Friday, December 25, 2009

Top 10 Console (and Downloadable) Games of 2009

Just Missing Out:

Assassin's Creed II
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Dead Space Extraction
Street Fighter IV
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 (Wii Version)

10. IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey

Sometimes there are games that come out of left field. For me, this WWII air combat title fits the bill. I never knew what to expect but after the first few training missions I was hooked. A great looking game coupled with excellent controls and tons of content, console fans who have been eager for something to take to the skies, this is the one to play.

9. Fat Princess

Typically I tend to stay away from online only games. It can be sometimes really difficult to get involved unless you are willing to invest the time and energy to get good at it. Thankfully, Fat Princess is the perfect title for those looking to just have a bit of mindless fun. This team based action title has something for everyone. Not good at fighting, then be a healer. Can't shoot an arrow to save your life, well your team needs someone to collect supplies. For those who enjoy Team Fortress, playing this is an absolute must.

8. Killzone 2

The game that had so much hype associated to it is typically destined to fail. Thankfully, Killzone 2 met its expectations and was worth every penny. Having played and only partially enjoying the original, this follow up gives FPS fans one incredible journey with great shooting, frantic action and a good mix of enjoyable and frustrating moments. Certainly looking forward to where this series goes to next.

7. Grand Theft Auto IV: Episodes from Liberty City

Having already owned the PS3 version of GTAIV, getting the opportunity to play any of the exclusive content for the 360 was not possible. That changed with RockStar releasing both The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony in one perfect package along with all the fantastic multiplayer options. If you are in the same boat as me or just want more GTA content, this is a purchase you need to make.

6. Borderlands

Never judge a book without actually reading through a few chapters. This was the case for me when playing Borderlands. What started off as a frustrated experience quickly changed into spending time trying to see what else I could do. There aren't many games that can keep me playing after a poor first impression, but Borderlands did that. It takes a bit of time to get into the groove but once you've hit it, you will have a hard time letting go.

5. Shadow Complex

Nostalgia is always a nice thing, so when you have a game that brings of memories of your youth it is certainly worth mentioning. This fantastic action game that reminds you of the days of playing on your SNES is something that was such a pleasure to play. From the opening moments to every discovery, regardless of size, will keep you wanting more. Again, more games like this need to made that can be enjoyed for about the same cost of going to the movies and last 3 times as long.

4. FIFA 10

Soccer is my sport so a quality game is something I have to have. It has been years since I have played a game in the series that made me absolutely enjoy every match I played. Thankfully, this not only made me feel so good during every match, win, lose or draw, but the amount of content available will keep any fan occupied for months. EA has been looking for ways to push the series forward and next year's version will need to really go farther to better this one.

3. Dragon Age Origins

Upon first inspection, Dragon Age Origins was merely a game that I had no real interest to. Having not played any BioWare title until this year, I could care less about their pedigree. That quickly changed after playing through Mass Effect early on this year and getting to sit and listen to the BioWare Doctors talk about Narrative quickly changed my mind. If you enjoy free flowing RPGs that give you the ability to do so many things, then this is the only game you need to play. Having played both the game on the PC and PS3, you should most definitely go the way of the Personal Computer but even if that isn't a viable option, RPG fans will enjoy every waking moment.

2. Batman: Arkham Asylum

The last really fun Super Hero title that I enjoyed playing was the first Spider-Man title for the PSOne (released by Activision). Since then, it has been really difficult to find one that kept me wanting to play through the entire story. Arkham Asylum changed that from the opening moments with its fantastic story that mirrors the comics, the excellent combat that expands as you progress and plethora of side objectives available. This is the way other Super Hero games need to be made and will be the gold standard for years to come.

1. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

I will not lie, until recently my favorite PS3 game Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. My expectations for the follow-up were high and those demands I had were met and surpassed from the opening scene. Among Thieves shows just how far cinematic experiences have gone in the gaming world. This is an incredible story with great action sequences, stunning cast of characters and so much more. The transition from cut-scene to actual gameplay is so seamless you will often question if you're playing or watching. Yes, there are most certainly moments that will challenge you if you don't enjoy a challenge then you shouldn't be playing video games. Even if you have not experienced the first game in the series, you can easily pick this up and enjoy it. I loved every minute of my time with this and hope to find the time to go back and relive it again.

Top 5 Portable Games of 2009

Just missing out:

LocoRoco 2
Mario vs Donkey Kong: Minis March Again
MotorStorm: Arctic Edge

5. Resistance Retribution

Many people said that translating a shooter onto a portable system could not be done, the guys at Sony Bend knew otherwise. With the success of their Syphon Filter series, they took the same formula and put into this quasi sequel to the popular Resistance: Fall of Man series. Along with strong shoot and great level designs, there was a lot of reasons to play through the game more than once and the multiplayer mode was also quite enjoyable.

4. Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box

When a game can not only entertain you but educate you at the same time, you have something truly special. The Professor Layton in North America is still miles behind the Japanese series but this follow-up is just as enjoyable as the first with an great and engaging story. More than 150 different puzzles that will challenge you but never to the point of frustration. Here's hoping the 3rd game in the series gets to us sooner rather than later.

3. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

Who said a violent game is not possible on a portable Nintendo Console? Chinatown Wars takes the series in an interesting direction with fantastic results. Combining a cool story, great missions and some interesting touch screen mechanics, this is the total package. Any GTA fan will love it and those who missed the days of the series origins are only punishing themselves by not playing this.

2. The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

It doesn't take much to release a quality Legend of Zelda title, so having one on the DS is no surprise. While fans did have their reservations and felts some parts of Phantom Hourglass were disappointing, Spirit Tracks fixes almost all of those issues and gives us such a fantastic experience. The fact that both Link and Zelda must work together puts this up there as a must-place for any fan of the long running series.

1. Patapon 2

There are games that when you first look at them you will respond with 'WTF!', the orginial Patapon was most definitely that game. Combine rhythm with strategy and you have yourself one unique experience. This follow up took everything that made the first so special, doubled it and threw in a bit more flavor. What is so great is that even with all its content, more than 30 hours worth, this only will cost you 20 dollars. For those looking for a PSP game to play, if this isn't already in your collection it should be.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

PiCTOBiTS Review (DSiWare)

Probably the best aspect of any puzzle game is the pick-up and play nature each one possesses. It doesn't take too long to learn how to play but it does require a lot of investment before you can say that you have mastered one. PiCTOBiT manages to give you an exciting puzzle experience for DSi owners but one that will take a lot of time to master thanks to its strong difficulty.

The objective in PiCTOBiTS is to group colored blocks together. Each level begins with three rows full of multicolored blocks which must be moved to different parts of the screen then combined with matching blocks that drop from the top of the screen. If you match up groups of three more, the blocks disappear and are transferred onto the top screen.

All blocks that go to the top screen begin to form an image. Once you have the right amount of blocks to complete the image, you've completed the level. Each level contains four different colors and you need to obtain enough blocks of each specific color in order to complete the image. You can continue to match blocks of a color you already have enough of, but it will not help complete the puzzle.

The groups of blocks that fall down vary in shape. Sometimes they are large 4x4 blocks other times they are shaped completely different and almost always contain more than one color.

If you manage to combine the right colors of blocks before they reach the bottom it will make each level significantly easier. In a situation where no colors are available, a simple tap on the falling pieces will drop them down and make those blocks accessible to use later on.

PiCTOBiTs starts off fairly easy and most people should be able to complete the first few levels without too much difficulty. As you progress though, the challenge ramps up fairly quickly thanks to the game's increase in speed, frequency of blocks and other special blocks that can hinder your progression.

For those who love puzzle games, this challenge will be a delight. You certainly will get frustrated with the increasing challenge, but it never feels cheap or that the game is cheating you. PiCTOBiTS is about quick movements and reflexes and you will really work your brain trying to find the best way to complete the levels. If you play a level enough times, you will begin to notice the patterns of the blocks as to where they drop, but the colors always change.

Thankfully, moving pieces is not 1:1. You can store up to 8 blocks and then use them when needed. The stylus works well that you can also slide across a few blocks to store them and replace them just as quickly. In later stages, you will begin to use the POW feature. This can be your friend if the screen begins to fill up as it will reduce the last three rows and spread out all the blocks on the screen. It can be helpful, but it comes at a price. You need to collect coins, coins that you obtain as you earn chains and break blocks, but once you use a POW, the number of pieces you can store gets reduced.

There are thirty stages to play and the most challenging ones occur when you begin to buy and unlock the Dark one. The Dark Stages are even more difficult than the Normal ones and will require extra precision and quickness if you wish to complete them.

The game uses very simplistic graphics but it works really well for a DSiWare title. Each of the game's images that you unlock to complete a level come from the NES days of games. You'll see plenty of sprites from your childhood and it each one looks really swell.

The music in the game also takes homage to the NES days. The chiptune and MIDI sounding tunes work well for the game and there is also the option to buy the music in the game to listen whenever you please. Also included are a few remixes of classic NES tunes which will only not appeal to those without soul or who have never experienced the Golden Generation of Videogames.

PiCTOBiTS is certainly not an easy game, but at a mere 500 DSi Points it is by far the best DSiWare game available right now. Yes, the challenge of the puzzles will throw off inexperienced players but there is nothing quite like it available right now. Considering DSi owners got 1000 Points to use, this is the best bang for the buck and should be in your collection without question.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Flower Review (PSN)

If you work a steady, full-time job, chances are that you have had a really bad day at work. Once you get home, you just want to relax and forget about all the problems you had. For some, you will pick up your favorite book or watch a TV program. For others, you might decide to go for a run or hit some weights to relive all that tension. I really doubt people would pick up a Videogame to help them forget about their troubles. Well it seems that answer to that is here and it's called Flower.

The premise behind this half-game, half-interactive experience is that fairly vague at first. In the game, you play as the Wind and it's your goal to help bloom various locations from drab environments into scenic and peaceful ones.

In each of Flower's 6 stages, you begin as the wind with a single flower petal. With the use of the X Button and the motions of the PS3's Sixaxis controller, you 'lead' that single petal towards flowers located around you to blossom the flowers and to collect more petals.

As flowers bloom, you open up the environments. At the beginning of each stage, the levels all look desolate but as the flowers blossom, the grass becomes greener and the sky becomes clearer. As you progress through the stages, you'll eventually blossom all of the flowers turning the stage into the kind of place you'll want to spend an afternoon just relaxing.

Flower is a very linear game. There is no dying so you never have to worry about doing anything wrong. Often, the objective is simply to bloom all the flowers in a specific spot in order to progress. Flowers that haven't been bloomed have a glow and you'll be easily able to pick them out even from far away. The controls make moving around each stage a breeze. When Sony released the Sixaxis back in 2006, this should have been a pack-in title that would have shown why you need this feature.

In terms of graphics, the game is fairly simple with it's look but stunning none-the-less. There are very few outside particles in each stage. For the most part, you'll be simply collection flower petals and traveling through grass, but both look stunning in High-Definition. Even the 'outside' environments look really good and add to the game's feel.

With incredible looking visuals, the sound helps to compliment the experience even more. The game contains a great instrumental score that will often have you leaving it playing to give your home a more relaxing feel. The music shifts with the speed of your flower petals and works on multiple levels, especially in the later stages of the game which have a very different feel from the beginning.

Flower is not a long game. The six stages can be completed in about 1-3 hours depending on how much time you spend on each. There are a lot of tiny secrets hidden throughout the game which does add to some replayabilty, but chances are that once you've completed the game, you'll only go back to get some trophies. Even with that, this is a game that does exactly what it intended on doing, offering a different, yet unique experience. Only hard-core gamers looking for something to kill will not find anything here to enjoy. If you've had a hard day at work, I strongly suggest turning on your PS3, playing any of the 6 stages (except maybe stage 5 = spoiler) and watch your troubles fly away with the wind...even if it's only for a few moments.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Dead Space Review (PS3, Xbox 360 and PC)

There is always a lot of risks involved when introducing a new series to the world. The first reaction most people will have is ‘this game is a lot like…’ We are skeptical because most gamers want to play something they know will be good. When Dead Space was announced, most people claimed ‘this game is a lot like Resident Evil in Space’ and while that's a fair assessment, when you actually start playing, you notice that this is a very different game and a great one at that.

The plot behind Dead Space involves a crew that has been called to assist with some problems that have occurred on the ship USG Ishimura, touted as one of the biggest and most powerful ships in the fleet. When they arrive, the Ishimura fails to respond to the calls and it seems that something else has occurred. At first, you’re under the impression that the problem is the communications. Once you arrive on board, you realize that something else, much larger, is the problem.

You play as Isaac Clarke, who is an engineer capable of fixing what is initially believed to be the problem. As you begin the game, you and your crew members thing that the communication is what is causing the problem, but once you begin walking around the ship, you notice that people are no where to be found, feared dead. Now it’s up to you to get the ship online in order to escape and at the same time, try to figure out what exactly has gone wrong with the ship and its crew.

The game is played from a 3rd-person, over the shoulder view. You will also not have a HUD (Head’s Up Display), rather all of your stats are available on your person. Your weapon’s ammo shows up on the weapons when it is drawn; your health bar is located on your spine and your Stasis strength is shown on your shoulder blade. Lastly, in levels that require you to venture into space, you’re oxygen supply timer will also appear. It’s a great mechanic that works really well. Since the screen is not cluttered with data so it allows that game to really look good. Also, everything that occurs happens in game. When you bring up your items menu, a holograph appears which will allow you to continue moving and access key items. Also, whenever you crew members appear to communicate with, it too happens with the use of holographs. This is really nice as it never stops the flow of the game.

The enemies you will encounter are called Necromorphs, Some are fast, others are slow but all of them are extremely deadly. Your arsenal begins with a simple weapon, but as you progress and obtain credits you will unleash more powerful weapons. Since Isaac is an Engineer, all of his weapons are actually modified tools, such as Cutters and other Mining Tools. All of the weapons are upgradeable and necessary for you as you progress into more difficult stages.

For the most part, Necromorphs are relatively slow, so you should be able to attack them before they get to close, but that’s not to say they are easy to take down. The game puts the emphasis on dismemberment. Most Necromorphs can actually morph into different shapes, so in order to stop them you will have to strategically cut off limbs, to slow them down even more then cutting off their heads or targeting certain parts of the body to destroy them.

The attacking is where Dead Space gets the talk about being similar to the Resident Evil franchise, specifically RE4. In RE4, character perspective is similar to what you encounter in Dead Space, but here you’re character is able to move while aiming. This may seem to make the game easier, and as it may be the case in some situations, the fact that the game often puts you in small corridors and dark locations, the best way to approach any area is to constantly move.

The majority of the game is played on the USG Ishimura, but the environments are not that repetitive. There are plenty of situations where Isaac will have to work in areas with Zero Gravity and even outside of the Ship. In areas with Zero Gravity, every section with a flat surface can be used and you will have to move to them in order to advance. In those parts where you’ll have to be outside of the ship, or areas with no oxygen, you will have to move quickly as you only have a limited amount of air available to you. These portions are always frantic since not only will you have to battle enemies, but work against the clock.

In terms of graphics, Dead Space is absolutely stunning. Majority of the game is played in dark locations, so the atmosphere really makes things difficult for you. Often, you will have to walk around with your weapon drawn, since each one of them has a flashlight. You can walk around without it, but be prepared for attacks, which can be really fun and challenging. Some environments look the same, but in actuality there are subtle differences to each of them. As you trek through the game, you may want to walk off path just to check out what you might find. There is a lot of secrets available throughout the ship, which will appease those who actually go through each nook and cranny.

The game’s sound is top-notch. The voice work from the small cast and the sounds from the Necromorphs all stand out. There isn’t a single weak point throughout the game. The sound both the ambience and the score is also extremely fantastic. In those key moments where it seems like something bad is going to occur, the music is right there to reassure you. I really enjoyed those moments when your oxygen gets low since you can hear the panic breathing of Isaac. It doesn’t stop there. When Isaac is low in health, if you try to run, his breathing will also point sound weird giving you the hint that you should be hunting for health packs and using them. In survival horror games, sound is just as important as ‘shock value’ and Dead Space truly delivers.

Dead Space’s story plays out in 12 chapters, each of which will take about an hour or so to complete, so you’ve got a minimum of twelve hours of gameplay here. If you stick to the path, given to you by the objective assister, you will only get a portion of the story here. There are a lot of audio and text logs that you need to uncover to understand the storyline. Also, what some people might miss out is that Dead Space the videogame is actually only the final portion of a three tier story. Also released prior to the game hitting stores was a six part comic book story which chronicles events that lead to the discovery of the key plot to the game. On top of that, there is a full-length feature animated film which then connects the comic book mini-series to the game. If you want to understand the full lore behind the game, picking up either of the two will help understand the game just a bit more. Thankfully, you can easily pick up the digital versions of the comic book which were made available free on Xbox Live and PSN.

In the end, even with all the connections made between Dead Space and Resident Evil 4 and films like Solaris and Event Horizon, EA has done a great job in giving gamers a fantastic playing game. There is plenty of action, suspense and horror to satisfy just about any gamer out there. Some might be put off by the fact that you’re only getting a portion of the overall story, there is still enough that you can get an understanding of everything even without going that extra mile. If you’ve been looking for a game to keep you at the edge of your seat but were annoyed with questionable tank-like controls, Dead Space delivers.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Left 4 Dead Review (PC and Xbox 360)

I know in my youth whenever I watched zombie horror movies I thought to myself 'I think I could handle myself if this happened to me.' It might only be a game, but Left 4 Dead is what you could essentially call a Zombie Apocalypse Simulator and one fantastic one at that.

Left 4 Dead is the newest venture from Valve Software which puts players in the role of a survivor trying to escape from hordes of Zombies. The game allows you to play as one of four characters. You have Francis, the tough biker dude, Bill, the elderly army vet, Louis, the regular guy and Zoey, the twenty-something girl. There is no real back story other than the fact that you four are the only survivors trying to find help and stay alive.

The game contains four scenarios, which are played out as 'movies'. Each of the four scenarios takes places in different areas including an airport and an abandoned train yard. The objective is simple, move from point to point and not die. There are five chapters to each movie and they end when you reach either the safe house, or in the case of the final chapter, the rescue vehicle. Along the way, you'll encounter wave upon wave of various infected people and to spice up the action, other 'special' zombies each with their own special abilities. Their abilities include one called the Smoker who upon killing him turns the air into smoke causing your characters to cough for a few moments. Another character, a witch, is harmless unless you disturb her. If you do, she'll charge at you, knocking you down and will continue to pounce until you manage to kill her. These enemies occur at various burst, but when they strike, they manage to do the most damage to your characters.

Left 4 Dead features a cool feature called AI Director. Each of the four scenarios is approximately 45-105 minutes long in length depending on how well you play. What the AI Director does is ensure that each time you play through a scenario, your experience is different. The first time you play through a chapter, you might remember some pipe-bombs located in a room, but the next time you play, they won't be there. You think you're approaching a section with a Hunter zombie, but when you get there, the area is empty. If computer thinks you're having an easy time, it will throw more zombies at you, and reversely, if you're dying too much, it will ease the difficulty for you. The AI Director ensures that each time you play through the game the experience is different. You never know what to expect and because of this, you'll always be at the edge of your seat.

If you decide to play Left 4 Dead on your own, thankfully your partners are very good at what they do and it's very rare that you will have to save them. In fact, you're more inclined to run ahead of them and have them save you then the other way around. But Left 4 Dead is really enjoyed playing with others. While you can play this game with friends, to get the true experience, you need to play this with strangers.

The four characters in this game are not friends, but four random people who just happen to have the same goal, find safety. If you play with friends, chances are you will play smart and efficiently, but that really limits what you can do. If you're playing with strangers, you don't know what to expect. Like in real life, you might have the smart person who will grab gas tanks and place them before a horde attacks to burn them, or you might have a scared person who runs off ahead of everyone then pleads for help when they're getting consumed by the infected. While you should be working together, it's never perfect and this randomness makes every experience something special.

For a game located in isolated and deserted locations, Valve did a great job in make the environments looking true to form. All four of the 'movies' are significantly different but each one has plenty of detail in them. You'll walk or run through apartments, warehouses, train tracks, backwoods, airport terminals, hospitals and other locations and each one doesn't just look like the other with a different coat of paint. The generic infected look good even though there seems to be only about 5-8 different models (two or three female and three or four male skins) and there are also only 5 special zombie characters. It's not a bad thing, but sometimes you do wish there was a bit more variety in that department. You will encounter some graphical glitches here and there as well. These only seem to occur when you stand really close to a character, as textures will disappear, but it doesn't hurt the game.

The sounds from the ambiance to the voice-work are actually fairly well done. The game sounds from top to bottom like a horror movie with great sounds occurring at key moments. When you're nearing a witch, you'll hear her moan and groan and at the same time an eerie score will accompany it until you either kill her or move far enough away. There is some limit to the dialog between the playable characters, but when playing with friends or with strangers, you won't be listening to the 'reloading' 'come here and let me heal you' that Francis and the gang will state, so it is a non-issue.

If you only play this game alone, you're only experiencing a fraction of what this game is intended to do. This game needs to be enjoyed with others and with various people. When you play online, there is also the ability to play as the special infected characters against four real people as the survivors. This mode is fun albeit short at times since infected characters do die relatively quickly. If you manage to use your character effectively, you can do a lot of damage and thanks to the AI Director, even this experience will be different each time you play.

When I first started reading about Left 4 Dead, I thought this was just a generic shooter in a zombie environment. I guess you can blame the lack of fun I had trying out Resident Evil Outbreak and its attempt at this type of game. Valve proved that it can pull this off and I cannot stress this enough, you need to play Left 4 Dead. If you have a decent PC, I would recommend the PC version over the Xbox only because of the great support and eventually free content that will be available down the road. The Xbox does have the leg up thanks in part to the fact that each Xbox owner has a head-set which is an important tool needed to play, so even if you settle for that version, you're getting your money's worth. If you were looking for a fun game that will still give you the creeps when you're playing it over and over again, I have to say that Left 4 Dead is the only game you'll need.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Mass Effect (Late) Review (Xbox 360)

The best part about Role Playing Games is the fact that they are made for the gamer to experience the adventure at both their own pace and for the most part, branch the story to their specification. Because of this, RPGs can last a long time and you will still only experience a fraction of what the developers have to offer.

Mass Effect is a perfect example of a solid Role Playing Game; one with a great story that is possible to play a number of ways. The game has you controlling a Human solider in the future where Species from different Galaxies interact with each other. Your character can be created from the ground up, with the ability to adjust your sex, look and even your character's history, all of which affect the story and the interaction of other characters. This is actually quite a common feature with Western-styled Role Playing Games but the developers at Bioware have taken this to another level considering the amount of dialogue involved in this game. Where in some games, the main character would be a silent one, here it's quite the opposite. Your character, Sheppard, is very talkative and there is full voice dialogue in both a male and female voice.

As stated before, the future has various species from around the galaxy interacting with one another. The Human race are the new boys on the block and have yet to gain the full trust of the rest of the species, to the point that they are still not given the same treatment as the other, more superior species. The Humans are eager to gain this trust including earning a spot on the high council and earning a spot in the Spectres, a sort of Galaxy police that helps to protect everyone.

Sheppard begins the game as a support character on the Human ship the Normandy and one a mission discovers that a Spectre called Saren has gone rogue and seems to be plotting something very diabolical. Sheppard witnesses Saren and attempts to stop him but because of his status and strength is unable to do so.

The council see that Saren is a threat and because of Sheppard's efforts, they award him as the first ever Human Spectre with the sole purpose of determining what Saren is upto and to stop him. This begins the key story and your adventure through the Galaxy will see you traveling to various Solar Systems and planets trying to uncover Saren's plot and try to stop it.

In terms of Gameplay, Mass Effect is played out very much like a tactical 3rd person shooter. All action is played in Real time with you and two other team members. Depending on your character class your abilities both with weapons and biotics, essentially your magic powers, will vary. Upon leveling up, you have the ability to allocate points towards various skills. When you create Sheppard in the beginning of the game, you determine which abilities you will have throughout the game. Some traits will have you stronger with your Biotics but weaker with weapons, or reversely, you might be have great knowledge of all the weapons and armor but your Biotic abilities are extremely limited. Regardless of how you develop your character, as long as you learn your characters strengths, you can be very effective on the battlefield.

Your team always consists of you and two other party members. As you progress through the story, you will have the ability to choose from more than 5 different people to aid you along the way. Each of the other characters have specific abilities as well and finding the right balance for each mission is critical. During fights, your teammates do act on their own, with fairly good AI, but you will be able to influence them and direct them to varying degrees. With the simple tap of the up button, you can direct your squad to advance or if the heat is on, you can tell them to retreat. It's a great mechanic that works quite effectively. You won't be able to tell them to run around crazy, but they are smart enough not to stand around and let themselves get killed.

The game itself is fairly long but only long if you decide to go through the plethora of side-missions made available to you. Through your journey, you will encounter various different characters with many of them needing your help. Some might ask for some simple tasks as aiding them with some research or you might have the daunting task of traveling to various planets and collecting resources. How you interact with others will also developer your character either as a Paragon (hero) or a Renegade (anti-hero). If you fail to help people or kill the wrong people will only make you look bad in the eyes of the public, but if you are willing to help and go out of your way to help will make people think positive about you.

The game's dialogue, which is extensive varies greatly depending on how your character talks. In every major situation, you are given the opportunity to answer in one of three ways that can lean neutral, positively or negatively. Also, if you decide to develop your charm and intimidate skills can open up other dialog windows that may be important a key points in the game.

Mass Effect is not an easy game in the beginning and it will take you sometime before you get fully adjusted to switching weapons and using your Biotics effectively. Once you do get familiar with the combat system, the difficulty does get a lot easier, but this is a game that cries to you to save every chance you get. Enemies are strong and if your character is not developed a certain way can also add to the possibility of having to restart key points numerous times.

The only real down-side to the game has to be with the controls of the Mako, your ground vehicle. It can be fun to drive, but often the controls are a bit too sensitive causing you to drive it erratically. The camera can also pose a problem as you can get stuck if you drive yourself into a rocky area.

The game's sound is absolutely incredible. I have already stated how impressed I was with the amount of dialogue in the game. The voice-actors are all really well done and the lines are delivered quite effectively. Because you can attempt every area with any of your characters, each one had to deliver the full lines of the game, so you can imagine how many hours were spent recording dialogue. The score is also fantastic and adds to the game's fantastic setting. The sound effects will impress you thanks to the distinctive sounds of the different weapons, grunts and shouts of the enemies and allies and the noises from the environment.

Graphics do suffer a bit. It's far from a poor looking game, in fact, for the most part, it's a fantastic looking game but there are some noticeable polygon issues throughout the game. This game suffers a lot from loading and you will often see models 'load' their polygons as a cut-scene plays out. It almost gives off the impression that the graphics were rushed at times since it happens at such weird moments. There will be points where you will be amazed at what you see, but other times you'll wonder why it looks so bland only to see the detail slowly pop in. The game is also a victim of 'cookie cutter' syndrome where many of the smaller levels and planets look eerily similar to each other. Because of this, you can essentially learn what to expect once you reach a destination. This problem occurs with your side-quests but considering how much effort was placed on all the other aspects of the game, this omission stands out more than it probably should.

Depending on how much time you spend on sidequests, Mass Effect is about a 20 hour game. If you decide to play through the various rescue and research missions given to you, you could spend a very long time before you actually complete the main story line. Also, once you complete the game the first time, you can take your character and go through the story again, experiencing it from a different and/or more difficult point of view. It's great, especially for those who like to find every possible nook and cranny placed by the developers.

I absolutely loved playing Mass Effect. It is a great game that any RPG fan will enjoy. The game strikes the right balance of challenge and enjoyment that you might not realize just how much time you've been playing. The story is very deep and very engaging with plenty of twists and turns along the way. Your experience with the game could be very different from your friend's. On top of that, the 2nd or 3rd time you go through the story, you might notice things you didn't the first time. If you're looking for a game to get lost in, this is your best choice and should not be missed.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Prince of Persia Review (PS3 and Xbox 360)

The re-imagining of the Prince of Persia franchise for the PS2 and Xbox were in the eyes of many as one of the best games available in the last five years. The game took the puzzles of the original series and offered a great addition with the inclusion of the Sands of Time, an in-game function which allowed you to rewind portions of the game to fix a mistake you had, such as dying or missing a key jump. For the HD Prince of Persia, the same idea is brought into the mix and in the end, determines how much you will actually enjoy playing this game.

For this branch of the PoP series, you play as a crook rather than prince. Very little of your back-story is given to you except for the fact that you just obtained some loot and have lost your donkey, who is carry your cash. As you walk through the desert looking for said donkey, you stumble upon a beautiful young girl who is being chased by some armed guards. Your character intrigued, quickly follows her. You find out the girl is a princess and by accident, her father has released the imprisoned God. By releasing the God Ahriman, it begins to devourer the land. In order to stop Ahriman's corruption, you along with the Princess, Elika, must travel to various locations and restore the fertile land.

Your progression through the game revolves around you and Elika traveling from location to location in search of key spots where Elika can restore the area. In order to get to each location, you will have to run, jump, climb and perform other various manoeuvres to get to certain spots on the map. Where in Sand in Time, the key feature was the ability to rewind time when a mistake was made; this time around Elika acts as your saving grace. Since she possesses magical powers, if you make a mistake, such as fall off a ledge or miss a jump, she can quickly grab you and bring you back so you can try again. This mechanic is a key feature in the game and will ultimately determine your enjoyment of the game. Those who might find games like this a bit demanding will enjoy the fact that her assistance will make things easier for you. You won't actually die, so if you make a mistake, it's simply try and try again. But those who want a challenge may end up finding this as a crutch and will be put off by the easiness it makes the game feel like.

Thankfully, this key feature of Prince of Persia is a great addition to the game and for the most part, Elika is a great character that it doesn't feel like a cheap-game-play mechanic. Elika is a key part to the game and in fact, she is the more important character of the two.

The game focuses solely on the puzzles of each locale. For the most part, once you get to a location, there is really one way to get to the main point, but the game doesn't force you into playing the game in sequential order. Upon restoring fertile land, special 'orbs' will appear that must be collected to help Elika's strength which are then used to unlock additional abilities and progression through the game.

The first few levels are basic, but as you unlock plates, each with special functions to them that acts as the key to completing the game. You can select whichever plate you want to unlock first and that will open up parts of the area for you to complete. Some levels require only one plate to complete, but later on in the game, you will encounter spots where two or more of the plates will be used to reach key spots. The four plates are each significantly different. One acts a teleportation plate which takes you automatically to another point. Another one turns your character into a speed demon, where you will literally run along a path to reach your destination. If you hit a wall or an obstacle, you'll have to start again.

The game's actual combat more or less only occurs during stage battles. With each of the fertile lands contains a boss that must be defeated numerous times, once per each of the four sub-sections and then once more to rid them of Ahriman's possession. The combat in game is a bit hit or miss. In the beginning, the combat is simple and taking care of your enemies is a breeze, but that quickly changes and boss battles end up becoming a long series of quick-time events. This is the weakest part of the game as the combat feels out of place from the great platforming you do throughout the rest of the game. Often, you will be spending a good chunk of your time deflecting attacks before you actually manage to strike your opponent. There also seems to be a problem with the sensitivity of the controls, where you will be certain that a button was pressed, but nothing occurs.

This touchiness with the controls also occurs during the platform puzzle portions of the game. Because you essentially use only one button for majority of your actions, depending on the camera angle and the position of your character, he might end up doing an incorrect action forcing you to restart a long series of moves. It's not too bad, but it happens enough that it will frustrate most people.

Because of Elika's saving ability, the game is easy, but not easy enough that you can breeze through this in one sitting. The game does take a long time and even with the saving and assistance she gives you, you will be playing this for a while. There is plenty to collect and admire that you could end up spending a lot longer than you'd think.

Prince of Persia contains some of the best looking graphics I have ever seen in a long time. The game uses the once popular cell-shading art style exceptionally well and everything from the characters to the environments are breathtaking. The animations of both Elika and the 'Prince' are very fluid with almost no noticeable hiccups. Yes, I did encounter some weird graphically glitches, including once in which my Prince ended up running on air which forced me to restart from my last save. Other than that minor malfunction, I often would stop playing only to admire the art design. Some might feel that cell-shading should have been stopped years ago, but Prince of Persia shows that it can still be done effectively.

The sound is nearly on par with the game's graphics. All the voice-work, be it Elika, the 'Prince' or even the enemy characters are very convincing. The game's score is also one of my favourites in recent years. The music during points in the game where you unlock the plates is something I will surely not forget for a very long time.

Outside of the rare control issues and the weird combat mechanics, this is an absolutely incredible game that will appeal to fans of the Prince of Persia series, especially those of the Sands of Time series, and fans of adventure games. I can't stress enough that this is one fantastic game that should be played by even those who might not be attracted to this type of game.