Tuesday, September 27, 2011

October Releases - Frightening Frenzy

Highlighted Release
Battlefield 3
Developer: EA Digital Illusions CE
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: October 25th, 2011

If there is one "must experience" title this month, it is Battlefield 3. In case you have not paid attention to any developments in the gaming industry, this title has been turning heads ever since its debut trailer. With visuals unmatched by anything else on the market, DICE is looking to take the shooter market by storm with their 64 player warzones. Realistic look and feel, building destruction capabilities, and some of the most satisfying sounds design to grace a game all round out a total package of a game; and one worth your time.

***NEW FORMAT! Much clearer and simplified for your viewing pleasure. If you wish to watch a trailer for the game, simply the click on the game cover art. Enjoy!***

Additional Titles

October 4th

Editor's Choice
October 11th

October 18th

Editor's Choice

October 25th

Friday, September 23, 2011

Gears of War 3 Review - Brothers to the End

Score: 9.5 / 10
Gears of War 3
Xbox 360
Developer: Epic Games
Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: September 21, 2011

  • 4 player co-op campaign is a welcome addition
  • Multiplayer is polished and well organized
  • Battles play out upon jaw dropping vistas
  • Even after five years, the game play is just as enjoyable
  • Whether a campaign, co-op, or multiplayer fan; there is something for you
  • Friendly AI are sporadic in behavior
  • Beast mode has no option for PvP
  • Horde goes downhill once someone drops out

Hard to believe it has been five years since the release of the first Gears of War. The mechanics of the cover system and third person gunplay were simple enough to execute, and challenging enough to keep you engaged. After a sequel leaving numerous questions in the air, the final installment to the Gears of War trilogy has finally arrived. The result is a more polished, well rounded experience that has something every type of gamer can enjoy.

Brothers to the End

Gears of War 3 offers one of the best campaigns you can play this year, with a stellar presentation overshadowing smaller nuances.

Somehow Epic Games has managed to improve the visual appeal of the Gears franchise. This is the best looking game of the series, due in no small part to some jaw dropping set pieces. War torn beaches, post-apocalyptic cities, and luxurious hotels are just a few of the detailed locations where you engage waves of baddies. The subtle effects like sunlight peeking through the leaves of palm trees or the destruction of a concrete column as it is riddled with bullets really bring the world to life. Coupled with a soundtrack that amplifies the action or drama, the game is a cinematic experience from beginning to end.

The story offers some closure to the varying events of Gears of War 2, complete with a few surprises as well as a few predictable outcomes. There were several high points, including an emotional glimpse at Augustus Cole returning to his old Thrasher stadium, where nostalgia turns to a desire to relive his glory days. Sam (Claudia Black) and Anya (Nan McNamara) are welcome additions to Delta squad, and provide great banter between the existing team. It was refreshing to get a closer look at the characters, something the previous Gears briefly touched on. While I would have liked the relationship between Marcus and his father to play out further, the story is satisfying enough to provide closure to the trilogy.

My Campaign Clique

The campaign itself is a very fluid, well organized experience. The new Lambent are a welcome challenge, and require varying tactics that differ from the typical Locusts. The relative pacing and feel of the game is spot on, save for one mission involving a submarine that, despite its phenomenal look, traded the cover system for a turret sequence that was more frustrating than enjoyable. The game is still littered with colossal boss battles, hectic firefights, and frightening new encounters to keep you on your toes. Clocking in at a little over 10 hours, it's an enjoyable campaign that you will immediately wish to experience again.

The addition of four player co-op is great, but has its drawbacks. If playing alone, expect the AI to fluctuate on performance. Most of the time they tend to do quite well in providing cover fire and holding their own, and other times they will charge head first into turret fire with their chainsaw revved or hover over you for 10 seconds before deciding to help you up. Depite taking time to get you back on your feet, overall they performed pretty well for AI counterparts. It can get crowded in the tighter areas and your cover may already be occupied by a fellow COG, but having three human partners to go through the game with is a fun experience and recommended to try.

Multiplayer Mayhem

The multiplayer for the game has gotten a fine tune up, and since the beta it has been tweaked to become a well-oiled machine of online gaming. Now equipped with dedicated servers, lag and host advantage has become much less of an issue. Partying up with friends can be done with a press of the button, and the entire menu makes it easier to switch out characters and weapon loadouts on the fly.

The standard modes are all here with only a handful of new ones. Team Deathmatch, Execution, and King of the Hill are all here, but it's Capture the Leader that still possesses one of the more enjoyable new experiences. The idea of capture the flag mixed with Guardian mode makes for an interesting game. Though more playlists will be created as the game goes on, the basic modes from the beta are here with not much else. The multiplayer is still as strong as ever, and is fine tuned enough to go toe to toe with some of the more established series as a choice online experience.

The multiplayer is a different territory from the campaign and you will have to adjust strategies. Your immunity to damage behind cover is altered and most fights still end up being close quarter shotty face offs. Once you learn how to play it becomes highly entertaining, but there will be the shift from facing AI to facing human players that must be overcome by constant deaths.

For the Horde

Horde mode makes its reappearance and changes for the better. The same fifty waves of enemies still make their way to you with more variety and challenge than before. Each tenth wave consists of a boss, such as a beserker, brumak, or lambent berserker. The end of each wave gives you a chance to fortify and regroup for the next one. It's a simple premise that becomes increasingly enjoyable with each wave. However, if one person leaves the match, no shift is made to compensate for their absence, which given the length of a typical Horde match will make quitters a common occurrence.

The biggest difference lies in the currency obtained while playing. Each kill and assist nets you an amount of cash which you can use to fortify defenses. These range from new weapons, to decoys, to laser fences. Fortifying positions and expanding them is key in making it past the later waves, as enemies become tougher and more accurate. Each item also has the potential to "level up" giving an RPG element to the mode, allowing you to create barriers or turrets for a cheaper price the more you play the mode. There are also additional side missions that can pop up during your encounter, where if you meet the requirements, are awarded additional currency. It's a frantic, challenging addition that keeps Horde mode from getting stale past wave ten.

A new addition to the Gears universe is the side-switching Beast Mode. This allows a team of five people to take control of the Locust army against AI COG soldiers. Think of it as Horde mode from the perspective of the incoming wave. Limited to 12 waves, Locusts must bypass defenses like turrets and spikes to wipe out the COG army.

Overall the mode is an interesting addition, and controlling a Beserker is a satisfying experience. It does, however, feel like a missed opportunity. Only the AI can control the COG. This makes it feel strangely limited, as an obvious player vs player for this mode would have given it a bigger impact.

Pays to Play

Despite what mode you choose, you earn experience and credits towards the various medals and rewards available. Leveling up unlocks additional character models and weapon skins to showcase in multiplayer. Much like Halo: Reach, it is a nice to know that no matter what mode you spend the most time on, you are still being given overall credit. Though most skins can be unlocked, a large majority are locked out by microtransactions. $3 nets you a new skin for a weapon, but each skin is nothing to rave about and the inclusion is a bit off putting. Remember the good old days of unlocking skins through personal performance?

One thing that Epic is really good about is stat tracking. Whether it is achievements or kills, there are a slew of numbers to review on your character profile sheet. This makes setting a goal to obtain a certain award easier to predict and plan out. There are a slew of awards to obtain for various actions, and getting them all can be challenging.


Gears of War 3 is a more refined game and a fine conclusion to the trilogy with a lot of content to offer. Unlike most sequels it does not feel like a simple revamp to the existing formula, but more like a different game from Gears of War 2. With future DLC in the works and a complete shuffle of online playlists and features, it is shaping up to be quite the contender for Game of the Year and a title that every one can find something to enjoy.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Pining for Pirates

We have had so many enjoyable titles lately that cover a slew of genres; Sci-fi RPGs, adventure platformers, Westerns, and a plethora of military shooters. Yet, as I look through the sea of titles coming our way and the games that have passed I had to ask myself;

Where are the really good pirate games?

I have always had high hopes for an open ended pirate game to fulfill all those desires that were influenced by movies, books, and other medium showcasing the exploits and adventures of a pirate. Sailing the seven seas, making a captured captain walk the plank, or leading a ship to search for buried treasure are countless exploits I wish to partake in gaming.

Just think of the possibilities for an open-world pirate game. Ports that could act as hub worlds, customization of your character and ship, a slew of quests and mini-games to obtain from the taverns; the list goes on and on.

That's not to say there are not some great pirate games out there, just not the games I would typically be addicted to playing hours on end. While the Monkey Island series satisfies in a great environment, the game play is tailored to a point and click aspect. Sid Meier's pirates gets even closer to what I come to expect, but the heavy focus on top-down strategy and distance from the action is not what I envision.

The closest example of a game that captured part of what I was looking for was found in the most unexpected of places; a Zelda game. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker gave a satisfying feeling as you threw up the sail and followed the wind to your next destination, charting the seas as you go. There was no cinematic or loading screen to act as a buffer for travel, just you sailing off at your leisure. Even in long trips I would zoom to an over-the-shoulder view just for the unique perspective from the deck as Link bounced across the waves with an island in the distance.

Ship to ship battles would be a must. I have yet to experience a legitimate fight over the high seas with canons firing, ships side by side with crewman boarding the opposing ship, and sword fights erupting on the deck. The closest experience I have had with this was the Gunship Battle in World of Warcraft. During an encounter before the Lich King, you do battle with an opposing faction's gunship. Some players jetpacked over to the opposing ship to battle on the deck while others manned cannons and defended the ship. It was a team effort that ultimately gave an enjoyable experience.

Whether it is a pirate themed stage on Banjo Kazooie or the visit to The Pirates of the Caribbean universe in Kingdom Hearts II, each game seems to feed that desire I have to experience a really stunning pirate game. The pieces are there, we just need a developer to throw it all together. I want a game to run to the next time I watch a really good pirate movie...

Friday, September 16, 2011

Gunstringer Review - A Classic Standoff

Score: 7.75 / 10
The Gunstringer

Xbox 360 Kinect
Developer: Twisted Pixel Studios
Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: September 13th, 2011

  • Classic game mechanics make it a blast to play
  • Characters and presentation keep it interesting
  • Slew of unlockable modes, concept art, and more
  • Gameplay is constantly shuffled to keep things fresh
  • Gold Medals can offer a true challenge to obtain
  • Kinect lag is ever present and must be compensated for
  • Though co-op is offered it is poorly executed
  • Boss fights are set up in an all too predictable manner

Kinect titles as of late have..well...disappointed. For a piece of technology that is so impressive, the lineup has been much more "adorable" than I would have liked. Luckily, Twisted Pixel has heard the cries and given us Gunstringer, a Western gun slinging puppet show...cannot make this stuff up. Despite a few technical setbacks, Gunstringer is a solid Kinect title that separates itself from the typical shovelware.

Bang Bang, My Baby Shot Me Down

The Gunstringer features a typical story of revenge filled with a colorful cast of characters. You were betrayed by your former posse and must hunt each down for a little payback. It is a classic tale of revenge in an Western environment, told through cut scenes and an ominous narrator with a voice that amplifies the experience. The catch is that the whole story is taking place with puppets on a theater stage, with a live action audience viewing the story play out. It is no Inception as far as plot is concerned, but it is an interesting take with an unusual approach.

It is not the story that stands out the most but the presentation. You are essentially putting on a play for an audience, and are reminded of this through the course of the game. Subtle visuals such as stampedes of cows constructed by soda cans, riding a pencil for a horse, and the backdrop of an audience that cheers at each heroic deed really gives the game a unique, cartoonish feel. Coupled with Twisted Pixel's spot on humor, a fitting and well rounded soundtrack, and the perfect fit of the narrator allows the game to become as much a joy to watch as it is to play.

Me and My Six Shooter

Gameplay in Gunstringer at its core is like that of a rail shooter, without confining itself to repetition. Furthering the theme of a puppet show, one hand controls the Gunstringer's marionette strings which you can use to move him around and flick to have him jump. The right hand controls the gun, in which you sweep over targets to lock on and flick your wrist to send bullets flying. It is a simple scheme that is easy to pick up and easier to perform. As you get the hang of things, gunning down a string of baddies with a flick of the wrist becomes a satisfying experience.

The game does not limit itself to just one central focus with the controls. Some instances you will find yourself running and gunning, some will throw you behind a cover system, and others will have you don two pistols at once. This continual shuffle leaves an unpredictable nature to the game, as just when you think you have seen it all a new weapon or function is introduced that mixes up the typical run and gun expectation.

The very noticeable Kinect lag and faulty reads are present in the game and will take some getting used to. This can become tedious during the platforming portions of the game or strive for gold medal perfection, but the penalty is not too taxing and the game sets you up to immediately try again mere feet from your fall.

Trials of the West

The game is broken up into different acts with a boss fight at the end of each act. Though enjoyable at first, these boss battles soon became too predictable and each boss felt like a copy of the last. They each shoot a projectile, each move about in a weird manner, and each get dizzy to open themselves to attack. It was unfortunate that the most fun I was having was working towards these bosses, and not the actual fights themselves.

The co-op in the game proved to be one of the more disappointing additions. The second player raises his hand and can join in at any time to act as a second pistol. The trouble with this is that there is not always a pistol standoff every second, so your partner will end up standing next to you waiting until you finish your platforming segment before they can hop in again. For a developer that made Splosion Man such an enjoyable multiplayer experience, it feels odd that such a feature feels so tacked on.

Repeated Revenge

The game is relatively short, and you will blaze through the story in about 6 hours time, but it's the arcade inspired score, slew of bonuses, and strive for gold medals that keeps you coming back for more. At the end of each level you are given a score total. Factors that weigh into this range from enemies killed, to health lost, and multiplied score from combos built from the Taco El Diablo item multiplier. The strive to obtain gold medals can be quite challenging, and is incentive to focus hard to hit every target along the way.

In addition to obtaining a medal you are awarded currency for the bonus store. The bonus store in this game, like all Twisted Pixel titles, are packed full of goodies to enhance the experience. Movies, concept art, and the soundtrack are just a few of the goodies the game has to offer.

Game modifiers make the game experience the second time around a bit different. Hardcore mode provides the challenge needed to make the game much more difficult with increased damage and a drop in score if hit. There are other modifiers similar to skulls in Halo that make second trip through the story a different experience with additional reward.


Gunstringer is not a bad game by any means, but I will admit that I expected more from it. It still has the satisfying arcade rail shooter feel, I just wish more had been done with bosses and co-operative play. Though short lived, if you are a Kinect owner it is one to add to the tiny library that is your Kinect shelf.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Closure in Gears of War 3

Gears of War 3 is nearly here and for a lot of people it means more multiplayer mayhem. For myself, it means closure to a storyline that I have been following since the first installment.

While overall I have enjoyed the Gears world and story, the second game in the trilogy left a lot of questions in the air. I have not had a chance to delve into any of the novels or comic books to research further, but even so, many questions go unanswered. Here are my expectations for open plot lines and hopes of what the story could evolve into:

(SPOILER ALERT - Gears of War/ Gears of War 2 plot discussion)

Catching up with Dad

It has been revealed that this game will focus on Marcus Fenix's father, Adam. He has been a huge influence in the Gears universe, as the game started with Marcus in prison, where he spent four years for abandoning his military post in order to make a vain attempt to save his father. After the second game, it was Adam's haunting voice that left ominous tones for the consequences of sinking Jacinto with his closing line, "What have you done?"

My main inquiries lie with his relationship with other key characters. Marcus was willing to risk his military career to save his life, and it's that care for his father that I am hoping to see play out. Do they have a love/hate relationship, what happened to Marcus's mother, etc. The Locust Queen held Adam in high regard, as she mentions in the second game when encountered. Hopefully, we will gain some back story regarding their past encounters and his influence on the world.

Where do Baby Locusts Come From?
    Ever notice that the Locusts sit at the same stature of a human? Strip them of the spiky armor and the similarities exist, with the exception of the gigantic Brumaks and Corpsers. This big question came into play in the second game; Are the Locusts a creation of man?

    So many small occurrences hint at this possibility. The run through the abandoned laboratory filled with mutated Sires, the kidnapping of COG soldiers for "processing" in the previous game, and the biggest of them all; the incredibly human look of the Locust Queen.

    When I was about to face the Locust Queen I had the notion that I would encounter something similar to the Queen from Aliens...but instead, a very normal figure stood before me. Her face and shape had nothing inhuman about it. With her previous encounter with Adam Fenix many speculate that the Locust Queen could in fact be Marcus's mother, a byproduct of Adam's failed experiments. That plot element seems too obvious to be true, and I feel that it could just be a formal acquaintance that held them together.

    Romance in the Battlefield

    There is a very subtle, and I mean very subtle hint of a possible romance between Anya and Marcus. At the close of the final game we see Marcus radio for Anya to respond, and a very noticeable sound of discern in his voice as his calls go unanswered. As she appears in a Raven on the far side with a quick wave, Marcus retains his calm, but I always felt like there might be something there.

    I Got the Black Lung, Pop

    Immulsion acts as the main energy source for the planet Sera, and early in the second game we learned of a side effect it could have; Rust Lung. This sickness overtook a large part of the last remnants of humanity through the entirety of the first level...and then we just shut up about it. It was never mentioned again or became a factor in any other plot element. Did the COG's develop superior immunities after the first act?

    I know the Immulsion will play a huge factor in the Lambent's origin, but the effect on humans seemed to go unexplained. Hopefully more will be revealed as to its impact on both the Locusts and humans.
    A Delta Must Die
      ...Not talking Carmine here. This is war. Plain and simple. For an emotional impact that will resonate through the Gears universe, I feel that one of the original four will have to die. Most of the characters killed at this point in the universe were only known for a few hours before they were taken out; Tai, Kim, and even Maria. I never got to invest much in these characters, so when the time came for their demise I simply gave a, "Well that sucks" and moved on. If one of the original four were to die, it would make the necessary impact the story needs.

      Personally, my money will be on Dom. After losing his wife and the dim outlook of the war hanging over him, he seems like the character that would be most willing to sacrifice himself to let others live on. With nothing left to lose, his death could be the spark needed for the other Gears members to turn the tide in a key battle.

      Thursday, September 8, 2011

      El Shaddai Review - Poetry in Motion

      Score: 8.25/10
      El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron
      PS3 - Xbox 360
      Developer: Ignition Tokyo
      Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
      Release Date: August 16, 2011


      • Stunning and unique art direction
      • Constant shuffle in combat and platforming
      • Weapon choice affects both combat and travel
      • Combat, though easy to pick up, can be challenging
      • Platforming can become tedious at times
      • Story is a blur and will take replays to fully grasp
      • Camera can become an additional obstacle to overcome
      • Recycled enemy models become predictable after a while

      El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is one of few original IPs released this year. This one flew in under the radar with little advertising, but the incredible visuals caught my eye and convinced me to check it out.

      Poetry in Motion

      From screenshots, trailers, and the first few minutes of the game you begin to notice El Shaddai's strongest feature; this is some of the best art direction showcased this year. A vivid color palette coupled with unique worlds result in eye candy for the player and viewer alike. Each chapter features a different atmosphere; ranging from luminous Tron-esque city streets, to highly reflective glass shards scattered about a fiery landscape, and even cel-shaded cartoonish platforms. Each chapter is a fresh and interesting take on the elements backed by an appropriate musical score, and encourages you to continue forward to see what else the game has in store.

      While the visuals are sharp, the story is a blur. The basic idea is that you are an archangel named Enoch who must chase after fallen angels for God...even though his previous job as a scribe gave little combat training. You are given a guide, who happens to be your hipster tourist, Lucifel. He not only saves your game but talks to God on his cell phone to update your progress...cause standard prayer does not have WiFi. The game chronicles your journey to capture each angel and bring them back, but most of the time leaves you scratching your head wondering what is going on. An intricate story is in place with cutscenes and spoken dialogue as you traverse, but it will take multiple playthroughs to fully grasp the tale of the angel in blue jeans.

      Thou Shalt Have Variety

      The game transitions between combat and platforming to keep the gameplay fresh, and it balances the occurrences of the segments pretty well. Just when combat loses steam, the game throws you into the platforming aspect for a nice breather and even an instance of a motorcycle chase.

      Combat is much like a traditional third person hack and slash, but if you play it as such you are sure to lose. Straight forward button mashing is a sure route to pain, and carefully timed attacks are key to succeed. Enemies are smart, and I found myself constantly switching up tactics and approach to adapt to what enemies appeared. Besides the few bosses, the enemies tend to repeat with recycled character models in place of others with the typical "this one has should pads" look.

      When you are not hacking away at evil minions you are traversing the lush and colorful environment. The game switches between fixed camera platforming and side scrolling segments. At most, each has you simply jumping from platform to platform with a few baddies in between. It's nothing really new, but the constant shift in viewpoints really keeps the game engaging.

      If only the shift were assisted by the fixed camera, making some segments of platforming a chore as you attempt to judge depth through a multi-colored world. Luckily, the penalty for death is small and you will instantly be put in a position to try again with no load time at all. This alleviates some of the frustration, though you will encounter an incredibly annoying tower in one of the later chapters that almost rivals God of War's infamous spike wall.

      Thy Holy Hand Grenade

      Combat and platforming center around three weapons; the Gale (ranged), the Arch (all around melee), and the Veil (heavy hitter). Each has its strength and weakness that you must use to adapt to each situation. Sticking with one weapon in combat will usually end up getting you killed.

      After you stun an opponent, you steal their weapon and "cleanse" it in turn. A cleansed weapon deals increased damage and disarms the opponent, so it is highly encouraged. Even sticking with one weapon too long will result in it losing its purification, in which you must tap a button and take a few seconds to re-cleanse it for ideal damage at the cost of being open to attack. This encourages you to keep disarming and switching up weapons, along with your tactical approach as enemies begin blocking your predicted attack pattern. Weapons cannot be upgraded or augmented, so the game nudges you to mix things up for the best result.

      In addition to combat, the weapons shift how you traverse. The Arc allows you to hold the jump button and gently float to a landing, the Gale allows you to dash in mid-air, and the Veil allows you to break through certain surfaces. Some weapons made other platforming segments much easier, and it was interesting to pass by a few breakable surfaces wondering how it would change if you had a different weapon.

      Conquer Death with Buttons

      Boss encounters in the game prove a true test of skill, as the combat setup of not sticking to one weapon comes full circle. Most of the time icons will appear that allow you to grab a different weapon to tackle the situation, with a voice or circle over their head usually instructing you on which weapon would fit best.
      Bosses act as the true test in your ability to adapt, as their attacks lay into you if you are not prepared.

      Needless to say, having to physically move and grab a weapon during a boss battle is a chore, as they continually float around the battlefield out of reach of both you and the fixed camera. Weapons are trapped in orbs, which you attack to release them, but eventually fade after a time to reappear later. I lost count of the amount of hits I took searching for the correct weapon only to have two more pieces of armor knocked off.

      This brings up the health system, as boss fights are where you will die more often than not. You start with full armor and after taking a few hits, are stripped of a few pieces. Once your armor is gone and only your stylish blue jeans remain, the next hit will end it. The game does offer you the chance to mash a series of buttons together to recover and hop back into the battle. This becomes increasingly more difficult as you get knocked out over and over. It's an interesting system that gets you right back into the action.

      On certain occasions, the Watchers will hop in to challenge you. Victory is satisfying, but the result of winning is unclear. It is one of those "suppose to lose but you don't know it" situations. Sure these showcase the bosses as intimidating and allows you to see how they attack, but their appearance soon blurred when I was suppose to actually fight them or not. Unpredictable, yes; but its common occurrence became a bit more irritating than interesting.


      Clocking in at about 10 hours at most for the story mode, your first experience will be a short one. Hidden collectibles, stage rankings, and an online leaderboard provide incentive to return, if not for another glimpse at the worlds to drool over.

      El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is one of the best looking titles offered this year. The small issues and frustration will pester you for a little while, but quickly fade as each new world is unveiled. It's a unique experience of a game, and a great new IP for the year.