Thursday, December 30, 2010

Top 10 of 2010 - Part III

Part I
Part II

--- 3 ---

Red Dead Redemption
Xbox 360/PS3
Developer: Rockstar San Diego/North
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Release Date: May 18th, 2010

Red Dead Redemption transferred what made Grand Theft Auto so great into a Western setting. The result is possibly the best Western game of the past decade. With jaw dropping scenery like that taken out of a painting, RDR offered an open world filled with bandits, runaway trains, and classic shootouts. The campaign's story and colorful cast of characters pulled you into the world itself. Simply put, you felt like an outlaw.

If the story wasn't enough, the multiplayer would be as numerous options were at your disposal. Deathmatch, capture the flag, co-operative missions, and even horse races were slowly opened up over the year to give good reason to explore the world with a friend. Top if off with a zombie apocalypse DLC, and you have one of the best titles of the year.

Though the missions became a bit repetitive as the game trailed on, nothing could beat riding off into the sunset shooting a revolver at wanted outlaws.

---- 2 ----

Starcraft II
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Release Date: July 27th, 2010

Starcraft II was over 10 years in the making, and the wait was well worth it. I personally steer clear of RTS games, but Starcraft II slapped me in the face and said, "Trust me dude, you'll like this." The reason the game is so high on my list is the way it is tailored to both pros and noobs alike. The campaign is insanely fun, and while acting as training for online play, offers multiple upgrades and morality choices warranting continuous play. Instead of a typical structure, each mission played differently and variety was consistent. Not to mention the voice acting and story sucked me in immediately.

When the campaign was finished, the multiplayer gave more than its fair share of enjoyment. 1v1 to 3v3 battles were incredible to behold, as giant masses of armies would clash in the center. Recorded games could be viewed to see how your enemy got the upperhand, and can get extremely detailed down to every APM(action per minute). Most importantly, the system handled matchmaking much more efficiently, ensuring you were up against people your own speed.

I am usually not a big fan of RTS games, but Starcraft II was anything but a typical RTS. The game was gorgeous, challenging, and incredibly satisfying.

----- 1 -----

Mass Effect 2
Xbox 360, PC, (PS3 in Jan)
Developer: Bioware
Publisher: EA
Release Date: January 26th, 2010

There was one game I continually revisited during the year to play, and that game was Mass Effect 2. Instead of taking the route of a typical sequel, ME2 scrapped the formula of the first game and reinvented a new game. Combat was faster and much more satisfying, visuals were sharper, and worlds were different and never repeated. Even the god awful Mako travel from the first was thrown out completely. It wasn't just Mass Effect 2.0, it was a different experience altogether.

The most impressive feat was the game's import feature. Importing your character from the first game not only netted a few bonuses and kept your look, but brought all of your past decisions with them. Did the Council survive? Did you save the Rachni queen? Each is accounted for in this game, and gives off this ominous feeling that they will come into play in the third installment as well. The thought of a small decision in the first carrying over two games is mind blowing, and all the more reason to actually keep the first installment.

It didn't hurt that Mass Effect 2's story and characters were just as interesting as the first, and answered many questions while raising a few new ones. Every decision made had such an impact into the final portion of the game, that failure to know your squad could cost some their lives. You actually felt like a commander at the end, issuing orders and making important decisions. The consistent DLC through the year was of equal quality, with Lair of the Shadow Broker being a must-have for a glimpse at what could come in Mass Effect 3.

It was an insanely fun experience with a very high replay value to try out all of the different classes and moral decisions. Mainly, it was the game I continually popped back into my Xbox this year to relive over and over; which is why it remains my top game of 2010.

Top 10 of 2010 Rundown
1. Mass Effect 2
2. Starcraft II
3. Red Dead Redemption
4. Donkey Kong Country: Returns
5. God of War III
6. Call of Duty: Black Ops
7. Halo: Reach
8. Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood
9. Splinter Cell: Conviction

Note: These are only games I have spent time on to fully play through and enjoy. With plenty of other titles missed along the way, don't feel distraught if you don't see your personal favorites on the list. I'm sure I'd love them too.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Top 10 of 2010 - Part II

Part 1 can be found here.

Halo: Reach
Xbox 360
Developer: Bungie
Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: September 14th, 2010

Hailed as the last of Halo we shall see for a while, Halo: Reach keeps the fun of the series alive. With the addition of new "abilities" for each class, the game has changed and been given an identity all its own. The same addicting multiplayer is refined with more playlists and daily challenges. With a solid campaign to tie it all together, Reach is a fine addition to any FPS addict's collection.

Call of Duty: Black Ops
PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii
Developer: Treyarch
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: November 9th, 2010

Call of Duty struck hard once again this year with Black Ops. Treyarch took what made the previous games enjoyable and attached a whole bunch of goodies with them. A Michael Bay inspired Campaign, refined multiplayer, zombie survival shooter, dead ops arcade, and even ZORK are shoved into this one disc. As far as games go, this was one where you got your money's worth and then some.

- 5 -
God of War III
Developer: Santa Monica Studio
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: March 16th, 2010

God of War III gave some of the most jaw dropping visuals gaming has ever seen. The sheer scale of the world you explored and the enemies you dismembered was incredible. Taking Kratos through Hades and back again was a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy and one of the most memorable single player experiences of the year. From start to finish, it was hard to put the controller down as each world you entered felt more polished than the last. It was satisfyingly brutal, a sight to behold, and one of the best action/adventure games of the year.

-- 4 --
Donkey Kong Country: Returns
Developer: Retro Studios
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: November 21st, 2010

Donkey Kong Country: Returns was like a nolstagic feeling slapping me in the face and throwing me down a pit. The music, platforming, and cartoonish style of the game all fit together for a total package. Each level had its own unique touch to it, with the action in the backdrop giving a great amount of depth to each stage. Much like set pieces in a 3D shooter, the pieces in Donkey Kong were memorable, insanely fun, and made finishing a level that much more satisfying. Most importantly, it was a throwback to a more unforgiving time of gaming, where extra lives were precious and timing is everything. Nintendo should just keep throwing any old titles toward Retro Studios, as they clearly know how to revive them.

Third and Final installment tomorrow for my Top 10 of 2010.

Note: These are only games I have spent time on to fully play through and enjoy. With plenty of other titles missed along the way, don't feel distraught if you don't see your personal favorites on the list. I'm sure I'd love them too.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Top 10 of 2010 - Part 1

Xbox 360 Arcade
Developer: Playdead Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date: July 21st, 2010

The Xbox Live arcade had its fair share of stellar titles, and none amazed me more than Limbo. This simple platformer was given a unique look and style, with incredibly complex puzzles to boot. The overall atmosphere and presentation of the game, stuck with me long after its completion. There is no other arcade game quite like Limbo.

Splinter Cell: Conviction
PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: April 13th, 2010

Splinter Cell came out of its element, taking a more action oriented approach in comparison to the typical stealthy path. The result is a fast-paced roller coaster of Sam Fisher raising hell. With an insanely satisfying "mark and execute" ability, it never got old to engage the enemy as Sam lined up each shot with a simple tap of the button. Tack on a surprisingly well-done co-operative mode online, and Splinter Cell: Conviction delivered a fresh take on a long standing series.

Assassin's Creed Brotherhood
PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: November 16th, 2010

What looked like a simple expansion of the second game became anything but, as Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood took the fight online. The simple, yet satisfying multiplayer only boosted the replay value of the game. The single player still maintained its core appeal of platforming around the new city of Rome, which turned out to be much larger than the maps of previous AC games. The new features gave it a feel all its own, and added another stellar game to the already impressive series.

Part II coming in the very near future

Note: These are only games I have spent time on to fully play through and enjoy. With plenty of other titles missed along the way, don't feel distraught if you don't see your personal favorites on the list. I'm sure I'd love them too.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Top 10 Gaming Commercials of 2010

Gran Turismo 5

It's not a list if you don't include Kevin Butler, VP of whatever game he is selling. The laugh from him at 0:20, made this an immediate favorite.

Mass Effect 2

A brief glimpse at the various party members was enough to have people setting who would be their main team members for Mass Effect 2.

Dante's Inferno 

Dante's Inferno had one of the first commercials out there during the superbowl, and offered a glimpse at the impossible odds in Dante's way. Thousands of demons pouring out of the walls to a stellar track was always entertaining to watch.

God of War III

Another Kevin Butler VP commercial, as the one for God of War III proved a personal favorite.

Starcraft II

Straight to the point, this commercial conveyed the anticipation every gamer felt for the release of a game years in the making.

Fable III

Shot with no word spoken, the Fable commercial shows the slow rise of a small band of revolutionaries to their toppling of a tyrant king. It was simple, enjoyable, and added another song to my iTunes library.

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood

A subtle hint of the games' characters placed in mirrored objects of the real world grabbed Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood the third spot on my list. It takes a few viewings to truly catch all the small details they added in the opening, and the gameplay cutoff in the middle isn't too shabby to look at either.

Metroid: Other M

The game left a little to be desired, but the commercial for it was enough to sway toward a purchase. The simple piano tune guiding us along the path as Samus walks through stills of her past experiences acts as a simple opener to the gameplay of the game. It used real actors without becoming too cheesy or laughable. It was a commercial I actually enjoyed watching, and worth its spot on the list.

Call of Duty: Black Ops

Instead of playing into the typical "here is some gameplay" tune, the Black Ops commercial kept it in the real world with a strong message. Panning from the typical business lady, to the average construction worker, and ending with the least of them all, the lonely fry-cook; the message served as a testament to the incredible impact the Call of Duty franchise has had this year. All this without a single shot of gameplay footage.

Halo: Reach

Not only did this commercial prove that a Halo movie was possible, but also gave a well directed and well shot dedication to the franchise. The commercial, much like the game, gave off that sense of hopelessness as Reach falls, backed by a somber track cutting as the first Spartan falls, and picking up as a single Spartan delivers a big hurt to the Covenant. Despite this, the pan back to show the entire planet in utter war reminds us of the inevitable fall of Reach.

The gorgeous visuals, somber piano number, and connection to the game's overall feel ties up my favorite gaming commercial of 2010.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Epic Mickey Review - The House of Mouse

Score 6.75/10

Disney's Epic Mickey
Developer: Junction Point Studios
Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
Release Date: November 30, 2010

  • Art direction and colorful cast of characters give great nostalgic feeling
  • Choices made can change how events play out, warranting multiple playthroughs
  • The Erase/Paint platforming has some great moments
  • Slew of collectibles
  • Camera work is tedious, and troublesome for a platformer
  • Combat is dull, and often had me doing anything to avoid fights
  • Uninspiring fetch-quests
  • Inability to truly backtrack until New Game+
  • Once you leave a world, everything you painted/thinned is gone
  • 2D Side-Scrolling soon loses its appeal after overuse

Warren Spector is famous for System Shock and Deus Ex, both well designed games. So when word got out he was working on a game specifically for the Wii with the Disney license, people paid attention. Epic Mickey's reveal had many hopeful that this would become a must-own title for any Wii owners. The end result, however, left Mickey feeling a little less epic than he should have.

Mischievous Mouse

Epic Mickey starts out with Mickey passing through a magic mirror, where he stumbles upon YenSid using a magical brush to create a town for forgotten Disney characters. Mickey accidentally spills Thinner onto the world, creating "The Blot", who terrorizes and destroys the world. Some time after Mickey's success, he is pulled into the world by The Blot. With the help of the forgotten characters, Mickey must right the wrongs he has caused and destroy The Blot along with the Mad Scientist who seeks to use it.

The overall story and characters are well done, proving the most interesting aspect of the game. Spector's take on beloved Walt Disney characters is darker without sacrificing their classic appeal. An animatronic version of Goofy and Captain Hook still act like their counterparts. The Forgotten Characters also prove interesting, particularly Oswald the Rabbit, one of  Disney's first true creations.

A storyboard style of storytelling takes you out of the 3D space and lays it out before you like a silent cartoon. Though there isn't much here as far as story motivation, it's always entertaining watching character interaction.

To All That Come to this Happy Place

The best part of Epic Mickey is exploration of the environment. The game is essentially, a love letter to Disney fans. The worlds you are thrown into appear as clones of famous Disney attractions; including Tomorrow Land and The Haunted Mansion. The main hub world that you access all these worlds from is even called "Mean Street", an obvious play on Disney's Main Street. Having recently been myself, it was pretty neat to see many of the famous attractions turned into platforming or puzzle elements.

When you aren't exploring these environments in 3D, you are traveling between them in a 2D platformer, taking place in famous Mickey cartoons. Initially, these are incredibly fun to navigate and provided a nice beak from platforming. Later on, however, there is no "quick travel" between maps and repeating the same ones over and over again can get old real fast. They become less nostalgic, and more annoying.

In each world is a slew of collectibles to find. Most are obviously placed before you, while others require you thin/paint everything you can find to see what is hidden. It's a decent balance, though most times as I was looking for secrets, I did not realize that I was continuing down the linear path instead and doors shut behind you in most cases. It's unfortunate that you cannot backtrack as freely as you would think, but a New Game+ will let you catch it the second time around.

Color by Number

The central idea behind Epic Mickey is his use of the magic brush to assist him in platforming and combat. You use one of two triggers on the Wii-mote to hit with either Paint to fill items in, or Thinner to thin objects out. For instance, to cross a bridge, a light silhouette can be painted in to create a bridge. Alternately Thinner can be used to clear boulders out of a path. It's simple enough to get down after a while and satisfying when you chain it all together.

There are troubles with this method. Pointing the Wii-mote at the screen sometimes doesn't do the trick in hitting the target, causing you to realign your character to actually hit the intended target. Though most Paint/Thinnable items are lighter in color, it can still be difficult to determine what you can paint and what you cannot.

Something that bothered me the most was that once you leave the world through the projector, if you return, all your hard work is gone. If you wish to repaint and restore the villa to what it once was, take a mental snapshot, cause the game will have none of it.

Could Really Use a Keyblade Right About Now...

The weakest aspect of the game ended up being the combat itself. These situations use the same idea of platforming to an extent, where you paint an enemy to make them friendly or thin them out to destroy them completely. This is no problem one-on-one, but in groups can become irritating as you try to target a specific one. Attempting to paint enemies while adjusting the camera can become frustrating.

In later stages, you come across robotic creations that are not affected by the paint. For these you use a spin attack by shaking the Wii-mote. Ultimately these encounters prove just as dull. The combat was a portion of the game I constantly avoided, as each encounter left me scratching my head as to alternative methods they could have used. It made me yearn for Kingdom Heart's keyblade to make things go smoother. Though they do have "sketches" you can use to distract enemies, slow time, or drop and avil on their heads; it still did little to persuade me to stay and fight.

Luckily, most combat can be avoided with the "morality" aspect of the game. Choices you make determine whether certain puzzles will be easier to solve, or battles avoided. It's a nice balance, as the right choice is not always the easiest and vice versa. Some consequences happen immediately, and some are not seen until the very end. The boss fights are decent enough, with no particular one standing above another. Some fights are head on, others will have you choose a method to dispatch the boss. IE: Captain Hook can be thinned out, or you can free "Tinkerbell" to call in Peter Pan by climbing to the top mast. It's a good mix, where the slightest action can really help you/hurt you in the end.

Lights, Camera, Action!...Camera....Camera wtf are you doing?

The worst part of Epic Mickey lies in the game's camera work. In most situations, the camera is freed up and allows you to pan left and right (inverted by default, who inverts a horizontal direction?) or up and down to look around you. This method is relatively fine, as adjusting it was not the issue.

The issue lies in the fixed camera portions of the game, and there are a lot more than you would think. The camera will lock to a position that is typically undesirable. Most of the time when I wished to pan around, I wasn't able. The locked camera made platforming the biggest chore, and for a game based around that main entity, it was a pain.


I generally enjoyed Epic Mickey, but was ultimately disappointed. Great art direction and exclusive licensing was not enough to save it from overlooked technical flaws and uninspiring fetch quests. Mickey had the potential to be epic, but overall fell short. I personally enjoyed the game, but a typical person who picks this up will slowly see the magic slowly begin to fade.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Alan Wake Review: Go Towards the Light!

Score: 8.75/10

Alan Wake
Xbox 360

Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Release Date: May 18th, 2010


  • General atmosphere is haunting and perfects the fear of the dark
  • Incredible visuals, from character models to environments
  • Plenty of moments stick with you well after you pass them
  • Array of weaponry used in unique way to fight off the dark
  • Use of "Episodes" just one example of the great presentation used in the game
  • Laughable dialogue and delivery
  • Dodging is a little "iffy" at times
  • Driving sequences feel out of place
  • Just when you have the rhythm down, it's over

The survival horror genre of gaming typically contains heart-pounding, edge of your seat intensity; where bullets are precious and safe rooms are a sigh of relief. Alan Wake takes the simplest of rational fears and turns it into one of the more unique IPs I have played this year.

Welcome to Bright Falls

Alan Wake is a successful writer that has been stuck with writer's block for the better part of 2 years. Looking to get away from it all, he agrees to an offer from his wife to get away from the city to the small town of Bright Falls. Once there, his wife is taken by a mysterious darkness, and Alan sets off to rescue her and figure out how these strange nightmares are coming to life.

The story works like a good horror/mystery should, in which you will continue guessing until the very end. Where the general presentation of the game is stunning, you occasionally get pulled out of the story by some overly ridiculous entity or dialogue (I was laughing pretty hard at the magical scuba diver...can't make this up people). The cheesy dialogue and occasional bad delivery of a line or two will make you roll your eyes, but it's compelling enough to keep you wondering until the end.

On the Next Episode of Alan Wake...

If there is one thing Alan Wake does right, it's the overall presentation of the game. Playing through you get the feeling of helplessness and desperation as you run low on bullets. The Dark Presence, as the game calls it, is signaled by a increase in fog and wind. Each time it happened I found myself panning the camera around, looking for where the shadows would attack. This constant fear of the enemy and desperate sprint from point A to point B marked the high point of the game, in making me continually guess what would be thrown in my path next.

Contributing to that element are the soundtrack, visual appeal, and episodic layout of the game. Instead of typical "Chapters" in a game, Alan Wake uses "Episodes" which contain their own cliffhanger endings. Starting the next episode brings about a recap of the previous one before moving into gameplay. This gave the game a feeling that I was playing through a Sci-Fi Original Series and not a video game.

The soundtrack accompanying the game sets the mood accordingly; giving somber anthems for the trek through the woods and a heightening tone for when The Dark Presence closed in with a few licensed tracks to round out each episode. For a game based on light and dark, the visuals are incredibly appealing. There are daylight segments in addition to the shadowy explorations you encounter. Naturally a game playing on light and dark has a lot going for it when it comes to eerie shadows with a small glimpse of light peaking through the trees.

This is my Flashlight! There are many like it, but this is my own!

Combat is not the typical run and gun. Most of the time you find yourself fighting human enemies overtaken by The Dark Presence. Light acts as your primary weapon. First you shine the flashlight at the enemy to destroy the darkness enveloping them, and plug a few rounds in them to finish them for good.

Your typical armory is in place for this setting; a revolver, hunting rifle, and shotgun act as the primary weapons. In addition to those, less harmful objects actually do much more damage. Flares drive enemies back to give you breathing room, flash grenades now act as actual grenades in turning them to dust, and the seemingly pitiful flare gun acts as a rocket launcher in destroying multiple enemies in a pretty red sparkle.

On the more difficult settings, fighting is not always the answer and you must flee to the next safe zone consisting of a generator or light source of some kind. Most of the bigger baddies take multiple rounds to take down and are relentless in pursuing you. There is a dodge button in place in case one of the entities gets too close to comfort, but I found it somewhat useless when more than 2 enemies are on you. The timing seems a bit off, but it works for the most part.

I'm Picking Out a Thermos for You

One thing you notice going through the game is the insane amount of collectibles. Manuscript pages act as "fortune tellers" depicting scenes yet to come and events occuring in other places. The other bulk of collectibles are the numerous coffee thermoses. Counting just these two items, that's well over 220+ of the items available...

In addition to coffee and pages there are history markers, pyramids of cans, radio shows, and even television shows. Needless to say you won't catch them all in one playthrough, offering a sense of replay value in finding them all. has to wonder why the thermos is so popular.

And Then it Hit Me

Right when you start to enjoy the's over. Clocking in at six episodes, most taking an 1hr to 2hrs depending on your play style, it's no full season of a show. Though two DLC episodes have been released to continue past the cliffhanger ending, it left a little to be desired.

Another issue that popped up for me was being hit and not even seeing it coming. Though I admit some were my fault, many of the hits felt like cheap shots. The game tended to focus in a chainsaw enemy crashing through a wall, naturally making me assume, " out for that guy." The game did little to focus in on the tiny dude with knives that spawned right behind me and ended my life in two quick stabs on Nightmare difficulty. The checkpoints are lenient enough for me to overlook this, but I still scratched my head at how easy it is to be attacked behind my back; as the camera does little to assist in this matter. Occasionally it would pan out to show an enemy nearby, but in a hectic fight already in progress you are on your own.

When you are not fighting off baddies, solving simple puzzles we've seen before, or looking for another thermos; you are driving. Driving feels unnatural, as every car I picked up had zero traction to the road. I think the roads in Bright Falls are constructed of dirt and butter. While I get they were trying to mix up gameplay a bit, they were never my favorite segments of traversal, but only popped up a few times.


Alan Wake marks itself as one of the more unique IP this year, satiating anyone's thirst for a solid survival horror game. You will be quick to pick out favorite moments you will want to see again as well as play on a more difficult setting to truly get the best out of the game. Regardless, the game suggests a possible franchise, and it's one I would happily recommend.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood Review: Power in Numbers

Score: 9.25/10

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: November 16th, 2010

  • Fast-travel points help ease the distance of most objectives
  • New finishers are quite satisfying
  • Calling in Assassins to do your work for you never gets old
  • Large amount of content to explore
  • More polished look makes Rome really stand out
  • Multiplayer is an enjoyable addition
  • New Sync system varies up gameplay in missions

  • Combat still proves too easy, only made difficult by the camera
  • Multiplayer is not for the "hardcore gotta win" crowd
  • Occasional frame rate drop and screen tearing

Assassin's Creed has accrued quite the following in its time. The first installment amazed everyone with its unique style of gameplay, but stuck close to repetitive missions. The second improved upon much of the first, deepening the complexity of the game with an economic system, varying weapons, and larger variety of missions. With so much in place, it is hard to imagine much else holding our attention. Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood takes that challenge up, and delivers a perfected system fans and noobs alike can enjoy.

Double Vision

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood picks up right where the last game stopped. As Ezio, you will take control immediately following the abrupt ending of AC2, soon seeing your villa under attack by the Borgia. You must reunite the assassins and liberate Rome. Along the way familiar faces come into play along with a few new ones. Though most of the names get lost in translation and leave you scratching your head as to who they could be referring to, the story is enough to push you forward.

At the same time, you will be thrown out of the Animus to follow Desmond. Though a little less interesting and a little more "Saturday Morning Cartoonish" feeling, it is nice to get out of the animus and reproduce the techniques you learned as Ezio and Altair through Desmond. You set up camp at the old villa, now complete with lights, cars, and other modern decorations. It is interesting to see it in a modern setting compared to the 16th century version.

Intro to History 101

Following past installments, the one thing AC is consistent in providing is a perfect artistic representation of the city. Rome is incredible. There are large plains, cramped city streets, and breathtaking landmarks that all combine to provide a perfected simulation of actually being in Rome. One of the highlights of the game was climbing to the viewpoint for the Colosseum and looking out over the horizon.

Not only have the vistas been upgraded, but character models seem much smoother. Kristin Bell no longer looks like a weird fish lady, she looks like Kristin Bell. The streets are littered with dozens of repeating NPCs, each more unique than the last. Though the occasional screen tear and frame rate drop can occur, the visuals are truly a high point.

You do it...I'm your Boss Now

Once you unlock the ability to summon an assassin, you will use it time and time again. With a simple tap of the Left Bar, you summon an assassin to take an enemy out for you. This is balanced accordingly, with the bar being taken out on some missions and requiring a recharge before they can be called again. Additionally, summoning a Level 1 Assassin to take on foes with you, usually ends up with them dead; but summoning them to take out an archer or two works well.

To keep your assassins at their best, you must send them on contracts to other countries. Doing so disables the summon bar until they return, but successful missions yield items and cash. They also give your assassins experience, upgrading their armor and weapons, eventually giving them access to guns and smoke bombs to use in fights. This micromanaging works well, and almost becomes as addictive as the gameplay itself.

Alright, Next Storyline Que...Ooooo, What's That?

There are a ton of things you can do in the game. The economic system, assassination contracts, and even faction missions add in to events that make you trail off the beaten bath. One of the highlights of new content is the Leonardo missions, where you must destroy Da Vinci's latest creation for the Borgia....but not before you get to use them. Though the typical moving turret game is what you would expect, there are some exceptionally enjoyable moments in these missions.

In addition to the typical routine is exploration of the new content. Borgia Towers are a much more enjoyable way to get a Viewpoint, having you kill the captain and burn the tower as you dive away from an explosion. Horseback combat has been completely redone, feeling much easier and including assassinations by horseback. The Crossbow is a welcome addition, with the same feeling as the hidden gun but much quieter.

There are even new "VR" Rooms to hone your skills at free-running or combat, awarding medals for fast, efficient runs. Collectors still have plenty of flags to collect in addition to feathers, keeping you always on the lookout. It would take a few more pages to list all the new content out, but there is plenty of incentive to trail away from the main storyline and just explore Rome.

Headshots and Hidden Blades

Initially, I was concerned the multiplayer would be tacked on; but the result is truly one of the more enjoyable multiplayer experiences you can have. The game works like this: You are given a photo of a target and must follow a compass that gets bigger as they get closer. You must take that target out with an assassination. Doing it quietly gets you more points, running in flailing your arms does not; encouraging you to take it slow and treat it like single player.

At the same time, someone is given a contract against you and are hunting you. If they are quiet, they can pop in and take you down quickly. However if they run at you, an icon will appear and show the person chasing you. You can escape them by using "chase gates" that close behind you or simply "out-parkour" your opponent. Either way, the game continues and whoever has the most points at the end wins.

The game adds a Mario Kart approach in that even if you are in dead last, perks are given to you to give you an edge. In the same manner, the player in first place can have up to 3 contracts on him at a time, making it much more difficult to find your target and eliminate them without constantly looking over your shoulder.

The result is a fast-paced, insanely fun multiplayer, where you strive for the perfect kill and laugh when you die. The game does have an essence of "luck" in being in the right place at the right time, or spawning close to your target. The typical "Call of Duty every weekend, I play for keeps!" player may not find much here, but it's incredibly addictive. Tack on a typical perks and loadout leveling system, and you have incentive to keep coming back for more.


Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood improves much of the typical formula, even if they left a few flawed items out. With a strong single player and multiplayer component, it's a welcome addition to the series and one of the best titles of the year.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Dance Central Review - And it Goes a Little Something like this!

Score 8/10

Dance Central
Developer: Harmonix
Publisher: MTV Games
Release Date: November 4th, 2010

  • Simple, addictive gameplay
  • Difficulty can accommodate rhythmically challenged to the pop and lock specialists
  • Break-it-Down mode does a great job slowing each move down to perfect your performance
  • Great variety in track listing gives something for everyone to enjoy
  • The slight Kinect lag becomes slightly more evident on harder difficulties
  • Judging can be a bit too critical on some of the moves
  • No online battles, you are limited to two players
  • Hard to jump into Perform it mode without studying the moves
The Kinect has a good handful of titles to showcase the hardware at launch, but Dance Central acts as one of the first third-party applications. Harmonix, famous for their rhythm game Rock Band, has decided to show exactly what the Kinect is capable of with Dance Central. Ditching plastic instruments, it's now up to your own physical abilities to dance your way to the top.

Just Bust a Move

Dance Central is all about one thing, following the cue cards and avatar on screen and getting the satisfaction of pulling off a solid dance routine. There is no plot, no attempt at an upgrade system or heavy storyline, just dancing; a premise that is missed in most games these days.

Dance Central is simple enough to follow. You pick one of the 35 songs available and match the movements on screen with an avatar to guide how your moves should be performed properly. What starts out as simple child's play of sliding back and forth, soon becomes a pop and lock freestyle fest requiring timing, technique, and practice. The Kinect reads your performance by identifying your arm and leg placement. Any wrong placement, is highlighted in red on the avatar on screen, making it easy to spot and adjust.

The great thing about Dance Central is the difficulty range. If you are part of the rhythmically challenged crowd, Easy mode does a great job of repeating the same move for a good few turns to adjust you to reading the cards. As you perform more dances, you start to learn how the cards gesture and can guess what action is needed. There comes a great sense of satisfaction from successfully completing a song with 5 stars, providing incentive to keep at it.

Practice Makes Perfect

If you need additional help, there is a very handy Break-it-Down option for each difficulty. This lets you tackle each move one at a time. If you pass it flawlessly, it's given a check mark and you move on to the next one. If you perform the move sloppy, it makes you repeat the move successfully three times before moving on.

It acts as a great feature early on, but soon becomes a necessity for the tougher difficulties. You find yourself having to go through this mode before even attempting a song just to be able to do remotely good. While it would be nice to be able to fire up a song and just follow along, it sort of discourages you from just jumping right in on the latter songs.

Variety is the Spice of Life

While Dance Central has a few obvious tracks included, the variety available is impressive. There are 35 tracks available, and all are unlocked from the start. These range from Salt N Pepa's "Push It" to The Commodore's "Brick House".

With a variety of songs, comes a variety of dance moves. Rarely do you repeat the same move twice in a song, making each a unique experience. There are plenty of moves tailored directly to the song in questions, using pop and lock techniques on some of the typical hits and classic disco moves on the early 70s songs.

You will be quick to pick favorites and master their techniques to show off.

Laaaag and LAN! 

Unfortunately for Dance Central, the biggest downside lies in the Kinect's slight lag, which becomes slightly more apparent on the harder difficulties. In Break it Down mode, I found myself messing up on a few move cards. After matching it perfectly, I began to scratch my head as to what could be wrong. I tried performing it faster than the avatar on screen and ended up hitting it spot on.

For a game that measures accuracy, Dance Central seems a bit iffy. On some moves, it will be overly lenient, still accepting you hit a move even if you rotated the opposite direction. In other cases, you find it judging you far too critical; in which the slightest arm angle off will cause you to mess up a combo.

For being a game by Harmonix, I expected more in the multiplayer department. The most you can do is have a two player battle, where it stops midway through and asks Player 2 to take the stage and they compare scores. The only online component is a high score that will compare to your friends list. Considering the features Rock Band contained, I expected a lot more. Is it too much to ask for a dance troupe co-op mode?


Though the game has its share of flaws, Dance Central is a prime example of what a Kinect game should feel like. It's nice to see that through the typical software we see at launch, there is one game that truly utilizes this technology the way it needed to. Though a few additional features would be welcome, it is a great start for both Dance Central and the Kinect.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

November Releases - Choose Your Weapon: Guns, Hidden Blades, or Paint Brushes

November 2nd/4th

Goldeneye 007
Developer: Eurocom
Publisher: Activision

 Goldeneye made its mark on the N64 as one of the first shooters that actually worked pretty well on console. Now Bond is looking to make its mark on the Wii, offering the same shoot-em-up gameplay of its predecessor. Though visuals leave a little to be desired, the classic fun still looks in place.

Xbox Kinect
Xbox 360
Developer: Microsoft
Publisher: Microsoft

Remember when you thought you looked stupid playing Wii and waving a remote around...yeah, about that...The Kinect is a nice piece of technology with incredible potential. This will be the hot item everyone wants this holiday, allowing motion control applications without a controller. So now you can flail wildly and look even cooler!

November 9th

Call of Duty: Black Ops
PS3, Xbox 360, PC, Wii, DS
Developer: Treyarch
Publisher: Activision

Another year, another CoD. This time Treyarch takes the helm from infinity Ward to bring us Call of Duty: Black Ops. Though a different name and different developer, the typical CoD action still looks like it's there. Expect new weapons, new multiplayer perks, and a remote control RC car with explosives....s'like a grenade, but funner to throw at enemies.

November 16th

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood
Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, though no the official third installment in the series, brings us back to Ezio once again. This time around he must gather an army of assassins throughout Rome, train them, and use them to take down the corrupt leaders. Multiplayer adds a new aspect to the game, making you kill human players instead of the typical AI.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, DS, PC
Developer: EA Bright Light Studio
Publisher: EA

...shutup. Look the typical castle exploring games that preceded this always left a little to be desired. This game looks much more combat heavy, with a cover-to-cover based system. It's like Harry Potter the third person shooter....seriously, stop laughing.

Notable Titles: The Sly Collection (PS3)

November 21st

Donkey Kong Country Returns
Developer: Retro Studios
Publisher: Nintendo

The SNES classic is making a comeback this month, and with Retro Studios (Metroid Prime) at the helm, it's sure to be an incredible title. The same 2D side scrolling action is all there, with much more attention to the interaction with the worlds. From what I have heard so far, this is not an easy game. I heard an average player had 50 deaths in one sitting, so don't expect a kiddy game.

November 28th

Epic Mickey
Developer: Junction Point Studios
Publisher: Nintendo

Without a doubt, one of the most anticipated titles for the Wii, Epic Mickey is the latest creation of Warren Spector (Deus Ex). Mickey's brush allows obstacles to be erased from physical existence using the thinner and then restored using the paint. With a morality system in place and incredibly worlds to explore, the game looks to be one worth your time.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fable III: Review - For Every Choice, A Consequence

Score 8.75/10

Fable III
Developer: Lionhead Studios
Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: October 26, 2010

Pros: Co-op has been vastly improved; menus are history, replaced with in-game inventory swap; vistas straight out of a painting; oddly hilarious thanks in part to John Cleese; Loads of quests/sidequests to do; Albion is a joy to explore

Cons: Besides the initial decision, choices are VERY black and white; the block button is the same as the hit button; frequent frame rate drops; Job mini-games are lacking

Fable has come a long way since its launch in 2004, but always kept one thing true: for every action, a consequence. This central idea has evolved yet again in the third installment in the series, correcting a few faults while evolving the world of Albion to an exciting place to explore.

The Butterfly Effect

Fable III takes place 50-60 years after the events of the previous game, in which your previous hero has died and left his children on the throne. The oldest child, Logan, has become a tyrant in Albion, instilling fear and oppressing the people of the world. You are cast into the role as the youngest child, a prince or princess, who must lead a revolution against his brother in order to save Albion.

The story is much improved this time around, offering a compelling tale no matter what path you choose. A bulk of the game lies in you leading the revolution, with the other half as king and ruler of Albion. The beginning alone offers a morally gray choice for you to make, and gave me high hopes for the rest of the game. Unfortunately, only a few of these situations occur, with most moral decisions drawn right down the middle. As a king, I expected a few more difficult decisions than; Should we allow child labor? It's more an invitation to laugh at misfortune than truly act as a ruler making tough decisions. Though a missed opportunity, it does enough to satisfy.

The morality system still has the same effect as before, with a few nice additions. Your morality now affects the appearance of your weaponry. Be good, and your sword will be etched in holy engravings and emit light. Be evil, and it will turn dark and drip blood. A full morality allows you to have either angel/demon wings burst from your back in combat, throwing enemies back and striking fear in smaller infantry. It's a nice subtle touch to add satisfaction in your choices.

Albion, The Land of Opportunity

If you play Fable to stay on the main are doing it wrong. The best aspect of the Fable games is the ability to go off the breadcrumb trail to explore the world set before you. Past Fables have offered plenty to do, and the this game is no different.

Visuals in the game have been vastly improved. Character models are more detailed, lighting in caves and the open worlds are awe-inspiring, but it's the environments themselves that are a marvel to behold. Snowy mountains, vast deserts, and industrious cities all contribute to the unique land that is Albion. Subtle effects like trees blowing in the wind and the glisten of light off of waves in the water are a nice touch, that help to make each setting like a vista out of a painting.

If sight-seeing isn't your cup of tea, then expect plenty to do. For completionists, there are loads of items to collect; including destroying 50 garden gnomes, collecting Legendary Weapons, finding silver keys, etc. The casual player may enjoy strolling around town drunk, raising hell in a village, or finding the most ridiculous outfit to fight evil in. The possibilities are endless, allowing you to step back from the main path for a few hours. The only lacking area are town jobs that all consist of the same repetitive button pressing mini-games to earn gold. It does not provide much incentive, and I ended up sticking to home ownership as the main source of revenue.

Reading is for Nerds

Menus have been completely thrown out for a new in-game item system. Pressing the start button no longer brings you to the main menu, but throws you into "The Sanctuary". This allows you access multiple items typically included in an RPG, but laid out in a more organized manner.

Rooms branch off to allow access to different areas. The armory holds all of your weapons/spells/guns, the wardrobe allows access to all outfits/tattoos/hairstyles, etc. In the center lies a map, allowing you to zoom into areas and warp directly to certain places, granted you have already visited them.

The system works surprisingly well, allowing you to hop in, switch weapons, and hop right back out to the action. It's a welcome change to the messy menus most RPGs tend to contain.

In addition to a menu change, experience is also handled differently. You are transported to a dream world called the "Road to Rule", and can open chests scattered across it, given you have enough "Guild Seals". The seals are earned as you progress through the game by combat, interaction with villagers, etc. It takes quite a few to open all of the chests, and each contains various power ups to tailor your hero to Magic/Melee/Ranged.


Something very odd occurred while playing Fable III, I was laughing a lot more than usual. This is in part due to the incredible voice talent the game contains. Every villager, main character, or baddie has something great to add.

It's a nice break from the serious tone of the main quest to hear a Gnome statue in the distance openly taunting you. Giant chicken costumes, great villager interaction, and other areas just add to this. Not to mention that having John Cleese voice your butler makes visits to the Sanctuary even more enjoyable.

Combat: One Spell Forward, Two Backstabs

Most of the game has been restructured, except for that whole "combat" part. It's still a cinch to get a hang of, which actually becomes the problem later in the game. You still have one button for melee, one for magic, and one for ranged; allowing you to stream together various attacks seamlessly.

A big improvement came in the form of restructuring the spell system. Instead of a clutter of spells, you may only have two in the form of gloves that you wear. However, you can weave spells together. Take the vortex spell and combine it with the ice storm spell and you have an arctic tornado of death. With a good handful of spells, combinations are limitless, and can be switched at any time in the Sanctuary.

The unfortunate element of the combat is the actual simplicity of it. Small baddies go down easy, big dudes hit hard and take longer to go down, etc. No real enemy takes a certain approach to tackle; just hit that button like there is no tomorrow. It doesn't help that the button you hold to block, couldn't throw a shoulder button in there for me?

It seems odd that so much was done to restructure and fix the menus and spell system, that the combat was simply transferred over. Sure there are satisfying, slow-mo finishers that trigger on occasion, but it still feels sluggish.

With a Little Help from my Friends

Co-op has been vastly improved. No longer do you need to be restricted to one screen. You can now move independently from one another. No longer are you stuck as a mercenary; your character, including all his/her items and equipment, will be transferred to the other player's game.

There has also been an improved system for interaction. You can form a business partnership with the Xbox Live player, and split earnings with each other. You can even go so far as to marry and have a child with a Xbox Live player. With achievements attached to this action, it is really odd to run by a 13 year old's character orb with him screaming for someone to impregnate. Had Dateline taught you nothing Lionhead?

Still, it is nice to have the drop-in, drop-out system in place if the world of Albion gets too lonely.


Fable III made some great improvements to the system from Fable II, even if a few areas still feel snubbed. Despite the occasional frame rate drop, the game is a solid RPG all-together. The new co-op and menu-free inventory is a welcome addition, and classic Fable gameplay still remains.