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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