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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Hitman: Absolution (8.8/10)

To read the official full length review follow the link here: Hitman: Absolution.

The truth is that I’m not a huge fan of games like Hitman: Absolution. I’ve been preaching patience this entire review, but it’s not something I personally excel at. Ironically, I think that’s why I liked Absolution so much. You have such fluid control of 47 that if you get spotted, you can enjoy the action and shooting without feeling terribly guilty. In that sense, it reminds me a lot of the Metal Gear Solid games. When you do it right-when it all comes together and the hit comes off without a hitch, there are few games that live up to the same sense of success and accomplishment. Absolution is a fantastic addition to a series the defined a genre last generation, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with for our favorite bald assassin moving forward.

If you want to read more of my specific thoughts about the game, follow the link to read the full length review at Game Over Online.


Score = 8.8 / 10

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (9.0/10)

To read the official full length review follow the link here: Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.

When we look back over the illustrious history of video games, I often wonder where the Call of Duty franchise will fall in the grand scheme of things. From a sales perspective, the franchise is an unstoppable force. Apparently, Black Ops 2 grossed over five hundred million in the first twenty four hours alone, and has made well over a billion to date. The phrase "often imitated, but never duplicated" springs to mind as well considering the slew of copy-cats that we all keep thinking might offer some kind of competition, but in the end serve to emphasize just how dominant and well crafted Call of Duty is. The latest installment is Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, the sequel to the insanely popular original that released in 2010. And with a well crafted story, addictive multiplayer, and the return of the fan-favorite Zombie mode, Black Ops 2 may be the best the series has offered since the original Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.

If you want to read more of my specific thoughts about the game, follow the link to read the full length review at Game Over Online!


Score = 9.0 / 10

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Halo 4 (9.4/10)

To read the official full length review follow the link here: Halo 4.

To tell the truth, there is not a lot to complain about with Halo 4. This series set the industry standard in a lot of ways, and the start of this new trilogy didn't disappoint... something I find reasonably impressive considering how high the expectations were. I found the campaign engaging and the narrative the most enjoyable in the series to date. The multiplayer is addictive as ever, and we all know there are a lot more maps are on the way. I really like the new Spartan Ops mode which is a great way to play with a core group, but is just as enjoyable solo. 343 Industries should be commended for showing us what true fans can do if given the opportunity. They made one of the best games of the year. It's good to be back in Chief's boots. Sure, the other Spartan's are bad ass, but there is only one Master Chief.

If you want to read more of my specific thoughts about the game, follow the link to read the full length review at DragonBlogger!


Score = 9.4 / 10

Friday, December 7, 2012

Worms Revolution (6.0/10)

To read the official full length review follow the link here: Worms Revolution. 

In the end, Worms Revolution is cute and fun if you're not taking it too seriously. If you do, it will drive you nuts. This is definitely a game that will appeal more to a certain "type of gamer." Puzzle fans will appreciate the inherent creativity in the design. It's also a nostalgic trip for those who grew up with the franchise, but most will find frustrations quickly thanks to control issues. The controls are finicky at best, and delayed reactions and other issues lead to a lot of "Are you freakin' kidding me???" moments. You really do need to exercise patience. Trying to rush through a level only results in starting fresh when you accidentally overshoot with a jet-pack and land in the water for the umpteenth time. Trust me, you'll end up banging your head against the wall. The sad truth is I wanted to like Worms Revolution more than I did. Still, it's nice to bring back the ridiculous carnage the worms always represented and it remains a fun way to waste time, especially if you have some equally inept friends at your side (and some beers). 

If you want to read more of my specific thoughts about the game, follow the link to read the full length review at Push Square!  


Score = 6.0 / 10

Thursday, December 6, 2012

LEGO: Lord of the Rings (8.7/10)

To read the official full length review follow the link here: LEGO: Lord of the Rings.

The LEGO games have managed to successfully blend some of my favorite franchises with that irresistible LEGO charm. I love these games-I own them all and have 100%-ed more than half of them. So Traveler's Tales finally answered my prayers and made a new homage game with one of my absolute favorites: Lord of the Rings. It was sorely overdue! LEGO: Lord of the Rings combines two of my favorite things: I find the LEGO games consistently fun and entertaining, and I'm a pretty big Lord of the Rings nerd! And I'm pleased to say that they may have crafted their best work to date!

If you want to read more of my specific thoughts about the game, follow the link to read the full length review at Game Over Online! 


Score = 8.7 / 10

Friday, November 30, 2012

Call of Duty Black Ops: Declassified (5.4/10)

To read the official full length review follow the link here: Call of Duty Black Ops: Declassified.

The annual Call of Duty juggernaut rolls on, shattering sales records left and right. Now for the first time, the most successful franchise in history comes on the Vita with Call of Duty Black Ops: Declassified. Under the direction of developer Nihilistic, I'm sure Activision was banking on this being a big seller, but in the end Declassified is a pretty big disappointment. It's one of those things: it looks like Call of Duty, feels like Call of Duty, but it just isn't Call of Duty. The controls aren't as tight as you'd expect from the premier shooter in the industry, the multiplayer is a mess, and the campaign is criminally short. All in all, this is one mission you shouldn't partake in.

In the end, Call of Duty Black Ops: Declassified is a pale imitation of its superior forebears. It's not bad for what it is, but it's not nearly as good as it should be. Frankly, I expected better. The length of the campaign is criminal-there is no way they should charge full price for this. Frankly, it's insulting. What's there isn't terrible, there just isn't very much of it. If they bring Call of Duty back to the Vita (and they should), here's hoping the next installment lives up to it's illustrious moniker. 

If you want to read more of my specific thoughts about the game, follow the link to read the full length review at Game Over Online! 

Score = 5.4 / 10

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Assassin's Creed 3: Liberation (8.1/10)

To read the official full length review follow the link here: Assassin's Creed 3: Liberation. 

The Assassin's Creed series provides gamers with an interesting dichotomy... on the one hand it offers unique platforming and enjoyable combat while at the same time penning a clever narrative that has endless possibilities in the realm of "alternate history," a genre that has taken on a life all its own. As something of a history buff, I love the fact that it gives the player the chance to explore the living past despite going off the rails with the core concept. While many people are curious to see how Desmond's tale expands into the New World with Conner in Assassin's Creed 3 after so long in Rome, Playstation Vita owners are given the chance to take the experience on the go with Assassin's Creed 3: Liberation. For the most part it plays astonishingly like it's console brethren. Sadly however, it falls short in a few crucial areas, thus dampening the overall experience.

What is genuinely surprising and impressive is that AC3: Liberation really feels like a proper Assassin's Creed game, and may even play better than the original. The platforming and free running feel impressively smooth, and combat is as fun as ever, even if it's not as fine tuned as more recent console entries. For me, the biggest problem with Liberation is the story, it felt underdeveloped and stands as a missed opportunity. Despite that short coming and a few technical issues aside, I really enjoyed being able to take what is essentially a full fledged Assassin's Creed game on the road with me. While not essential to the canon, this game is worth playing for anyone who is a fan of the series.

If you want to read more of my specific thoughts about the game, follow the link to read the full length review at Game Over Online!


Score = 8.1 / 10

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Little Big Planet Karting (6.7/10)

To read the official full length review follow the link here: Little Big Planet Karting.

Sackboy has become something of an industry icon, and now the inevitable has happened to our cuddly pal... a spin off. The first offshoot we have been given is Little Big Planet Karting, a kart racer where you can dress up your Sack-person, customize your own kart, create your own tracks, and play the creations of others as well. It's perfectly enjoyable for what it is... but here's the rub: it feels uncomfortably like ModNation Racers, another game in the "Create, Play, Share" line of thinking. And that's the thing, it really is ModNation Racers all over again, just with a LBP theme. While this isn't a deal breaker by any stretch of the imagination, if you own the former, is there really any reason to buy the latter?

Little Big Planet Karting has that indelible Little Big Planet charm, but it's difficult not to feel like Sony is trying to take advantage of a recognizable brand. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of Sackboy, and LBP Karting isn't bad per se, but it's difficult not to feel like the little guy is being exploited. If you're a big LBP fan then it might be worth it, but if you've played ModNation Racers, I don't think the slight makeover is enough to warrant a full price tag.

If you want to read more of my specific thoughts about the game, follow the link to read the full length review at Game Over Online! 


Score = 6.7 / 10

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Borderlands 2 (8.9/10)

To read the official, full length review follow the link here: Borderlands 2. 

Borderlands was a funny sort of game... for a great many it was a loot-fest shooter like nothing they had ever seen before. But for an admittedly unfortunate few, the game turned out to be frustrating, repetitive, and at worst, bland. After playing the first incarnation multiple times, both online and off, I found myself in the middle. In the end, I concluded that as good as Borderlands was, it could have been better with a few minor tweaks to the original idea. So you will understand how excited I was when the sequel was announced! Here was a chance for Gearbox to take what worked in the first game and expand upon it in the sequel while forgoing what held the prototype back. And let me tell you, for the most part, they nailed it! Borderlands 2 is fantastic because Gearbox listened to their fans and made some smart changes to an already successful formula.

Despite the added variety virtually across the board, I still found Borderlands 2 repetitive, and dare I say, boring, in some parts. Doing side missions through previous areas against weak enemies simply feels like a slog in some instances. Or maybe it's just the fact that there is so much to do! Even with vastly improved variety in side missions styles (something else that was a common complaint about the original), Borderlands 2 is a surprisingly long game. However, the overall experience is exponentially more involved because of how things flow. In fact, pacing was probably the biggest crutch that held the first Borderlands back for me. Because the sequel has it a more focused narrative, I always felt like I was moving forward.

In the end, I have to say that Borderlands 2 serves as a wonderful example of how to make a sequel work. It took the good from the first game then streamlined the menus, added variety to enemies, mission types, and weapons, and a more cohesive and flowing narrative that was actually interesting. But most importantly, Borderlands 2 is more fun than the original, as good as it was. Running and gunning through Pandora is a blast yet again, and as before, it's more fun with friends at your side. I can't wait to see what they trot out for Borderlands 3!

If you want to read more of my specific thoughts about the game, follow the link to read the full length review at Game Over Online.


Score = 8.9 / 10

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Max Payne 3 (9.5/10)

Let me start this review simply: I loved Max Payne 3. And here's the kicker: I never played the first two games. I really didn't know much about the plot, nor much about the gameplay (beyond the famous bullet-time mechanic that has been used so many times since). I did watch that godawful Mark Walhberg film, but friends assure me it has little to do with the games apart from the title. What got me interested was the fact that it's Rockstar; they don't make bad games. After some awesome previews and gameplay footage I started getting really excited. I'm happy to report Max Payne 3 is one of the best, and more importantly, most fun games I've played this year.

Max's story is poignant, something of an emotional roller-coaster to say the least. At first I thought his running inner monologue would get annoying, but it's so well written and acted that this element actually enhances the narrative. I'm not going to lie, in a lot of places it's hard to watch Max struggle with his demons. There is a certain amount of introspection (due mostly to fantastic writing, graphics, and performances) that takes place. His latent alcoholism, combined with a healthy dose of bad luck, adds fuel to an already stoked fire made of his previous mistakes. These tragic miscalculations lead to some tough spots, and eventually come back to haunt him. It's cathartic in it's way... it's hard not to feel sorry for the guy, despite the fact that he's killed about as many people as, say, Pol Pot. 

The narrative is phenomenally well written and acted. The story flashes all over the place but manages to keep a cohesive narrative. A lot of the in-game dialogue does a great job of heightening tension. These moments tend to fall just before the action starts, but at the same time adding motivation and catharsis for our anti-hero.

The plot begins with flashbacks and flash-forwards. Max starts by working as a body guard in Sao Paulo. Naturally, everything goes tits up when the person he is supposed to protect gets taken, but it all serves to aid his evolution as a character.  Before long he finds himself in the unenviable position of having pretty much everyone gunning for him. There are twists and turns around every corner, and the direction the story ends up taking is one you won't see coming!

When Max isn't lamenting his rise and fall through thoughtful introspection, he's usually blowing away anyone dumb enough to get in his way. Max is all about the guns! The gunplay is superb, incredibly accessible, and entertaining at the same time. However, that's not to say it isn't challenging. Fans of  Rockstar classics like Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto IV will remember the single point aiming reticule. The controls do take a bit of getting used to; there is a learning curve here before you get in a groove.

Max may be a badass, but he's virtually death incarnate when you enter "bullet-time." His unerring accuracy is even more impressive, provided you have the requisite skills. Giving you the player such exquisite control is empowering. There are very few games I've played over the years that have given me such a sense of superiority. The advantage bullet-time provides can't be understated. Moving just that little bit faster than your foes and slowing down time itself makes all the difference. This has been done over and over since Max brought it to prominence back in the day, but has never been implemented as well as this. It's fair, providing an advantage while not totally removing the difficulty entirely. Plus it looks cool as hell.... 
In fact, my only real complaint about the gunplay is that the laser sights on guns are actually less effective than the red dot indicating you've aimed correctly. That little laser sight is easy to lose track of, especially in the middle of a firefight. Another issue I have is hit detection. When Max gets shot you can see from which direction the bullet came from, but the problem is that it lingers like a monument to your failures. Getting hit from multiple angles, it becomes overwhelming in a hurry.

You really need to keep an eye out for pain killers-this game isn't easy! However, it's interesting to note that if you restart from the same point multiple times you'll eventually begin with more ammo and health to give you a little extra help. In the end it creates a nice sense of balance.

I'll be honest here, the graphics are really impressive. The cutscenes and gameplay flow into one another superbly and the animations are amazing. When Max jumps into an obstruction there is no partial block; he will rebound off the firm surface and react realistically. Sometimes he will even be winded. It's actually an impressive attention to detail. The voice acting is once again top notch. James McCaffrey returns to voice the anti-hero and gives an amazing performance, as does the rest of the cast. The soundtrack serves to heighten the mood and atmosphere in all the right places, from somber moments of introspection to keeping your blood going during intense firefights.

The whole thing with multiplayer is that they finally found a way to work in realistic bullet-time without giving anyone too much of an advantage. It works like this: when I go into slo-mo my perspective slows down just like in the campaign... but on your TV (you being my opponent), I appear to be moving at regular speed, but your accuracy suffers. Once your shots hit my "bubble," then they have a greater chance of missing. It's a rather elegant solution that keeps things on a much more even keel, even if it is a little difficult to pull off in-game. Having said that, I personally felt like the novelty wore off quickly. All things being equal, I'd rather play the campaign again... but then I'm not the most invested gamer when it comes to online multiplayer.

I really had fun with this one. At the end of the day that's why we play, isn't it? Max Payne 3 is a fantastic game, one that I can't recommend enough. It's graphic in both a physical and an emotional sense, and doesn't pull any punches. But at the same time it manages to be an incredibly well written and engaging narrative that really connects with the player. The gameplay is fantastic: visceral, brutal, entertaining, and most importantly fun. It just goes to show that anything Rockstar touches turns to gold.


Score = 9.5 / 10

Monday, October 29, 2012

Sniper Elite v2 (7.9/10)

Fans of modern shooters will always have their favorite toys to play with out there on the battlefield. Running in head first with a shotgun is the preferred method for some, others like the challenge of pistols, still others are happy with the standard assault rifle. But one thing is virtually universal: looking through a scope at an unknowing target elicits a supreme feeling of superiority. But there is a caveat that all gamers know: there is a distinct difference between enjoying playing the sniper role and being good at it. As a result, sniper missions have become a reoccurring theme in campaigns, and, as such, have become something of a cliche. So it's refreshing to play a game designed around sniping, and one that does it well to boot: enter Sniper Elite v2, the sequel to a classic on the original Xbox.

Sniper Elite v2 takes place during WWII. You play as a sniper trying to take out key members of the German v2 rocket program... and anyone else who gets in the way. Few people know just how close the Germans were to creating what was essentially an intercontinental ballistic missile, and thus having the ability to target Washington or New York. Your character is forgettable, but war torn Berlin isn't. The story is relatively clever, especially if you know much about the fall of Berlin at the hands of the Soviets. I appreciated the sense of isolation the game conjures; I really felt like it was just me against insurmountable odds, but the importance of my missions meant failure wasn't an option.

The idea of one shot kills is nothing new, but Sniper Elite v2 takes the art to a whole new level. More than anything else you have to be patient, just like a real sniper. Learning to wait is essential, and not just in terms of learning the paths the guards walk. I've met a few true snipers in my day, and you wouldn't know it by looking at them. It takes a special kind of person to do such a job. Waiting for the opportune moment isn't always easy, especially if you are on a time frame (like someone being escorted to a car, for example). As you up the difficulty, you need to be fully aware of realistic physics: things like bullet drop, wind, etc. The importance of using cover and staying out of sight has rarely been as rewarding. Taking a shot, then sneaking away to find another vantage point while everyone below panics leaves you with a sense of primacy I've rarely felt in a game.

I'm not gonna lie, the main draw of Sniper Elite v2 is the glorious bullet-tracking, slow-motion kill camera complete with X-ray vision. You really get a good view of the carnage. Watching the bullet leave the chamber, then following the flightpath until it exits the back of the target's head is beyond awesome. It's interesting from a medical perspective. It's not often we think about what actually happens to the human anatomy when it gets struck with a supersonic bullet... the results can be painful to watch, literally! Here's a piece of advice, don't shoot anyone below the belt. I accidentally led a guy too much and the shot dropped more than I expected... I actually felt queasy after watching it. But for those out there who enjoy this sort of gratuitous violence (like yours truly), it doesn't get much better!

Apart from the sniping itself, the gameplay isn't especially good. Sniping is clearly the focus here. Sadly, ironically, the game forgoes everything else in lieu of this. Using pistols or sub-machine guns for close quarters combat doesn't work nearly as well as it should. The controls suffer for it. Considering how many run-of-the-mill shooters are out there, the fact that they didn't really get the easy parts right is frustrating. Trying to be sneaky, as any good sniper should be, doesn't work particularly well either. The stealth kill thing only worked about half the time. I'd rather pick them off from distance, even if it means mobilizing everyone else.

The movement controls also leave something to be desired. The main issue is making sure that all the environments are interactable, not just some of them. At one point I died simply because I couldn't jump over a waist high wall. After replaying the scene, I actually went over to check the same wall and it still wouldn't let me jump over it. The ones to the left and right were fine... this sort of lack of attention to detail drives me nuts!

The main issue I have with this game is the enemy AI. It could have been better... a lot better. There were multiple instances off my handiwork being plain to see: piles of dead bodies with neat little holes in their heads and still some other idiot has to crash the party, run up and wonder what happened... so I'd blow his brains out as well, then sigh and reload knowing there are probably more on the way.

As fun as things can be, they could have been even more so. A mini-map would have helped out immensely, as would some kind of radar. It's frustrating not to have a better idea of where enemies are once they've been spotted. The threat indicator isn't particularly clear, which makes it difficult towards the end. When you get shot from multiple directions at the same time it's more than a little disorienting. It's even worse when you're viewing things through a scope and get hit.

Actually, Sniper Elite v2 reminds me a lot of Splinter Cell: Conviction, warts and all. In that same vein, it's just as frustrating when things don't go as planned. It feels limited in this regard. Snipers aren't supposed to get pinned down, so it's usually kill shot then move. Sadly, just like the aforementioned Splinter Cell games, things degenerate quickly when you get spotted. Once they do, it's not like being a sniper at all. You'll find yourself running in circles trying to find cover long enough to return fire!

In fact, there is almost a shameless ripoff of a key mechanic to Splinter Cell: Conviction: the "silhouette of the last known location." When you are spotted but then break like of sight, a silhouette will show up where you were last seen. Here's the problem: the enemy AI, as stupid as it can be, has an uncanny ability to know exactly where you are even after one shot. It's moderately infuriating when there is no one looking at you, yet a bullet from enormous distances inexplicably leads them all to your location. This isn't even remotely realistic. One shot shouldn't give away your position, and if it did you would be able to move to a new location before they pinpointed yours. Once you try to move from your perch, you'll see your silhouette only if they can't see you. Otherwise, the only way to know if you've been spotted is if you're getting peppered with bullets!

There is also a clever scoring system that's worth mentioning. Usually this sort of thing annoys me to no end, but at least for this one I can see going back and trying to do better. I didn't try any of the multiplayer aspects but word on the street is that it's surprisingly fun. Sniping with a buddy? Sounds like a good time to me, especially since it means an extra pair of eyes to spot the bad guys!

Some of the graphics are awesome (like the X-ray kill-cam), while others are just terrible. Don't look too closely at anything in the background. There are wallpapered floors and all sorts of weird stuff. It's difficult not to be under the impression that with the right backing and some more money this could have really been special.

I also encountered lots of glitches. Texture pop-ins and general fuzziness are one thing, but I had issues with environments and some bizarre instances where the physics went nuts. One memorable moment occurred when I snuck up behind this German infantryman and promptly broke his neck. Rather than slump to the ground he sort of revolved in place. I ended up finishing the rest of the mission, then had to ex-fil past where he was... and yup, he was still turning. Talk about taking you out of the experience!

Sniper Elite v2 is a game that does justice to sniping while failing at almost everything else. I can't help feeling like it could have been better. There are a lot of glitches to contend with and the controls can be a burden outside of aiming down a rifle barrel. You're going to have to look past some technical issues and the fact that it suffers from the same problems that most stealth action games do. When it gets it right, you are a ghost that kills Nazis' from anywhere and disappears without a trace. But when you're spotted, and you inevitably will be, and things go to hell... well, then it becomes an exercise in frustration. However, don't get me wrong, Sniper Elite v2 is absolutely worth your time. Hell, it's worth it just for the kill-cam!


Score = 7.9 / 10

PS. The Kill Hitler DLC isn't much to write home about apart from the fact that you get to, you know, kill Hitler. So yeah, from that standpoint alone it's worth the money!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Jumper: Griffin's Story (3.3/10)

Occasionally I'll go into a book store with the intention of proving that old adage wrong: you can never judge a book by it's cover... so I'll do just that. I've gotten lucky a few times; some of my favorite authors have come from just that sort of experimentation. Sadly, I've also read some real stinkers. The reason I bring it up is because a friend of mine asked me recently why I don't review more bad games. Well, the obvious answer is that I don't like playing bad games for the same reason I don't like reading bad books... because they are bad! This seems pretty obvious, but it got me thinking. My friend in question has one of the highest gamer scores in the world. He has played a lot of baaaad games. So I challenged him to pick some of the worst (and he paid for them, they were cheap), and I would review them... after all, I do enjoy ripping the crap out of terrible games, even if I don't enjoy playing them.

Anyhoo, here is a review for Jumper: Griffin's Story. Yeah, my friend is a bastard. I asked him why he played it. He replied it was full of easy achievements. What an excuse... for Pete's sake, one of them is actually for beating the game in less than an hour-what does that tell you!

Jumper: Griffin's Story is a crappy game based on a crappy movie. It's all about, wait for it, jumpers, who can teleport their way around anywhere, be it to the other side of the world or inside a bank vault. As one would expect from the title, this is all about Griffin, the other jumper from the movie. I didn't pay much attention to the plot... I vaguely remember the film being awful so I didn't go in with very high expectations. Even so, I was still surprised by just how bad it was. The plot is incoherent about a character no one really cared about in the first place.

The graphics are laughably bad: this looks and plays like a Playstation 2 port (I'm pretty sure it actually was). It looks like an old PC title where everything is in focus, including the backgrounds. It's disorienting, especially so when you turn the camera. Regardless, there are all sorts of texture pop-in issues, screen tearing, poor editing and transitions... I could go on, but I don't really want to. Oh, okay, one more... background blockage issues (where panning the camera causes the environment to block your view of the action) are, without a doubt, the worst of any game I've ever played! From this standpoint alone the game comes awfully close to being broken. Hell, the cut scenes are done comic-style, further suggesting that they didn't have much of a budget for this.

The one redeeming thing about Jumper: Griffin's Story is that the combat has an interesting hook. In a game all about teleporting, you are essentially give the option of attacking your foes from the front, back, or sides. This corresponds to the face buttons on the controller: "A" is front, "B" is right, "Y" is back, and "X" is left. It's fun to mix it up. Harder enemies will have sections blocked off meaning if you make a mistake and hit from that side they will break your combo and even counter, so you need to be paying attention. If one side is red, then you need to attack from the opposite side and so on. However, if you attack an area that is highlighted green you'll fill a meter that allows Griffin to do what amount to super moves.

These cool super moves are essentially mini cut-scenes where Griffin warps enemies from the battlefield to out of the way locales and then leaves them there... you know, places like Antarctica, a shark tank, or a fusion reactor. Those actually look decent, but there are only a half dozen of them and as a result they get repetitive. The novelty wears off quickly. Still, these moments stand as a highlight of the game. My personal favorite was warping into a car... in a compactor.

Sadly, that is as interesting as it gets. Each level is essentially a series of arena style fights. Bad guys come streaming in, literally all following the same animation pattern before circling and patiently waiting for you to beat the snot out of them. It's repetitive, silly, and worst of all, boring despite the interesting combat system. A few of the levels offer a little in the way of exploration, but the layouts all look the same and it's easy to get lost. A mini-map would have made it a little more tolerable, but not by much.

A major issue is the fact that the game only saves in between chapters. There are checkpoints littered about the place so if you die you don't go back to the start. However, if you have to stop the game and say go to sleep/work/school/anything more interesting than this travesty of game, then your load saves at the beginning of the chapter... even if you were at the end. This is beyond frustrating, especially with annoyingly elongated boss fights. There was one towards the end that was one of the more tedious slogs I've experienced (that I had been secretly been praying was the final boss, only to have the game keep going). 

Despite an interesting combat mechanic and some fun scenes where Griffin leaves his victims in increasingly sadistic positions to die, about the best thing that can be said about Jumper: Griffin's Story is the fact that it is mercifully short. It bears all the hallmarks of an unfinished game (or rather, one based on a movie). It's almost insulting to think this was originally a full priced game. As I said initially, Jumper: Griffin's Story is a crappy game based on a crappy movie, and isn't even worth the couple of bucks my mate paid for it.


Score = 3.3 / 10

Monday, October 15, 2012

Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 (7.4/10)

To read the official full length review follow the link here: Pro Evolution Soccer 2013.

One of the hardest aspects of being a reviewer is not giving in to your biases. Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 doesn't really feel that different from last year’s version, warts and all. In the end, I feel like the PES/FIFA battle is shaping up more like an early round FA Cup tie. A little team from a small town gets to go to the home of giants and play on the big stage. Occasionally something amazing happens, but most of the time they just get trounced. Everything that once held PES apart, FIFA now does (fairly) comparably in my opinion. As good as PES can be, and the moments of magic are arguably better than those on FIFA, it has fallen so far behind the competition in so many aspects that it’s difficult to make a serious comparison. 

If you want to read more of my specific thoughts about the game, follow the link to read the full length review at Game Over Online!


Score = 7.4 / 10

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Little Big Planet Vita (9.2/10)

To read the official full length review follow the link here: Little Big Planet Vita. 

Sometimes simple ideas yield impressive and unexpected results. Little Big Planet is such an example, a veritable phenomenon. At first glance it's a pretty straightforward puzzle platformer, the kind we've been playing for decades. But upon further inspection, realistic physics and fiendishly clever level design give the basic gameplay more depth than expected. Cap it all off by including the tools the designers themselves used, thus allowing the player at home the chance to create their own unique levels. This essentially makes these games infinitely replayable; at last count there were over six million levels. Yes, you read that right. Sure, most of them are pretty terrible, but there are enough hidden gems that users have created that are worth seeking out. The adventures of Sackboy have now gone mobile for the second time, now on the PS Vita.

While Media Molecule is no longer directly in charge, the trio of new developers took the LBP spirit and ran with it. You wouldn't even know it was made by a veritable conglomerate of companies. I'll be honest, they should all be commended for making what could be the best LBP yet. The Vita version takes all the best parts of the console games and successfully infuses motion and touch controls to add just that much more to the mix. Personally, I can't wait to see what the community at large comes up with in the future. Just like its console brethren, LBP Vita takes puzzle platforming to new heights, and the fact that you can do so on the go makes it just that much sweeter.

If you want to read more of my specific thoughts about the game, follow the link to read the full length review at Game Over Online!  


Score = 9.2 / 10

Thursday, September 27, 2012

FIFA 13 (9.1/10)

To read the official full length review follow the link here: FIFA 13.

As a dyed-in-the-wool soccer fanatic, I sometimes find it difficult to temper my expectations when it comes to both my real life teams and my virtual ones. I fervently look forward to the start of the new Premier League season in hopes that my beloved Liverpool will finally regain their form (fat chance, as if the beginning of this season could have gone any worse!), but also because it heralds the newest rendition of EA Sports FIFA series. The last couple of years have been a boon for the franchise, taking some big chances but ultimately improving the end product exponentially. FIFA 13 doesn't make the drastic changes to the formula we have seen recently, but the subtle tweaks make for a more accessible footballing experience for casual fans as well as increased depth and new play modes for diehards like yours truly.

On the one hand, there are some laudable improvements over last year's stellar entry. The new first touch mechanic can be a useful tool in the hands of skilled players. The more intuitive attacking AI makes the game flow much more smoothly from end to end. I really feel like it makes the game easier for newcomers and casual fans alike. Deeper career modes and a host of new online options give veterans a lot to be excited about as well. But there are still issues that need to be addressed such as long passing, crossing, and smoother presentation and commentary. However, these are minor concerns in the face of what is an overall stellar product. If you're a fan of the beautiful game then FIFA 13 is a must buy, once again!

If you want to read more of my specific thoughts about the game, follow the link to read the full length review at Game Over Online!  


Score = 9.1 / 10

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Lollipop Chainsaw (7.2/10)

The wide world of video games is full of colorful characters... and I'm not just talking about those on screen! Peter Molyneux springs instantly to mind, as does Tomonobu Itagaki of Ninja Gaiden fame. But few are as eclectic as Goichi Suda, also known as Suda 51. He is best known as the creative genius behind such games as killer7 and No More Heroes. Now he returns with Lollipop Chainsaw, telling the tale of a buxom cheerleader who gets caught up in the unfortunate series of events during a zombie outbreak. And like his other efforts, Lollipop Chainsaw takes this bizarre notion and makes a quirky, enjoyable game out of it. Sadly, also like his other efforts, his fun ideas are tempered by wonky controls and some poor design decisions. 

Today is Juliet's birthday! Unfortunately, the party will have to wait because, you know, like, the zombie apocalypse has begun. Fortunately, it turns out that our stereotypical, cliched, buxom, blond bombshell of a heroine has another passion beyond shopping and lollipops... she happens to be a zombie hunter! Not only that, she comes from a family of zombie hunters! Unfortunately, Juliet's boyfriend Nick tragically suffers a zombie related mishap. Luckily for him her love is strong, so she magically seals his head off from the zombie poison coursing through his veins, and then straps his head to her butt. He serves as part comic relief, part useful tool (Nick can be shot out of cannons, thrown at zombies, things like that) to take on the hordes of undead as Juliet endeavors to find the source of the outbreak and punish those responsible.

If that made sense to you in any fashion... well, then kudos, give yourself a pat on the back. The plot never really evolves much beyond meeting members of her family and battling the zombie rock lords who serve as bosses (if you've managed to keep your eyebrows from raising there, give yourself another pat on the back). Mind you, I didn't really expect it to. The plot is intentionally ridiculous, taking campy B-grade zombie movies (that we all secretly love) to new heights.

I can't tell how much of Buffy the Vampire Slayer they are trying to channel here. At times it seems like they are trying to pay a certain amount of homage to the cult classic, but at other times it seems to almost be making crude, mean spirited fun of it, making a mockery of the subject matter. The difference is that one is empowering, while the other is just degrading.

Be warned, a lot of the dialogue is pretty over the top, yet surprisingly, blatantly inappropriate. The bad guys say things to Juliet that actually had me raising my eyebrows at the sheer vulgarity of it. Subtly may not be Suda 51's forte, but come on now! It's almost like he's trying to single handedly set back the feminist movement by 60 years! Okay, okay, I know it's supposed to be tongue in cheek, but it's still pretty bad. 

Bad lines and cliched characters aside, zombie killing is what Lollipop Chainsaw is all about! Juliet carries around a wicked chainsaw in her gym bag, as well as pom-poms and, of course, Nick to bash, slice, and mutilate the undead masses. Combat consists of minor combos and moving through different weapon types. It does actually evolve as you progress (more on that in a minute), so it's more than simple button mashing. Sadly, the level design follows the all too familiar pattern of kill so many zombies before you can progress, then kill some more to progress some more. Eventually you'll run into a boss. It's fun at first, but the novelty wears off pretty quickly. But Juliet and her skills are upgradable, so that at least keeps things a little fresh.

Killing three or more zombies with one swing will earn you sparkle hunting points... yeah (another pat on the back if you kept a straight face). It's clever in that you get extra medals for pulling them off, and therefore, more goodies to buy. If you actually build up a "Sparkle Meter" which, when full, allows Juliet to go on a "Mickey" themed rampage (the song, not the Disney character), one hit killing any zombie in her path for a short time. This is when you can really rack up the points, and subsequently spend those points to upgrade Juliet's skill set. Unfortunately, it takes an age to fill, so you really need to pick your moments.

Despite it's best efforts not to be, Lollipop Chainsaw is still a one trick pony. Here's is the problem... I literally used the same combo the entire game. Why, you ask? Because the one worked just fine in pretty much every situation! You can unlock others as you progress but the cost to upgrade is a little too high. This is fine, but it's really only worth thinking about it in terms of multiple playthroughs. You don't get the good stuff till so near the end that you barely have time to play around with them. Therein lies the problem. The developers wrongly assumed people would want to replay the silly story again solely for the gameplay, but since the gameplay isn't that good to begin with (because they don't give you the best combos till the end) then why would I want to go through it again? The game even tells you that if you play through on harder difficulties then weapon/enemy/health drops will all be different, but I couldn't escape thinking that I didn't really care that much and the story hadn't engaged me enough to warrant another go.

The production values are kind of a mixed bag. The heavily stylized, cel-shaded graphics are well done, but don't animate very well. Juliet and Nick look great, and it's colorful and fun most of the time, but I couldn't help thinking repeatedly that the animations outside of the main characters looked awful. The cutscenes are poorly edited, with loading screens cutting off dialogue.

The soundtrack is a highlight, although the overly cliched dialogue wears on you like watching a poorly edited version of Clueless. If you can pick out the good lines from the bad you'll be okay, but a lot of the stuff is repeated far too often. In fact, the music is probably the best part of Lollipop Chainsaw. Whether it's Juliet kicking zombie ass while "Mickey" plays in the background, to the different musically inclined bosses at the end of each level, the soundtrack definitely enhances the experience.

Suda 51 is an interesting character to say the least. Just like his other efforts, there is something to be said for his talent, but perhaps not his execution. Lollipop Chainsaw is cute (in a warped way, more poking fun at stereotypes rather than embracing them), funny (there are some good one-liners if you can sit through all the drivel) and the game has some campy value (much like his other games). If you can get past the simplistic gameplay and eye-rolling plot, then Lollipop Chainsaw is worth playing... once. I think the biggest mistake he made with this one was the faulty assumption that we would want to replay the game, because it's only on subsequent playthroughs that you're really going to get the most out of it. Personally, I couldn't be bothered.


Score = 7.2 / 10

Friday, September 7, 2012

Madden 13 (8.5/10)

To read the official full length review follow the link here: Madden 13.

Madden simultaneously encapsulates both everything that is great with our industry as well as it’s darker under belly. On the one hand, the Madden franchise virtually defines blockbuster, with only a handful of titles that can compare on an annual sales basis. But at the same time, every year fans decry the lack of evolution with the series. The phrase “I hope I’m not just buying another roster update!” being a common refrain at the time of purchase. It seems like every year EA tries to pat us on the shoulder in a fatherly way, admonishing our lack of faith and assuring us that this year all of last year’s problems would be fixed... and while sometimes issues are addressed, fans almost universally agree it’s never enough. EA has promised a lot of changes to Madden 13 this year both on the field and off, but does the game finally live up to the hype?

The short answer is yes, but the long answer is still no... EA made some noticeable improvements to not only the gameplay, but also revamping some of the key modes of the series. “Connected Careers” is intriguing and addictive, and the Infinity Engine becomes more and more appreciated the more you play. Time will tell if hardcore fans end up appreciating their efforts. But Madden 13 loses points with me because of the “Franchise” mode debacle. The fact that you can’t have both a created player yet still coach the entire team bothers me to no end. Overall, it’s a better game (probably the best it’s ever been), but the experience still isn’t what it should be. The foundation has been laid, so here’s hoping next year will rectify these issues... but, as you are probably all too aware, we’ve said that before.

If you want to read more of my specific thoughts about the game, follow the link to read the full length review at Game Over Online!  


Score = 8.5 / 10

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Star Wars Battlefront: Elite Squadron (6.6/10)

Being a Star Wars nerd of some repute, I'm always keen on finding and trying new Star Wars games/books/comics/media to get my fix. Once I had my 3DS, my first search was for a Star Wars title I could take with me. I know I'm overly critical when it comes to Star Wars, so I tried to do a little research before trying anything. I settled on Star Wars Battlefront: Elite Squadron. While the plot is clever (if a bit absurd), the simplistic gameplay and repetitive levels didn't endear me to this one either... so sadly my search for a decent Star Wars game must go on.

The plot is, at the same time, the greatest strength and biggest weakness of the game. The narrative follows a pair of "special" clones known only as X-1 and X-2. But when the infamous Order 66 comes through, the clones find themselves on opposite sides of the same war. I thought it was reasonably clever how X-2 was written into the overarching narrative, from the Clone Wars through the Battle of Endor... but what I really love is how the third act takes you into the expanded universe of the novels. My problem with all this is that according to those novels (at least from what I've read) the premise is flawed. Just like in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2, can you clone a Jedi? Of course not, otherwise why would you clone anyone but Jedi!?

Despite the faulty logic of the premise, I thought the plot was interesting if completely out of sync with the canon. I mean, come on, are we really expected to believe this guy fought in the Clone Wars and the Battle of Yavin? I found myself shaking my head at the absurdity of some of what you are expected to infer. Some of the excuses for using characters in the middle of an already established plot line are flimsy at best, leading to some true eye-rolling moments of exasperation. 

Elite Squadron is fun to play... at first. Sadly, it won't be long before you figure out that despite giving you some options, the gameplay is really a one-trick pony. It quickly becomes repetitive and boring. The top screen is where all the action is, while the screen below serves as a radar/mini-map. All the guns have auto-fire so you can just hold the button and strafe around. It's not terribly challenging, and picking a class where you can toss grenades as well makes you pretty much unstoppable.

There are four basic classes to try: heavy, assault, spy, or engineer. I liked the dual pistol wielding "spy" because he also has MIRV-ing grenades which were great for clearing out rooms. I used this class the most. The "assault" class is your standard Stormtrooper load out: assault rifle and grenades. The "heavy" guy is good too, sporting a big mini-gun and rocket launcher. Lastly, the "engineer" can fix automatic turrets to fight with you rather than against you. I can see how playing around with class augments could give you some variety, but it's usually not necessary. To be honest, I never found that there were too many instances where one class was needed over the others, and if there were, then there was always a handy place to switch in case you had previously chosen the wrong one.

When you do finally get your lightsaber, the combat is as unsatisfying as wielding blasters. This is a shame considering it took such a long time to build up to that point. Nothing much changes apart from the visuals. The strategy of holding down the attack button as you move between foes doesn't change much. What's worse is the lightsaber never feels as powerful as it should either, adding insult to injury.

You aren't always battling the forces of evil alone, but sadly the ally AI is pretty useless... but then so is the enemy AI. Enemies come barging in and seem content to soak up your laser blasts. With the aforementioned auto-fire ensuring you lay down a steady stream of death, it's all down to mowing down one guy before moving on to the next.

Top-down combat aside, there are multiple sections that take advantage of the slew of famous vehicles in the Star Wars universe. The speeder sections are on-rails, but you don't actually do much with them beyond holding down the fire button and making slight adjustments. It's not even remotely challenging, and I never really felt like I was actually in control.

Flying in space fares a bit better... but not much. There are two types of fighter sections: some are akin to racing down trenches a la the first Death Star run (which is used multiple times in multiple circumstances but ultimately isn't that different from the speeder sections). However, there are some open area piloting sections that give you more freedom of movement. Sadly, they don't feel the need to give you too much. The problem is that you can only turn on one axis. In other words you can't fly up or down just left and right, much like battling on the ground. It's all about getting your angles right and shooting anything that isn't you, but ultimately not being able to fly on the "Z"-axis is just plain wrong.

If you can look past the absurd plot holes that are sure to irk die-hard fans and the overly simplified combat, then you might enjoy this simple, short DS title. By now regular readers know how hardcore I am about my Star Wars, but overall, I wasn't terribly impressed with Elite Squadron. If you're dying to take Star Wars around with you then this might scratch your itch, but otherwise this one should probably be lumped in with the prequels, and left well alone.


Score = 6.6 / 10

Monday, July 9, 2012

LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes (8.4/10)

To read the official full length review follow the link here: LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes.
I love LEGO games and I'm not afraid to admit it! Under the cutesy veneer, simple gameplay meets surprisingly deep level design with clever puzzles and tons of collectibles to find and unlock. The developers, Traveller's Tales, have consistently offered similar (yet enjoyable) experiences based on whichever movie franchise you happen to be playing. I have to admit, I've felt like they had beaten a dead horse after playing the last couple of offerings. So, to their credit, they made some substantial changes to LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes that really worked.

While LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes suffers from a few questionable design decisions, none of the them ultimately detract from what is an excellent adventure. The fact that the characters are no longer silent gave a lot of fans a moment of pause, but I really think it worked for the better... although I'm curious to see how it will work if they stick with movie properties (like the upcoming LEGO Lord of the Rings). But taken as the sum of it's parts, fans of the LEGO series should rejoice! As I said initially, I haven't had this much fun with one of these games since LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga. This one is definitely worth checking out!

If you want to read more of my specific thoughts about the game, follow the link to read the full length review at Game Over Online!


Score = 8.4 / 10

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

God of War: Origins Collection (9.3/10)

We live in a time ripe with sequels. Once an intellectual property "hits," sequels inevitably follow. This can either be a good or a bad thing depending on your point of view. It's difficult for Star Wars fans to mention some sequels while feigning ignorance about the others. But the point is that we all have games/movies/books that we love and follow. No matter how many titles get pumped out under the same banner we will flock to them! God of War is such a series for me. So when God of War: Origins Collection was announced I did a happy dance! Finally, I could play the PSP games I never could simply because I didn't own Sony's handheld. Having both Ghost of Sparta and Chains of Olympus on one disc, remastered in HD no less, was a real treat. Fans of Kratos should, without a doubt, take advantage... especially if you missed them the first time around.

One could call the Origins games the missing chapters of Kratos' saga. Of course, you'll notice that they are reaching far back into the pantheon of Greek gods to give him someone to maim and murder. A few of them I'd never heard of (thank heavens for the interwebs!). Both stories provide interesting motivation for the character of Kratos himself. It's nice to see him become a bit more well rounded; less a sociopathic monster, more a fiercely loyal, yet ultimately flawed, man. I love how it's implied he is the cause of the destruction of Atlantis, but the fact that finding his missing brother (he had a brother? How convenient....) as a primary motivation is a bit groan inducing.

I don't feel like the stories are nearly as good, nor as significant to the overarching narrative, as previous entries. For my money, Chains of Olympus is the worst one so far. Personally, I feel like these games are really add-ons, mere side quests in Kratos' long journey than full fledged releases. However, I'm not surprised by this conclusion in the slightest: these games were designed for the PSP, and the developers knew how many fewer fans owned that handheld.

The action is par for the course, exactly as you'd expect... fast paced and chaotic. For my money, this series has some of the tightest controls and most fun gameplay of any action franchise. Just like the other games of the series, there are few other titles out there that leave you with such an overwhelming sense of being an utter bad-ass! Mixing light and heavy attacks along with grapple moves, magic, and a cool variety of toys at your disposal, keeps things from getting boring as you slice and smash your way through the hordes sent to stop you.

However, at times there seemed to be a slight delay in response to input during combat. Hit detection seemed less accurate overall. I also experienced some cheap deaths from multiple enemies hitting me repeatedly while I was down, their stacked attacks not allowing me up. Overall, combat doesn't feel nearly as smooth as the other console releases. However, it's still a blast of brutal entertainment so it's okay!

I won't lie... you'll know you are playing a PSP port. Even with the HD upgrade, both games look dated. But considering the source, they play fine on a big screen with few issues of texture pop-in or lag. The same goes with the sound work and voice acting. Both games are fine as they are, but it's difficult not to think about the majesty that was God of War III's production values.

Sometimes the camera can still give you headaches. I consider wonky camera issues an ingrained problem with third person action titles. But considering God of War mixes free camera control with fixed angles, getting turned around can be commonplace as some of them aren't the best. It can be hard to move when you're backed up to a wall you can't see while getting pummeled by enemies you also can't see. This has, to a lesser extent, been a problem before for this series. I wouldn't say it's prevalent, but certainly never this bad.

It's difficult in situations like this not to directly compare these games to their bigger brothers. But there are a few minor complaints that I feel are worth mentioning in comparison. First, there are lots of invisible walls, more so than previous titles. Finding the correct path isn't always obvious and the platforming sections are quite literally hit and miss. Sadly, Kratos' magic attacks don't feel nearly as potent as before either. The same complaint goes for alternate weapons (apart from the Spartan spear and shield combo... that was fierce!). Some of them are fun, but I feel like they may have used all the good ideas up in the earlier games. I also think the dodge/roll mechanic (while apparently better than it was on the PSP because of the ability to map it to the right analog stick) doesn't work nearly as well, nor as quickly. Considering how much you rely on it, having a slight delay in response time can be infuriating. But these complaints are minor, and really should only be considered when compared to the rest of the series.

Ultimately, the God of War: Origins Collection rounds out the saga of Kratos for those who never played the PSP variants of the series. Personally, I think that of the five God of War games, these two are easily the worst of the bunch. However, they are still God of War and therefore still awesome! I don't think the plots are terribly well developed, but I do appreciate how they add to the overall canon. The fact that these games feel more like stretched out DLC is immaterial. The truth is, it's frickin' God of War, it's frickin' Kratos, so I'm frickin' happy. If you're like me, this one belongs on your shelf alongside the rest of the series.


Score = 9.3 / 10

Monday, June 18, 2012

Bleach: The 3rd Phantom (7.0/10)

I'm a big fan of the anime Bleach. Some friends of mine got me into the anime series last summer. As one of the longest running series in the genre, getting caught up to the show in Japanese is a major time commitment-never mind the fact that the English dubbed episodes are about one hundred  behind the sub-titled ones. There are several other Bleach titles out there, but apart from the Dynasty Warriors-style Bleach: Soul Resurrection, most were one-on-one fighters that weren't particularly good. But then I stumbled across Bleach: The 3rd Phantom, a bizarre J-RPG that, while rough around the edges, is surprisingly good... provided you fall under the "Die-Hard Bleach Fan" banner. It's weird, but it works

The story tells the tale of two young twins. You choose to play as one of the two, and then proceed to embark on a roller-coaster ride that involves time travel, multiple sets of characters (due to the different time periods in which the story takes place) that covers the majority of the Bleach universe: from the old days in the Soul Society to the introduction of Ichigo and his friends, all the way through the Arrancar saga. You'll have key moments, like learning about your zampaktou and picking your style as well as numerous interactions with key characters from throughout the Bleach canon. Let me put it this way: if you understood any of that then you might really enjoy this fun little DS title. But to truly appreciate it, you really do need to have watched three hundred-plus episodes of the anime.

But regardless of whether you know your shikai from your bankai, what kido incantation to use, or whose zanpakuto belongs to who, the basic structure of the game is more a mix of traditional, turn-based RPG with strategic, grid-based battlefields. What that means is each field of battle is set up on a grid, each character has a limited number of spaces he can move before he can make an action much like classic D&D. After that, it's relatively straightforward tried and true, turn-based combat. In fact, it's almost oversimplified. What's odd is that you can't really move very far, especially early in the game, so you might take multiple turns before you reach an enemy. In the meantime, you can raise your spiritual pressure. When full, you can release the swords of certain characters to their true, vastly more powerful "bankai" forms. It's clever in the sense that you need to plan ahead, much more akin to strategy titles.

Fans know all about the inordinate amount of dialogue that pervades this series. It is, at the same time, one of the greater strengths yet biggest weaknesses of the show. This game takes your knowledge of the canon for-granted. But what really happens is a lot, and I mean a lot, of exposition. You really need to be a fan a working understanding of the Bleach universe not to get confused, or worse yet, bored. However, I will say that the writing is actually pretty decent, increasing the appeal The 3rd Phantom to true dyed-in-the-wool fans.

The cast list is massive, covering a slew of characters both past and present, as well as many who were brought in during the side arcs of the Arrancar saga. Despite so many players, the game actually offers some pretty fun progression as you'll build affinity with characters through the text based mini-game (more on this in a sec) and, as a result, they will perform better alongside you in battle. Like the rest of the game, this sections are heavy on dialogue, and the shine quickly wears off... even if some of the writing is the sort of thing fans of the series might appreciate.

Be forewarned, like the manga or anime series, The 3rd Phantom goes on and on... and on. It's surprisingly long-I put in well over over twenty hours. Unfortunately, with so much written dialogue, it really does become a bit of a slog, especially towards the end. However, for those who endeavor to stick with it, the ending is surprisingly rewarding... just like the show.

There is more than just turn based RPG action. In a weird twist, you are given "free time" in between missions. This mini-game is okay, basically involving simple math as you need to get Kon (the loveable rascal!) to move through to the goal. This is accomplished by moving the right number of spaces involving doing certain tasks with key members of the cast. This is all text based and gets a bit boring, but it does expand the narrative as well as providing motivation and back story. You can't do everything during "free time," but what I find odd is that some selections actually repeat. It's confusing, especially when they throw what appear to be some moral choice conundrums in from time to time. As far as I could tell, these moments didn't have much of an impact on the proceedings, but then there was a lot going on that I didn't really understand (despite my knowledge of the show).

Looking back on The 3rd Phantom after the fact, I realized that I had never really understood a fair amount of the mechanics in the game... or rather some things are never properly explained. Maybe something was lost in translation, I don't know. For example, you can get items from the text based mini-games that are unique and special. But for the life of me I couldn't figure out how to equip them... or if they were already equipped... or you didn't have to equip them at all, the stat buffs happened straight away... or something?! It was very confusing to say the least! There was a poorly included guide, but despite referring to it several times, I never really felt like my questions were adequately answered.

From a gameplay standpoint, the biggest knock against The 3rd Phantom is that it's not terribly well explained either. Standard battles are pretty self explanatory, but there are lots of options that I never really made use of. The menus are a mess, which is a shame considering how much the game relies on them. The layout is confusing; obviously necessary things aren't always in obvious places. I didn't figure out for a long while that you can actually have 'free battles' during your party organization phase. These are basically set battles where you face a number of enemies roughly concordant with the number of people in your party. These pseudo-battles serve purely to practice tactics and level up your characters. It's fun and addictive-an incredible time sink. I love some good old-fashioned level grinding and I can actually see myself playing this game again at some point down the road... not something I'd normally say considering my considerable lack of free time.

It's important to spend a lot of time leveling your character. I like how much choice you have in spending the points you earn each level. It's not only stat increases-you can also learn special moves and level up your sword. Oh, and don't forget to level up your comrades as well! It becomes increasingly necessary late in the game. Sadly, the weird item management system doesn't make things any easier. You earn a lot of these in the 'free-time' minigame. But having said that, the good ones are hard to come by, not to mention difficult to replace because you never know what you're going to get.

The truth is that I found myself enjoying this far more than I thought I would. It's cleverly written just like the series; stringing you along bit by tantalizing bit, "To be continued..." plastered across the screen, until the next thing you know it's Monday morning and you have to go to work. But just like the series, it can take a hell of a long time getting anywhere. I thought I was on the final chapter no less then five times! I'll be honest, The 3rd Phantom reminds me of a lost arc from the show. Just like the show, there are stories within stories here, plot tangents forming and reforming, adding to the absurd and convoluted  database that is the Bleach canon. I love it, but then I've invested a LOT of time into the series.

Terrible menus and a complete lack of tutorials (I'm still not sure what half the stuff even was) really held back The 3rd Phantom for me, and the fact that there are only two save slots make it difficult to know when to take risks. The whole experience, from the overly long dialogue sessions to the confusing 'free time' mini game, to the same animations during battle over and over again, is an exercise in repetition. However (and this should probably be in caps), Bleach fans should absolutely play this hidden gem. I couldn't put it down, despite the fact that I have a stack of much better made games to play. But because I have so much invested in Bleach, the chance to take part in an interactive way beyond just button mashing one on one fighters was a dream come true. Fans of the series should absolutely play this... but no one else will be interested, nor should they be.


Score = 7.0 / 10

Friday, June 15, 2012

Dragon's Dogma (7.7/10)

To read the official, full length review follow the link here: Dragon's Dogma.

In the end, Dragon's Dogma is an average hack-n'-slash RPG with a great gimmick that falls short in execution. It's a real shame too, because the idea behind the "pawns" is brilliant. I can see this sort of mechanic working in all sorts of game scenarios, and not just RPG's. When it gets it right, Dragon's Dogma can be a blast. Climbing up the back of a giant monster as it tries to buck you off all the while lightning and fire rain down around you... well, that can be pretty sweet! But there are too many other issues here to ignore. The structure of the story is too vague early on to grab your attention. Even if you can stick through the rough opening sequence, the sheer amount of backtracking, loot comparing through terrible menus, and camera issues in combat make the actual game play experience more of a chore than anything. RPG enthusiasts are already playing this one to death I'm sure, but average fans should probably revisit Skyrim for their dragon fix.

If you want to read more of my specific thoughts about the game, follow the link to read the full length review at Game Over Online.


Score = 7.7 / 10

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Mass Effect 3 (9.7/10)

Video games represent many different things for many different people. Personally, immersion is my favorite form of escapism; I love losing myself in interactive worlds. But nothing I've played has captured my imagination more so than the Mass Effect series. I don't know why I connected with it on such a deep level, but it goes beyond the fact that I'm such a sci fi nerd. Mass Effect 3 may bring Shepherd's saga to a close, but for me it was a much more personal experience. It wasn't just the ending to a fantastic narrative (yes, I have all the books and comics) and a wonderfully engaging video game experience... but I've never felt like I had more invested in a fiction beyond Star Wars. Those who know me well will tell you, that's saying something!

In the interest of avoiding spoilers, I'm not going to mention much about the plot. Considering how the whole idea of the series in the first place is player choice and how those choices play out, everyone would have a slightly different experience. Long story short... the Reapers finally arrive as Shepherd warned (and was subsequently ignored), and are systematically destroying all organic life in the universe. In a mildly annoying plot twist, it turns out there is a super weapon that the Protheans were working on when they got pinched (how convenient is that?!). But getting it built will take the combined cooperation of not only the Council, but the aid of each race as well. With the Illusive Man and Cerberus trying to foil Shepherd at every turn, it's up to our hero to unite all the different species throughout the galaxy to fight back and face the Reaper threat once and for all. The wonderfully rich and detailed universe is still there for us to explore, but not without an overwhelming sense of urgency... the clock is ticking.

There are several, admittedly minor, changes to how you go about accomplishing this task. Essentially, there is a 'Galactic Readiness' bar that, depending on how much you want to do, is the gateway to the final confrontation. By completing tasks both optional and mandatory, that gauge will fill. The more resources you have collected, the more likely you are to survive. In other words, galactic readiness effects the ending you see. Like Mass Effect 2, it's all about how things play out at the end game. But this time you'll find that receiving side quests comes down to essentially eavesdropping on conversations. I like the more organic feel, but I found myself constantly wondering what I had missed. Running around the Citadel, hoping to catch a new mission turned out to be more a waste of time than anything, and I'll admit to checking the guidebook to ensure I didn't miss the good bits.

Mass Effect 3 showcases refined controls, improving on the benchmark set with Mass Effect 2. Moving in and out of cover is a bit smoother this time around. It's still not on the level with Gears of War, but it's not far off. The gunplay is still fantastic, and using the alternate weapon wheels for choosing both your arsenal and powers is fluid. In an interesting twist, you can use the Kinect to issue voice commands to your squad. Being able to shout "Liara, singularity!" is a nice alternative... when it works. Sadly, it's not terribly consistent, but it does set an interesting precedent.

Combat is a much more tactical affair with enemy AI being far more advanced than we have seen thus far. The bad guys will make good use of healing and buff techniques. You'll be introduced to a whole slew of new enemy types, and some of the advanced Reaper types are suitably tough. There are a few set piece boss battles that are mildly annoying, but for the most part the game is both well paced and reasonably challenging.

Visually, Mass Effect 3 is stunning. It's the best in the series so far, and considering how good they are that's right at the top of the heap. Seriously, take a moment to look around at the astonishing level of detail in the backgrounds. Early on there is a great moment on one of the moons of Palaven (the Turian homeworld) where Reapers are slowly traipsing around, destroying everything in the background while the burning planet fills your periphery on the horizon. It looks amazing, and what's more, those moments are the standard rather than few and far between. Space battles are on a scale akin to the Star Wars prequels. It's awe-inspiring. And that's just in-game-the cutscenes are even more impressive. The cinematic touches are more integrated and better presented than any other Mass Effect game to date. Put simply, the whole game is beautiful.

On a similar note, the cast once again delivers as the voice acting is exceptional. Working with such a well written script makes things easier I'm sure, but every cast member nailed their respective roles. There are a lot of poignant interludes with characters both past and present. Considering the obviously darker tone, this shouldn't come as a surprise. However, those moments are made all the more believable by excellent performances. The score sets the mood brilliantly, and even simple things like background chatter and sound effects are top notch. It's difficult to think of too many other games that can compete in these areas. Bioware really does the production part right.

I also appreciate how Bioware listens to their constituency. Gone are the annoying mini-games from the first two games all together. No more frustrating, time-wasting hacking challenges, no more button mashing locks. No longer do you have to mindlessly scan planets for resources (easily the worst part of Mass Effect 2). But in their efforts to streamline the experience, the argument can be made that they have effectively removed a lot of the RPG elements from this action/RPG, which is both a blessing and a curse. It's nice to focus solely on the narrative and the action, but at the same time, a little more freedom wouldn't be remiss. Hey, at least you have more choice in armaments and armor than you did in Mass Effect 2! 

Mass Effect 3 also introduces a multiplayer component to the mix, a first for the series. Regular readers know I'm not a huge online multiplayer fan, but I put my time in on this one. Why, you ask? Well, it's because to get the best ending, you really do need to play online as it effects your galactic readiness. I'm not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, I really hate how you pretty much have to do it. I don't like being dictated to. However, since it's actually fun, it's less of a chore! It's basically a variation of the increasingly popular 'Horde' mode where groups of enemies come in increasingly difficult waves. You gain experience that can be spent on buying packs of items that include weapons and temporary stat boosts. It's reasonably well balanced, a blast to play with friends, and ultimately adds more to the Mass Effect experience.

For all the emphasis this series has put on player choice, I really felt far more shepherded (HA!) in the third installment than I did in the previous two. It really seemed like I was being guided on a much more predetermined path. This feeds into the discontent a great many people felt about the ending. Don't worry, I'm not giving anything away, but you'd have to be living under a rock to not know there was a severe backlash from fans regarding the final moments. All I'll say is this: I understand why people are upset, but ultimately I felt validated for spending so much of my time in Commander Shepherd's shoes.

For me, the Mass Effect franchise epitomizes what video games can be. I've laughed and even cried (I'm man enough to admit it) at moments in this series. But because I'm ultimately at the helm, I feel a personal connection greater than any movie. I felt the weight of the decisions I was asked to make, constantly wondering what I would do if ever faced with such responsibility. As I built relationships with my squad I found myself coming to genuinely care about their fate. It evoked real emotions in me, and for a medium to illicit a natural response is an impressive feat. Having imported my Shepherd through all three games, the sense of continuance and accomplishment is second to none. As far as I'm concerned, Mass Effect (as a series) is what gaming is all about. Many thanks to Bioware for this ride: we've been given the future in the present. And although I'm sorry to see Shepherd's story come to a close, his name and lore will live on as a legend, as it should.


Score = 9.7 / 10