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Archive for the ‘360’ Category

Jurassic Park: The Game

Logo - Jurassic Park: The Game

Developer(s): Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games, Kalypso Media
Genre: Adventure
Release Date:
PS3, 360, PC, Mac
November 15, 2011
Rating: T
MSRP: $29.99 (all four episodes)

‘Welcome to Jurassic Park.’ Whenever I see a game company try and take hold of a franchise name (namely, one of a movie) and turn it into a game, I cringe. I can’t help it. I stare at them in game stores and shake my head, simply because I cannot bear to witness the atrocious idea that someone tried to turn into a playable media format. Jurassic Park: The Game, is not that bad, rest assured. While it was not the game experience I thought it was going to be, Telltale Games did a fantastic job in cleaning it up and allowed us to revisit our childhood in a new way.

The entire story coincides with the first movie (hence the name), on Isla Nublar. When you see the story of Jurassic Park: The Game, you will be given an all new perspective of the beloved story. This approach to storytelling was both ingenious, and detrimental to the game. What you have is almost a behind the scenes look at what the movie didn’t show, or what you may (or may not) have been curious about. This creates an almost alternative movie experience that works really well hand-in-hand with the movie. Think of it as an extra features section of a Blu-ray; you do not need it to enjoy the movie, but it is still a very cool concept and add-on. Where this falters, however, is that all of the characters that you have come to know and love in the movies are all but present. Instead, most of the game is told and experienced through new characters to try and push the story forward. While this makes sense from a timing aspect, the characters are not that interesting, and overall don’t have the same edge and feeling to them that the original cast did. The game does have a sense of freedom, in that it was able to create anything it wanted in between key points in the original story, and I do not believe it took full advantage of that as it should have.

The gameplay is more like an interactive movie experience rather than a game. Between storytelling, there are two kinds of game modes: exploration and interaction. During exploration modes, characters are in static scenes where moving the joystick and pressing appropriate buttons allows for investigation of the area and progressing forward with the story. This is restrictive, and makes the game feel less expansive and exploratory, and more linear and ‘on rails.’ During the interactive scenes, there are a series of button presses, joystick rotations, and so forth to successfully clear a scene. Certain actions can cause the character to die, and will require the player to start over from the beginning of that specific part of the scene. If a character dies, or the player misses an action, a bar at the top of the screen will slowly go down. As it falls, the rank for that particular scene will fall as well, going from Gold down to Bronze. This adds a small objective to work for while playing. There is no deep puzzle solving or platform hopping to struggle through any part of this game, meaning that with a little bit of time and patience, anyone can complete this game with minimal effort. Because of this style, the game is not as enjoyable to play as it is to watch. There is a heavy focus on story, which it executes well, however because of that, it detracts from the gameplay aspect tremendously.

The environments are all very beautiful, and the character models are detailed and smooth. This is what we have come to expect from Telltale, and they excel as they have in the past. The scenery is flush with the exotic plantlife of the island, and the world has been fleshed out in great detail. Everything from mud prints, flora and even dinosaur droppings have been included to make the island look and feel exactly as it should be. Being able to explore the park on foot in further detail is a unique experience that, however due to the confines of the exploration factor, it is hard to appreciate it the way one could if they had full control over their character. Coupled with the amazing view is a soundtrack that is both nostalgic and well placed. When you are working with a score originally composed and arranged by John Williams, it is truly difficult to achieve anything short of greatness. Similar to the movie, the music is subtle during times of peace, and riveting during times of great tension. It adds to the experience and makes for an overall satisfying aesthetic appeal, reminding us why Jurassic Park was great to begin with.

Outside of perfecting scores in each stage, there is no real reason to pick this game up and play it again once it has been completed. As I mentioned above, the gameplay isn’t difficult if random selections are made, and where the game truly shines is in the experience between the movie’s storyline and where this game fits in between it. As a stand alone product, gamers may find Jurassic Park: The Game to feel a little lackluster, especially with the kind of involvement games similar to this one have set such a strong precedence. Long time fans of the series and those who may have just experienced the first movie for the first time will find a neat experience that couples well with the movie to provide a more interactive experience in the Jurassic Park universe. This game could also be aimed at those who are casual gamers, not looking for a difficult challenge, but are more interested in storytelling. In total, one playthrough of this game will set you back about five to six hours.

While Jurassic Park: The Game may not be a Game of the Year anytime soon, there’s no denying that there are some memorable qualities that will invoke strong senses of nostalgia while taking the more scenic route down memory lane. With old and new locales and dinosaurs to experience, there is still a lot to enjoy about this experience.

Likes:
+Great extension to the original story
+Beautiful scenery and music
+Plays like an interactive novel

Dislikes:
-Entirely too linear; no real exploration
-No game play or deep puzzle solving
-Characters don’t mean anything to the player

Innovative:
~Dinosaurs not in the movie were introduced
~A bold step in making a game based on a movie
~New locations are a great touch to the already historic past locations

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Assassin’s Creed: Revelations

Developer(s): Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Genre: Action/Adventure/Sandbox
Release Date:
PS3, 360
November 15, 2011 (INT’L)
PC
December 2,  2011 (INT’L)
Rating: M
MSRP: $59.99

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations continues the story of Ezio, our insanely lovable Italian assassin whose travels in discovering what the Creed was written for has brought him to Constantinople. The city is in the midst of an uprising: the Ottoman Empire is making its stand against the Templars. Nearby, in Masyaf, Ezio discovers that Altair has hidden an weapon that could end the war between the Templars and the Assassins for good. The weapon is locked in a fortress underneath the old Assassin’s hideout by six Masyaf keys, which each hold a memory of Altair.

Desmond, on the other hand,  is now trapped within the Animus since his last encounter, and is fighting to retain a separation from his ancestors’ memories, and his own personality. Desmond’s subconscious currently resides in ‘The Black Room’ a sort of safe room that allows Desmond to find the missing memory that links all three of his, Ezio and Altair’s memories together. Should he fail, his subconscious will not be able to tell the difference between himself and his ancestors, and he will become trapped within the Animus forever, facing the same fate that Subject 16 had.

The Assassin’s Creed series has been one of a kind since the original, and one has a hard time thinking how each and every game can bring something new to the table when the formula remains mostly unchanged. This has been both the skill, and the talent that the Ubisoft team has been able to bring. In our newest adventure, very little has changed gameplay wise. Ezio has traveled to Constantine, a beautiful, thriving city located in the Middle East. In a huge, open world environment, Ezio has the privilege to travel to almost the entire city from the very beginning. He is able to take on missions and sub-quests by speaking to key people within the city, and of course, there are many other people who walk and exist within the world. The city is simply beautiful, and can be noted on top of one of the various viewpoints, a feature that has made a return once more.

Some of the new features that add yet another element of strategy within the game are the hookblade and the ability to craft various types of bombs. The hookblade now replaces the right handed hidden blade, yet still functions as a second hidden blade. The hook on the end of it now allows Ezio to slide across zip lines, climb buildings at a much more rapid rate, and even grab onto objects that were slightly out of his reach. The hookblade also serves as a new way to escape, divert and otherwise outmaneuver his opponents, and makes the game feel much faster than it’s predecessors.

The bomb crafting is another feature that brought some interesting mechanics into play. Bombs come in three categories: Lethal, Tactical and Diversion. Lethal bombs are just as they sound, and will typically incapacitate a guard. These range from having shrapnel inside of them, to poison cloud bombs. Tactical bombs are generally used for a quick escape route, or something to slow down your pursuers. These range from typical smoke bombs to caltrops. Lastly, the Diversion bombs are used to draw the guards’ attention away from where you wish to be. Within these three categories, there are different shell types (how the bomb explodes on impact), gunpowder (the radius of the explosion) and the filling (what type of effect the bomb will have). This was easily one of the most fun ways to experiment with completing the missions within the game.

One last new feature that was added was the ‘tower defense’ style mini-game. Similar to Brotherhood, each district is initially owned by the Templars, which must be assassinated to take over. Once killed, Ezio may climb to the top, light the signal fire, which allows the Assassin’s to make it a den, and allow Ezio to recruit two more assassin recruits. The Templar Awareness meter has made a return, however this time there are more consequences. If you are in a fully aware state and you do something wrong, one of your Assassin’s Dens fall into a ‘contested’ state. When that happens, Ezio is placed into a tower defense style game, where the object is to stop the Templars from overrunning the den. Succeed, and the den is safe. Fail, and the den returns to the templars, you lose all income from any buildings within that district, and Ezio must assassinate the new Templar captain in order to take it back.

The overall gameplay of AC:R stayed the same; the player can either blitz through the main story, or take their time doing all of the side missions and such. The removal of multiple faction missions has now been replaced by two separate side missions: Sofia’s missions, which allow you to experience more of Altair’s story, and the Desmond missions which can only be accessed by collecting the Animus Fragments. These missions tell the story of Desmond before he was first picked up by Abstergo in the first game, and really capture his emotions well. As mentioned above, the den capturing has made a return with a small twist, as well as faction objectives. There are plenty more apprentice missions (now called Mediterranean Defense) within the story, but those have also been changed around to allow the assassin’s to have ‘control’ over the various cities, and give you benefits to restoring them to their former glory.

Lastly, the multiplayer has been revamped allowing for a more seamless play. There have been a few new game modes added in, as well as a few features here and there to make things feel fresh, but I personally was impressed with the first multiplayer game in Brotherhood, and couldn’t even fathom how they could make a single player game like that into a multiplayer expedition. Having this mode in Revelations only made common sense. Most may remember the awful load times and ‘Searching for other Abstergo players’ message that repeated over and over. I am happy to announce that is no longer the case.

If you sit down and blitz through the storyline, there will be a lot of things that are missing for your experience, and I feel that you will ultimately be unsatisfied by the game. Part of what makes this storyline so brilliant is the addition of the backstory behind Desmond as well as some missing parts to Altair and his connection with Ezio (aside from DNA, of course). The small additions and refinements to the system were enough for me to truly look at the game and see yet another solid title in an already wonderful series. There are a few things I can do without, such as collecting yet another 100 objects from an open world (the Animus fragments I mentioned above), as well as the den defense, which becomes incredibly difficult after the first mission.

I did raise an eyebrow though, when I found out that if you train your apprentices to the level of Master Assassin (which is now level 15, raised from level 10), the dens can no longer be attacked. This is a bit odd, considering if all of your dens can no longer be attacked, why even bother with adding the mini game in the first place? Still, the small quirks like this do nothing to the actual game itself, as I still would back this game as a solid addition to the story. I am still having a hard time justifying purchasing all of the buildings within each district (referring mostly to the landmarks) as once you get so far, the additional income really doesn’t mean much at all.

Overall, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations does not feel like it’s milking the franchise. When I pick up each title, I feel rewarded with new content, updated features, and some new treats to keep me drooling for the next title. I would warn, however, if the overall game play features and slightly repetitive nature bore you, you may be cautious around this one. There is only so much that a company can do with this IP, and while I give them credit for what they’ve done, it’s certainly not perfect. If you are a fan of the series, or have been drawn into the story much like I have, then you’ll find that Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is a beautiful addition in this already beautiful series.

Likes:
+Hookblade speeds up climb process
+Multiplayer has been revamped
+Bombs add to the stragegy

Dislikes:
-Hookblade loses its appeal quickly
-Small features don’t remedy the repetition
-Some of the new features are rendered useless from other new features

Innovative:
~Desmond missions add a new storytelling element
~The hookblade is fun and creative
~Tower Defense type mini-game

Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure

Developer(s):
XPEC Entertainment
Vicarious Visions
Toys for Bob
Publisher: Activision
Genre: Action/Adventure/RPG
Release Date:
PC
October 12, 2011 (AU)
Consoles
October 13, 2011 (AU)
October 14, 2011 (EU)
October 16, 2011 (NA)
Rating: E10+
MSRP: $69.99 (or better)

Do not let the cute nature and the toys fool you! Skylanders is an innovative title boasting some strong RPG qualities that can only be truly appreciated by a seasoned gamer. While the cost may be enough to keep away some, there is no doubt in my mind that Skylanders has the potential to be something great, or at the very least, inspire more games to move in this direction of creativity and innovation.

In Skylanders, the mighty Portal Master, Eon, has been reduced to nothing more than a spiritual voice to guide the player through the world of Skyland. Given the Portal of Power and a few of the heroes (referred to as Skylanders), it is up to the player to restore the land to it’s former beauty by squandering the bite sized menace, Kaos. As the Portal Master, the player is given the right to command over thirty tiny heroes in a grand adventure fit for any style of gamer. There are many worlds filled with exotic enemies and friends alike that will surely bring great enjoyment to anyone willing to make the investment.

I say an investment because the biggest issue that restricts a player from having the full experience is the cost. The game’s starter pack starts at $69.99, which comes with the game, a portal, and three beginning characters. Be mindful that each portal only works for their respective system, however the characters can be brought along to play from any portal. Each expansion pack (new character, new world, and extra items) or character pack (three additional Skylanders) are $19.99, and any additional single character packs are $7.99. Factor in that there are currently 15 available characters at the time of writing, three legendaries, and two exclusives, and it is easy to see how this hobby can turn into an investment rather quickly. I have, however, devised a guide below that should help you in determining whether or not this game is for you. But before I get to that, allow me to explain further the game as it stands.

The game itself is both deep and lighthearted. It is pretty easy to get lost in simple button mashing to get through most of the stages, and if the player chooses a character with long range attacks, it is even easier to do so without dying. If we look beyond that however, we see an RPG based system that is actually pretty solid for what the game looks like on the surface. Characters earn experience to level up their Skylanders up to a maximum level of ten. During that time, they earn coins to develop their skills, which eventually branch off into two separate paths. If a character decides to go down one path, then the other becomes locked out. There are also ‘heroic challenges’ that can be used to further develop each character, however the challenges are just that: extremely challenging at times.

Changing characters within the game is extremely simple: just pull the character from the portal of power and place another one on. By some higher force (or maybe magic), the game recognizes each character and within a few seconds the game resumes with the new character replacing the old one. To add a second player, simply turn on the second controller, press a button, and add their Skylander. It truly is that simple. If there are any more than two Skylanders, however, the game will stop and inform you of such, and ask you to remove any excess. This can also happen if your Skylanders are laying on their side and are too close to the portal. I didn’t notice any kind of problems with this system, but the faster the characters are changed, the more laggy each load will be. I can see this being a problem for kids anxious to try all of the characters they have every two minutes.

A lot of the game’s content can be enjoyed with the original three characters, but there is no doubt that without more characters, about half of the game will be missing. New characters unlock more heroic challenges, as well as elemental pathways within each stage, allowing players to acquire stat boosting hats and treasure chests. Each character also is attached to one of eight elements that are strong in certain aries of the game.  All of the trophies and achievements can  be  earned (that I have seen) without any more characters, however the in-game achievement system (accolades) will be locked without every character. So in essence, it is a simple platformer game that has tied in a small scale action-RPG system within it.

Skylanders’ sound effects and music are perfect for the ambiance within the worlds. Dark, eerie levels are accented with deep undertones, while beach stages are light and poppy. I personally haven’t found any tunes that truly stand out, and yet I am also not turning down my volume in place of something more worthy. At times, the characters can be a little annoying as they typically talk/make noise when they attack, and that becomes amplified when they attack extremely fast (i.e. Trigger Happy has two guns that he giggles maniacally, and they can be shot as fast as the button can be pressed). The voice acting wasn’t bad either, but I did notice the game had issues ‘catching up’ if the player speeds through the dialog. Outside of that, I truly had no complaints with what I was listening to.

Another place that Skylanders doesn’t truly stand out, but doesn’t falter in either is the graphics. During the cutscenes, the graphics are late PS2 worthy, being smooth and refined, but not something that should be expected of a seventh generation game. During gameplay, the graphics change only slightly, but not by much. Where I would say this game shines graphically is actually in the figurines. When I first pulled them out, I didn’t pay much attention, but upon closer inspection one can notice a great amount of detail put into each figure to ensure that they are all painted well. Each character sits on a platform made up of it’s element, which is convenient for a quick glance survey of who may be needed next in a level.

One of the things that pains me about this game, and maybe I am a victim of my generation, is the lack of any real multiplayer. Don’t get me wrong, this game supports 1-2 players, but it is local only. I am not greedy, but I feel that having only two players local is a little dated for my tastes. At the very least, I would ask for either four player local, or making the two player available online as well. I understand that in this day and age to get four people into a room to play a game is tough, but when I pick up and play Skylanders I immediately see the potential of having four players, and this game simply lacks that feature. If you consider the audience this game was geared towards, it becomes a little more understandable, but if you are going to go through the effort to make a separate web based experience, at least add the ability to play with two more friends. Again, that could simply be me being a victim of my age, growing up around the N64, Dreamcast and Gamecube.

Now comes the innovations, which I believe was the saving grace for this game, and why it shines in my opinion. The reason each character sits on a base is not purely for aesthetics, or because it’s easy to see their element, but in fact all of the character data is stored within that base. Remember above where I said each figure is compatible with any portal, no matter what console? That is the reason why. The player is now allowed to take their customized Spyro, for example, and bring it to a friend’s house and play along with their Spyro. Add in the fact that each character can wear a hat and have a nickname, and it is easy to see why this could be a great time for kids. “Rusty” (my Drobot) is easily one of my favorite characters, and I can now share him with anyone who has a Portal of Power. It gives a sense of ownership and some form of randomization that it would be highly unlikely (but certainly not impossible) that two Skylanders would be identical.

There is also a web application that is available that a lot of people seem to overlook. While it is only in it’s Beta stages, I feel it is a very integral part of the game as well. If you register on the website http://www.skylandersgame.com, you can download the drivers to allow the Portal of Power to connect to your PC, and it allows players to register their Skylanders to their username and play within the browser. Inside this ‘Web Skyland’ players are able to connect with each other in a virtual world via chatting using their Skylander of choice as an avatar. Within the world, players are also able to level up (I haven’t reached the max yet, so I am unsure of what that may be), and play various mini-games both shown in the console game, and original ones designed just for the web. The coins earned within those games are used to customize the players’ “lair” with various caves, trees, and bridge. They may also travel to other player’s worlds to eat flowers, destroy barrels and haystacks, and so forth. The web side of the game is far from perfect, but it sets up a strong foundation of what’s to come.

Overall, this game is really a wonderful, innovative piece of technology that shows that toys and games do not have to be separate, and that owning a physical product doesn’t hurt us either instead of making everything DLC. That last bit could be because I’m still old school, however. As I mentioned above, I wanted to provide scenarios to those who are unsure about the costs and features available to them, and if you are teetering on either side of the fence, let this be the information you need to help you make the decision. I’ve come up with ultimately three scenarios that you may find yourself in, should you choose to play the game, and average costs:

  • Scenario 1) This is going to be for those players who simply want to purchase the game to have it. Maybe at one time you were a fan of Spyro, or are intrigued by the toys mixed with electronics. Either way, you now have a copy of the game, and you’re worried about what to expect. Worry not! You will be able to enjoy the full story of the game, as no additional characters are required to complete the game from start to finish. You will know how the ending wraps up, and will be happy to know that you’ve supported a game style that is very new to the industry. You can also achieve every single trophy and achievement that the game offers. You cannot, however, get all of the in-game accolades as well as explore all of the alternative paths that may net you more hats, gold and experience. Your average cost will be $69.99 plus applicable tax.
  • Scenario 2) This is for the players who want to experience a little more than just the story straightforward. With this method, I recommend owning at least one character of each element to allow access through all of the elemental doors and areas through the game. With this method, the player will be able to get all of the trophies/achievements, in-game accolades, as well as experience the world via many different options. There will also be more heroic challenges available to further develop the player’s characters as they begin to max out each one’s levels. Your average cost will be around $110 plus applicable tax, depending on if you purchase individual characters only, or if you buy character packs.
  • Scenario 3) This is for the hardcore players who are completionists and want everything. You will be able to do everything mentioned above, plus have bragging rights and a diverse selection of characters (and two new worlds to play in, to boot). Outside of those expansion pack characters that offer new worlds, and getting the last of the accolades (one of which is to own all 32 characters), there hasn’t been any benefit that I could see to owning all of the characters. Fans of Pokemon and the like will be more inclined to attempt this feat. As of now, all of the characters are not available, however if my math and memory still serve me well, I would estimate your average cost to be around $175, give or take $15, plus applicable tax.
For reference, I fall somewhere between Scenario 2 and 3. I really wanted to have all of the elements, but the more characters I get, the more fun I am having developing them and leveling them up. For me, at the very least, I will probably own the first batch, but I’m not sure at the cost I would invest in more than 32 as it stands right now. I would have to see some significant improvements in some of the things that matter to me (such as the multiplayer aspect). Needless to say, I don’t think anyone will be disappointed owning the game, and if you work together with some friends, you can collectively all own the entire set without causing your bank account to be too depressed. Skylanders definitely redefines a new way to play games, and even despite the cost, is a refreshing take on the monotony.

NOTE: This review, unfortunately, only covers the console versions. I have read around that the 3DS version differs slightly, but I don’t have the resources required to try it for that console as well. If anyone has input or experience, I would ask that you send me an email to peter.thomas(at)thegamingeffect dot com and I will use your mini-review as a guest supplement to mine. Many thanks in advance!

Likes:
+Simplified RPG system
+Several characters to choose from
+Vibrant world with lovable personalities

Dislikes:
-No online/4-player local (2-player only)
-Sound effects can be overbearing at times
-Can’t find reason to own more than eight Skylanders

Innovative:
~Portal of Power brings figures ‘to life’
~Figures retain all of the character data inside of them
~Adventure can be played either on the console or on the web

Batman: Arkham Asylum

Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Publisher: DC Entertainment, Eidos Interactive, Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment, Square-Enix (JP)
Genre: Action/Adventure
Release Date: PS3, 360 –
September 2, 2009 (AU)
August 25, 2009 (NA)
August 28, 2009 (EU)
Windows – 
September 15, 2009 (NA)
September 18, 2009 (EU)
Rating: T
MSRP: $59.99

Batman: Arkham Asylum took everything a fan of the series could ever want out of the series, and placed it effectively into what could be one of the best games I have played in 2009. With plenty of gadgets, familiar and not-so-familiar faces, and a whole cast of brilliant voices, Batman left little room for error. The Dark Knight punched, kicked and silently took down much opposition to become a solid contender for the prestigious title of one of the best games I have ever played.

I am not usually the super hero gamer type, but what intrigued me to pick up this game were the voices they chose to use for the characters. Batman, Harley and Joker were the original voice actors from Batman: The Animated Series, a cartoon t hat I grew up on as a child. That alone was enough to excite me to purchase this game come launch day. Little did I know what an incredible game I was picking up.

The tale starts off showing Batman, who is driving The Joker back to Arkham Asylum. The slightly deranged clown had escaped, but as always, Batman has subdued the maniacal clown once more, and peace has returned to Gotham. That is what The Joker wants everyone to believe, because little does anyone know what The Joker has in store. Instead of The Joker being put away, the whole island is locked down, with everyone inside playing pawns to The Joker’s master plan. Batman must retake Arkham Asylum back from The Joker, or face having to see Gotham City a simple crater on the map. No sweat right? The game does a lot to bring fans both new and old something that they are looking for.

Right off the ‘bat’, the game is absolutely gorgeous. There is so much detail and time taken to perfect everything within the game, from the ghastly environments, to every single pore on Bruce’s face. I was simply blown away by the sheer beauty of the game, and with the Unreal Engine running at full steam, the game is given such a sense of realism, there would be no shame in finding out if Arkham Asylum actually existed. All of the character models are proportionate and gorgeous, fleshing out the characters in ways I never thought possible. At times, the grunts look a little goofy, especially when Batman kicks them in the shins, and they grab their skulls like it was just smashed into a wall. It is a minor flaw, but nothing that would deem the game horrid to watch. The eerie atmosphere gives a perfect taste to what the world of Batman should look like. Also, the models used in the game and during movie sequences are the same, so the game can enter and exit a movie with no transition, and no sacrifice of graphical quality.

Batman plays very fluidly, and with little effort, anyone can pick up a controller and start playing with little to no difficulty. The combos are called ‘freeflow combos,’ and it is ideal for this game.  However, it takes skill, precision and patience to master the combat mechanics. A player can get by a good third of the game simply spamming the attack buttons, however that will not get anyone far after a certain point. The fighting system is based off of a very fluid combo style system, where each attack mixed with a directional button will seamlessly allow Batman to move from one henchman to another with no delay. His acrobatics in between are impressive as well. Batman is also outfitted with a variety of gadgets (unlocked through progression) to neutralize his foes. His trusty batarangs, of course,  are offered from the start. I really tried hard to find a flaw in the combat system, but outside of my own errors, the system is flawless. It provides the ideal amount of button input with careful planning to ensure that you retain the highest combo while fighting the villains.

There is an experience based system that is incorporated within the game that allows for unlockable upgrades  for Batman, such as more gadgets, enhancements to said gadgets, more health, and so on. The experience you gain also restores any stamina that was lost during a fight. I completed the game on hard and felt that nine times out of ten, the game was ideal in difficulty. There was a boss fight or two that I did get stuck on for quite some time (including the final fight) but nothing that made me want to quit the game. Once all of the upgrades are unlocked, however, the experience system becomes nothing more than a tack on. Assuming that the player has reached this far in the game, there really is no need for health recovery as by now it should be easy to dispatch foes, or die. Something I am a little disappointed about is the lack of being able to use any of Batman’s vehicles. One of the neat perks to being Batman is the various modes of transportation he had at his disposal. While the gadgets are cool, nothing beats racing around in the Batmobile.

Batman has a sort of investigation mode called ‘detective mode’ that allows him to pick up various inputs and use those as a tracer to find things. For example, if he is looking for an individual, and they have left a trail of blood, this ‘detective mode’ will pick up a sample, and match that blood to any spots of blood on the island. This mode also allows you to see through walls and pick up any foes that would otherwise be hidden. The Riddler doesn’t make his appearance as an adversary for Batman per say, however he has left over 200 riddles and hidden things for Batman to find. These could be anything from finding green question mark trophies to solving a riddle using the environment and ‘detective mode.’

The ambient music in Arkham Asylum does a wonderful job setting a darker tone. The wavering shadows, paired with the screams and grunts of the tenants are all amplified by a haunting soundtrack that not only sets the mood, but has traces of that ‘batman feel.’ I will admit, none of the songs had me singing long after the game was shut off, and I certainly won’t be rushing to any import stores to find it, but it does well for what it is being used for: creating suitable atmosphere.

Something that really intrigued me about this game is the unlockables and collectables within the game. They are not the every day run-of-the-mill unlockable, this much is true, but it adds more value to the player by actually being USEFUL. First, there are the typical unlockables which come in the form of these side missions you can do. One set of the missions is focused on silent takedowns, and the other is focused on freeflow combos. There are also full scaled models of the characters within the game, allowing the players to appreciate just how much detail went into each character.  Finally, there are the character bios. These were by far the most incredible unlockable I’ve run across in a game in quite some time. The character bios not only show you the character in more of a comic book format, but give you a detailed explanation of where they came from, their background, and some of their stats. There are a few characters who even have interview tapes that give a bit more depth about what makes each one tick. For those of us (like myself) who do not follow Batman religiously, this made me insanely curious to exactly how the relationship between Batman and some of the characters played out before they landed in Arkham. Unfortunately, some of those comics are almost a century old. Content like this though adds so much more to a game than simply trophies or achievements. There was so much history written in just those 25 or so bios that I felt compelled to keep learning more.

I know there are a lot of positive adjectives in this review, and it is for good reason. Batman: Arkham Asylum is an extremely well crafted game capturing the elements in gaming that define this industry for what it is: creative and artistic. When the game is completed, the player will also notice the large team that was used to engineer such a game, and with good reason. There are very few details missed, with little wiggle room. Batman: Arkham Asylum is one of those few games I would consider a masterpiece. It is not flawless, but has such great value not only to gamers, but to fans of the series. When a company can take a franchise as epic as Batman and reinvent the look and feel without losing what makes Batman the superhero that he is, you have acquired a rare talent. Arkham Asylum does just that.

Overall: 9.5 / 10.0

Likes:
+Incredible ‘Freeflow’ combat system
+Beautiful Graphics
+Perfect match of difficulty and length

Dislikes:
-Few flaws in animations
-Music doesn’t truly stand out
-Lack of diversity in villains

Innovative:
~Batman: Reinvented and nostalgic
~Stealth mode shows MGS is not the standard
~Detective Mode adds a fun element to finding new objectives

Castle Crashers – The Behemoth/Microsoft – 360

Developer: The Behemoth
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date
X-Box 360 – August 27, 2008
PS3 – August 31, 2010 (NA), November 3, 2010 (EU)
Rating: ESRB T
MSRP: 1200 Microsoft Points
Console Played On: Microsoft Xbox 360

Castle Crashers is a typical side-scrolling beat-em-up that’s not so… well… typical. The Behemoth has taken this old formula, added a little spice to it (some role playing elements), and stuck it in the oven to reheat, and when it came out, it was a smoldering hot dish with a bit of flair added in. The objective of Castle Crashers is to rescue the four princesses that have been abducted by the evil dark wizard, who just so happens to wreck the town while he is at it. The game starts off with four unlocked characters: a fire knight, an ice knight, an electric knight, and a poison knight. The Behemoth does a fantastic job recreating this age old formula into something new, exciting, and quite frankly, a blast to play.

The story starts out in a little party that the knights and civilian are all enjoying. A little bit of music, some good food and dancing for everyone! That is, until the day is completely and utterly ruined by the dark wizard, who selfishly takes the kings crystal and all four princesses. Thus begins the journey of the Castle Crashers! There are over 30 stages to play through, and the story is rather entertaining. The humor is very sarcastic, with a strange affinity with stool. I know this sounds foul, but I promise upon playing the game, the stool fits into the storyline perfectly. While it is difficult to really establish a story when the majority of the game is meant to be a series of button mashing, Castle Crashers does a really nice job keeping everything flowing in a neat and orderly fashion, despite the chaos.

With that being said, while being a beat-em-up style, the game doesn’t require severe cramping of thumbs to get the job done. They offer various combos in the form of mixing light attacks with heavy attacks, culminating various results from it. These attacks are unlocked as you progress through your levels. Each level up grants a knight stat points to place into attack, magic, defense and agility. The knights are also equipped with various types of magic, depending on the knight you use. There is also a slight variation between the looks of each magic, with many types of ways to use the magic (wide area, focused bullet, etc.). Castle Crashers also offers various sub weapons, from a bow and arrows, to a sandwich to turn the knights into giant, muscle headed rage machines.

The multiplayer feature is nothing new in terms of this style of game. Where The Behemoth has taken things a step further is by allowing knights to battle it out in various arenas and mini games within the game. The two mini games available are called “All You Can Quaff” in which the player presses buttons alternatively to eat food as fast as possible, and “Arena” where the player may partake in five different events. Also, at the end of any level where a princess may be rescued, the knights are forced to battle it out to the death, as only the strongest knight may stand victorious and receive the kiss from the princess. The mixture of cooperative and competitive game play adds for a surprising twist during the stages.

Castle Crashers has a plethora of different things that make it fun in terms of replayability. There are several pets (called animal orbs) that can be collected throughout the stages that give you various bonuses or perks. Some are as simple as allowing a knight to jump higher, while others give more experience for each enemy defeated. There are a slew of weapons that are both well designed, and hilarious. The knights can wield anything from an ice sword to the leg of a skeleton. I even fought with a giant piece of sausage at one point. After completing the game, there is an insane mode that becomes available, which grants the ability to play through the game one more time on a much harder difficulty, but allowing more experience points to be earned. With four characters to start, and 23 total playable characters (not including downloadable/secret unlocks), 64 available weapons (not counting DLC, for PS3 there are 69), and 26 animal orbs, there is plenty to do within Castle Crashers. There are also mini games that can be played outside of the original adventure.

Graphically, Castle Crashers is a 2D side scroller, so there isn’t anything that stands out. However, everything is illustrated vibrantly, and nothing looks like anything seen in another game. It reminded me of the kind of art that we are seeing in Flash powered games now. That being said, the graphics really didn’t do anything for me. It is different, but nothing is over the top. Musically, however, the game is impressive. The soundtrack isn’t doesn’t always fit with the game, but it’s really unique in that aspect.

All in all, Castle Crashers proved that games using old formulas can still bring something new to the table and be exciting and original. The Behemoth team has done an excellent job redefining what it means for a game to be a side scrolling beat-em-up. There are many facets to this game that make it an enjoyable experience for anyone to pick up and play, and have a good time doing so. As with any game of its kind, the feeling of repetitiveness will loom overhead as the formula is constructed to only go so far. Do not take that as a fault though, as I still feel this is a solid game to have in any gamers’ collection.

Liked:
+Tired formula born anew.
+Tons of characters, weapons and collectables.
+Extremely replayable.
+Music was catchy.

Disliked:
-Repetitive
-PvP is a little one sided

Innovative:
~Weapons, Knights and Magic is all fresh and new
~Pet System
~Catchy, upbeat music

Unknown Gamer gives Castle Crashers an 8 /10.

Costume Quest – Double Fine Productions/THQ – 360

This was the review I wrote to get my job at UnknownGamer, hence the difference in style. This is probably how most of them are going to look from now on.

Game: Costume Quest
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Publisher: THQ
Genre: RPG
Release Date (NA and EU):
NA: October 19, 2010 (PS3)
EU: October 20, 2010 (PS3)
NA: October 20, 2010 (360)
Rating: ESRB E10+
MSRP: 1200 Microsoft Points
Console Played On: Microsoft Xbox 360

Costume Quest begins with the role of young Reynold (male) or Wren (female), who just moved into a new town around Halloween. On Halloween night, their parents insist that they should go out with each other to make new friends, but their actual goal is to ditch the sibling and come home with as much candy as possible. Either sibling (depending on your choice) is then abducted by creatures called Grubbins, who are there to take all of the candy from the unsuspecting town. Costume Quest is one of the most innovative twists on an RPG that I have seen in quite some time.

From the moment the game is turned on; the player will immediately notice that this game is unlike any normal RPG tale: the sense of humor is subtle, but it is hilarious within the story. The relationship between the main character and the sibling is easy to relate to (assuming one has a sibling to relate to) and makes for some interesting dialog and snarky remarks. The objective of Costume Quest is simple: find the sibling, while raiding the neighborhood of as much candy as possible in a door-to-door trick or treat fashion.

Throughout the course of the game, there are many side quests to obtain that have many rewards, including various objects from battle stamps to Creepy Treat Cards. The battle stamps can be equipped to each of the party members to give them different abilities in battle. These range from added HP and attack power to paralyzing an enemy for a few turns with toilet paper. Creepy Treat Cards are simply a collection that must be filled in order to complete an achievement during the game’s progression. There are also various costume parts hidden throughout the town, which are one of the games main premises and carry with them many abilities both inside and out of battle.

Battles take place by either smacking a Grubbin with your candy pail, or by fighting random Grubbins who have invaded the houses around town. It is a typical turn-based RPG in the sense that each side takes turns fighing, with the heroes generally taking the first turns. When attacking, the game prompts the player to enter a certain button or perform some action (such as rotating the joystick) to allow for more damage. Likewise, when being attacked the player can press a button accordingly and reduce the damage to the characters. This usually is the difference between life or death, so a player cannot mindlessly jam the A button like some other RPG’s allow. One of the most unique aspects of the game is that the abilities that each costume offers are incredibly well thought out for each. The player is offered the option to use the ability after three turns have passed, and every one does something different from normal damage with fire damage over time, to healing and resurrecting party members. This is usually accompanied by an amusing animation that works to highlight the characters ‘superpower-like’ ways.

The music and visuals are very fitting for the game. Musically, the game’s eerie soundtrack is soft, but powerful enough to set the tone for what’s going on within the game’s story. There are haunting soundtracks that add just a touch of suspense (but not much, compared to the cutesy graphics). The art is very clean and well manipulated, and while I noticed a little slow down during the graphically intense parts, there was nothing so overbearing that absolutely could not be overlooked. The shadows and atmosphere are key to providing this game with the Halloween-ish feel through and through.

Overall, the game was a very solid game to play, giving a new take on the traditional RPG, with elements fun enough to keep the player engaged. There is a very low level cap, so there is never a feeling of grinding out levels to beat bosses. As long as the player keeps in mind the elements of pressing a button during battle, chances are the game will not be challenging to the point where it cannot be completed. My only peeve with the game was that it felt incredibly short, with only a few areas the player was able to explore). They have recently added DLC, however, which I have not had a chance to experience yet. With over 20 quests, nine costumes, and enough dialog to keep the player from ever getting bored, this game is a must have for any gamers who love RPG’s and are looking for something that brings a new element of game play to the table. After all, how many times can anyone say they saved their sister/brother AND brought home more candy than their pillow case can hold in a single Halloween night?

Liked:
+Originality and story.
+Creative costumes/abilities.
+Refreshing RPG elements.

Disliked:
-Too short.
-Repetitive.
-Difficulty wasn’t consistent.

Innovative:
~A holiday meets an RPG.
~Amusing dialog.
~Costume utilization.

Unknown Gamer gives Costume Quest an 8/10.

Assassin’s Creed – Ubisoft – 360

(This review was written for RPGamer in an attempt to apply for their open reviewer position. This is the reason for the odd format that is clearly different than the rest of this blog.)

Title of Review: Assassin’s Creed
By: Peter XXXXXX

REVIEW
Intro:

Assassin’s Creed (AC) is one of those games that when you first pick up and play it, you know you’ve got yourself a piece of history in your hands. When it comes to originality in the gaming world, it’s very hard to find something that is so completely new and refreshing, that it simply knocks your socks off and puts a brand new pair back on. AC does just that. You are Desmond Miles, a seemingly captive individual inside a facility by the name of Abstergo. Inside, Warren Vidic and Lucy are standing next to a large table, beckoning you to lie down inside the machine. The machine extracts memory glitches from your DNA of a past life you once were. Basically, it allows the individual to relive memories of one’s earlier descendents. Enter the game’s main protagonist, and who you will be playing as 95% of the time, Altiar, a used-to-be high ranked assassin within the Hashshashin living in Masyaf. His master, Al Mualim, has stripped Altiar of all of his high ranked privileges, and it is up to you to earn them back. This is done by assassinating a few powerful officials amongst the land whose motives in life can be questioned greatly. With the ground rules set, and your objective in mind, you pick up your blade, and off you go, jumping from rooftop to rooftop, blending in with the crowd to perform your duties as promised.

Battle System:
While nothing to be completely ‘wowed’ about, AC takes a decent system and implements it well. Breaking the system down into two modes is probably the easiest way to go about it: stealth and open conflict.

While stealthy, controls are fluid. You have complete control over where Altiar’s blade goes, and with good reason. You can assassinate anyone moving and quickly move away without ever being detected. The assassinations can be done in a number of ways, from various angles and distances. The choice is yours. While fun to do, there’s not too much that can be said in the way of excitement. You’ll come to find that while the real challenge lies in trying to remain undetected, you may end up having an easier time just beating your enemies to death with swords. You’ll tend to find the main set of missions (and even some of the side missions) get really repetitive as time goes on.

In open conflict, the camera conveniently moves up to a ¾ view and gives you a very good look at what is going on. Nine times out of ten, you will be out numbered, and in the beginning of the game, this can be tedious and frustrating until you learn a specific move later in the game. You can easily switch your target simply by moving your controller stick towards the opponent you wish to fight. It’s simple, but it works really well for what you’re doing

Music and Visuals:
One of the things I noticed right off the bat was how awesome your locale looked. You felt like you were in the Middle East. I played this game on a 32” (1080p) with HDMI and the visuals were breathtaking. From every building to the people roaming around, each tree and face was taken into consideration. To put short, the location is believable.

The music was something that when you first start playing, you don’t notice it right away. In fact, it rarely plays a part in the game. However, if you listen closely you’ll notice that all of the music does fit in well with the rest of the game. The snake-charming flutes and the drums go well with the bustling town that you’re walking through. The only time I ever noticed the music getting loud was when there was absolutely nothing going on, and you were roaming the city.

Difficulty and Completion Time:
The game has its own variable difficulty, starting off relatively easy, and gradually getting harder as you progress through the game and unlock more ways to assassinate your targets. I never felt so overwhelmed while playing that I wanted to quit. On my first play through, while achievement hunting and the like, I got through the game in about 25 to 30 hours of game play. That isn’t bad, considering how many achievements I got. The game does get tedious at points, especially if you’re looking to complete all of the memory strands, and you can feel yourself grow weary of the formula. Taking it for what it is (the first entry in a continuing series), you can find it’s enough to push through. Give me this game before the sequels were out, however, and I may have become a bit bored with it.

Interface and Localization:
The interface is very clean, and fitting for the setting of the game. Your health bar is located neatly in the top left of the screen, your current weapon selection in the bottom left (this vanishes away when you aren’t utilizing it), and a mini-radar in the lower right, showing you all of your destinations and such. At any point you may hit the back button to bring up the large map and set ‘waypoints’ for yourself, which will appear on the mini-map as well. Overall, the integration of the interface is well done, providing you with the information you need, when you need it, without interference to your playability.

Originality and Story:
Hands down, the game is unique in every sense of the word. I’ve never played a game quite like it, and you’ll not find a game much like it. The story is well done, giving you a well etched timeline of Altiar’s life from the assassin’s side of things, while leaving you confounded throughout most of the game as to what role Lucy and Warren play in the story. This unfolds as you progress further into what becomes one of the most engrossing games you’ve ever played. The worst part about it all is that you don’t even get the entire story when you beat it! You’re left dazed and confused, trying to sort through the puzzle you’ve just opened up for yourself. To me, that’s what makes it all the more wonderful. A game that can leave off with such an awesome cliffhanger, and still be good, is truly an amazing feat, and one you don’t see often anymore, if much at all. Best of all, is that it isn’t a cookie cutter story of hero saves the day, or rescue the princess, but a true-blue once told story.

Conclusion:
While you may find that the game can get repetitive after the third or fourth memory glitch, that doesn’t stop Assassin’s Creed from being a great addition to your game library. Little peeves like not being able to swim, and not having much variety in your assassination missions are just small under sights to the big picture. This game ultimately sets up the story for one of the most epic story’s I’ve seen in a game since the last solid Final Fantasy game. Assassin’s Creed opened up a can of worms, and finished them all. For the first go around in the series, you cannot put Ubisoft Montreal’s efforts down the drain just yet. This game is definitely worth borrowing from a friend, if not owning your own copy.

FAST FACTS
Platform: X-Box 360
Battlesystem: 4/5
Interaction: 3.5/5
Originality:5/5
Story: 3.5/5
Music and Sound: 5/5
Visuals: 5/5
Challenge: Moderate to Hard
Completion Time: Roughly 25 to 30 hours

Overall
3.5 / 5

Highlights and Lowlights
+Original and refreshing storyline.
+Life the live of an assassin? Yes please!
+Fluid movement and battle mechanics.
-Lots of collecting little things.
-Repetitive after the fourth mission.
-You can’t swim… really?

(Rating: 7.0 / 10.0)