block in the form of Metro 2033 from THQ and the Ukraine based studio, 4A Games.

 Some Metro 2033 Gameplay

The game itself is based upon the novel of the same name from Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky and its protagonist Artyom. The game is played from his perspective, mostly underground in the metro tunnels where Artyom was raised (during the initial narrative you discover he was born just before the devastation) locked in a battle of sheer survival. Mutant rats, Bandits, Communists, Fascists and even an unknown supernatural force simply referred to as "The Dark Ones" are out to get you. However help is occasionally at hand, as you'll forge friendships, although some of these are forged unwillingly and put you unnecessarily into harms way so you have to keep your wits about you.

 The game oozes atmosphere from every possible orifice, the closeness of the different metro communities, watching a father play with crudely crafted wooden toys with his son, the gathering around a fire with someone playing a guitar as the others listen intently. On the flip-side of this warmth you get the darkness of the metro tunnels, the eerie echoes and bone tingling screams of the mutants as they catch your scent and charge en-masse at you, forcing the decision to use what little ammunition you may have.
 While on the subject of ammunition, the rare military grade rounds that you may find are the game's currency where you may purchase new weapons, armour and more ammunition, however you will have moments where you simply have to make the choice of dangerous melee combat or to keep a safe distance but use your currency in order to suppress your assailant(s). 

While the game itself is relatively linear in it's progression, with a rare opportunity to wander off for a side mission or two, the pace of the game is so well laid out that you can forgive the developers for not giving you a massive expanse to wander in. It is meant to be a tale rather than a massive RPG after all. One could be forgiven in comparing the pace and style to that of Half-Life where sublime action packed set pieces intersect the games' time line with near surgical precision, making you never bored of the game at all.

Unlike conventional FPS title's you'll notice that Metro 2033, for the most part, has a lack of a HUD, preferring to rely on more your own eyes to check on your ammo levels as handily the first SMG you receive has a transparent magazine so you can physically see your remaining ammunition. Every subsequent weapon will have some form of visual indicator as to when your gun may need reloading so you do have to keep your wits about you while under fire.

When the time comes and you do have to venture out into the wastelands above the tunnels then you'll have to equip your gas mask, only your own breathing and your watch will be your indicators on when to change your filters over. There is also a nice effect on the gas mask itself when the filter is becoming non functional in that your mask actually starts to fog around the edges making it harder than what it already is to see out of it. Finally, make sure you take care of the mask as it will fracture and eventually shatter as you take hits in firefights.

Everything is wonderfully detailed and increases that immersion level for the player, additionally if you're lucky enough to have a DX11 capable card then it'll look even nicer, having said that, the game looks outstanding even in the ageing DX9 so there is plenty to ogle at for the eye candy aficionados. The character models are believable and have solid animation, the shadow effects are awesome, catching a glimpse of a fast moving shadow that's about three times the size of you gets the heart rate going and everything is so lovingly detailed that it makes me wonder what else these developers are capable of.

Ok, while the world above the metro tunnels does not look that wondrous you have to remember that it's been ravaged by nuclear weapons, you can only do so much with a wasteland and I think 4A have done an admirable job on their first outing together after splintering away from GSC Game World, developers of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series, and it's a game I definitely recommend obtaining for your collection. 

Overall Score:   8/10

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mass Effect 2 Review

Mass Effect 2 is a continuation of the Mass Effect universe, and the first game in the series on the PS3. Following Shepard's first bout saving the Galaxy from the Reapers, the Normany SR1 is ambushed by the Collectors and Shepard is declared KIA. Two years later he awakes in a Cerberus facility with two new allies, a new Normandy, and the stark reality of what has happened in the intervening two years... The Collectors are kidnapping entire human colonies. The Reapers are suspected to be behind it, but Shepard needs to figure out their end game and stop it before it is too late.

Some Gameplay Of Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect 2 is a shooter-RPG hybrid. In combat it follows the modern third person shooter formula of getting behind cover, the popping out and shooting enemies. Shepard comes with a specified set of weapons depending on his class, and those weapons have certain clip sizes, damages, and fire rates as expected. COMBAT IS JUST FUN! 

That is where the shooter elements stop, once the character progression system is hit it really starts coming into its own as an RPG. Each class in the game has a specified number of powers and each level provides a set of points to distribute into powers as the player sees fit. In addition to this, team mates provide additional powers (one of which can be equipped at a time), providing an almost limitless combination of attributes and powers for the player to play as they wish. Everything from being able to command the very fabric of space and energy as a Biotic or hacking into any tech or AI as an Engineer to being a sheer monster on the battlefield as a Soldier or being able to cloak and snipe from afar as an Infiltrator... With anything in-between.

Mass Effect 2's single player experience is the type of experience where it seems time gets lost. The type of game that will have most people saying "just one more hour."

It follows on directly from Mass Effect 1 and has Shepard dead in the opening cutscene. After the opening credits Shepard finds himself/herself on a Cerberus vessel under attack, after the opening missions Shepard is told about the Collectors and given Miranda, Jacob, and a stack of Dossiers. From this point on the game becomes a mission of recruiting team-mates for a confrontation with the Collectors, and it is the perfect character story, yup... Perfect. Each character has an ocean of depth and dimension found through recruitment, conversation, and loyalty and by the end of the story (hopefully) Shepard will have every one of them ready to die to stop the Collectors.

The story features plenty of optional romance varying depending on whether you choose to play a male or female. The interests are varied as well from the spiritual Thane (female only) to the crazy Jack (male only) to Miranda and her perfect ass (male only). Although the lines can get kind of corny, the characters are well rounded that the romance and the connection is very believable. This is the first game where Bioware really nailed the "love scenes" without coming across as awkward or forced.

Grunt: One of the reasons to play this game.

There is alot of comedy and reality to the characters as well. Mordin performing Gilbert and Sullivan to the ever entertaining Grunt. Yes, thats right, Grunt. Arguably one of the best characters to ever grace an RPG he has this semi-dark sense of humor mixed with enthusiasm regarding violence that brings out the primal nature expected out of the character. When a game can have you laughing at a Salarian singing about science shortly after a Krogan exclaims "I finally get it! I hate Turians!" as if he just pieced together the meaning of life... Its a game that truly grasps its characters. But there is alot of good drama to be had in the story as well through each characters Loyalty mission more is unlocked about them and their past.

It truly needs to be experienced as the missions really bring out the time and effort Bioware has put into making each character seem real. Something that is wholly important with a character piece...

Characters aren't everything the experience has to offer as the main story has the Collectors and their fair share of secrets that will eventually end in a final confrontation in the Galaxy's core in an effort to save not only humanity, but all life in the Milky Way. The PS3 version also includes all the side content from the original, featuring two extra characters (Zaeed and Kasumi) and some extra side-missions, but the shining jewel is the Lair of the Shadow Broker. A "B" plot within Mass Effect 2 that has an old face returning, Liara T'Soni, as Shepard helps her complete her personal mission to kill the Shadow Broker, a seemingly omniscient information dealer who has kidnapped her friend.

There is plenty of story to be had here and just as much side-content in a Galaxy full of interest and fun... Its almost funny that as FPSs slowly become shorter and shorter as multi-player becomes a greater focus. Bioware comes along and delivers a Sci-fi epic that does Single-player so perfectly and provides 50+ hours of content that begs to be played again and again. 

Closing Thoughts
Mass Effect 2 is quite possibly the perfect Sci-fi game. It has a great mix of RPG and Shooter with a compelling story full of interesting characters and an abundance of content. Many people are saying the PS3 version is the best version of what was the best game to come out in 2010, and if you ask me they are right. While not head-and-shoulders, the fact that all the DLC is included free with this game means another 5-8 hours of game content.

If you own a PS3 (or 360 or PC), do yourself a favor and play this game. It is well worth getting lost in multiple times.

Overall: 10/10

 Mass Effect 2 is the best Action-RPG I've probably ever played, and everyone should play this game go now... go play it!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Hello Everyone!

I'm just a gamer who plays wayyyy to many games, and I think its time for me to start doing something new, which is making reviews. I will be doing reviews of games I've recently been playing, or ones that I believe deserve one. So here are some games I hopefully am going to do a review on...

The First game I'll probably be doing a review on is ...

Mass Effect 2

Some other games I'll be doing some reviews on are ...

Metro 2033

Dragon Age 2


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