Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Brutal Legend Review

Score: 8.25/10

Brutal Legend
Xbox 360/PS3
Developer: Double Fine
Publisher: EA
Release Date: October 13, 2009

Pros: Hilarious voice work and dialogue, unique worlds, fitting soundtrack, relatively enjoyable multiplayer, loads of collectibles 

Cons: Targeting can be a pain, repetitive side missions, no custom map markers, curse of the basic RTS on a console, Pretty easy even on Brutal difficulty

  Tim Schafer is well known for providing games with unique story and hilarious dialogue. It comes to no surprise that after the completion of Psychonauts, he would have to follow with something just as enjoyable. Taking a step from the Teen rating into Mature territory, Brutal Legend was born. A love letter to any fan of metal, the game proves to be an enjoyable experience fans of Schafer and gamers alike can appreciate.


  You assume the role of Eddie Riggs, a roadie for a "metal" band known as Kabbage Boy. After a stage prop falls apart Eddie saves the life of one of the band members, but in turn is killed by the falling debris. The stage prop of the metal god comes to life and transports Eddie to a different time in a world clearly influenced by metal. It's up to Eddie to discover why he has arrived at this time and help a small band of resistance fighters in reclaiming their world.

  Schafer never fails in delivering a story that keeps you interested. The characters you come across and worlds you explore are never dull. The plot takes its occasional turn just when you think you know what will happen next. The story of the world you have come to inhabit is expanded by the Legend statues you find scattered across the world. These are actually very well done and work to explain why the world is in this chaotic state as well as expand on key figures frequently mentioned.

   The true highlight of the game proved to be the voicework by the main cast. Jack Black provides a hilarious performance as Eddie Riggs, truly fitting of the character. Jennifer Hale (Bastilla from KotOR) also delivers as the female role of Ophelia. Schafer even managed to nab Tim Curry for the role of Doviculus, the antagonist. He also assembled numerous metal icons such as Ozzy Osbourne, Lita Ford, Rob Halford, and Lemmy Kilmister. As nice as it is to have them on board with this project, a few performances fall flat in comparison to others.

  The soundtrack to the game is as impressive as the voice casting. Over one hundred different metal songs were chosen for the soundtrack, and prove more than entertaining when they cue up. Certain songs are unlocked by raising Relics and others unlocked as you progress through the campaign. Songs range from "Rock of Ages" by Def Leppard to "Progenies of the Great Apocalypse" by Dimmu Borgir. With such a large variety, you're sure to find your favorites to play over and over as you drive through the worlds.

 Character Models resemble the cartoon style that Psychonauts portrayed. Not giving an incredibly rendered figure, but one that delivers facial expressions that are on point. Coupled with the cartoon look, this boosts the hilarity of character interaction and makes you reminisce to a day of morning cartoons....except this time with blood and the language of Tarintino film. Bosses are quite a sight, especially the chrome spider queen's metallic luster.

  The environments you explore are truly a sight to behold. Every metal album cover you can think of is portrayed in the various lands, ranging from gigantic swords plunged into the ground to trees with eyeballs gazing as you pass them. Little things like chrome pipes for trees and freeing headbangers from "The Pitt" all add to make the game even more enjoyable. Though you lack finding any pre-rendered cut scenes or incredibly detailed pieces, the overall cartoon look and feel of the game make up for it.



  The campaign functions as both a tutorial for multiplayer as well as a single player story component. The game is generally an open world "sandbox" game, allowing the player to explore and complete missions on their own time. Players can move along with the main story, complete side missions, or collect the number of items available through the world.

  The main campaign generally holds your hand through the basics. What starts as a simple hack and slash game flips halfway through and becomes a basic RTS. They don't continually consists of these missions however, and mixes it up with escort missions, vehicle based missions, and even the occasional solo venture into a dark cave for a boss fight. The hack and slash aspect allows you to use one button for axe attacks and one button for guitar attacks. Combining these together allows you to pull of other moves. You can also use the guitar to play various solos that give you an upper hand in battle in some way. These are simple button timing commands that prove lenient enough so that even those unfamiliar with Guitar Hero should not have a problem. My main complaint about the hack and slash combat is the troublesome targeting (holding L) and useless block move. If I am attacking and see someone raise their arm, I press block only to roll because the game assumes I am in motion, thus rolling just far enough to be hit by the end of their axe....

  The RTS functions much like you would typically expect. You have a base (Stage) and must gather resources (Fans). More fans allow you to send out more troops or upgrade your stage for better ones. The entire time you act as a general, flying over the battlefield and ordering who should attack what location, occasionally landing to deal with a group of baddies personally. Fighting in the campaign has a few variants you must deal with in particular, but nothing requiring a dramatic shift in strategy. Units vary from the typical grunts to gun units to large tanks. Each unit has a "co-op" move they can share with the general, once again showing that you are more useful on the ground with your troops than in the air issuing commands. The units can also be "buffed" by your solos to further their use.

 In addition to the main missions, there are numerous side missions to complete in the game. Most of these are very general, like ambushing a small group of enemies or mounting The Druid Plow on a "Death Rack" and playing turret defense. These progressively get slightly tougher, but become repetitive very quickly and feel more like a duty rather than a mission you want to participate in. There are also tons of collectibles to gather such as Relics to unlock songs, serpent statues to free that can upgrade your stats, and jumps to take that can give you more fire tributes.

  After completing missions, side missions, or gathering collectibles you earn fire tributes from the metal gods. These can be spent at Metal Forges to upgrade your abilities. These range from new weapons to vehicle upgrades. You can also purchase Mt Rockmore faces of various characters...which have absolutely no point other than to have your favorite characters on the side of a mountain. Generally most of the basic upgrades require little participation in side missions to obtain, but if you really want the upper hand you're going to have to do a little collecting.


  Multiplayer maps are much like their Campaign components trimmed to a small arena. There are a pretty decent amount offering a little variety in fan booth placement. You have the option to take control of 3 different factions: Ironheade, Drowning Doom, and Tainted Coil. Each has its own set of unique troops and abilities, not only including different units but different general solos. This adds a bit of variety in play style as you must adjust depending on your faction as each plays differently.

  There are no defense towers, there are no key structures...only merch booths and a stage. These are all you can capture/attack. This makes the game suffer from what I like to call, the very basic RTS console game....I'm working on the title. Strategies are limited to what units are in your party. Attacking with a large assault of the same kind of unit won't work, and you must vary them to truly overtake the enemy. Thus the main idea is to gather a lot of big dudes and throw them at this point hoping they overtake the other big dudes placed there. Selecting specific units and forming two separate parties can be more of a challenge than the actual enemies. The controller is limited in how it can issue commands, making it difficult to get units exactly where you want them. Still, it's very manageable and can be pretty fun online.

  Despite its few flaws, Brutal Legend still delivers a truly fun experience. You don't have to be a fan of metal to enjoy the humor of the game. Though the RTS element takes some time to get used to, the campaign holds your interest long enough to keep you playing and the multiplayer proves to be enjoyable. It is not quite as entertaining to me as Psychonauts was, Brutal Legend comes pretty close. The uniqueness of the world and hilarious characters hold up nicely, but the gameplay just felt a bit lacking. A game still worth your time and as Jack Black so eloquently puts: 'You can't kill the metal, the metal will live on.'

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Look Back at Gaming 09 - Part 2

A Look Back at Gaming 09 - Part 1
The year held many great titles, but the most highly awaited ones were saved for the year's end. Fall of 09 boasted huge sequels and a few sleeper hits that were sure to max out any Holiday list. 


  September kicked off the mountain of games that would be released. Guitar Hero 5 gave another installment for rhythm fans to enjoy, including a new "Party Mode" that allowed you to play song after song without navigating the menus. Wii owners got a very stylish looking Muramasa: The Demon Blade, bringing a 2D side scroller with intense action and stunning visuals. NHL 10 gave hockey fans a solid sports title including a variety of new ways to score as well as a more precise passing system. DS fans boasted two solid titles to experience. Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days provided the classic Kingdom Hearts action from the PS2 in handheld form, and even adding in a co-op component. Scribblenauts gave a unique puzzle game, in which anything you could think of to write down would spawn in the game. Many have claimed to have discovered that the full list of words is greater than 22,800 unique entries, ranging from Rick Astley fighting a dragon to the Keyboard Cat himself....

  MMOs made a surprising appearance during this month. Champions Online allowed players to create and customize their own superhero complete with a nemesis. Boasting a slew of customizable options like how you travel (Ice Sliding, Flight, Jet Boots, etc), the game truly allowed players to think up whatever hero they could imagine and set them loose in the world. Aion became the MMO to play at the end of the month. Aion allowed players to choose from one of four classes, each with 2 additional subclasses to branch to, and allowed incredible customization options like being able to dye your weapons and armor. In PvP, continuous wins allows your wings to change in appearance and reflect your status. With Preorders alone around the 450,000 mark before it was released, the game took a nice chunk out of the already dominating population of World of Warcraft.

  It was the Halo franchise that made the biggest impact in September. Halo: ODST let fans play through a soldier's eyes instead of the Master Chief.  Differences in gameplay required players to plan out attack, use stealth to gain an upper hand, and work as a team to overcome the obstacles. Included was a co-op campaign as well as a Firefight mode pitting players against endless waves of Covenant. More than 2.5 million copies of the game were sold within two weeks of release, with an increasing number as the Holidays approached. Halo fans had a game to tide them over until the release of Halo: Reach in 2010.


  October had many solid titles to offer. A Boy and His Blob held Wii owners over with a 2D puzzle platformer that proved quite enjoyable, as it offered over 80 stages not including hidden challenges. NBA 2K10 gave basketball fans another solid experience including signature play styles that allowed you to mimic Lebron's chalk toss and an improvement in passing and shooting. Tekken 6 continued the brutal fighting series that brought back the original cast with a few added newbies. Included was a new "rage" system that basically made you stronger as your vitality weakened. Though already a hit on the PC, the sleeper hit Trine graced the PSN offering a classic 2D side scroller with a unique approach to platforming. Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time once again outfitted fans of the series with more unique weapons and platforming that proved incredibly enjoyable.

  The month did provide a ton of original titles that offered challenge and excitement. Borderlands became known as "Diablo with guns" offering a drop in, drop out co-operative gameplay element that surprised many. The randomization of weapons offered new players and veterans an equal chance at finding some new and unique weapon never before discovered. It is estimated that the random system can generate over 17 million variations of weapons, ranging from pistols to rocket launchers.

  A huge sleeper hit that nobody saw coming was Demon's Souls, an RPG that proved to be one of the most challenging games of the year. Reviewers found the difficulty in the game refreshing, as you continually learned something with every play through. The game also integrated online features where players can find messages on the ground containing hints and advice that other players left, as well as bloodstains where other players have died which allow them to view how those players' deaths occurred.

  Time Schaffer, mastermind behind Psychonauts, once again gave us a hilarious adventure in the form of Brutal Legend. Following Jack Black as "the roadie", the player navigated through the world of metal complete with chrome trees, skull mountains, and every album cover from a metal band you can conceive. The gameplay mixed hack and slash with an RTS element. With a stellar soundtrack and amazing voice cast, the game proved to be just as entertaining as Psychonauts.

  Though littered with solid titles, the month belonged to Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. The sequel to the hit PS3 game generated a slew of positive reviews, praising an epic campaign that had not been experienced in a long time. Players follow Drake once more in a race to discover a lost treasure, combining puzzles, platforming, and full on cover-system shootouts. The continual mix in gameplay coupled with co-op and an enjoyable multiplayer experience, provided a solid exclusive for the PS3. It was the top-selling game in the US for October, at about 537,000 units sold.


  November proved to be the month of anticipated titles. For the Wii, Resident Evil: Darkside Chronicles provided another gruesome rail shooter for those seeking their fix for Umbrealla corporation takedowns. It was New Super Mario Brothers: Wii that proved the big hit for the console. Offering the same classic side scrolling action from the old Mario games with co-op, the game proved to be as enjoyable and challenging as the previous games. Fans agreed, as it sold 1,390,000 units, making it the third best selling game of the month.

  Through the maze of hit sequels stood an RPG that was well worth the play. Dragon Age: Origins offered over 40+ hours of content for a single play through, with your choice of elf/human/dwarf with classes that ranged from Rangers to Blood Mages. The game played similar to previous Bioware titles, in which you order your party around to perform set actions. Strategy and coordination remained key with the numerous obstacles that you ended up facing. Boasting an epic soundtrack and stellar voicework to accompany their story, Dragon Age: Origins had a nice start, around 450,000 units sold not including PC sales.

  The triple threat of sequels became the highlight of the month. Kicking things off was Left 4 Dead 2, another zombie filled bloodbath promising the same fantastic co-op play of the original with a fresh amount of new content. New infected and weapons put a spin on the traditional method of navigating through the horde, and the slew of new modes like Scavange added to the variety offered. The game provided another incredible experience, and Valve reported that more than two million retailed copies were sold in two weeks time.

  Another sequel people invested time into was that of Assassin's Creed 2. Repetitive gameplay was replaced with a stellar mix of platforming, chase scenes, and assassinations. The new setting proved to be an incredible sight and the new blend system was a welcome change. It was the economic system that changed things up the most, letting you purchase new weapons and customize your armor. Ubisoft announced that it had sold 1.6 million copies worldwide during its first week of sale, promising a sequel in the future.

  Through the pile of incredible titles, the juggernaut proved to be Modern Warfare 2. Returning the franchise to modern day, the game offered yet another solid campaign along with the same addictive multiplayer everyone came to know and love. In addition to the great gameplay the multiplayer offered, a spec ops mode was introduced providing an incredible co-op experience separate from the campaign. Upon its release, it sold approximately 4.7 million copies worldwide in 24 hours, breaking entertainment records worldwide.

  After so many incredible titles came out, December would be considered a clean-up time to finish up any remaining game before the new year arrived. However, there were a few solid titles to pick up during this month that proved to be a lot of fun.

  The Saboteur provided a pretty interesting third person action title. Players explored a Nazi-occupied Paris and made areas of black and white color (Nazi occupied) turn to a vibrant and colorful world by cleaning out the Nazi forces. This game would of course become known as Pandemic studio's swan song. Wii owners got a new Silent Hill game, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. More focused on exploration than combat, the game took a different approach to the series. Instead of fighting off monsters with lead pipes, you ran...a lot. Still, the unique use of the Wiimote and an interesting story made this a title worth your time.

  Handheld gamers finally had a new Zelda at their hands. The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks had a few new weapons and puzzles that not only require you to use the touch screen, but the microphone. This way Nintendo ensured you looked really cool playing it in public. By clearing temples, Link restores the Spirit Tracks that allow him to travel to different areas on his Spirit Train. New gameplay and impressive visuals make this yet another Zelda title that you have to experience to appreciate....and understand.

  Gaming in 09' proved to be a good year. With announcements of other huge sequels and software well on the way, we can expect to see an even bigger list for 2010. We still have Project Natal and the PS3 motion controllers to consider, not to mention highly awaited titles like God of War 3, Final Fantasy 13, and Star Wars: The Old Republic to play. Yet even as those dates grow nearer, there are plenty of titles from the past year that we will continue to play over and over again.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Mass Effect 2 - Voice Talent

Mass Effect 2

PC/Xbox 360
Developer: Bioware
Publisher: EA
Release Date: January 26, 2010

In case you missed this news, this game has one huge cast of voice actors. Adam Baldwin, Keith David (a voice acting god), and even Martin Sheen. Yvonne Strahovski will be in my party..for...obvious reasons...

Gamespot has the Video

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Look Back at Gaming 09 - Part 1

This has been one incredible year for gaming. While most make a top 10 list to commemorate their favorite, I've decided to go month by month with a few highlights and no numerical value. Though I have a general top 10 in mind, this should be a nice break from the numbers.


  Many were still finishing their games of Fallout 3 and Left 4 Dead, but a few titles proved to be enough to satisfy gamers for the month. Lord of the Ring: Conquest gave fans of the epic trilogy a Battlefront style of gameplay throwing orcs against elves, dwarves, and humans all over again. Afro Samurai provided a pretty decent hack and slash for the anime fans. Skate 2 was the highlight of the month, proving that skateboarding games can still hold up after all these years. Nearly 100 different types of objects are movable by the player to setup their own dream skate setup.


  Wii owners got an on-rails shooter with some language not targeted at the kiddies with House of the Dead: Overkill. Fear 2: Project Origin also made its debut, allowing multiple consoles to relive the fear of Alma once again. There was also the surprisingly enjoyable 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand. Nobody expected such a fun game to follow the horrible experience that was the first installment. Dawn of War 2 gave a stunning RTS experience for PC users, with an incredible look and ease of control. Killzone 2 proved a juggernaut of a shooter for PS3 fans, with stunning visuals and gameplay to match.

  The real hit came when Street Fighter 4 was released, selling over 2.5 million copies with critical acclaim. With a huge roster of characters and unique look and feel, the game became a gift for the fans as we relived our days of playing the previous SNES installments all over again. 


  March provided great games for any console. Halo fans could ease their pains for more Spartan action with Halo:Wars, a break from the shooting action to an RTS style of play. Guitar Hero continued raining its titles down with Guitar Hero: Metallica. However, most Capcom fans were itching to get their hands on the new Resident Evil 5. The game sold over 2 million units worldwide and became the best-selling game of the franchise, allowing you to relive that same fast-paced gameplay from Resident Evil 4 with a friend.

  Another big surprise came in the form of a Mature game for the Wii. Madworld, an over the shoulder beat em up, provided Wii fans a shot at a new gory sandbox style game.  The game only sold around 66,000 copies in its first month of release in North America, but as discounts set in it is becoming a Wii title that many seek to own.


  April gave us a few new titles to consider. Ninja Blade provided fans of the hack and slash, fast-paced gameplay something to experience. Godfather 2 allowed gamers to shoot em in the kneecaps one more time, using a strategic overview of the game world, where the player can order members of the family to expand or protect their territory. Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena not only provided an enjoyable experience, but reminded people that Vin Diesel is totally still alive...and making good games...


 Summer was about to begin and gaming was there to welcome it. For fighting fans, UFC:Undisputed sported a huge roster of everyone's favorite UFC fighters. Wii owners got a nostalgic feeling when Punch Out: Wii was released, providing the same great fun and challenge fans remembered. The PS3 exclusive Infamous provided an incredible experience of walking through an urban setting with electrifying superpowers and agility, something ever gamer can appreciate.

  Summer gaming continued the slew of new titles. Red Faction: Guerrilla moved more than 1 million units, utilizing GeoMod 2.0 technology to create dynamically destructible buildings and environments. Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood provided a nice western shooter to tie us over. Fans of the classic movie Ghostbusters were able to relive those awesome moments of taking on the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man! The month on consoles belonged to Prototype, which became the top selling game of June 2009 in North America, with over 419,900 units moved on Xbox 360 alone.With close comparisons to the recently released Infamous, many compared the two through the month, but few could deny the fun of running through streets at high speeds throwing cars like they were nothing.

  The Sims 3 made a huge impact on the PC. EA reported that in its first week, The Sims 3 sold 1.4 million copies, proving that people still love keeping their virtual counterparts alive.With a recently released expansion pack and more DLC available from the store, it's evident that the Sims will be speaking gibberish well into 2010.


  Sports fans were able to get NCAA Football 2010 to tide them over until the college season began. The fighting genre saw two big releases this month. King of Fighters XII tied fans over using the usual 3-on-3 team system with each fight, creating various teams dependent on the user's fighting preference. Blaz Blue: Calamity Trigger provided the highlight of the two fighting games, with an actually decent storyline when compared to the other fighting games out there. Though only a small roster was provided, each character had an incredibly unique fighting style.

  Fat Princess proved a success for the Playstation Online Network, providing a neat change in formula to the classic capture the flag game by making a princess that you fatten up with cake act as your flag. Up to 32 players could be in one game with various classes. However the month belonged to one game in particular, Wii Sports Resort. Bundled with the Wii Motion Plus and containing up to 12 new games showcasing the Wiimote's new sensitivity, the game flew off the shelves. In North America it sold over 500,000 copies in its first week.


  With real NFL scheduling, live drafts,and an online co-op mode Madden 2010 delivered a solid experience to tie football fans over through the season. Wolfenstein allowed us to fight super Nazi generals all over again with a slew of new weapons. A highlight of the month appeared not in console form, but over the Xbox Live Arcade. Shadow Complex gave a classic side scrolling feel similar to Metroid, with incredible visuals and shooting gameplay to match. It broke all sales records for Xbox Live Arcade titles, selling over 200,000 units within the first week of release.

  The true star of the month had to belong to Batman: Arkham Asylum. The typical curse of mediocre super hero games was broken, as Batman became named the best superhero game of all time. Incredible visuals, comic-worthy story, and insanely satisfying gameplay combined to make an incredible game. The general populous also agreed, as two million copies of the game were sold in the first three weeks after release.

Part 2 Coming Soon...

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Legend of...Halo?

Who knew that these two series could actually be combined to make one awesome video...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Assassin's Creed 2 - Review

Score: 8.75/10
Assassin's Creed 2

Xbox 360/PS3

Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: Nov 17, 2009

Pros: Visually stunning architecture to climb, voice acting is enjoyable, stealth kills are even more satisfying with two hidden blades, Blend system is a vast improvement over the first, slew of weapons and armor to purchase, variety of ways to approach a situation

Cons: Occasional platforming hangups, Combat sometimes too easy, Seemingly tacked on side missions, Slow start

  The first Assassin's Creed dropped back in 2007 and left fans wanting more. With a cliffhanger ending and only symbols to go off of to figure out the rest, a sequel was basically carved in stone. Ubisoft promised a much better experience, including less repetitive gameplay and a more attuned combat system. Now that the game is released, it seems Ubisoft held true in their promise.

  The story picks up right where the cliffhanger ending occurred. You are given a brief synopsis of the plot through a quick flashback, explaining about the war between the Templars and Assassins. You play the role of Desmond Miles, a bartender with a deeper past who has been kidnapped by Abstergo to help them in obtaining a map to "Pieces of Eden". Not fully sure of what powers these hold, all that is known is that they have a power that the Templars wish to acquire. The first game had you running through Desmond's ancestor Altair for the map to these pieces.

  Right from the start Lucy, Animus operator and friend to Desmond, rushes into the room with blood on her shirt and assists Desmond in escaping. She reveals that while she has helped him escape, she hopes to train him to become an assassin using another of his ancestors, Ezio Auditore da Firenze. The bleeding effect the previous Animus had granted him Eagle Vision, and as such you will play through Ezio's first steps in becoming an assassin to gain his abilities in a few days time.

  The two storylines are fantastic and intermingle at times much like the first. There are side missions to accomplish that further the story, and many dialogue options that could be missed that are worth checking out. Needless to say, both Desmond and Ezio's stories are incredibly enjoyable to follow as you invest interest in both stories.

  The music to the game fits the time period for most of the moments. The soft and mellow background music is just one element, as minstrels approach with lutes to sing melodies and the hustle and bustle of crowd conversation help to draw you into feeling like you are in a crowded marketplace. Though the guitar chords come into play once a chase is on, it does fuel the chase as you attempt escape. The highlight of the games' sounds has to be the hidden blade kills, which prove to be satisfying each time.

  Of particular mention, the voice acting is fantastic in this game. Kristen Bell returns to reprise her role as Lucy phenomenally, and is accompanied by a few newcomers. Ezio has a much better voice actor for his role than that of Altair, making the main character much more likable. As for the Italian century, the accents and dialects are spot on, just be sure to turn on subtitles for translations. It can be confusing trying to figure the names out to match them with faces as they are thrown at you left and right, but otherwise the accents aren't too distracting.


  It's easy to see how incredible this games' environments are by simply standing on a high rooftop. Modeled to exact detail for the famous buildings, the recreation of a Renaissance Italy is incredible to behold. Tile roofs litter the town with sparkling waterways weaving through the alleys. The architecture is just so much more satisfying to climb on this time around. Decorative columns, facades, and gleaming domes are something to truly take time to look at before hopping off the find your target. Even the small interior segments of the game capture the art and structure of famous buildings like the Duomo Cathedral. It's seriously like going to Italy......and killing things while you are there.

  The architecture is a high point, but the character models are another considerable note. Particularly Ezio looks much more intimidating than Altair, adorned with more detailed stitching, metallic luster, and a cape that follows his every move. Even the detail of NPCs proves impressive, with a large variety of century appropriate clothing of colorful dresses and royal attire that truly give the feeling of the Italian Renaissance. The enemies also provide a more intimidating look bolstering anything from large axes to bulky metallic armor. As the game has evolved, the look has followed suit and proven to be a high mark for this game.

  A huge array of improvements have been added that fixed many of the issues the first installment possessed.

  Gone is the old system of retrieving a missions from the higher up, completing repetitive tasks, assassinating the target, and returning to the higher up. The main quest has now been fixed to become more of a GTA style of gaming, where you can continue the progression of story by simply following the exclamation point on your radar. The missions it sends you on now vary greatly, from intense chase scenes, to platforming segments, to full on target assassinations. You truly do not know what the mission will hold, unlike the first installment which had everything pretty much laid out for you. This leaves to a few nice surprise sequences such as using Leonardo's flying machine to assisting in carrying a wounded ally away from a swarm of guards. This leaves the gameplay fresh and enjoyable, especially in the assassination missions. In the previous game, you found yourself taken out of the animus frequently, which has become less of a problem in this game. Though I do enjoy the social interactions of Desmond and Lucy, they keep the segments without overusing them. As the mission progresses you will visit not just Florence, but many different cities in Italy ensuring that the scenery never gets old.

  The assassination missions prove to be the area where the player determines what steps to take to finish the target off, however numerous variables come into play with these missions. A notoriety gauge exists, where the more notorious you are in the town from public assassinations and showing off by killing guards, the more noticeable you can become if you have not torn down your wanted posters. Health no longer regenerates and requires a doctor/medicine for healing, leaving some less inclined to charge into battle blindly. The save all of the "press A to pray and not be noticed despite the blood on your shirt" has been removed, and you must now move from crowd to crowd to blend in. Groups of individuals can be hired to blend in or distract a group of guards while you slip by. Money can be tossed on the ground as a distraction. Guards now can investigate piles of hay and benches, which you can now assassinate them from while you stay hidden. While these variables sound different, they actually encourage you to play more like an assassin, taking out your target with stealth.

  With new gameplay elements, comes an entirely renovated arsenal to choose how to attack your opponent. The more stealthy approach now has two hidden blades, the most satisfying weapon to get the jump on an opponent from the water, air, or ledge. A poison has become available to provide a distraction with a disoriented guard. Smoke bombs stun huge crowds and allow for an easy escape. The most impressive proves to be the hidden gun, a fun gadget to test on archers and distanced enemies. Of course, if you find yourself in combat you can hold your own as well. You can block, counter, and even steal the weapons of your enemies to use against them. These range from slow axes to swords to sweeping spears. Each kill is utterly satisfying, and when mastered can make you look like a true assassin.

  When you are not progressing through the story, you will find a dozen side quests and collectibles to fill your time. Many of the side missions are much of what you would experience in the main quest: chases, viewpoints, courier missions, etc. The most enjoyable of these happens to be the exploration of past assassins tombs. These are located in famous basilicas or cathedrals like the Duomo, which have you progress through many platforming and combat elements to find their tombs. Each tomb succession gets you closer to unlocked Altair's armor. You can also collect feathers much like flags from the previous game, find all the treasures, and even take assassination contracts. While most side missions feel tacked on, the experience remains enjoyable.

  Among these new collectibles and missions is another new addition to the game, an economy. Cash is received after completing each mission, pickpocketing from townspeople, in chests, etc. This is used to purchase weapons, armor, supplies (poisons and medicine), and even the dye your clothes. You can now customize your character to look even more like your dream assassin. The most interesting economic addition is a villa that you attain. This villa actually produces income if you put enough money into refurbishing and renovating various areas. Maxing this out will ensure you become one rich assassin. Though money is never a truly dire asset you will be grinding to get, its a neat addition to the game. I just wish the villa did not max your money out so quickly, as you can become rich very very fast.

  There are few problems I have with this game. One is the occasional platforming fault. Sometimes I will try to make Ezio jump to the left or right and have him go in the complete opposite direction. This can be especially frustrating when running from the guards, as the camera position determines how the controls react. Another problem is simply how easy this game can be at times. I rarely found myself on a mission that I had to retry over and over and over again. I wish this game would present more of a challenge sometimes in combat, as your health skyrockets when purchasing the more expensive armor. The game is also incredibly slow getting started. It takes almost a good hour and a half of playing to get your robes and assassin's hidden blade, occurring after delivering numerous courier tasks. At a certain point, I wanted to just tell my father that I understand how to blend in now and would like to stop delivering letters.

  The game improves upon the previous installment and adds new features that make it very easy to recommend. Despite the occasional stall in jumping and ease of combat, the game is a blast to play. After the slow beginning, the game takes off and holds your interest. With a slew of side missions and fairly length campaign, its needless to say that it has enough content to hold you over for a while. The best feature remains the ability to approach a situation however you please, and this is a game that opens that option further than the first.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Left 4 Dead 2 - Review

Score: 9/10

Left 4 Dead 2

PC/Xbox 360

Developer: Valve
Publisher: Valve
Release Date: Nov 17, 2009

Pros: Campaigns are longer and more open, Great replay value, New weapons and infected fit nicely, One-liners provided by the cast are very entertaining, Realism and Expert mode prove to be a challenge worthy of bragging rights 

Cons: Occasional Laggy Server, Friendly AI remains just as useless while enemy AI has increased

  The first Left 4 Dead was an experience all its own. Never before had a game captured the zombie apocalypse with co-op gameplay so well. Valve announced that almost 3 million copies of the game had been sold, showing the success a simple mod could have on the gaming industry. Despite the boycotts and disagreement upon a release one year after its predecessor, Left 4 Dead 2 takes what the first game offered and improves upon the formula.


  With Left 4 Dead...there is no real story. The premise is that there are 4 survivors that have teamed together to escape the infected city. That's really about all there is to it. The characters do have their own unique personalities and chime in every now and then to show them.  Other than that don't expect a mind blowing plot twists or unique understanding of where the infection came from, it's a zombie apocalypse and you are not one. Go shoot them and escape.

  The music in the game fits each campaign you are playing through perfectly. The typical Left 4 Dead theme from the first game is played in each level, but depending on the level you are playing on, the style will change. Playing through Dead Carnival stage will loop music fitting of that which you would hear at a circus tied to the classic "horde theme". It provides an entertaining, yet frightening score that intensifies the moment. The classic tank music is cued up upon its entry each time as well, sending the entire party running for their lives. There is also the occasional jukebox that you stumble upon to choose various tracks from while you blast away zombies. The highlight being "Your Brains" by Jonathan Coulton, singing about a friend who is a zombie asking for his buddy to let him in to eat him. Its the same guy who brought us "Still Alive' from Portal, so generally its a favorite to play.

  The voice acting is another worthy mention. Though only 4 characters are in this game, they are a colorful cast made even more entertaining by the dialogue through the game. The same dialogue is not repeated over and over and over again, but cues up only on occasion. This encourages you to play through multiple times, just to hear the hilarious conversations your group discusses. The dialogue is fresh, never over the top, and enough to make you stop playing to laugh for a second.

  Time has been taken for each campaign setting in detailing a truly vibrant and colorful environment. From the bright streets to murky swamps, each level has an incredibly polished look to it. The grain filter overlaying the game only amplifies the detail. This time around there are more well-lit stages that are not completely hidden in the dark, showing off more textures than the previous installment.

  Character models are another particular mention. Seeing as there are indeed only four main characters to choose from, it's easy to say they took their time in creating them to look good. Facial expressions and lip syncing holds true, and the detailed look of each character is impressive. Not only did the Survivors get a facelift, but the Infected have as well. All your favorite Infected characters have all gotten a more gruesome and intimidating look to them. Whether it's the stream of glowing spit trailing from the Spitter or the cloud of smoke emanating from the Smoker, each character is much more menacing this time around.

Gameplay is split into different types: Campaign/Versus, Scavenge, Realism, and Survival

  The campaigns this time around are much longer and much more detailed than the previous installment. There are five campaigns to choose from: Dead Center, Dark Carnival, Swamp Fever, Hard Rain, and The Parish. Each one of these consists of about 4-5 "stages" that the survivors must navigate. The object is to get from one safehouse to the other while surviving numerous encounters with zombies and special Infected. Try and run off and do this by yourself, and you quickly learn how much cooperation is needed.

  Each campaign has plenty of different events and zombies that mix the gameplay up. In the previous installment, there were moments in which you must open a door with an alarm, alerting the nearby horde causing you to defend yourself in a corner until the wave had passed. This is not the case as much in this game, as in multiple scenarios there will be an alarm where the horde will never stop coming until you press a button to turn it off, placed a few hallways away from you. This flips the strategy of hiding in a corner from the previous game, requiring coordination and tactics to maneuver from one place to the next. We literally found ourselves using SWAT tactics on a few occasions, where one party member breaks forward, stops and covers, then continues once someone can cover them. The special zombies also mix things up, some donning bullet proof armor and even some that are clowns who's squeaky shoes alert nearby groups.

  The new Infected are a nice addition to breaking the party up. The infamous corner hiding strategy is completely gone with the appearance of The Spitter, who spits pools of acid that will scatter the party members. The Charger can also bring one party member from one side of an open area to the other, pummeling them into the ground. The Jockey proves the most elusive, with a small size he is much harder to hit and can easily grab a Survivor and steer them away from the group. Combined with the reappearance of the other Infected, there are numerous strategies that can now be considered. Coordination is key, and nothing is more satisfying than when a plan all melds together as the Survivors are pulled away one by one.

  The Survivors will not be completely helpless. Plenty of new weapons and items help them to battle the horde more effectively. Most noticeably is the addition of melee weapons. Taking the place of your pistols, these items are one hit kills to normal infected and can put a pretty big hurting on special Infected as well. While they are a nice addition, you are sacrificing that safety of distancing yourself from the enemy and have more likelihood of getting hit. There's also the addition of a defibrillator to revive dead teammates on the stop and shots of adrenaline to run without getting slowed by being hit. Throw in incendiary and frag ammo with a slew of weapons to choose from, and the Survivors are well equipped.

  My only complaint about the Campaign lies in the AI. While the AI Director is smarter than ever, the bots that you get stuck with are not. They still will not use any explosive items (pipebombs, molotovs) and are slow to rescue you if incapacitated. Though their accuracy is as godlike as ever, they prove more useless than a noob player. Needless to say, if you plan on playing this offline, prepare for some frustrating moments.


  Scavange is a fantastic mode that you should try if you can pull yourself away from the Campaign long enough. You get a slight preview of this in the first campaign. The basic idea is you are trying to collect gas cans scattered across the level and bring them to power a generator in the middle of the stage. Collect as many as you can to extend the timer at the top from running out. The other players must act as the Infected and prevent the Survivors from gathering the gas cans. Roles are switched after each round, and whoever collects the most after 3 rounds wins.

  The mode proves as enjoyable as versus, requiring coordination and strategy to gather the most cans. If a can lays on the ground too long and spitter can actually ignite it with her acid, and she can also ruin your chance to pour your gas can in by spitting right at the generator. Survivors must decide how they will move, all in one group or split into two groups? Each move you make is risky, and with the clock ticking it keeps you moving non-stop. Different maps require different strategies. The Dark Carnival map is flat and must be navigated all together, but eh Dead Center has multiple stories, allowing one group to gather gas cans and toss them down to another group to fill the generator.

  Survival also makes a return, giving you a large amount of items to hole up in a section of each campaign. A timer ticks by counting up how long you can survive for and awards medals if you make it past a certain time. It's not a very rewarding experience and feels sort of tacked on, but fun to play around with nonetheless.


  Realism is another new mode that will make the game much more challenging. Playing through this mode changes a few elements in the game, while keeping the difficulty level the same. In Realism mode, enemies and friends are no longer highlighted in a colored outline, you will no longer find people in closets if they die, and damage is limb based making head shots more damaging than limb shots. When playing through it, you really must rely on voice communication and coordination to survive, as it feels like a much more complex experience. You could be retrieving a pipe bomb and turn around to find your teammates gone and you have no clue which direction they went.

  Left 4 Dead 2 provides a sequel worthy of any gamer's time. The slew of new features have made the game feel like a different experience than the first. The epic campaigns are so enjoyable, that even with only five of them you will play them over and over for those parts you truly enjoyed. With a slew of achievements, and some incredibly difficult segments to conquer, the game provides an enjoyable challenge. With DLC already being hinted at, this will be a game to add to your wish list for the holidays.