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Posts tagged ‘action’

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

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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

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

Developer: EAD Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Action/Adventure
Release Date:
GB
June 6, 1993 (JP)
August 1993 (NA)
December 1993 (EU)
GBC
December 1, 1998 (NA)
December 12, 1998 (JP)
January 1, 1999 (EU)
3DS
June 7, 2011
Rating: E
MSRP: $5.99

Link’s Awakening brings all of the action and excitement, and of course, storyline into a portable adventure much bigger than the two inch gray cartridges they were packed into. Typically, when gamers see a franchise come to a handheld, we brace for a watered down, wannabe version of the original. With Link’s Awakening, that is far from the case. In fact, this adventure is very close to the title prior to it in scale. Being re-released for the 3DS has given me yet another opportunity to enjoy this timeless classic once more. My review will be covering both the original and the DX version, and I most recently completed it on the 3DS.

The story begins with a red-headed girl named Marin, who finds Link unconscious on the beach. Worried, she brings him back to her hut where she lives with Tarin. When Link awakens, he notices that he is no longer in Hyrule and does not recognize his surroundings. Marin explains that he is on an island by the name of Koholint, and that his boat must have capsized in the water at some point. With his mind a little foggy, he takes his shield from Tarin, and sets off to find a way off the seemingly isolated island. He comes across his sword and is encountered by an owl, who states that the only way off the island is by awakening the Wind Fish. This can only be done by collecting the eight Instruments of the Sirens from the temples on the land. Throughout the course of the game, the story is told and secrets are revealed further by the owl.

Sticking to what the fans love, Nintendo has retained the top-down method of exploration in this game. The old motto ‘don’t fix what’s not broken’ applies here, and works well, especially for this game in particular. The old formula of going from one dungeon to another, fighting a boss, and moving on until the very end has been retained and should not feel unfamiliar to anyone. I did notice, however that the dungeons felt very short (I was beating them very quickly), generally completing the first five to six dungeons in about 15 minutes a piece. This was also not my first time ever playing this game, so I for the most part knew exactly where I had to go.

Fighting enemies and progressing through the game itself is both simple and difficult. I lump these two in the same category, simply for the fact that to get through certain areas of the game, the player is required to use items at given points. Items and basic equipment (sword and shield) are all kept in the inventory screen and assigned to either the A or B buttons. With that being said, there are points in the game where there is a LOT of pressing start just to change equipment to match a given situation. While it isn’t as bad in the beginning of the game, it starts becoming very irritating towards the end. This is especially true when an item is needed to lift an object, an item is needed to jump, and an item is needed to jump further. It can definitely be time consuming (think Iron Boots from Ocarina of Time).

There are also portions of the game that are played in a sort of side scrolling style, similar to Zelda II. These parts are few and far between, but add a very unique way of looking at the game when they are required. Needless to say, it is much more appropriately executed than it was in Zelda II. There are also plenty of items to garner throughout the game, and surprisingly enough, are actually used frequently beyond the dungeon they are obtained in.

Even though the original Game Boy (and later the Game Boy Color) didn’t have much to speak of in terms of sound output, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening had some very beautiful soundtracks to match the game. There were a few tunes that were very catchy, and overall provided a joyous experience while playing. For its time, the graphics weren’t all that bad, but improved tenfold at the release of the DX version. The colors enabled players to see a much more vibrant world, and enemies who would once be lost amongst the olive green screen are now completely identifiable.

This game in particular plays host to a variety of other Nintendo character that can be found throughout the adventure, and is a nice surprise if they are able to be found and recognized. There are also a few side quests that can be done during the progression of the game, and in the DX version, there was an entirely new dungeon offered to players that made the game a little more ‘colorful.’ This dungeon was added in as a way of showing of the capabilities of the then revolutionary Game Boy Color.

Seeing this game re-released for me was very nostalgic, but I am extremely happy to see it available to another generation of gamers. If you own a 3DS and have access/permission to purchase this game, I highly recommend it. It is a very good deal for being such a solid game. The only thing I did not approve of in this newest remake for the 3DS is that pressing start is actually quite awkward.  However, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is a timeless adventure that will ring the hearts of both old fans and new alike.

Overall: 8.0 / 10.0

Likes:
+ Original story
+ Big adventure
+ Hold in select when booting the game for the 3DS. ;)

Dislikes:
– Item switching is cumbersome
– On the 3DS, pressing start is somewhat of a challenge.

Innovative:
~ Link can jump!
~ Handhelds can have full fledged titles
~ Hyrule isn’t the only place for adventure

Dead Nation

Developer: Housemarque
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Genre: Top-Down Shooter/Action
Release Date: PS3
November 30, 2010 (NA)
December 1, 2010 (EU)
Rating: M
MSRP: $14.99

With a hoard of zombie games being pushed onto various platforms in substantial quantities, it is easy to get lost among the one’s that are worth playing, and those that are better left for dead. Dead Nation actually sits happily in the middle, falling somewhere between a zombie lover’s fun reprise to an old school top-down shooter, to being a casual gamer’s worst nightmare of boring game play with mediocre graphics. Depending on where you fall on this slider will determine how appealing this games actually sounds.

The story is limited, but still pretty solid for a downloadable game. Jack McReady and Scarlett Blake are the only two humans that are immune to the virus overrunning the city, turning everyone into zombies. While this part of the tale seems familiar, the way it is told through each character’s narrative is very detailed. In between chapters, there is a small chunk of the story revealed as each character makes their way through the city’s shambles and hopefully to freedom. As I stated above, the story is actually quite well told, and isn’t a writer’s worst nightmare. There is no climbing out of one plot hole only to fall into another one. It may not be a story worthy of being the next Resident Evil, but it certainly holds it’s own.

The game play is done a little differently than the last top-down zombie game I played (Zombie Apocalypse). While both joysticks are utilized in this game, the right stick is actually only used for aiming and facing directions while running. All of the actions in the game are performed primarily by the triggers. This includes melee, shooting, sub-weapons, and dashing. The game starts the characters off with a rather slow shooting rifle, that comes complete with infinite ammo. Throughout the course of the game, there are large chests that contain more weapons, as well as money for upgrading them. The D-Pad is used for changing both weapons and sub-weapons, and the R3 is used for reload.

What makes this game unique from other zombie games is that it actually feels like a real zombie outbreak. No longer are the zombies mindless drones that moan and wait for the character to come to them, but rather they are actively looking to kill you mercilessly. When I say mercilessly, I mean it. Running too far forward without ensuring a clear path will almost always mean instant death. Zombies hide everywhere, from inside of dumpsters and trucks to behind cars. Not to mention that the lighting in the game is extremely limited (when played at the proper setting) so if the flashlight attached to the gun is not facing in the proper direction, there are chances that the zombies will not even be seen before they start eating the back of your head. Add this on to the fact that if you shoot and don’t kill the zombie, it is incredibly fast, this adds up to be a very difficult game. Zombies are attracted by noise and bright lights, so there are many ways to keep them off of the player, the only problem is that those options are limited in nature.

There are a wide variety of zombies to kill in this game, adding a bit of mix to the monotony, but there is no denying that if you are a zombie game guru then chances are you have seen something similar to these breeds of zombies in a different game. That doesn’t mean to say that killing them is any easier. The game does not play on a “Contra-style” one hit kill, and in fact, uses a health bar to allow a player to take several hits. Even if the health gets dangerously low, they have incorporated the “rest to heal” some of your health feature that is in many FPS games now. Something I am not a fan of, is that whenever the health bar is low, your screen turns obnoxiously red, which makes for seeing the already difficult to see zombies even harder.

All of the weapons and even sub weapons are customizable via the currency (gold?) that is obtained in the game. Gold is acquired by killing zombies, opening chests and even popping the trunks of cars. Most guns offer upgrades to clip size, firing speed, power and total ammunition. The sub-weapons offer upgrades typically to quantity and power/blast radius. This really doesn’t mean much in single player, but is extremely helpful in coordination when playing co-op. Each player can focus on a particular style so that fighting the zombies can be done in a much more effective fashion. Each player is also equipped with three pieces of armor (body, arms, and legs). These three, when combined in different fashions alter the characters strength, stamina and endurance. These three stats determine how effectively the character can charge through zombies, their speed of movement, and how much damage they can take, respectively.

While this game plays like an action/shooter game in that aspect, it still has arcade style features pinned onto it. A score is constantly kept from the time a game is started until game over. When killing zombies, a multiplier is accumulated at the top of the screen. Continue to kill zombies, and that multiplier will increase, thus giving a higher score per zombie. Get hit, and that multiplier will fall drastically. This is all factored in at the end of each checkpoint, where you are evaluated and given a weapon’s shop to change equipment and such. Scores are not only kept on an individual level, but on an international level as well. This adds a whole new level of competition when trying to keep your specific country at number one. All of this can be done in either single player or up to two player co-op.

Graphically, the game is pretty much what should be expected out of a top down shooter. While there were a few moments when I had to stop and comment that something looked particularly interesting, for the most part, I was neither impressed or disappointed. Some of the explosions can be nice to watch, and the zombie models, albeit small, are detailed as well. The pros to this are that with such a small graphical pull, the developers were able to allow the models to lay on the ground without having to magically disappear so as not to sacrifice frame rate. The con, of course, is that this style of graphics in a game is not what a Playstation 3 owner is looking to see utilized.

Musically, the game sits right where one would expect a zombie game to sit. The ambient sounds and groans from zombies coupled with an eerie track are exactly what is needed to set the mood for this type of game. Unfortunately, with the camera angle being so high, players feel more ‘removed’ from the action, and may not be as responsive to jumpy situations. In other words, even with the lights off, a player can still play this game for a few hours and find peace in their sleep later that evening. As with the graphics, I was neither impressed nor disappointed.

Overall, this game sits right at the halfway mark for me, with a few positives to make it stand out more than most. It is neither a must own, nor something I feel should be shelved for all eternity. The developers did a great job turning what could have been another mindless top-down dual analog game into something that actually required brain cells, and was hard not simply by overwhelming a player with hoards of zombies in a confined space (which this still sort of does), but actually makes the player resort to skill and some small tactics. This is especially true in the multiplayer. The response to this game is going to be varied, depending on who picks it up and plays it, but I would definitely recommend anyone a fan of either zombie games or top downs to at least go to a friend’s house and play it, if nothing else. The experience alone should be enough to appreciate that not all zombies are imagined in the same way by everyone.

Overall: 6.0 / 10.0

Likes:
+ Co-op gameplay.
+ New approach to zombie ‘personality’.
+ Lighting is gorgeous.

Dislikes:
– Another top-down shooter.
– Only ten levels.
– Hard to see at times.

Innovative:
~ Difficulty is acquired by new gameplay.
~ Zombies responses to players and environment.
~Tons of zombies without slightest bit of lag.

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

Soul Blazer

Developer: Quintet
Publisher: Enix
Genre: Action/RPG
Release Date: SNES
January 31, 1992 (JP)
November 27, 1992 (NA)
January 27, 1994 (PAL)
Rating: None
MSRP: Unknown

Soul Blazer is one of those games right up there with the other SNES ‘legends’ that I can pick up anytime and just play it through. It never gets old, and while it is not the most perfect game out there, it still has a great fun factor that is associated with it.

Soul Blazer starts off as “The Master” explains to the hero (named Blazer), that the world is being overrun by Deathtoll, and he must free the souls of the villagers and animals that Deathtoll has imprisoned. The objective is to take Blazer through these various worlds, defeating monster spawn points and ‘freeing’ the souls. This is usually followed up at the very end of each world with a boss, which often releases the soul of the most important individual in each town, and pushes the story forward. Told through each character, the story is actually quite involved. The only issue is that it can be easily overlooked if there is no speaking done with the other characters. I have read elsewhere that there is an element of love between Blazer and another character in the game, but I don’t remember seeing it. Still, the story is well written for being as old as it is, and does well fleshing out exactly what is going on, and how the people feel.

The game is played out like a typical action RPG. Experience points are gained through fighting the monsters on the field. There are no separate ‘instanced’ battles, and everything happens in real time. The main method of attacking is a sword, and there are magic spells that are granted as the game progresses forward. It is possible to miss spells and weapons through the game, but it will hinder and possibly even halt progress in some instances. The enemies are relatively predictable, and would seem to offer no challenge, however I had found myself dying on various parts due to the sheer power of the enemies. There is no place to truly grind out levels, so Blazer is kept at a level that is on par or slightly above that of the enemies he is facing.

Swords, shields and armor are collected and boost your attack and defense respectively. The magic that is obtainable throughout the game are powered by gems, which are collected via fighting enemies, opening treasures, etc.  however by collecting  a certain set of items, Blazer is granted with the ability to use magic infinitely. Each weapon and magic spell have various uses through the game, providing the player with countless ways to defeat their enemies. There are some enemies that carry specific resistances and can only be killed via one or two specific methods. Items in the game are held in an inventory, but only one item of any kind can be held at one point. Fortunately, they are all fairly effective so there is really no need for more, unless you are a really terrible gamer.

The music is not as epic in this game as it is in most SNES games, however there are plenty of memorable jams that will be remembered after the game is shut off. Quintet does tend to recycle some tunes from it, giving quite a few of the towns the exact same song. There is also a song that plays just before the save that I could really do without, due to it’s tendency to be obnoxiously loud. The music that is played during boss fights and most of the exploration, though, is some of the catchier stuff to listen to. Fortunately, that is where most of the time spent playing takes place.

As this game was a bit newer and longer, there is a battery back up to allow for three save files at one time. Overall, there is probably about 10 to 12 hours of play time, meaning the game could be completed in one sitting. However beyond the completion of the game there are really no extra features or reasons to play through again. Any time I have picked the game back up to play it, I would just start another save file and get to work again. Then again, this game is a little older, so the challenges all came from playing the game the first time around, anyway.

The only real downsides to this game were the controls at some points and the alignment of Blazer’s sword. The controls themselves were fluid and easy to maneuver Blazer around the map. This could potentially put Blazer in trouble, however, as the loose and quick movement is as much a benefit as it is a curse. I often found myself running too far forward and smashing into the enemies, or not running close enough to actually hit them. I got used to it as the game played on, but there is definitely a learning curve. Not to mention Blazer does not run in ordinal directions. This can sometimes be frustrating when trying to step on the soul releasing switch, but it never bothered me enough to mind. The other thing that must be watched is Blazer’s sword strafing. Holding down either one of the shoulder buttons will make Blazer extend his sword outwards and continually face that direction. The issue arises when you are facing north. For some ungodly reason, Blazer’s sword is actually shorter when he is facing north, and therefore is more prone to being hit. I am not sure why this is, but it is quite easily the worse glitch in the game.

Overall, Soul Blazer is definitely worth playing at least once in a lifetime, as there are lots of positives to the game to allow the negatives to mean anything. There is a solid, comprehensive story if the time is taken out to chat with the characters. As I stated before, the game can be completed in as little as 10 hours, if not faster, and has it’s memorable qualities. After all, we wouldn’t be writing about it 19 years later to share our experiences, now would we?

Overall: 6.5 / 10.0

Likes:
+Interesting gameplay
+Rather fleshed out characters
+Bold story

Dislikes:
-Controls are a bit sketchy
-Odd sprite glitches
-Final boss was insanely tough

Innovative:
~Second game to utilize soul saving system
~Did I mention the story?
~Missable equipment and spells