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.

Monday, November 16, 2009

8-bit Left 4 Dead?

This is what Left 4 Dead would have been like on the NES...
This post in honor of the release of Left 4 Dead 2, out every where tomorrow!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Modern Warfare 2 - Review

Score: 9.5/10

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

PC/Xbox 360/PS3

Developer: Infinity Ward
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: Nov 10, 2009

Pros: Intense Single Player Campaign, A Multiplayer that is as enjoyable as the first,Gorgeous environments, Slew of perks and customizable options to choose from, Host Migration is a great addition, Spec Ops captures the fun of Campaign in co-op form

Cons: Wait, what was the point of me doing this mission again?, Multiplayer will be unforgiving for first-time players, Must unlock most multiplayer modes, Short Campaign

  The first Modern Warfare proved to be a huge success, becoming the third best-selling video game for 2007 on the Xbox 360. The incredible campaign and addictive multiplayer provided hours of entertainment. It made perfect sense that a sequel would follow the hit game. Despite the huge amount of controversy the game has stirred (Lack of Dedicated Servers, terrorist level, and a "distasteful" video on grenade spam), Modern Warfare 2 delivers a solid FPS experience.


  The story picks up right where the last one left off. You will assume the roles of various marine core and special forces units 5 years after the death of the main baddy from the last game, Zakhaev. Turns out after Zakhaev was killed, someone worse has risen to take his place known as Makarov.

  The plot seemed basic and predictable, but takes many unexpected turns. My only problem was, I had to play 2 games worth to figure out why I was on a particular mission most of the time. On the load screens you simply hear people ramble on about honor and the reason for war, with the occasional plot being divulged. The comm chatter in-game explains many of the plot's and mission's basis, and its hard to hear when you are firing an M16 with explosions going off all around you. You'll have a basic idea of what's going on, but play through twice to get a full understanding. The confusion is furthered by the reappearance of a certain character without any explanation and the re-use of a voice actor from the first one for a totally different character in this installment.


  Modern Warfare 2 is treated just like the first, with a symphony orchestra to escalate the moment. The music in the game feels like that which you would hear from a blockbuster war movie. Somber tones play in the background as you investigate a war-torn battlefield and picks up to give tension to a fast chase.   

  MW2 captures the sound of a battlefield wonderfully. Whether in multiplayer or campaign, you will constantly hear the sounds of bullets whizzing by or explosions going off around you as your teammates yell out enemy positions. The most satisfying explosive sound comes from the AC-13 gunship. It's terrifying to hear when its not on your side, but the sound of joy when its you firing the rounds.

  Another worthy mention has to be the voice acting. No stale commentary or cliche' ridden dialogue, just well delivered one-liners and military chatter you would typically hear in the field. The key figures in the game truly capture their characters with respective dialect, no terrible accents. You will have little trouble finding a favorite character personality.


 Visually, Modern Warfare 2 is as stunning as its first installment. Environments in this game stand out the most. You will be underground one minute and emerge to find a flame-ridden battlefield the next. There are desert canyons, lush white forests, and even small suburban homes. The attention to detail is not just evident in the campaign, as Multiplayer maps carry over that same incredible look. You may find yourself progressing through the game slower as you glance at the incredible detail for each of the unique levels.
  Character models look and move much like the first Modern Warfare. I seriously took time staring at one character's beard because of the fact that it was actually gathering snow. The mocap work is evident, as each marine in your squad moves and signals much like you would expect.

  Lighting plays a huge part in what makes the game look so great. Shadows pass over the wall as a group of enemies patrol near you or a small vehicle fire lights a segment of the street. In one stage in particular, you are basically in pitch black and must rely on the occasional lightning flash for assistance in locating enemies. Even subtle effects like rain are displayed perfectly.

  Modern Warfare 2 comes with 3 different modes to choose from:

  Personally, this is the part of the game I look forward to the most. Call of Duty has been known for its incredibly fun campaign mode, offering an experience that draws the player in through various methods. Modern Warfare 2 delivers a campaign just as solid as the first.

  Though only about 7 hours long, each stage provides such an incredible experience that would influence you to replay certain segments again and again. With a shooter, it's very easy to get into a repetitive nature: Go here, shoot some guys, go here, shoot some guys. Modern Warfare 2 mixes this up by continually throwing in different elements to vary the gameplay.One particular stage that comes to mind has you going through a war torn town after an EMP explosion. This cuts off your red dot sight, nightvision, and radar completely. It was almost a throw back to the original call of duty, only iron sights and call signs for communication. It's little elements thrown in like this that continually mix the gameplay up and keep the player interested.

  Other added elements include a new "breaching" segment. These segments involve the player blowing open a door and infiltrating a room in slow motion. This is incredibly satisfying when you simply snap to enemy after enemy placing a single round in each to clear a room. This is made difficult for you as the shots you take must hit their intended targets, as a majority of the rooms contained explosives littered through the room.

  Then there is the highly controversial airport stage, No Russian. When I came across this stage and first stepped out the elevator, my jaw dropped as I watched my Russian friends mow down an entire set of civilians while I, the CIA agent, stood in place. I get the idea of the stage, to show you the catalyst for the war the rest of the game covers and to provide a general hatred toward the enemy, Makarov. Now I've mowed down my fair share of pedestrians on GTA, but this was different for me. It almost felt like this stage was a small morality choice the player had to make, but both decisions led to no consequences. It's not like if I don't open fire they would get suspicious of me and if I do they would be encouraged that I was one of them. I was in no way offended by the segment and I understand the reason for its existence, but I feel like the option to fire a weapon during that scene has caused more trouble for the game than helped it.

  Overall this is a mode that many skip to go straight to the multiplayer, but is well worth any shooter fan's time. Though through the smoke and mirrors it boils down to many different firefights during different times, it holds your attention and provides a great experience.

Special Ops
  Instead of adding a Campaign co-op, Infinity Ward took a different approach by adding Special Ops missions. These missions are essentially 2 players against the AI in different scenarios or situations from the campaign. This could range from stealth missions, to getting across a bridge in a certain time, etc.

  What truly stood out was the missions involving one player on the ground and one player in a vehicle laying down heavy fire. In one mission, I was on the ground while a buddy of mine manned the AC-130 gunship. My objective was to get across the field while he would lay down fire to clear me a path. On the more difficult setting, this requires very strict coordination, as I ducked down in a building calling out enemy positions. This is exactly what I wanted from a co-op experience, truly feeling in the moment of the fight.

  Each mission requires team work to get through, and the missions can get really difficult as new tiers open up. The only downside is that there is no open lobby system to search over Xbox Live, it's either split screen or grab a friend who isn't on multiplayer. As you can imagine, it's hard to pull people away from the multiplayer long enough to give this a try.

  It's difficult indeed to surpass the first Modern Warfare's multiplayer experience, but the sequel holds true while adding a few new elements. Some old modes make a return (Deathmatch, Capture Points,Ground War) with the addition of a few new ones like the 3rd Person Mode versus option. As you progress through the multiplayer you level up and unlock different things. These range from new weapons, to new modes, to new emblems to showoff. You even unlock killstreak awards to customize what you receive for getting kills without dying.

  Customization is much more elaborate this time around. When you unlock a custom class, you can begin assembling favorite weapons together. You pick the weapon (loads to choose from), scope (ACOG, red dot, holographic, etc), and even the custom weapon skin it has. In addition to a main weapon and sidearm, you can choose up to 3 Perks. Perks give you a boost in some way. They make you run longer, hold more ammo, and even steady your aim when firing from the hip.With new people coming in it's easy to get scared of what weapons the higher ranked player possess, but luckily there is a Deathstreak perk as well. Die 3 times in a row without a kill and you can use Copycat to steal the other player's custom class and making it your own. You even unlock emblems and tags that you can show off to others.

  The Host Migration is a great addition to the multiplayer, and fixed a huge annoyance from the previous installment. Gone are the days when a single person could quit and close a game down entirely, now you simply wait about 10 seconds and everyone is back in the game exactly where they stood. Although sometimes the servers tend to lag on occasion, rarely would I come across an unplayable level.

  The only downside to the multiplayer is the learning curve new players must go through. Though chances are you played the first game to death, there are those who are just experiencing this for the first time. There are only two modes they could typically play on and not get completely dominated: Regular Deathmatch or Merc Team Deathmatch. Any other mode and you are bound to be facing a team/party/clan of some sort that is far beyond your skill. If it's your first time playing the game, just expect a nice welcome basket of predator missiles, airstrikes, and sniper bullets all headed your way.

  Modern Warfare 2 holds true in providing another incredible addition to the Call of Duty franchise. With a Campaign that holds up just as well as the first and the addition of Spec Ops, there is no shortage of fun to be had playing solo. The multiplayer delivers another addictive experience, that will truly lock you in and have you playing late to get just one more level. Despite the controversy, this title was well worth the wait.

(Played through Campaign Normal & Veteran, with some time spent in Multiplayer, and Spec Op Missions)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Dragon Age: Origins - Review

Score: 8.5/10 (9/10 for PC)

Dragon Age: Origins
PC/Xbox 360/PS3

Developer: Bioware
Publisher: EA
Release Date: Nov 3, 2009

Pros: Incredible Replay Value, Interesting Story and Characters, Unique experience for each player, Strategic Combat that varies upon party member, +40 hours of content
Cons: Slight framerate issues, Graphically nothing to write home about, Ability wheel and targeting take time to navigate on consoles

  Bioware is no newcomer when it comes to creating solid RPGs. Some of the best experiences I've had in an RPG have come straight from Bioware (Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, etc). It makes sense that Dragon Age: Origins would also be another solid title to add to their already impressive collection.

  What is great about this game is that the story depends on the player. You choose a gender/race/class and one of 6 backgrounds. Each of these backgrounds has a different beginning to the game. It's like World of Warcraft in a sense, you'll start in your own unique setting but eventually end up where everyone else will go.

  Regardless of your choice, you are selected by the Grey Wardens, a group of fighters whose sole purpose is to end the blight. Evil orc-like creatures known as the Darkspawn are overunning the land. Nobody knows their true origin, but it's up to you to amass an army of races and destroy the leader of the blight, the Archdemon. Of course, the plot is a lot more complicated than this and there are plenty of twists and turns along the way. The best part is how the story is shaped around your actions. When it comes to a solid story, Bioware does not disappoint.

  I'll admit that I was worried when I heard Marilyn Manson on the teaser vids and questioned whether this game would be littered with guitar riffs every time I entered a battle. Luckily the soundtrack proves to be as epic as the story. With a pure symphony in the background as you slash your way through darkspawn, you are drawn into the game even more.

  The voice acting is another strong point of Dragon Age. You will meet hundreds of different characters in this game, and each one is given a personality all their own. This game relies pretty heavily on spoken dialogue, and Bioware was able to deliver solid voice talent for the respective roles. Truly shining moments include when your party members banter back and forth with each other. Claudia Black (Chloe from Uncharted 2), Steve Valentine (Harry Flynn from Uncharted 2), even Simon Templeton (Kain from Legacy of Kain series) throw their talent into some of the more important characters flawlessly. 


  This is an area where Dragon Age: Origins does not truly shine, but is easily forgiven considering the amount of content. Most of the textures that you see are a little behind the times. There are very few pre-rendered cutscenes, all the events you watch happen in real-time. This is great for a quick switch between a deep conversation and battle, but on the moments that you simply watch a scene unfold you might find yourself distracted by little things.

  It's the environments and character models that truly make up for the lacking textures. The worlds and environments you visit are incredible in detail, from underground dwarven cities to dreary swamps. Of particular mention, is "The Fade", a dark realm strewn with a ghostly ambiance and disfigured landscape. The enemies you encounter are truly detailed and Darkspawn possess intinimdating features. Weapons, armor, and spells are also displayed well, shimmering in the light and illuminating dark caverns. As an added bonus, if you are in the fight you will find your character covered in's the little things like this that help you overlook the fact that this game is not nearly as detailed as others.


  Dragon Age follows closely to the Knights of the Old Republic gameplay. You issue commands to your party and they follow suit. You tell them where to stand, what to attack, and what spell/ability to use and watch as it is played out. Simple right?..not at later stages. Though forgiving in the beginning, Dragon Age encourages you think on your feet, using appropriate tactics for each situation. Constantly you will ask yourself questions like; Should I attack the mage or archer first? Should I take the boss out or minions and THEN the boss? It's questions like these that make Dragon Age so great, finding a working method for the party you choose.

  Gameplay is mixed further by the various classes. The basic three are Warrior/Mage/Rogue. However these classes are expanded on to find a specialty. Mages, for example, can become spirit healers (your party healer), shapeshifters (morphing into various animals), or even blood mages (dark and powerful arts). The variety available allows for some interesting and unique party assemblies.

  My problem with the gameplay, lies only in the console version. In the PC version, you are given a large bar for a slew of abilities to hotkey. This makes issuing commands fast, simply clicking an enemy and then an ability. With the console version, you are only able to hotkey 6 commands to the face buttons (Using the R trigger to alternate between them). This is fine on early levels, but as you progress this can become problematic when you gain more abilities. The console version contains a "wheel" that you must navigate through to find the spell/ability you didn't hotkey, taking you out of the action. This is further made frustrating by the targeting system, which you must cycle through all enemies on the field with the D-Pad, whereas the PC is simply a click.

  Something I did not expect to affect the gameplay as much is your choices. There is no morality gauge on this game that rates whether you are good or evil. Instead, it's your choices that influence your party. Deciding to help a beggar may appeal to some members of your party, but not others. You gain favor for some and lose it for another. If your party likes you enough, they may be influenced to boost their magic/attack/etc. Even their presence in your party affects how easy it is to complete a quest. For example, I had one instance where I was trying to have a murderer freed. I pleaded with the woman on one game to no avail, yet when I had a member of the chantry in my party they trusted me and granted his release. It's small things like this that truly makes the game unique: The possibilty to avoid fights/finish quests with ease simply based on how I stand with my party members.

  Despite a step back in graphics and the dreaded console ability wheel, Dragon Age still gives a solid RPG. Though Knights of the Old Republic still reigns high on my list, Dragon Age is not far behind. With over +40 hours of content it's a lot of fun with a huge world to explore. Chances are if you are a fan of KotOR, you will love this title. If the option is available, I would get this game for PC for the best experience.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Prince of Persia: Sands of Time - Trailer

.....well I don't completely hate it. By no means am I excited for it, I just feel like it will be an average action film.