Reviews

Retro Gaming Reviews: Zone of the Enders (2001)

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Retro Gaming Reviews: Zone of the Enders (2001)

If the name Hideo Kojima comes up, chances are that you’ll probably equate his name with the Metal Gear Solid series. Many other titles he’s worked on often get overshadowed due to the popularity of Metal Gear. In fact, you could probably list titles of games he’s worked on to Metal Gear fans and they probably won’t know what you are talking about. Add to the fact that games like Snatcher and Policenauts were never released in the US and it’s easy to see where the lack of recognition. However, there was a series Kojima produced that was released in the US that, again, was rather ignored. That is the giant robot action game known as Zone of the Enders.

During production of Metal Gear Solid 2 and the impending release of the PlayStation 2, Kojima’s team began working on an anime inspired mech action game, taking place in the 22nd Centure. While it was a good concept, it is evident that being developed side by side with Metal Gear Solid 2 hurt the game. It felt rather clunky and rushed to release. It was fun…to an extent. But in the end, the game was rather short and left the player feeling a bit unfulfilled. Read On

DLC Review: Modern Warfare 2 Stimulus Package

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DLC Review: Modern Warfare 2 Stimulus Package

Activision and Infinity Ward released the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Stimulus Package, a collection of five maps for the Xbox 360, Tuesday March 31. The bundle includes two locations from the previous Modern Warfare (Crash, Overgrown), as well as three new areas to explore (Bailout, Salvage and Storm). While costing 1200 Microsoft Points ($15), downloading it seems like something a Call of Duty fan will do without even thinking about the price.

Read On

No mercy in the shadows

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No mercy in the shadows

Metal Gear Solid conditioned me to expect certain things from a contemporary stealth game.

Guards suffering from an acute case of Attention Deficit Ooh Shiny are one fixture; a few minutes of staying under cover and they’ll go back to patrolling even with their leader mysteriously shot through the head. (They never really liked that guy anyways.) Older, more grizzled protagonists in the employ of morally-ambiguous spy organizations are another, preferably men who sound like they smoke two packets of cigarettes a day. And then there’s the schizophrenic approach to combat, giving the player a box full of murderous toys and simultaneously waxing poetic on the cruelty and vainglory of wartime, waggling a finger disapprovingly any time you pull out a new gun against foes unless it fires tranquilizer darts.

Splinter Cell: Conviction keeps the cigarettes, but drops the other two. Read On

Metro 2033: In Post-Apocalyptic Russia, Game Plays You

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Metro 2033 Review — In Post-Apocalyptic Russia, Everything Bites You

Russia Don't Play No Games. And Post-Apocalyptic Russia? Less Games than No Games.

4A Games’ freshman effort is a FPS/Survival Horror hybrid (with emphasis on the shooter) set in Post-Apocalyptic Moscow 20 years after a disastrous nuclear event has rendered the surface world uninhabitable and forced humanity to retreat to the (relative) safety of the underground.  You play as the voiceless and mostly faceless Artyom, a man too young to remember life before the Metro tunnels, on a journey to save his small metro village, and who is, over the course of the story, caught up in events far larger. It’s a story we’ve heard before, plus or minus a few details, a gameplay hybrid we’ve seen before, and a pretty familiar setting. So, does Metro 2033 have what it takes to distinguish itself among the Fallouts and Fears, the Gears and Resistances of the modern marketplace?

The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is yes. Metro 2033 is a funny little paradox of a game. On one hand, it’s absolutely beautiful and dripping with atmosphere; on the other the pacing is haphazard and a vital few of the mechanics are frustrating at best, broken at worst.  And yet I thoroughly enjoyed my time crawling through the shattered remains of Moscow, and if anything, wish there had been a little more of shattered Moscow to crawl through.

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XBLA Review: Perfect Dark

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XBLA Review: Perfect Dark

Perfect Dark originally appeared on the Nintendo 64 in 2000 and instantly became a must play game on the system. Now, 10 years later, 4J Studios has decided to port the game over for the Xbox 360. This is the third Rare title that 4J has remastered, Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie being the two previous titles. Being offered as the third game in the Xbox Live Block Party, Perfect Dark is looking to score big with anyone looking for a bit of nostalgia.

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Like Starcraft? Like Eve? Then you should play Neptune's Pride.

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Like Starcraft?  Like Eve?  Then you should play Neptune's Pride.

Hey gang.  In case you’re trolling the internetwebmachines for free, great RTSes to play, I have the game for you.  And all it takes is a Gmail account!  And, let’s be real: if you don’t have a Gmail account at this point, you’re living on Mars, in a cave, with your eyes shut, and your fingers in your ears.  So, before reading the rest of this post, go.  Get one.  Get yourself a Gmail account and join the 21st century.  Bask in the glow of gigabytes and gugabytes of free space!  ANYWAY.  You should play Neptune’s Pride, a free RTS game played through Gmail.  You and any number of your closest friends/foes play an epic space battle game in which you colonize new stars; raise an armada; improve your economy, industry, and science technologies; and wage war against your encroaching friends’ fleets!  The game layout is fairly simple and does not take too long to learn.  However, mastering combat, travel, and negotiation strategies can be as complex as your favorite publisher’s RTS.  And, it should be noted, that by “Real Time Strategy,” I mean Real Time Strategy here.  For example, if it takes 18 hours for your fleet to arrive at a new star, your fleet will arrive there… 18 hours later.  You get paid regularly and can use your space credits to improve your technologies or construct new machines of war to further dominate your little slice of the galaxy.  Check out the game play video and tutorial after the break.  To arms!

Read On

In Defense of Choice

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In Defense of Choice

“It seems as though the floodgates are beginning to creak open on inFamous, including the revelation of “Karma Moments” – a tracked morality system with effects on player progression. It wasn’t meant to be funny, but for some reason we found it very funny, because like many mechanisms of this kind your choices tend to come down to being an omnibenevolent supercherub or the Goddamned devil.”

Tycho Brahe, on inFamous.

Well, that pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it? What more can be said? When no less a luminary than Tycho himself derides the moral choice mechanic as a cheap, hackneyed, and two-dimensional trope, who am I to deny him?

Disdain for such moral choice mechanics has become almost as omnipresent a fandom meme in certain circles as hatred for Japanese RPGs. Critics decry their moral extremism, forcing players to play a saint or a Saturday morning cartoon villain. Another common criticism paints them as cheap ways introduce fake content into a title, squeezing out a few more repetitive hours of game time for 100% completion. And even in cases where the moral choice seems significant, some critics claim their practical effect on the storyline is almost nil, bar the ending cutscene. Can the mechanic be defended, against the weight of such animosity?

I think so. Read On

[Dr. DM] Psionics are back: This particular DM’s review of D&D Player’s Handbook 3

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[Dr. DM] Psionics are back: This particular DM’s review of D&D Player’s Handbook 3

We are all well rested, and the Cheetos dust has settled from PAX East.  It was a glorious time, as this video will attest.  But now, we’re back to work, serving all of you out there hot and fresh mounds of mouthwatering geeky morsels.  For today, I’d like to share with you a little insight into the newly released Player’s Handbook 3 by the D&D gang over at Wizards of the Coast.  The source book contains a few new races, some great new classes, and the expected shift of the new 4th edition system to include an alternative to multiclassing (now called “hybrid characterization”) and skill powers.  The book separates itself from earlier source books — such as Player’s Handbook 2 — in that it doesn’t just contain new information about previously established tenets (classes, races, powers, feats, etc.).  Instead, PH3 aims to alter game play (for those who choose to embrace it) to a more mixed and varied experience.  Let’s check it out.

Read On

Starcraft 2 Play Test [PAX East]

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Starcraft 2 Play Test [PAX East]

Hello heroes.  Here, for your viewing pleasure, is the final PAX East post from yours truly.  One of the big sponsors of the expo was NVIDIA, and they had several gaming stations set up where you could play test a few games using their new graphics cards and accessories.  I noticed one that had an elusive Blizzard team surrounding it and thought to myself, “Hrm… is it 2035?  Is a new Blizzard game coming out?  Wait a minute… I see Nexuses… and Command Centers… and… and… and… ZERG!!! O_o”  That’s right: I actually thought the surprised face at the end of that sentence.  Sure enough, just as Cthulu needs souls and pudding, NVIDIA was showing demos of Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty.  And, naturally, the lines to play test were a little long.  I frowned a tad and hopped in the line one evening.  Alas and alack, the line moved slower than a noob figuring out shooting controls in Modern Warfare 2.  Grrrr…  So I hopped back out of line but knew that the next morning, all press folk were allowed to enter the expo hall an hour early.  Saturday morning, I arrived early and got a little hands-on experience with Blizzard’s next glory machine.

And I have to say: for a game whose core gameplay mechanic is similar to the one from thirteen years ago, Starcraft 2 felt like a brand new game.  The graphics (bolstered of course by NVIDIA) were beyond stunning: at one point, I became so mesmerized by the construction of the buildings that I neglected to squash a particularly nosy group of marines.  However, my Protoss Stalkers made short work of them.  The game controls feel even smoother than the original — a difficult task as the original’s and expansion’s controls were relatively seamless.  The hotkeys have been made even more ergonomic and efficient, with most of them ushered to the left side of your standard QWERTY as opposed to scattered across all the keys.  Sounds and voice acting were both smooth, clear, and engaging, and the soundtrack is just as alluring as the original’s stark and tense scores.  By the gods, make sure you have your copies pre-ordered.  And, if you’re on the beta, I simultaneously envy and loathe your soul with every fiber of my Templar mind.  I wasn’t able to get any video footage of my playing experience but I’ll regale you all with the following:

Review: Final Fantasy XIII (PS3/X360)

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Review: Final Fantasy XIII (PS3/X360)

Those that are superstitious have a certain feeling about the number thirteen. Just as many see the number seven as “lucky,” thirteen is often considered to be the bad luck number, hence why Friday the Thirteenth (not the movies but the namesake) is a bigger deal than it should be. For yours truly, however, I tend to think of the number thirteen as my own personal lucky number, if only for the fact that other people would tend to avoid it. And as my luck would have it, the highly anticipated thirteenth installment of Square Enix’s Final Fantasy series didn’t disappoint me.

With Final Fantasy XIII having been out for a good three weeks now, I’m sure many of you have heard both the positives and negatives of what the game has to offer. Ever since the Japanese reviews hit the net, there’s definitely been an opinion that Final Fantasy XIII would disappoint due to a few facts. Things like the lack of towns in the game, the game itself being so linear that the entire game is like proceeding through an extremely narrow tunnel with very little opportunity to do anything else, and the ability to control only one party member in battle are just a few of the complaints that continue to pop. Ideas that the series straying further and further away from what qualifies as “Final Fantasy” and Square Enix’s move to release it multiplatform have drawn the ire of some fans. But to be honest, a lot of the negativity is rather unfounded. I will say that a good chunk of the game is rather linear but, to be fair, most Final Fantasy games are. Despite that, Final Fantasy XIII, as it turns out, is a rather solid and entertaining entry to the series. Read On