Tuesday, May 31, 2011

June Releases - Summer of Super Heroes with a Return of the Duke

June 7th

Infamous 2
Developer: Sucker Punch Productions
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

The first Infamous was a roller coaster of an action sandbox game. As Cole, you had the ability to manipulate electricity; and used it to send enemies flying over buildings, running in fear, and frying in an electrical monsoon. It was a game that truly made you feel like a super hero, and the sequel looks to up the ante. Improved powers and a bigger impact on your moral alignment shape how the game plays out. There is also a user-creation tool to create your own missions. It's shaping up to be an explosive game to kick off the Summer.

Red Faction: Armageddon
PC/Xbox 360/PS3
Developer: Volition, Inc.
Publisher: THQ

The fourth installment in the Red Faction series, this title promises to bring the boom. All the Red Faction titles thus far have featured an incredibly destructive environment, and the team at Volition promises to deliver it yet again. New weapons, new co-operative modes, and new enemies will make this a title to watch.

June 12th

Duke Nukem: Forever
PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Developer: Gearbox/Triptyk
Publisher: 2K Games

After years and years of setbacks and promises, Duke Nukem is finally coming back. The game has been in development ever since 1997 and has been delayed continuously. Gearbox (Borderlands) took the helm, promising to deliver on the classic feel of Duke Nukem. Complete with tongue-in-cheek humor and explosive FPS gameplay, it looks like we can all Hail to the King, baby!

Child of Eden
Xbox Kinect
Developer: Q Entertainment
Publisher: Ubisoft

The Kinect finally has a game worth investing a look. After a launch of mediocre titles, and a long stretch of nothing, Q Entertainment is giving us Child of Eden. Somewhat like Geometry Wars, the game revolves around destroying objects that appear on screen which produce musical effects upon destruction. It looks like a promising title for the Kinect, and a nice break from the hardcore shooters.

June 19th

LoZ: Ocarina of Time 3D
Nintendo 3DS
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo

Finally, Nintendo 3DS owners can actually use the system they purchased! Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D will feature the classic installment in 3D, along with a new Boss Challenge mode to fight all the bosses in order with enemies doing 2x the damage. It's a classic title any smart 3DS owner should purchase in a heartbeat.

PC/Xbox 360/PS3
Developer: Day 1 Studios
Publisher: Warner Brothers Interactive

F.E.A.R has been about two primary things - slow-mo shootouts and things scaring the crap out of you. F.E.A.R. 3 is to include new features such as co-op, an evolved cover system, and more scares than ever before. Grab your controller and an extra set of underwear.

Friday, May 20, 2011

L.A. Noire Review - Book Em!

Score: 8.75 / 10

L.A. Noire

Xbox 360, PS3
Developer: Team Bondi/Rockstar Games
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Release Date: May 17, 2011

  • Motion Capture for facial expressions brings new life to the characters
  • Atmosphere and gameplay that makes you feel like a detective
  • Voice acting and cast is top notch
  • Ability to replay cases for a higher rating offers reason to go through again
  • Tailored toward the casual and hardcore crowd

  • By the third Act, the typical rhythm becomes stale
  • Combat feels sluggish and slow
  • Linear play feels out of place in the sandbox world

Rockstar Games has been on a hotstreak lately. With the success of Grand Theft Auto and the astonishing title that was Red Dead Redemption last year, their next project would have to be worth checking out. Enter L.A. Noire, a 50's crime drama on the streets of L.A. Offering a new visual style and a turn in typical gameplay, it was worth investigating....see what I did there?...sorry, I'll stop.

Nyah! See?! Nyah!

L.A. Noire follows the tale of rookie cop, Cole Phelps as he rises through the ranks of the L.A.P.D. Beginning at lowly street cop and rising through to homicide, you follow Phelps as he uncovers the truth, and corruption infesting L.A. All the while, you delve deeper into Phelps past and motivation for joining the force.

The cast for the game is impressive, and the slew of characters you come across never dilute in quality. Mad Men's Aaron Staton is a fantastic lead character, and the continual cameos of other television stars only boost the overall performance. There were a lot of, "Hey that's that dude from that thing!" moments. With the new mocap capturing facial expressions, the actors now not only had to lend their voice, but give an overall performance.

In tune with the actors, the visual style and atmosphere of the city combine together to give a sense of 1950s L.A. The smooth jazz music, the clothing, and the mannerisms used in conversation are all enough to send you back to that period in time.

We Put it in our Notebook, then What do we Do?

LA Noire is all about gathering clues and piecing together a crime. The game is split up into cases, acting like chapters. Each case is typically a little over an hour, and you work your way from simple hit and runs, to copycat serial killers, to arson. You do this through investigating the crime scene, tracking down leads, and questioning witnesses. While most cases are individual stories, interwoven elements slowly piece together for the game's conclusion.

Crime scene investigations are a high point of the game. You scour the scene looking at evidence and adding it to your notebook. Not everything is evidence, but it is worth looking around thoroughly to find things that may have acted as a catalyst for the crime. A chime plays if there is something to investigate, and music continues to play if there is still evidence present at the scene. Once you have enough in your notebook you use the information to question any persons of interest.

Missing points of evidence lead to inefficient questioning, so it is encouraged for you to come prepared. Accusing someone of lying without evidence will lead to loss of a potential lead on the case. It was interesting to watch my playthrough against that of my friend's playthrough. He unlocked useful bits of dialogue that I missed and I discovered evidence that he didn't. Either way you end up, it is incredibly satisfying to work through each case.

Lie Detector

One of the most impressive features of the game is the new mocap, Motionscan. This new technology uses over 30 cameras to capture the voice actor's entire range of facial expressions. The result is a much more lifelike, realistic interaction with characters. Though the precision of the face is sometimes laughably more complex than the jerky body motions, it's enough to further the incredibly detailed look of the game.

This plays a huge part in the interrogation sequences of the game, in which you question suspects and witnesses. You can call out if a person is lying or if you doubt their answer when their facial expression suggests such. Shifty eyes, biting their lower lip, nervous glances; it all plays a part in piecing together information and became a segment unlike anything I had experienced. Though sometimes it is painfully obvious that they are lying (Which looks a lot like the face of having to go number two), it varies enough to warrant caution in your choices.

To assist in your investigation you "level up" as a detective and gain Intuition points. These can be used to eliminate an answer, poll the online community on which choice they chose, or phone a fr....wait that last part is something else. Still, having the points becomes quite useful in determining which choice to go with if you find yourself conflicted on the two options.

To Serve and Protect

At the end of each case you are given a detective rating. This rating is based on how well you handeled the case. If you questioned witnesses correctly, found all evidence, and did little to no city damage; your ranking will be high. This adds a reason to revisit some of the cases you experienced to get information you may have missed that could have helped the investigation come to a close sooner.

The game encourages you to act civil, a far cry from previous games Rockstar has produced. If you drive like a maniac and insist everyone is lying then your score will reflect it. You cannot even hit anyone in your car, as most just phase through you or clip around the edges. Guns can only be pulled in chases or shootouts, and nowhere in between.

It is a nice shift from the bad guy of GTA to a good cop looking to right the wrongs in the city. The general over-the-top chases and action sequences of other open world games is toned down all-together. The game ends up being less like Die-Hard, and more like Sherlock Holmes; where investigation and questioning remains the biggest element of gameplay. It even provides the option to skip action sequences completely if you fail them enough, opening the game up to the more casual player looking for a good story.

They Always Run!

Despite a solid look and presentation, the action left a lot to be desired. Outside of questioning witnesses and investigating crime scenes, you will be getting into shootouts and chasing down suspects....a lot. As the game wore on, so did my patience as little was done to mix these events up. It didn't help that the shooting mechanic in the game feels sluggish and bland. You paste yourself to cover and pop out to shoot, with your health reflected by on-screen color shifting to black and white, much like typical cover shooters.

Around the third act, you got how the game worked. Go here, investigate this, question them, go to a new place; you get the picture. There was too little done to truly mix these instances up. The writing and presentation is so well done that it will hardly hamper your desire to continue, but an improved combat and chase scenario would have been a nice break in questioning victims.

Besides the main game there isn't a lot to do. In Free Roam you can find locations and complete a handful of side missions but that's about all there is to it. For a game that drops you in the middle of a city it feels far more linear than it could have been. With the open world of downtown L.A. at my disposal, I expected much more in the range of side-content.

Besides the reptitive nature of the game, smaller nuances would pop up. There were the occasional framerate drops and glitches, such as your partner being stuck on a fence, audio cues cutting out, etc. Nothing so big to detract from the experience, but enough to make you scratch your head.


While general combat and action were left unchecked, the game still remains a unique and interesting game. The investigations remained a high point of the game, and being the most prominant part, stood out among the few flaws. It's a game that's as fun to play as it is to watch, and has set the mark high for games this year.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Gears of War 3 Beta Impressions

Gears of War 3

Xbox 360
Developer: Epic Games
Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: September 20th, 2011

The trilogy is coming to a close this September, but Epic Games has been kind enough to offer a beta to tide us over...and work out those pesky glitches so we don't have another Gears 2 scenario. The beta opens up as follows:

April 18th - Beta open to Bulletstorm: Epic Edition Owners
April 25th - Beta open to anyone who pre-ordered Gears of War 3 from Gamestop
May 8th - Guest tokens awarded to players for certain actions to invite friends
May 15th - Beta concludes

  • First glimpse at Gears 3 with ability to carry over exclusive items
  • New weaponry mixes up your arsenal even further
  • Polished multiplayer improves overall performance
  • Dedicated servers are a big boost in providing a satisfying latency
  • Maps showcased leave a little to be desired
  • No real mode to go in and play around on your own
  • Kill ownership is still very much an annoyance
  • Questionable spawn points
The Arsenal

The weapons at your disposal this time around are varied a bit more. You still have your shotguns, lancers, and grenades you have become accustomed to; but you also have a few new goodies worth risking a few bullets to obtain.

The Retro Lancer is much like the typical Lancer you have played with before, but fires much more sporadically. In trading out accuracy, it hits much harder and has a bayonette attached to the end. This allows you to charge an unknowing enemy and impale him upon the end for a quick kill. This of course also leads to a new tactic of players charging all the time. Though it requires a running start, I found some instances of being impaled when a player was simply a few feet away. Still, it is probably the most welcome addition to the arsenal.

The Digger Launcher is an interesting new explosive weapon. The movie Tremors comes to mind as a tunneling explosive makes its way toward your location. It passes through cover, so it becomes a camper's worst fear. It fits nicely into the game, as a weapon that can be deadly, yet dodgeable if you can keep your eye out for it.

The OneShot is a heavy weapon like the Mortar launcher, but acts as a sniper rifle. It stays true to the name by allowing you to kill someone in one shot. It's sluggish nature and loud warning before firing off a bullet made it difficult to hit any sensible player, and I found myself preferring the classic Longshot's more silent approach.

The Sawn-off Shotgun fires slower and reloads incredibly slow when compared to the Gnasher. However, this thing is insanely powerful. Get the jump on an enemy with this in hand, and one shot will put em out of commission. I even managed to one-shot two enemies standing very close together. Which raised the question...is this thing TOO powerful?

The Maps

Thrashball became the immediate favorite. An open stadium with small paths out to the side leading to additional goodies. The side passages offer close quarter brawls, with the winner gaining a vantage point over the stadium. The middle of the stadium is littered with cover for firefights across the field. There is also a scoreboard above the middle that can be shot down to squish unsuspecting scavengers. Out of the four, this was the most enjoyable map to play as it catered to every kind of player: ranged felt at home laying down cover fire, and the shotty lovers had sections to settle their differences.

Concession is a simple map whose shape is similar to that of a plus sign. The middle is blocked off but plenty of food racks and checkout counters act as cover to move around toward the enemy. While the layout is familiar, the overall map tended to evolve into a shotty fight. There is possibly TOO much cover, and being a fan of Lancer/Hammerburst fire, I found it incredibly difficult to hit anyone ranged.

Trenches is setup as a weapon race. Both teams start on either side of a middle section that contains an upper path to the mortar launcher/minigun or up an open field to the top of a hill where the OneShot sits. Obviously, this became a race to see which team could procure the OneShot faster. Every now and then a dust storm comes in, fogging the field of view for a time. This allows the team who is not perched up at a vantage point to charge in guns blazing.

Old Town comes in at a close second to preferred maps. This open market is complete with two side alleyways in clear view of the central market area. The open space provides much more opportunity for lancer fights, sniper fire, and alleyway bulletstorms.

The Gametypes

Team Deathmatch functions much like you would expect. Two teams battling it out and killing each other. The only twist is that you are given a set amount of lives and once that runs out the other team wins. The amount of kills someone gets may help with overall experience, but technically do not factor into actually winning. Survival and teamwork are key, as expected.

King of the Hill functions as it typically has for years; Each team secures a small section of the map for a set period of time before it is moved to a new location. No real mix ups to this formula have been made, but the mode is fun in its own right.

Capture the Leader proved a personal favorite gametype to spend time on. Each player has a leader on their team that has the ability to see where every person is on the map. Your goal is to down the leader, use them as a meat shield, and hold them as such for 30 seconds. If both leaders are capped simultaneously then a stalemate on the timer is held, and wont move until one is released. It's a clever "capture the flag" type game that requires teamwork, communication, and fast gunplay.

The Problems

Epic might have underestimated the Bulletstorm crowd, as dedicated servers were oddly absent in most cases to start. Playing Gears on Peer to Peer, is bringing back the same issues as before, with host advantage, host dropping out, and slight lag. I can only imagine the issue worsening once the actual purchasing crowd hits, but that's what these betas are meant to do.

The spawn points in Gears are not tailored to be away from the enemy. In multiple scenarios, I found myself charging to the other side of the map, swinging by the Locust spawn point to find four new blood-hungry players awaiting my arrival. You either spawn on one side of the map or the other, and rarely in-between. Though spawn-camping has yet to be a big issue, it is very much a concern. A simple option to choose where to spawn would have been a nice addition.

The new features are great, but you are only sparsely told what those new features actually are capable of doing. People were able to mark enemies and callout their position, yet I saw no real mention of how to do that until I read a load screen. When you pickup a weapon with new features, the most instruction you gain is a 10 second pop up window that ultimately results in you getting shot. A simple introduction video or slideshow on the main menu would have been nice in introducing these key elements.

Kill stealing remains one of those small irritating factors that never goes away. Sure, most of the score is give to you, but it is cringe inducing to see your kill stolen by someone else. It's like finishing your ice cream, but the dude next to you called dibs on the cherry. Sure I got the majority of the deal, but he gets the final satisfaction. Does this not ruin the whole premise of a Kill/Death ratio anyways? *shrug*

The Verdict

Gears 3 does the same thing Halo: Reach and CoD: Black Ops did for their franchises; It fixes the smaller issues, adds some great new features, but remains the same core game at heart. Though I would have liked to see a few additional improvements made to the overall gameplay and feel of the game, I walked away from the beta satisfied.

It's faster, more brutal, and incredibly satisfying to play. September can't get here soon enough...