Monday, March 24, 2008

A lesson in Domestic violence: A Super Smash Brothers Brawl review

Massively-hyped games never seem to deliver. It’s not that they’re no good; it’s just that they seem to be held to a higher standard, and to please everyone they would have to do things that no game could do.

A producer at Sega recently told me: “In the gaming community, there will always be complaints - you just have to do your best to put out what you feel is a quality game.”

For the last few years, no game has seen as much hype as Super Smash Bros. Brawl, the latest chapter in Nintendo’s long standing fighter series.

So does it deliver?

For those unfamiliar with the world of Smash Brothers, think of it as a way to relive some of those arguments you had back in grade school. It’s a 2D, action-centric fighting game that pits legendary and recluse Nintendo universe characters against each other in mortal cartoon combat.

But it’s more - oh so much more.

Brawl plays and feels like a love letter to the Nintendo universe. Sure, there are the expected mainstays like Mario, Link, Peach and Zelda, but much credit has to be given to the developers for including names that the mainstream might not get, but that dedicated gamers will freak out over.

Look for names like Olimar from Pikmin, Meta-Knight from Kirby and Sheik from Zelda. Fancy a trip back to the 80s? Try not to smile too much as you unlock characters like Mr. Game and Watch and even R.O.B the gaming robo.

For the first time ever, characters from non Nintendo titles enter the fight. Solid Snake, complete with cardboard box and rocket launcher from the famed Metal Gear Solid series sneaks in, as does everyone’s favorite hedgehog, Sonic.

While these are great additions, it also begs the question: if this is the final Smash Bros. game, as stated by producer Sakurai, why not push for more outside characters? Who wouldn’t love to see Cloud from Final Fantasy VII take on Link, or Mega Man go head to head with Samus? Producers have gone on record as saying that they only included characters from companies that approached them, but imagine if they took a more aggressive approach.

Brawl’s in-game environments are amazing in their own right. Based off Nintendo games past and present, each stage has interactive environments that directly affect the outcome of each battle.

For instance, the Mario Kart stage has two different levels on which to fight, each with shy-guy’s racing full speed towards you get in their way and you can expect to be swept right off your feet. Some of these stages are not what you’d expect, like Pictochat, which places fighters literally in a message created on the Nintendo DS chat program while objects and terrain are being drawn all around them.

Even cooler scenes include a 3D creation of the first 2 levels from the first Mario Brothers and a Wario Ware stage.

These small touches really make Brawl shine. Sure, it was delayed countless times during it’s development cycle, but when you get a title with so much depth and replay value, it makes it worth it.

Brawl isn’t like most games, where it can be completed within a day or two of purchase. From mastering move sets to unlocking trophies and characters, this is a deceptively deep game.

Of course, at the heart of Brawl — like the other Smash Brothers games before it — is the actual combat. Damage taken by each character is represented as a percentage at the bottom on the screen. Matches, especially those featuring more than two characters and items, are incredibly frantic, so much so that players new to the franchise might be a bit overwhelmed at first.

However, the real beauty of Smash Brothers is that for a game adopted by the hardcore crowd, it’s incredibly accessible. The control scheme is intuitive and simple. There’s the jump button, a block button and two attack buttons. Which way you move the control stick governs your move choice, making it easier for new players to discover new attacks without having to worry about long button combinations.

Super Smash Brothers Brawl is controllable through four different control schemes; Wii-mote and Nunchuck, Wii classic controller, holding the Wii-mote sideways and yes, even the sturdy old Gamecube controller. This ensures that everyone can be comfortable right from the start.

Each character and each stage comes with its own strategy and play style. Brutes like Donkey Kong and Bowser may not move very fast but they are incredibly strong, while Link and Mario’s attacks may not pack the most power but they’re quick enough to deal a lot of damage quickly. There are characters who can fly, who are better with projectiles, even ride motorcycles and … fart. Half the fun is playing around with each character and seeing just what they can do.

Ask any seasoned Smash Brothers player what’s best about the series and odds are they’ll say the same thing: multiplayer. For the first time ever, multiplayer isn’t limited to your console, as Brawl takes the fight online with the Wii’s Wifi service. It’s a nice touch, using a democratic voting system for players to chose match types and stages, but to fully open up the vast array of customization options, you’ll have to connect via the hated friend codes.

For the majority of matches played online, we experienced quite a bit of lag, which admittedly happens to many games upon their release, especially ones with so many players online at one time.

Capping off the already robust customization, Brawl features a Stage editor screen where players with a bit of patience and dedication can create their own arenas to use in game. You start off by choosing the size, background (only three sadly — has there ever been more of a case for Nintendo to introduce downloadable content?) and music you’d like to use. You’re then taken to a grid like screen where you’re able place terrain, and items anywhere as well as change the position of already placed elements. Though the choices are admittedly a bit lacking, it’s extremely rewarding to battle your friends on your own creation.

You can exchange stages you’ve built with friends and even submit then to Nintendo, which will pick the best ones and make them available to players all over the world.

Brawl is more than multiplayer. Gamers looking for more of a solo experience will find plenty to love as well. There’s a classic mode, which is your basic win and advance gameplay. There is also event mode which presents a rather robust series of challenges that deal with performing special moves at certain times or defeating enemies in a certain time frame. You can chose to put your fighters through training against customizable enemies and environments or try your hand at stadium mode, a retooled version of the bonus target breaking stages from classic mode.

The greatest draw for solo players is the Subspace Emissary mode, where each of the characters come together to fight a mysterious enemy (it’s a Nintendo game - is there any other kind?) An adventure mode that harkens back to the days of previous Smash Bros games, Emissary plays like an eclectic mix of Brawl and platforming game as each new level manages to channel the spirit of the source material while still maintaining the feel of Brawl. For instance, the level you play as Donkey and Diddy Kong, you feel like you’re playing a retooled version of Super Nintendo classic Donkey Kong Country. Emissary will take most players a good eight or nine hours to complete, even if they take advantage of the cooperative mode.

With it’s incredibly accessible and addictive gameplay and insane amount of replay value that will keep even the most fickle gamers coming back for quite some times, it joins Super Mario Sunshine and Twilight Princess as games Wii owners need in their library.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl delivers.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

We all know that upper Smash Brothers Brawl and Mario Kart are going to be the Wii’s big guns this year, along with Too Human and Fable 2 on the Xbox 360 and Metal Gear Solid and Little Big Planet on the PS3. We’ve been hearing about these titles adnauseum for the last few years. While they’re sure to be great – what about the lesser-known titles? We run down a few of the games you might not know yet – but you will.

Title: Brutal Legend
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3
Release Date: TBA 2008


From the mind of Tim Schaefer, the man behind such cult classics as Psychonauts, Grim Fandango and Day of The Tentacle comes the tale of Eddie Riggs (voiced by none other than Jack Black) -- a heavy metal roadie sucked back in time and forced to lead an enslaved civilization’s uprising. Commanding everything from demons to barbarians and everything in between, Legend is Schaefer’ love letter to the world of Heavy Metal (already confirmed are cameos by the immortal Dio and Lemmy from Motorhead)

Though not much is actually known about the gameplay. Schaefer was able to shed some light in a recent interview. “We have it pigeonholed as a third person action adventure in an open-world environment, and the open-world thing that's important to me is that we want to make a real world - the world of Brutal Legend - like a place that exists, where crazy beasts are wondering around, as well as epic characters,” Schaefer told IGN in a recent interview. “It's just all real, y'know, you're not just going down some track. You put this hotrod together and you can just drive all over the world, and find all these little nooks and crannies. And that's the kind of stuff that we hinted at in Psychonauts

Schaefer also went on to hint at being able to control members of the society – dubbed headbangers similar to the way troops are controlled in tactical shooter like Ghost Recon or even Oddworld.
Psychonauts was nothing short of genius, and Schaefer has never seemed more excited about a project. This could be the game that takes him from cult favorite to household name.

Title: Saboteur
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3
Release Date: Fall 2008

I know what you’re thinking -- a WWII game – yaaaawn. Sure, the source material of EA Game’s upcoming may seem less than inspired, but everything else about it feels fresh and new -- especially its Schindler’s List like, color/black and white art style.

What makes the art even cooler is that it plays into the game’s storyline. As one would expect, WWII era France is a pretty dreary place – the Nazi soldiers and aura of death have left the city to be blanketed in black and white. Every mission you pass, as British race car driver, turned rebel Sean Devlinn brings more and more color to the world.

Developer Pandemic Studios (Mercenaries 2) has promised varied missions and open-world gameplay to further differentiate Saboteur from the usual WWII fodder. It wouldn’t be surprising to see this game slip into 2009 though, as Pandemic has been delaying titles left and right these days.

Title: Alan Wake
Platform: Xbox 360
Release Date: Fall 2008

If this were one year ago, Alan Wake would not be on the list. It was arguable one of the most anticipated games of the current console generation, and then came the delays. It seemed as if Mr. Wake would be joining the ranks of Duke Nukem Forever and BC in the land of limbo, but Remedy Games assures us that the game is on track for a fall 2008 release.

The visuals in Wake are nothing short of breathtaking. Everything from the character animations, to the use of light and shadow in the game’s small town is absolutely gorgeous.

In the game, Alan Wake is a successful horror writer, who has since seen his own world fall apart. To get a fresh start on his new book, based on his nightmares. When he gets there, he realizes that something is going horribly wrong – as what he writes is coming true. Look for the game to be a mix of action, adventure and mystery – similar to Remedy game’s previous title – Max Payne.

Title: Afrika
Platform: PS3
Release Date: Fall 2008

Like Alan Wake, Afrika is visually stunning – except in a completely different way. This non-violent, safari simulator features photo-realistic animals and environments, along with like life animations and conditions. While a picture taking game may not excite the average gamer – Afrika could be of Sony’s keys to getting back into the console race in 2008.

Think about it. What is really driving the Wii? It’s not hardcore Japanese games like No More Heroes or the ports of established franchises – the Wii is appealing to non gamers with casual, interactive experiences. If Sony can grab hold of this market with a casual game that looks ten times better than anything on the Wii, it could lessen Nintendo’s dominance quite a bit.

Title: Boom Blox
Platform: Wii
Release Date: May 2008

When the world saw Steven Spielberg at E3 some year’s ago – rumors began to swirl why he was there. We now get our answer (well, kind of – he was seen at the Microsoft and Sony booths as well) with Boom Blox for the Wii.

While the Wii is full of puzzle games, EA is claiming that Blox uses the Wii-mote in new and more interactive ways than anything on the Wii. Based heavily on physics -- Boom Blox seems like a high-octane version of Jenga, but as the trailer shows, players must use the Wii-mote and nunchuck in a variety of ways to destroy towers and structures created by your enemies.

Plus – it’s a cartoon world envisioned by Steven Spielberg – does anyone remember how awesome Animaniacs was? Yeah. Let that sit for a bit.

Friday, February 8, 2008

DSI Games could be the worst developer in history: Exhibit B: Showtime Championship Boxing

When I was younger, the Official Nintendo Seal of Quality meant the world to me. That little gold emblem ensured that whatever I was about to play – was certified by the same people who brought me games like Super Mario Bros, Mike Tyson’s punch-out and F-Zero.

Something strange has happened to the seal over the last few console generations though. Sure, it’s still there – on every product that Nintendo licenses for use on or for its systems, but the Seal of Quality has become known as merely the “Nintendo Seal.” Catch that? The keyword – quality has mysteriously vanished.

Now, we can all agree that the Wii is one fun little system. Everyone from average gamers to grandma and children can all find something to love on the system. Sadly though, the Wii has also become a seemingly fertile breeding ground for crap games. For every Zelda and Mario – there seems to be a million Ninja Gingerbread man or chicken shoots.

Case in point – Showtime Championship Boxing by repeat offender DSI Games. Everything, from the presentation, design and gameplay mechanics is so sub par, it’s quite laughable – until you realize just how much potential this game could have had if released under a different developer.

Showtime Sports has become synonymous with boxing. It’s become one of the premier places to both break new talent and see new stars get their start. Names like Holyfield, Lewis, and De La Hoya have all graced Showtime’s ring from some of the worlds most famous arenas. Too bad you won’t get any of that in the game. There are no licensed elements in the game – at all. Instead we get brawlers with such uninspired names as “Lazy Lorenzo, “ Psycho Sarge and “Punching Bag Pat.” Why use the Showtime name if were not even going to get realistic characters?

Sadly, the arenas aren’t much better, but at least there seemed to be an attempt on behalf of the developers to make them familiar. Instead of immortal buildings rich in history, we get bland, buildings named after cities that are supposed to represent actual buildings. For instance, the New York arena is supposed to be Madison Square Garden, Los Angles the Staples Center and Vegas would be Caesar’s Palace. These similarities are in name only as each one looks like a run down bingo hall, with no more than 200 fans in the stands.

You know when you’re grocery shopping and there’s the brand names, then the cheaper, crappier brand Xs of every product? Showtime Championship Boxing feels like the Brand X Boxing title to the great Fight Night series and even the small boxing mini game on Wii Sports. Sure, at first glance it looks similar, but once you actually give it a try – you realize just how bad it is – even if it tries so hard to be like those that came before it.

Boxing is based on timing and speed – so it’s a problem when a game cant execute either. In theory, the game controls just like Wii Sports, using the nunchuck and Wii mote as your boxing gloves, and delivering jabs and haymakers with your on screen character mimicking your actions. In reality though, the game takes a good two second delay in interpreting your actions on the screen, leaving your boxer open for a pummeling. What’s worse? It seems that no matter what you do – the game will interpret it as a jab. Motion for an uppercut? Left jab. Haymaker? You guessed it – left jab.

With only two real game modes – there isn’t much Showtime Championship Boxing can offer gamers. Its sad really, if under a different developer – it could have made for a viable opponent to the big boxing titles like, but instead DSI games decided to make it a cheap, gimmicky imitation of that which came before. Save yourself some money – stick with Wii Sports.

DSI Games could be the worst developer in history: Exhibit A: Sea Monsters.

So after months of camping out in front of stores in the freezing cold, you finally got your Wii. Like an eager child, you quickly opened the box and played through the little quirky system’s top titles. You’ve developed tennis elbow from your marathon Wii Sports sessions, you’ve battled from one end of Hyrule to the other in Twilight Princess – hell, you’ve even collected all the stars the cosmos could offer in Super Mario Galaxy. Now you’re looking for that next title to warrant your $250 white box.

As if I had to tell you – Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure is not that title. In fact, it’s no where close. Sea Monsters, has almost no redeeming qualities and puts up a good fight for worst game on the system – and that’s saying something.

Sea Monsters is based on an ambitious and interesting CGI documentary produced last year by National Geographic, which showed what many believe the lives of these giant sea creatures were like. Sea Monsters - the fine folks at DSI games have chosen to forgo all of this and make a game with little to no direction which consists merely of eating, breathing and awkward swimming. Yeah, that’s it.

The game revolves around guiding your sea monster through the murky depths of the ocean, competing in challenges and collecting fossils. Why prehistoric beasts are collecting fossils is beyond me – but most of the action, and the game’s – ahem - - progression, revolves around your obtaining them. It’s through these fossils that new creatures (each with it’s own unique abilities) and challenges are unlocked, but you’ll be hard pressed to make it through the challenges through the force of sheer boredom alone.

Most of the challenges revolve around eating creatures smaller than yours against no time limit or oppressing factor. While this may sound easy, the game’s utterly horrible control system makes even the smallest tasks incredibly difficult and frustrating. Pressing A causes your creature to swim, while the combination of the nunchuck and moving the Wiimote navigates.

Let’s do a simple math equation shall we? Slow moving, lethargic sea monsters plus overly sensitive Wiimote controls equals what? If your answer included anything about frustration or annoyance, you’d be correct. The camera moves too quickly for any of the monsters to keep up, causing you to get turned around and lost in an already confusing map. What’s worse is the fact that when your monsters hits the ocean walls or floor, creatures have a tendency to merge with the walls and get stuck. When this happens there seems to be no other option than to move the Wiimote around like crazy, hoping that some sudden movement will free the creature.

You know a game looks bad when the best compliment you can give is “Well, the load screens don’t look half bad.” While the load screens ( merely a picture of a Sea Monster) aren’t that bad, Sea Monsters looks like a first generation N64 game, it’s blocky, pixilated and bland. More often than not, you’ll have trouble distinguishing your character from the others on screen. Yeah, it’s that bad.

Perhaps my biggest pet peeve with Sea Monsters is that it could be so much more. Sure, it was never destined to be a AAA title, but it with the inspired source material, it could have at least been a decent and game that actually served to educate kids at the same time. Instead, we get a game that no one, should ever play. Ever.

"Yes, there will be blood" A No More Heroes Review

Goichi “Suda 51” Suda is kind of a weird guy. The Japanese producer, famous for works like “The Silver Case” and the highly underappreciated, cult favorite Gamecube title Killer 7 is known for his unique sense of style both in and out of his games. Case in point -- Killer 7 was a bloody, brain-scratching art house title that failed to catch on with anyone outside of the most hardcore gamers. Who would have thought that something so odd would come from a man who donned a lucha libre mask while promoting the game?

Suda 51’s latest title, No More Heroes for the Wii is just as weird as his previous works – if not more so. It’s a bloody, sex-driven romp filled with a mix of styles and gameplay elements that make it one of the most eclectic and intriguing titles to hit the North American market in quite some time.

In Heroes, you play as Travis Touchdown, your average, everyday anime fan in Santa Destroy, California. After buying a brand new beam katana on an internet auction, Travis enters into a tournament of sorts to become the top ranked assassin in the world. For a nominal fee, Travis is given the name, bio and location of the next ranked assassin (who oddly all live in this small town). Each assassin’s hideout is crawling with thousands of nameless, copies of the same cronies looking to take you out in any way possible. Get through them, and it’s on to your ranked fight.

This is where Heroes truly shines. Sure, it’s quite repetitive, in the same way that a Final Fight or Double Dragon was in the golden age of gaming, but there’s something sublimely satisfying about the combat system. Perhaps it’s that it does bring back those memories of games gone by, but credit must be given to the simple on the surface, yet deceptively deep control scheme.

Heroes avoids many of the pitfalls of previous action games on the Wii by not depending on the motion controls too heavily. You control Travis by way of the thumbstick and attack with the a-button (minor moves, like dodges and throws are done via other face buttons). The Wii-motes motion capabilities come in to play in a matter similar to that of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, only in a much, much more sinister fashion. After depleting your enemies life bar, an icon will appear on screen telling you which way to move swing your Wii-mote to administer the “death blow.” These moves are over the top, violent acts of aggression not short of decapitating your opponent or slicing them directly in half. You’ll also find yourself using the Wii-mote to charge your Beam Katana and initiate duels, which when won – leave your opponent wide open for the death blow.

Travis can be in two different stances while in battle mode -- high (initiated by holding the Wii-mote straight up like a baseball bat) or low (like a hockey stick), and can perform different moves based on the situation and what stance he is in. For instance, charging the attack button while in the High stance will cause Travis to perform a heavy upwards slash attack, while charging in the low stance will result in an awesome cyclone swing, taking out most enemies around you.

By not relying too heavily on the motion sensitive Wii-mote, Heroes manages to steer clear of the pitfalls so many other Wii games have become victims of. The motion controls feel fresh and important, not like a tacked on gimmick. What’s more, the game finds other small ways to implement the controls including lifting weights and mowing lawns. Yeah really, mowing lawns.

Travis is able to travel all throughout Santa Destroy on his motorcycle to perform odd-jobs to collect money towards his entrance fees for the ranked matches. These jobs are broken up by class and range from collecting coconuts, to the after-mentioned lawn mowing and of-course, side assassin missions.

These side missions are reminiscent of those found in the Grand Theft Auto Series. Wait – scratch that. The missions are more like one of those bad GTA clones that only 13-year-old play. While doing the jobs, you’ll find yourself just wanting to get them over with and get back to the hack and slash gameplay. The cities are not as detailed as a Liberty City or San Andreas, as sans a few landmarks, buildings seem to just go by in orange, yellow and gray blurs. What makes things worse is that the driving mechanics of Travis’ motorcycle are just plain atrocious. It’s unresponsive and slow – and the collision detection is almost absent. Invisible walls form around most objects as you’re almost hit them, only letting you crash on random occasions.

Suda openly admits to using movies as inspiration for a lot of his games, and it’s very obvious in Heroes. While he mentioned that most of Heroes comes from a mixture of Japanese art-house flicks – I couldn’t stop thinking about Kill Bill while playing through the game. The obvious link is the assassin VS assassin gameplay, but more-so than that – the dialogue and art styles are reminiscent of Tarantino’s slash fest. While they don’t exchange pleasantries, Travis and his opponents quip about life and other mundane topics while getting ready to enter in the kill-or-be-killed battles. At a few points in the game, we even hear Travis’ thoughts as he battles with bosses and other characters throughout the game. Oh, and the buckets of blood don’t hamper the comparison either.

Blood, innuendo, extreme violence and profanity – No More Heroes makes no bones about the fact that it’s a mature game aimed at hardcore gamers. In fact, the opening cut scene has Travis decapitating two guards, while calling them “fuck-heads.” Women in Santa Destroy are smart and sassy sex objects that seem to serve no purpose other than to drive Travis’ libido crazy (after killing the first assassin, Travis even asks one of the ladies if she’ll “do it with him” if he makes the next kill). This is half of the reason No More Heroes sticks out on the Wii -- it’s so different than anything else that available.

No More Heroes deserves to be played by anyone (of age) with a Wii – merely for it’s novelty factor, even with it’s plethora of flaws. It’s not the best game on the system – but it’s the most original.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

I get by with a little help from my friends: Kane and Lynch: Dead Man Review

On February 12 2007, Variety reported that Lions Gate Studios had purchased the movie rights to Eidos’ upcoming shooter; “Kane and Lynch: Dead Men” ( Link: The deal, the first time a game has ever been optioned before it’s release, should prove to be a smart choice by Lions Gate as Dead Men’s story is fast paced, and intriguing – just like a Hollywood blockbuster.

Unfortunately, as an interactive experience – Dead Men is more of a mixed bag. Sure, there’s some solid action, but the title is so fundamentally flawed that it’s hard to even enjoy the game’s brightest spots.

At the start of Dead Men, we find our two heroes (in the loosest sense of the word), Kane and Lynch en route to Death row. When things are at their bleakest, a mysterious outfit known only as The 7 interrupts the trip. We learn that Kane is a former member of The 7, and owes them a hefty amount. They give Kane an ultimatum, return the loot or they off his wife and daughter – and a narc – a pill-popping, psychopath named Lynch to keep tabs on him.

Without spoiling anything, Dead Men features twists, turns and some of the best character development seen in this console generation. What it also features is some of the most mature content ever in games. Right from the start, you’ll kill police officers, drop f-bombs and off innocent hostages with no remorse or recoil. In the past, some games have featured these same actions – but they’ve come off almost as cheap, shock tactics -- which thankfully is not an issue in Dead Men. It would feel awkward if these two anti-heroes didn’t do these things, and the mature content gives it almost an edgy independent movie feel.

Aiding in that feeling is the game’s pitch perfect presentation. Minus a few camera glitches, the action unfolds very cinematically, with little to no interruption. Rather than interrupt the title’s flow with cut-scene after cut-scene, most of the story takes place in game (save for the traditional post-level cut-scenes). Kane and Lynch argue, and nitpick at each other, almost like a murderous odd-couple.

Sadly, Dead Men falters in almost every other aspect. When initially announced, Eidos promised that gamers would be able to choose their own style of play – whether it be old school run and gun or commanding Kane, Lynch and the squad of miscreants you encounter throughout the game similar to the style of the Ghost Recon or Rainbow Six franchises. Unfortunately, the squad-based controls seem rather useless and besides a few key moments in the game where you are almost forced to use them, you’ll more than likely forget that they’re even in the game. Sure, it’s nice to have your guys cover certain exits, or attack a group of enemies, but it just becomes more of a hassle when you’re constantly running over to heal them, and you end up doing the work you sent them to do as a result of the horrible AI. Luckily, the enemy AI is just as bad, and most enemies jump right out of their cover – seemingly happy to let your bullets hit you.

The cover system is another major disappointment. 90% of Dead Men is gun fights, and as a result the game’s faulty cover system makes it much more frustrating than it should be, and you’ll be stuck crossing your fingers hoping one of your squad members is close enough to give you an adrenaline shot and boost your health. Unlike the intuitive cover system of games like Gears of War, Dead Man requires no button presses to go into cover – as your character will find cover automatically when in close enough proximity to a wall, counter etc. While this may sound easier, far too frequently, you’ll be sticking to surfaces you don’t want to, causing yourself to become vulnerable to incoming fire, rather than being able to pick your best point in the aforementioned games.

Perhaps what bugs me the most about Dead Men is its problems with cheap gameplay. In many shooter games, the opening levels are used to set-up the game’s basics and rules, allowing players to seamlessly build upon them in the later levels. This seems nearly impossible when those rules are broken quickly after their established. Take for instance the level early on just after escaping from a bank where you must shoot cop cars trailing your getaway van from the back. Throwing grenades underneath the cars will sometimes do them in, but others it will merely result in an acme like cloud of dust billowing u p around the car. It must also be noted that it’s in levels like this that it becomes apparent that the backgrounds ad NPC’s have literally no personality. Case in point, the same level mentioned above, while shooting at the cop cars makes them swerve, other people on the road, just keep driving along, unaware of the bullets flying around – even when they’re the target!

Dead Men’s visuals are like the rest of the title – some great – and some are just plain old horrible. Wide-shots, like that of downtown Tokyo as seen repelling down the side of a high rise or nothing short of breathtaking – but those up close – especially player models are down right bad – reminiscent of many games from the early part of this generation.

The developers must be commended on Dead Men’s online mode – Fragile Alliance. Rather than bank on the tried and true Deathmatch mode, Fragile Alliance uses the squad-based gameplay to create an original and compelling experience. One team plays as bank robbers, while the other as cops – you can guess what each team’s objectives are, but what makes Fragile Alliance truly unique is that anyone on the team controlling the bank robbers can choose to risk it all, and screw over their teammates, taking the loot for themselves.

I’m sure Kane and Lynch: Dead Men will make a great movie, but as a game – it’s a forgettable and lackluster run-of-the-mill shooter with some deep, fundamental problems. If you’re looking for a distraction from some of last year’s Triple-A titles, it might be worth it to give the title a rent, it may take some of the frustration out.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Smashy Smashy! A hands on preview of Burnout Paradise

Gamers can be a fickle bunch. Change too much in a well-established series and watch the flames arise, but rest on your laurels too much and you’ll be hearing cries of the series becoming stagnant (case in point – the Madden series) nonetheless.

Burnout Paradise, the latest in EA’s high-octane, crash and smash simulation series seems to be destined for controversy. On the surface, Paradise, which releases in mid January for the Xbox 360 and PS3 looks like a sharp departure from the series roots. Gone is the one race at a time linear gameplay in favor of a new, wide-open sandbox style gameplay. Gamers can now tool around the massive Paradise City, wrecking what they want - when they want and taking place in events at their own leisure.

While some might cry-foul at the developers for taking such a large step away from the formula that made the series so popular – it must be noted that at its core – Paradise plays and feels just like the older games – only with much, much more freedom.

In most open-world games, parts of the world are locked until you complete certain missions or chapters – not so in Paradise City. Right from the start, the entire city is yours to explore – and it is massive. While you will be able to take part in any of Paradise City’s events in any order you please, you will have to wait to unlock the nicer cars. It’s alright though, even your junker-cars can be given high-class looks by visiting one of the game’s many gas stations or body shops, which get added to your map every time you visit one.

Anyone familiar with The Burnout series knows that it’s not so much about racing as it is causing destruction and crashes – which Paradise looks to take to the next level. I’m no masochist or anything – but crashes look and sound amazing. When you wreck, a grainy, black and white filter slows down the action, allowing you to hear and see your ride bite the dust. I found myself purposely crashing to see how many different ways I could find to see new animations.

Burnout Paradise is different, but a lot of fun so far. Anyone familiar with the series should give it a look when it launches in early 2008. Stay with Blast Magazine for the review.