Monday, February 27, 2012

March Gaming Releases - March Madness!

Highlighted Release

Mass Effect 3
PC - PS3 - Xbox 360
Developer: Bioware
Publisher: EA
Release Date: March 6th, 2012

The epic trilogy finally comes to a close this month. Mass Effect started back in November of 2007, and since then has taken off to become the space epic unlike any other. An intriguing story, infinitely satisfying cover shooting, and a presentation that is above and beyond the typical has helped Mass Effect set itself apart as a franchise that lets your choices shape its events. The third installment looks to improve the overall experience and become a potential candidate for Game of the Year.

*** If you wish to watch a trailer for the game, simply the click on the game cover art. Enjoy!***

March 6th

March 13th

March 20th

March 31st

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Syndicate Review - Cyber Punks

Score: 8.25 / 10
PC - PS3 - Xbox 360
Developer: Starbreeze Studios
Publisher: EA
Release Date: February 21st, 2012

  • Cyberpunk atmosphere is captured perfectly
  • Sound design is top notch
  • AI is smart and constantly adapts
  • Co-op is an enjoyable, oftentimes addictive experience
  • A short lived single player experience 
  • Light saturation is oftentimes distracting
  • Single player lacks any lasting impact 

Syndicate was a series of computer games produced by Bullfrog Productions back in 1993. It was a top down, tactical shooter in which you controlled a squad of agents in a cyberpunk setting, establishing global dominance - one country at a time. It's been well over a decade since the latest Syndicate game, and Starbreeze Studios looks to reboot the series as an FPS. Even in a market saturated with bland and repetitive shooters, Syndicate still manages to make a name for itself.

Wave of the Future

Syndicate takes place in the year 2069 in a world controlled by mega-corporations, also known as syndicates. Offering citizens the ability to meld with the digital world among other benefits, civilians flocked to get "chipped" by various syndicates. In turn, the syndicate gains control over the individual and their behavior. With no established government to police the syndicates, it's an all out war to expand with specialized agents at the front lines. You take the role of Miles Kilo, EuroCorp's latest agent with the Dart 6 prototype chip at his disposal.

Syndicate boasts a decent story, but fails to break any real ground. While the story starts promising enough with missions to cover corporate secrets and investigate possible information leaks, the predictable events unfold before ultimately coming to an abrupt halt. Brian Cox and Rosario Dawson do a fine job of holding your interest with their performances, and Michael Wincott's rough facade as your questionable sidekick manage to keep the story alive.

Though the story may not hold much, the look and feel of the game is truly outstanding. Visually, Syndicate is top tier - intense lighting, detailed textures, and seamless character animation do its part in bringing the cyberpunk world to life. However, sometimes the light saturation and lens flares can be downright blinding. Though dubstep might not be your cup of tea, it melds perfectly with the futuristic setting. Every sound, from the soundtrack to a bullet leaving the chamber of a gun, will make sweet love to your subwoofer.

John Wooooooo!

While the general format of the game does little to stray from the pattern of clearing rooms of enemies and moving on to repeat the action, the actual gameplay is what keeps everything alive. There is a smoothness to Syndicate that separates it from the standard FPS format. Whether it's the ability to slide and put your back against a piece of cover or the ability to open fire while sprinting, the fast paced run and gun aspect of the game never fails to keep you entertained.

As you progress and unlock additional abilities, the game becomes a test of your multitasking consistency. Environments can be manipulated to provide cover, enemies gain shields that must be breached before damage can be done, and your powers constantly recharge with each soldier that you put down. Tense situations arise, and Sydnicate does a fine job in testing your management skills under pressure as you scramble to reboot an ally or race to cover before you fall.

The typical gunplay is further enhanced by the clever AI. Unlike most shooters, the enemy AI is constantly on the move, and can be downright ruthless in some situations. There are multiple circumstances in which enemies will flank you from all sides, move in behind a larger character, or flush you out of your hiding spot with grenades. You find yourself constantly having to adapt to this smarter enemy, and use everything in your arsenal to overcome the odds.

The single player experience is short and sweet, with twenty chapters running a total of six hours. To influence replays you can find chip upgrades to experiment with different builds for your character, hunt for data transfer points sometimes hidden in various corners, and try to surpass your previous record of headshots in a Milestone.

There's An App for That

Syndicate gunplay is all well and good, but it's the Dart 6 abilities that you will utilize the most.

The most useful ability is the Dart Overlay. This constantly recharging meter will put you in a bullet time mode, while simultaneously highlighting enemies in an orange glow. Not only do things slow down, but you will increase the amount of damage you can deal and take. This becomes essential in a tight situation for planning your next move, or laying the hurt on a tougher enemy.

In addition to your overlay, there are three base abilities at your disposal. Backfire will allow you to jam an enemy's weapon, and the splash damage results in an opening to attack. Persuade will overtake a soldier's chip, and turn them to assist you instead before putting a bullet in their own head. Lastly there is Suicide, in which you overtake an enemy's mind to have them take out a grenade and blow themselves (and their friends) sky high.

Each ability has its uses, and with upgrades you find yourself constantly shuffling between the base three to help in each situation. Later enemies will be immune to some effects until breached first, and there are plenty of other gadgets to hamper your ability to simply throw these out at free will. It's a healthy balance, and must be used in conjunction with your own weapons to be truly effective.

Super Friends

The single player may be short lived, but the co-operative experience is where the game truly stands out. You and three other friends must work together to move through various levels to complete certain objectives. Most of the time these involve eliminating a team of agents or procuring information and extracting it at a dropoff points. Though some of these objectives are repeated, the same appeal of a clever AI and company of three additional players keep this mode enjoyable.

Teamwork is key, and you will quickly find that going off on your own is a quick way to die. Despite three pre-made loadouts, you have the ability to customize your agent as you see fit. Players are given the ability to choose a weapon and two Dart abilities. Your abilities cannot be changed once on the battlefield, but weapons can be picked up if you find another to your liking. This keeps the game from limiting you to playing a certain style.

At the end of each level, every player is awarded experience and tokens to unlock research. You can upgrade existing weapons and follow a skill tree similar to the single player game. The addictive nature of upgrading a weapon to add a secondary fire or enhancing a Dart ability to become more affective, will soon have you jumping right back into another mission to become a more effective weapon.


Syndicate is really what you make of it. It may not break any new ground, but the fast paced run and gun nature of the gameplay keeps the game engaging from start to finish. While the single player may be short, the co-operative experience helps extend the life of the game and offers plenty of content to keep you busy. The overall polish of the game helps it avoid being just another FPS title, a makes it a great shooter to kick off 2012.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Mass Effect 3 - Better with Kinect?

If you are like most of the crowd this past weekend, you were knee deep in the Mass Effect 3 demo. By now, you have played your fifth run through the Single Player Demo, maxed out your Adept in multiplayer, and created a blog detailing your impressions. While the demo has a lot to offer, the Kinect functionality was a feature gaining a lot of promotion. Bioware even smacked a "Better with Kinect" tagline on the box, promising the Kinect will enhance your experience with Mass Effect 3. The game focuses on voice recognition to issue commands, read dialogue wheel choices, or choose a weapon or ability; so I broke out my Kinect sensor to take it for a test drive.

The first and most surprising realization...this actually works. Despite the few highlights above, ME3 has little trouble issuing commands by voice. You can say an ability or move a party member wherever your reticule is pointed by simply saying the action. Having not played Mass Effect in some time, I misconstrued concussive shot with concussion and it still managed to issue the command with little trouble. With so many sounds going off during combat, even at a high volume Kinect could distinguish my voice from the explosions. You could tell that Bioware did not simply tack this feature on, but have been working with it from the beginning.

That's not to say the Kinect actually improves the experience in every aspect. The single button actions, as expected, are faster than their vocal counterpart. You must also have a good idea what every move in your arsenal is called in order to use it, and being a demo, I found myself forgetting exactly what I was capable of doing. Not to mention that everything you say out loud has a small chance of accidentally setting off an ability if it's close enough to the phrase. Needless to say, do not get into a heated discussion on anything that sounds like frag grenades with your significant other while facing a wall...

While the overall experience may not be "better", Kinect does excel at one thing; it keeps you in the combat and out of the menus. Bringing up the weapon and ability wheel puts a halt on the combat as you decide your next move, but with the Kinect, it's a few words away. I found playing through with the Kinect kept me "in the moment" and combat had a smoother flow to it. One could argue that the pause in combat is actually a good thing, giving you a moment to clear your head and plan your next move. 

Love it or hate it, Bioware has at least utilized the Kinect the way I envisioned since its unveiling. Bioware integrated the Kinect functionality without punishing those who do not have the technology. They simply offered a new, interesting way to play at no additional cost to Kinect owners. They did not try to implement some advanced way of moving that involved walking in place or reloading by punching the air at a 45 degree angle; they threw in a functionality that is reasonable, accurate, and capable of being utilized from the comfort of my couch.

It's the ability of the Kinect to work hand in hand with the controller, instead of replacing it completely, that I would love to see more of in future titles. The same idea was used with Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary edition, in the ability to use your voice to issue commands while still being able play like normal. It puts to rest that big negativity that hangs on the Kinect - not having the feel of a controller in your hand. It's a smart way to use what is given, because if a choice is offered - most players will feel more comfortable with a controller.

I would not run out to the store immediately to purchase a Kinect to play Mass Effect 3 at its full potential, but if you have a Kinect sitting idle then it's worth plugging back in to experience. I'm sure that I will be playing through most of the game normally, but I can't say it's not tempting to use a voice command here or there. It may not be 100% "Better with Kinect", but it's a welcome addition that feels a little less like a gimmick and almost like a new way to play...when it works.

...and before you ask, no it does not work in multiplayer. Isn't Xbox Live mic chatter annoying enough without someone yelling "OVERLOAD!" every 15 seconds?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Final Fantasy XIII-2 Review - One More Time

Score: 7.75 / 10
Final Fantasy XIII-2
PS3 - Xbox 360
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: January 31st, 2012

  • Visuals and voicework remain as polished as ever
  • Monster collecting is an addictive addition
  • Combat remains fast paced, and easy to pick up
  • Plenty of side content to add to the life of the game
  • Crystarium leveling system has been dulled down
  • Mog Clock random encounters feels like a step back
  • Sense of direction is skewed with multiple paths and odd pacing
  • Ending is an abrupt stop

Final Fantasy XIII was one of those love it or hate it games. Open worlds were traded for linear corridors and combat was altered to become more fast paced with control over only one character. Some fans embraced the change and others revolted. The announcement that the next installment would be a direct sequel kept people on edge, since the story and overall interest in the characters was not nearly as huge as previous sequels. XIII-2 does address many issues with the previous installment, but takes one step forward and two steps back.
Journey Through Time

Final Fantasy XIII-2 picks up three years after the previous game's ending; Cocoon's collision with Grand Pulse was prevented by Vanille and Fang, the heroes are freed from being l'Cie, and Orphan has been defeated. Everything seems normal, except for the absence of Lightning. Only her sister Serah seems to notice her disappearance, while others claimed that she died in preventing Cocoon's collision. It is only with the appearance of Noel, that it is revealed that Lightning is alive and he can take her to where she is doing battle with a mysterious new enemy. The two set off through time and space to set things right.

There is an option to view a quick summary of the previous events of FFXIII, but the sheer scope of characters and terms is a lot to absorb in a limited time. Mixing in elements associated with time travel further complicates things, and you have to learn to accept things and move on to enjoy the basic story. Most of the time it seems as if the game asks a genuine question, only to get a response of "it just is" before moving on. The characters of Serah and Noel bring little to the table, but the antagonist Caius proves to be the most intriguing addition as the bad guy with sound reason for being a bad guy. There is also the addition of the new companion "Mog" whose constant cries of "Kupo" make for one annoying sidekick.

One aspect that remains unscathed with Final Fantasy is a stunning presentation. Visuals are as sharp as ever, with character animations syncing seamlessly with returning performances of the previous voice cast. Cinematic scenes are always entertaining, complete with over the top action sequences the series is known for. While the look and feel is great, there are some aspects that seem out of whack. Square Enix brought on three separate composers for the soundtrack, resulting in what sounds like a child changing the radio station; there are a few gems off the soundtrack, but the rest feels so out of place it actually detracts from the game.

Doctor Who?

XIII-2 ditches the linear, closed off corridors to a certain extent, giving the game a more open feel. While you still are not in an airship flying over the world, you jump between time gates and gather artifacts in each world to jump further; think Mario's overworld with branching pathways. The trouble with this is you have no idea if you are going in the right direction, resulting in occasional backtracking upon stumbling into a situation out of your league. The general story progression has a few snags along the way, including an attempt at platforming near the close of the game and one world where every two steps you enter into a fight, but beyond that the game is set at a standard difficulty with little issue.

Encounters in the game have changed, with a new "Mog Clock" encounter system. Monsters now randomly appear, and a clock counts down for you to engage in combat. If you strike first, you gain a boost in combat and attack right off the bat. If the enemy runs into you, it's even ground. If you do not escape the combat zone after a set time, you will engage in a fight or die situation in which death takes you back to the last save point. This makes latter fights much more intense. Though an interesting system, the random encounters feel like a step back in the series; as seeing the giant beasts in XIII roaming the corridors were much more intimidating and gave life to the worlds, rather than simply having them pop out of thin air.

While there are "villages" in the game these amount to nothing more than a few people walking around, uttering terrible and unimportant lines of dialogue. NPCs are available to issue sidequests, but these evolve into nothing more than simple fetch quests or battles. Shops are limited to one soul source, a traveler named Chocolina. She sells the standard amenities of potions, weaponry, and accessories which can be purchased much more easily thanks to the fact that you actually gain money from battles again.

I Choose You!

The fast-paced combat of XIII was a redeeming factor for the game, and it carries over well in the sequel. Limited to a party of three, you assign each member a role to follow. These range from support, to attack, to buffers and dispellers. These "paradigms" can be shifted mid-battle to adapt to the situation as it occurs; such as switching to a defensive roster when a boss is counting down a big move or attacking roster when he opens himself up.

It's the constant switch and adaptation to each situation that makes the battle system so great. One second you are boosting a boss's Stagger gauge to make him more susceptible to attacks, and the next you can be on the defensive trying to stack a few heals before resuming your assault. Each area is different, and each encounter warrants diverse tactics. This will constantly have you switching roles and paradigms to overcome a challenge, and makes brute force useless in most situations.

Following the popular trend, FFXIII-2 has also added a few typical features to mix things up a bit further. Cinematic Action sequences will occur during bigger battles that can give you an upper hand in battle if performed correctly. There is also the inclusion of dialogue trees in conversation, that add a small sense of choice in a predestined game. The ideas are nice, but nothing that hasn't been done better in other titles.

Unlike previous games, your party only consists of two main characters. The third slot is filled with monsters that you tame in the wild. Practically all monsters are up for grabs as you progress through the game, each coming equipped with a set role like a healer or magic user. You then use items found in the wild or purchased to level these monsters up. The addictive feel of getting, training, and using these monsters in battle is reminiscent of Pokemon; adding another addictive collecting task.You can even customize your monster with an accessory, because putting a backpack on a's just awesome. The monster taming helps establish the game as a sequel and not just an expansion, and ends up being the highlight of the game.

To Be Continued

Though the primary quest is relatively short (about 20 hours), but there is plenty of side content offered to keep you busy well after the game's abrupt end. The side content is very collector based, and will have you straying from the established path to collect every last item in a world.

One particular portal takes you to 'Serendipity', which is basically a time traveler's casino....can't make this up. Once there you can tackle the slot machine in an attempt to rake cash in quickly for exclusive items not found or dropped by enemies. There is even the return of Chocobo races in which you can race your own tamed Chocobo or bet on existing ones.

Though you do not need to collect every fragment in the game to complete it, there are 160 total fragments scattered throughout the worlds that can offer ultimate rewards once a set is collected. These range from jumping farther when platforming to instantly killing weak enemies upon their encounter. Fragments are sometimes hidden throughout the world, obtained from completing sidequests, or rewards from various mini games.


While Final Fantasy XIII-2 addresses many of the issues of its predecessor, it brings up its fair share of new ones. Odd pacing, an odder soundtrack, and a dumbed down leveling system are just a few issues that hold the game back from redeeming XIII's downfalls. It's not a terrible RPG, and if you are a fan of Final Fantasy XIII then the game is exactly what you would expect. For those who missed the train that was XIII and are looking for a new RPG, XIII-2 may not be your ideal experience...but, you can put a hat on a there's that.

Friday, February 3, 2012

And the 2011 GoTY Winners Are...

At the close of the year we all have our pick set for Game of the Year. Here is what the big name publishers decided:

Destructoid - Portal 2
Eurogamer - Portal 2
Gamasutra - Portal 2
Gamespot - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Gamespy - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Games Radar: Portal 2
Gametrailers - Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
Gameinformer - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Gamingbolt - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Giantbomb - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Joystiq - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Kill Screen - Portal 2
Kotaku: Portal 2
Spike: The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim
Xplay - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Zero Punctuation (The Escapist) - Portal 2

To my surprise Portal 2 raked up quite a few more than expected, just as much as Skyrim.