Mount & Blade: War Band (PC) Review

Developer: TaleWorlds Entertainment / Publisher: Paradox Interactive || Overall: 9.0/10

Mount & Blade: War Band is a medieval combat strategy RPG developed by TaleWorlds Entertainment.  War Band is a unique blend of strategy, adventure, and mounted combat that makes it a wonderfully pleasant game play experience.  However, there are a few issues that plague the game, namely with its presentational and user interface, which can put a damper on its enjoyability.

War Band takes place on a medieval continent named Calradia.  On Calradia, there are six different factions, whose leaders all claim they are the rightful rulers of the whole of Calradia.  Who you choose to begin the game with has less to do than where they actually are on the continent.  Every new game starts you off being attacked by assassins in the trade district of the major city of the faction you select.  After you win or lose this fight, a tradesman comes and saves you.  He pleads with you to help him save his brother that has been kidnapped by the group of people who attacked you.  If you choose to save him, you aim to gain a small sum of money.  If you don’t, you’re able to do whatever you like in the game as you please.

War Band takes it upon itself to let you roam around the sandbox it has created as soon as it can.  In fact, most of the game itself is free form and there is basically no real story or stringent quest structure to be had.  Events such as tracking down bandits and recruiting new members to your party become the story itself, as you fight battles and run around Calradia doing the biddings of Kings and their vassals, if you choose to do so.  If you progress far enough in gaining the respect of a King, you will eventually be asked to become a King’s vassal, and be awarded pieces of land acquired from your enemies.  You can also be asked to fight alongside the King in raids on castles, or come to the assistance of your allies against mountain bandits or enemy armies.

Another way to play War Band is by going against the current political structure in a certain area, and supporting a suitor that claims ownership of a throne.  By supporting these suitors, you are able to work to overthrow a King and make the person you are supporting become King or Queen in their stead, along with all the benefits and consequences that go along with that.  You are also able to establish yourself as a King or Queen and attack castles, acquiring fiefs for your own purposes.

The basis of the game itself is very interesting for gamers who have played games such as the Elder Scrolls and Civilization.  However, the game play itself has a couple of issues.  There is not a lot of explanation as to how to do certain things in the game, such as establishing yourself as a King or Queen. It is hard to find much information on it.

A lot of quests are unnecessarily vague.  It may take Internet research to figure out what to do or how to do a quest.  For example, you are told to bring some cows to a small town that has had their herd stolen by local bandits.  The only way to get cows is by stealing or buying cows from another town and bringing them to the first.  However, when you get this quest, that isn’t mentioned at all.  They tell you to “get some cows” and are left to your own laurels to figure out how to do it.  Unless you somehow happen upon the prompt to buy cows, it can be frustrating to figure out how to do this the first time.  Another instance where the game can be unnecessarily harsh is when a local Guild Master gives you a quest to find a Bandit’s Lair and expunge the threat.  The Bandit’s Lair itself does not show on your map until you are directly above it.  Considering the map of Calradia is huge and your unit is very small, it can take a certain amount of luck to happen upon the lair.  Quests like these do not lend themselves to making the game user friendly.

Combat itself is quite fun, and the large battles that can be had are quite enthralling.  Most of the time you will be fighting in first-person, but third-person is another option, and depending on the situation it is easy to switch back and forth.  Your character is able to use any weapon in the game, so it comes down to personal preference. One handed, two handed, and throwing weapons are available, in addition to shields, bows, crossbows, polearms, and maces.  There are four weapon slots for your character, allowing you to have a variety of weapons for the different situations you might be in.

Combat can take place in a variety of places, but most happen in the open field.  The open field combat stages take place on a map that closely reflects the type of area you are in, such as a mountainous area or in the woods.  Smaller stages take place on the beach, a mountain pass, or in a town.  In all of these situations, you are able to bring allies along with you, and as you grow your party larger and they become more powerful, you will begin to trump your enemies with ease — until you eye larger and more powerful enemies.  Simply put, the combat is the shining star of War Band and is what keeps you coming back for more.

When in combat, you use your mouse to change the direction you are attacking from.  To hit someone from above, you bring your mouse back towards you.  To hit them from the right, you move your mouse to the right.  You move using the WASD buttons, but there is no sidestepping with Q and E.  Q will bring up your quest log and E will kick in front of you.  If you are used to sidestepping, this can be annoying.  The objective of combat is to basically kill or knock unconscious all of your enemies.  Once that is accomplished you win.  If your army is quashed in the same manner, then you lose.  If you are knocked out before the battle ends, your army will fight at a lesser capability, and become more susceptible to losing.  It is very important to not only keep yourself alive through the whole battle, but to also help your army in the fight.  This brings a delicate balance between risk-taking and being careless and running into a group of enemies with spears.  You are also able to give your army orders to follow you, to charge, or to flank your enemy, among other commands.  These commands allow for strategy to be built around the situation at hand.

Graphics can take a big part in whether or not someone can be interested in the game without knowing anything about its game play.  With that being said, the game is downright ugly, and is about ten years behind.  The character models aren’t animated very well, many textures are smudgy, and just about everything has sharp edges.  While good graphics and animations aren’t required to have a fun game, it definitely makes it less painful to look at.  The unequivocally worst characteristic of this game is its graphics.  The second is the user interface.

The user interface is sorely in need of improvement.  When selecting from a long list of responses, it can be hard to figure out or remember which option you had last selected, so if you had to talk to the person again to get something done you may be confused as to which you had selected previously.  When looking through the in-game reference manual, it can be hard to find what you are looking for, stumbling across many pages and guessing what you might be looking for at times – this ties into finding out what to do for quests.

While navigating the map, it can take a very long time to travel and to even find where you’re trying to go.  There are no user-friendly options for accelerating travel speed, and sometimes you’ll be travelling for ten minutes straight before getting to your destination.  Over time, this adds up, and less time is actually spent playing the more interesting parts of the game.  Towns are also designed in a confusing manner, making them hard to navigate as well.  Each town has one leader that you are able to acquire quests from, but they are very hard to distinguish from other random town members at times.  The absence of a mini-map with markers while in towns would make this an easier exploit – otherwise, you are left to run around towns and talking to random people in hopes that they are the Guild Master or Town Elder.

Another user-friendly improvement that is needed would be with party management.  As you gain heroes to tag along with you, they bring their own blank slate for you to skill them up as they level.  The point of your party heroes is to fill in the gaps as far as your party skills go.  While this makes sense in theory, the execution doesn’t lend itself to helping the player figure out which skills are actually going to benefit the party or which ones another hero already covers.  Some sort of interface that tells you which party skills you are missing or have covered already as you are deciding which skills to level your characters with would make it a much more pleasant experience.  Otherwise, you have to resort to creating a small spreadsheet to figure it all out.

Party management is also irritating when it comes to managing your heroes’ equipment.  Instead of having one simple interface to tab through each party member’s equipment screen, you have to talk to him or her individually and ask to see his or her armor.  If you came into a number of upgrades to compare to what your party members have already, it is very tiresome to click three times to see one equipment screen, and then escape out of it, and then do it again for the next party member.  Most party-based RPGs have solved this problem by making it easy to switch to the next party member’s equipment/skill screen without having to exit back to the party screen, and War Band should have had something like that implemented.  Wasting time on obstacles like these can detract from the game’s enjoyment.

The inventory system also suffers from user interface issues.  You have a certain number of slots for inventory that can increase via skills.  Once you get to a large inventory capability, it can be easy to overlook what you may or may not have in your inventory.  A sorting option is desperately needed to re-sort your items and fill in slots from top to bottom.  This would prevent having to manually move each item, one at a time, from the bottom of the list to the top.  Another missing feature is a “take all items” option after defeating an enemy.  Instead of stuffing everything you can into your bags, you must click each item, one at a time, to loot them.  This, again, wastes time and energy going through and clicking everything you may want without automatically looting everything you can fit into your inventory.  In addition, inventory squares are fairly huge and could have sized down a little bit to accommodate being able to look at what you have in an easier fashion.

There is a multiplayer aspect to the game, but the most common are deathmatch or castle sieges.  The multiplayer modes are more akin to Counterstrike or other objective-based multiplayer games. Some sort of a co-op mode for the single-player game would be nice, but would have unique challenges to overcome, considering much of the game itself is traveling and quest-taking, and that wouldn’t exactly be very fun to experience alongside a friend for very long.

War Band also allows for modding.  If you find an interesting mod available, you are able to import it into the game and run it.  While War Band doesn’t have as many interesting mods as the original Mount & Blade does, there are a couple available that may be worth a try.  These mods change the single-player game in ways that the overall objective changes, or new armor/weapons are added.  Like many other PC games that allow modding, it creates a community that is involved with making these mods and keeps people interested in the game itself, as its game play could radically change with a new mod.

As a cohesive whole, Mount & Blade: War Band has many interesting and fun features. But if one thing of the game needs to be said, it’s that it mainly suffers from user interface design.  An overhaul in its user interface would severely be recommended in any future game in the series, and would lend itself to making the experience much more pleasing.  War Band is an activity that you can sink many hours into, and not realize where the time has gone. At first glance, the game can give the wrong impression, but War Band is definitely a title to experience.

 

Fake Game: Slave Trade Tycoon

Slave Trade Tycoon is a game that is similar to other “Tycoon” games like Roller Coaster Tycoon, Railroad Tycoon, and Marine Park Empire.

You can choose from many time periods to slave trade in, including “the past” (easy), “the present” (normal), and “the future” (hard).  The further in time you go, the harder it gets to keep your slave trade in business, due to new humanitarian laws and the rise of individual self-worth among developing nations.

The goal of this game is to try to make money by raising and selling slaves.  You can build many kinds of things that promote your slave trade business, making it easier to supply your customers (short-term profit) with slaves or put them to work on your own personal properties (long-term profit).

You can allocate which slaves work where, and they increase in sale value depending on conditions such as youth, strength, current health, will power (bad), stupidity (good), and how many different types of jobs they can do.

Another element of the game is keeping a balance in the morale of your slaves.  Being nice to your slaves is good, but you don’t want your slaves to think you are too nice of a guy, that would mean they’d walk all over you.  There are many ways to be a slave trade master — rule with an iron fist, a warm blanket, or both!

Many different cultures/themes are available, along with their own specific goals, such as:

Egyptian – Making the pyramids.

American – Plantations

Germany – Slave Camp

Russia – Prostitution

Alien – Human slave camps

Different problems that occur during the game that challenge your skills include:

Slave riots

Slave escape (Underground Railroads)

Civil Wars/Wars with other nations

Plagues/Diseases

 

How to Speak Dubbish – The Dudbear Language

Dubbish is a very simple language, and there isn’t very much you can really say in it.  Dubbish’s origins are from the game Legend of Mana by Square Enix.

Dub! – a greeting, also means yes

Dud – means no and also goodbye

Duba – you

Duda – me

Dubba – friends

Bubu – Dudbear

Gugu – all other creatures

Da – light and stars

Ba – night

Dadda – light

Dubababa – many or very

Du – little

Baba – music

Dada – please

Gak – used to show displeasure

Bub? – used if you don’t understand

if you are trying to sell lamps, say – dada dadda?

Dabba duba – fuck you!

Foofoo – blow me

Da doodoo – holy shit

::spitting sound:: – eat me

 

Schuyler Hunt (PC) Review

Game by EEs.  Made with Game Maker.  No download is available — if it ever does become available, it will be uploaded.

Overview:

Some old company called Schuyler & Sons closed for some spooky reason, and you think that there is money hidden within the old joint.

Schuyler Hunt is a point and click adventure, which is rarely seen in the Game Maker community. It even has a little inventory system! Is this tale scary enough to warrant playing? Let’s find out!

Graphics:

Though the pictures were randomly picked from an image search and colored black and white, they go incredibly well together and make this fictional place seem real. The rooms you go through have an eerie feeling to them, and make you expect for something to jump out at you at any moment. However, the few hand-drawn sprites that are in the game are incredibly terrible. Everything that was drawn looks like it was concocted in MS Paint in a matter of seconds and really lessens the creepy atmosphere. Also, the maker of this game’s first language is not English and it shows, as frequent misspellings and unintelligible notes litter a large part of the game. Still though, the backgrounds do a pretty good job of immersing you into the game.

Sound:

The music in Schuyler Hunt is very well done and adds a lot to the already creepy atmosphere. The game features no sound effects, but this gives it sort of a charm, as adding a lot of sounds may ruin immersion.

Gameplay:

You point and click just like any other point and click adventure, only when you click on an item that can be picked up, it automatically puts it into your inventory. Left clicking on certain things will either give you a short description of it or place it into your inventory. Right clicking on your inventory will give you a description of the item and can be pretty handy if you’re unsure of what to do with it. Right clicking on notes will show you what is written on them, though almost all of the notes in the game are completely useless and make no sense.

Crappiest Part:

Definitely definitely definitely the hand-drawn graphics. If any effort at all would’ve been put into them, the quality of the game would’ve multiplied. But the way that they are, the game looks very amateur and sometimes ridiculous.

Overall Score:

Schuyler Hunt is a pretty smart game that focuses more on atmosphere than anything. My gripes are that the game could’ve been a little longer, it could’ve had better spelling (although the reason for the misspellings is understandable), the notes mostly make no sense, and most of all the drawn graphics are just flat out terrible. This game could obviously have been better, but it is a fun game that sucked me in the whole time. That’s something I can hardly ever say for a Game Maker game.

8.5/10

 

WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 (Xbox 360) Event Preview/Review Event

There were two separate media events that I was able to attend for this game.  This was nearer to the end of the run for GamersMark, so I never actually did a full review of the game, but I documented my experience with playing the game at a Preview Event, which is the first portion here.

Developer: Yuke’s Media Creations | Publisher: THQ

A recent trend in the game industry is the shift towards user-created content, and the titles that specifically encourage it. Games designed with that intent seem to have two parts to them: the part that the creators make for you to play, and the “tools” for creation that allow you to make a seemingly infinite amount of content. WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 is the latest entry in the Smackdown Vs. Raw series, and this year it’s all about user content creation – “It’s Your World Now.” I attended the preview event hosted by THQ in downtown Los Angeles in late August and got a lot of hands-on time with the game.

This year, it’s more about creating your own personal game experience. There are new creation modes, new customization tools, new content, and the community is able to share everything that’s made.

The main menu itself has changed into an interactive tutorial mode of sorts, which boots up as you start the game. Here, you’re able to interact with another AI player to learn all the different moves before actually playing and learn at your own pace; tutorial tips pop up telling you how to perform certain moves or tasks in the ring as well as outside it. Once you accomplish a tip, it will check off and disappear, but you can reset them to teach a friend how to play or perhaps refresh yourself if you’ve gotten rusty. This new tutorial mode allows you to practice in many ways, on several difficulties, and preps you well for what to do during different situations.

The UI itself has received a major overhaul – it is no longer static and actually follows your character around, which is a very welcomed change. A circle with your Superstar’s stamina/momentum is constantly hovering, with an “F” or an “S” showing up when you are able to perform your Finisher or Signature move. At any time you need to be pressing a particular button, it will appear right next to your Superstar (rather than in the corner where the UI used to reside) making it a lot easier to react to the game while it’s happening.

Create-A-Superstar has been improved this year as well – and it’s a blast. Personally, I spent about an hour of the time I spent with the demo just in this mode making the most messed up characters ever seen. As I was making them, a lot of people commented about how “effed up” they looked, or how “messed up” I was. I even put a buff hairy guy in a diva’s outfit – hey, it wasn’t my fault they put it in the game to allow you to do it! But it didn’t go over so well with anyone watching, so I didn’t save him.

As a bonus, my created characters played in the background of a bunch of G4 interviews of WWE Superstars. Hornswaggle jacked the controller from me and started messing around with it during his interview (he said beforehand that he wanted to have fun with the interview and take the controller from me). People probably thought I was working for G4 since I was there playing the game behind it the whole time. At least the G4 guys found the characters I made funny.

Create-A-Superstar has received a big uplift, with all new 3D accessories that actually look and feel like they are on the character and not painted on like last year. There’s a lot of crazy, zany stuff and you can change anything into any color you want. There are also a lot of interface improvements, faster loading, and it’s just a generally more pleasant experience. 2009’s Create-A-Superstar couldn’t hold my attention as long as this year’s has, and that’s a great boon to the game. Another cool thing is the VS. Screen Pose that you can set to give your character a little more personality.

A new customization tool is the Paint Tool, which allows you to draw logos, tattoos – whatever you want, and Superstar Threads, new also, allows you to change a WWE Superstar’s costume as far as colors go. You can’t give them new costume pieces, but each wrestler can be modified in their own unique way depending on their existing outfit. This allows you to keep your favorite superstars more up-to-date as their costumes change. Three alternate attires per character are allowed, and the default one is never overwritten.

There are new Create-A-Finisher additions as well as a brand new finisher: Diving. The diving mode allows you to create Diving attacks, adjust height, speed, and many other settings. The Front Grapple finisher also has possible adjustments to speed, or other unique settings depending on what move is being changed, as well as more animations to choose from.

The biggest addition this year, however, is the Story Designer mode. Just like the Road to Wrestlemania stories in 2009, you’re able to create your own drama starring your favorite Superstars or even your created ones. You can devise matches and moments – such as backstage “discussions” – and change conditions for matches depending on the storyline you create. There is also a cutscene creator that allows you to direct animations and emotions, and even includes a free camera to swoop in on a situation however you like. You can also set up the movies that play in the background during an entrance, have people run in during matches, and even have characters hit by cars or make the vehicle itself explode. There is a lot of options to choose from.

Content sharing is now a big part about the game (if you’re one of the types of people to spend a ton of time making content within the game’s bounds you’re most likely going to want to show it to other people). With THQ’s online search engine you can search for whatever you feel like downloading – a created superstar, custom stories, a finisher or any other type of user content that can expand your personal game experience. You can also preview stuff before saving it, and if you see something that is inappropriate, you’re able to flag it as such for review.

In the Road to Wrestlemania mode, there will be six new stories, including a diva story, and a Create-A-Superstar story. There will be interactive cutscenes to allow you to decide how a superstar acts in their situation, as well as multi-branching story endings so that the decisions you make actually make an impact on how everything goes down.

There’s a planned 60 superstars for the roster this year, and of course ECW is back again. For those with a Wii console who played Smackdown Vs. Raw 2009, rest assured that all of the features that are in the 360 and PS3 versions will be included in the Wii release as well. The Wii version will also get a control overhaul to be more on par with the other versions, and both the Classic and GameCube controllers will be supported. The DS release will have a couple of exclusive features such as a trading card system – to trade cards with friends – and an exclusive match type called Ambulance Match.

The game is slated for an October 20 release. With over 46 million games sold in the franchise, the game should expect to do quite well during the holiday season, especially with all the new content creation modes.

As I mentioned previously, G4 decided to take some video with me as a backdrop and while I was playing with my deformed created wrestlers.  I was playing in the background for at least 85% of the interview shots.  You can first see me at 1m 32s.

Before the interviews started, Cody Rhodes and Dolph Ziggler made comments about how weird it was and asked if I knew who they were.  They were new at the time, so I didn’t know and they pointed out what their wrestling personas were.  Also, the take where Hornswaggle took the controller from me was not included in the video.

The following is what I wrote after attending the Review Event in late October.  The purpose was to get a good two or three hours with the game for purposes of review.  We had a press conference, meals, a couple of meetings, and the hands-on with the game on the second day.  They also gave us lots of free shit, most of which I currently still have laying around my room.

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 Review Event hosted by THQ. After being given a presentation that showed the final production of many of the things mentioned in my Preview for the game we had a chance to mess around and see the game in action.

All of the unfinished game modes and creation modes were available to play at the event.   While much of the game is pretty much what to expect from Smackdown vs. Raw, there are always additions and improvements made to the game. As far as game modes go, this year the Royal Rumble was given a complete reworking. The mode is now a lot more representative of what you would expect, and a bit more fun. There are now multiple ways to push your opponent out of the ring, and once they’re out – they’re out. When you try and push an opponent out of the ring, a mini-game of sorts will play out – either making you button mash like crazy or hitting a button at a precise moment to make sure your opponent is defeated.

The big Create Mode added this year is the Scene Editor – and it looks like it’ll be a blast once you get used to its little quirks and options. While sitting and messing around with it for about thirty minutes didn’t allow me to fully get used to the scope of the mode, there are quite a few options to play around with, such as casting, location, and textual speech. The mode may feel lacking only because you don’t get to hear any actual voices (you can’t record any either), but the potential of just having fun messing around with it is well worth the addition.

All the versions of the game looked very good on the HDTVs that they had. There was some discussion about why the PS3 version didn’t look as good as the 360 version, but nothing conclusive – we had no idea whether or not the particular station was just not set up correctly or if that was actually indicative of the PS3 version being slightly worse. However, the differences are so minute that it isn’t even something to worry about.

Wii owners this year will also be pleasantly surprised at the fact that 99% of the content in the PS3/360 versions made its way over to the Wii. The biggest difference, however, is that there is no Tutorial mode. The Wii is also back to supporting straight button input, so there is no more waving your hands around to play, which is apparently what Wii owners wanted out of 2010. In addition, 2010 will support all the Wii’s possible controllers – Wiimote/Nunchuck, Classic Controller, and the GameCube controller.

WWE’s “The Miz” came by to attend the event, as well, and put a little fun into the day. He made a hilarious ruckus about “only being a 78” according to the game’s Overall Rating system, and gave one of the game designers, Bryan Williams, a tough time about it since he just won the US Championship on last week’s Raw. It was quite funny seeing Bryan getting put on the spot like that, and profusely apologizing about having him at that rating, stating it would be different in next year’s game.

There was also a character creation workshop in which everyone made their own characters to compete against one another and win the approval of The Miz. At the end of the workshop, it came down to two characters – my pregnant 8 foot tall “Angry Smurf” named Rodney Cornsmithe and another character that was a recreation of the actual person making the character whom I’ll just call Sunglass Man. The Miz was simply dumbfounded when he looked upon my creation, but he ended up picking Sunglass Man, with my character becoming the “THQ winner,” as picked by another game designer attending the event.

Look for Gamersmark’s full review of Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 later this month.

Unfortunately that review never came to fruition as it was nearer to the end of GamersMark.  I was generally very pleased with the game, and was probably going to give it a 9.5/10.

 

 

Singstar Pop Vol. 2 (PS2) Review

Developer/Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment || Overall: 8.0/10

Music games seem to be all the rage these days. When Guitar Hero came out it unearthed a new market for music games, allowing for the eventual “full band” music game in Guitar Hero: World Tour and Rock Band. However, only a few genres of music fit into this “full band” experience, leaving many genres of music out in the cold. The SingStar series lends itself towards being able to cover practically any song that has vocals in it, allowing for a more diversified line-up of genres in each edition of the game.

Thirty songs usually come in each SingStar title, and SingStar Pop Vol. 2 is no exception. Some songs that I like that made it into the game are “Duran Duran – Ordinary World,” “Evanescence – Bring Me To Life,” “Lifehouse – First Time,” “Sum 41 – Fat Lip,” and “The Outfield – Your Love.” Some really weird choices that I can’t even bring myself to play are songs like “Boys Like Girls – The Great Escape,” “Santana Feat. Chad Kroger – Into the Night,” and “Ashlee Simpson – Boyfriend.”

While there are more hits than misses in the compilation, I found the selection of songs mostly satisfying for a karaoke game. Being more used to Rock Band’s vocal visual system, I found it harder to keep in tune with the song (as much as I could, considering how horrible I am at singing in the first place) and say the words at the same time. SingStar Pop Vol. 2 is the first karaoke-only game I’ve really played when one considers that Rock Band itself is a mish-mash of karaoke and beat-keeping.

Vocal skills not withstanding, I did have a fun time playing the game with my roommates. Essentially, the game is a party game – something to play with other people in the same room as yourself. A caveat that comes with that, though, is that even though there are 30 songs to perform, it never feels like there’s enough. Both players have to agree on a song they want to sing, and sometimes that comes down to three or four songs that both want to try, let alone knowing how the song goes enough to attempt singing it. More often than not people don’t even want to try singing songs they don’t know.

Though you can hook up only two microphones, you can play with up to eight players through the game’s different modes. Other than straight out duels between two players, most of them consist of passing the mic to the next person in line after dividing up players into teams. The modes aren’t all that different from each other, but there’s only so much you can really do and most of that is already in the game.

Something that is also really nice about the SingStar games is the user interface. It looks slick, and looks cool even when simply messing around in the menu system as you set up your next game. It’s not overly complicated either, which results in getting what you want most of the time. While you play the game, the music video for the song plays in the background, so that during sequences where there may be solos or intros, you have something to watch while waiting for the vocals to come back in. Plus, it helps keep the other players occupied.

SingStar is based on points, and how many you earn during a song is the comparative factor against your opponent. Unlike other music games where you have to perform to a certain degree or get punished by “losing,” SingStar just lets you go through the whole song, no matter how horrible you are. In a way, it makes the game more fluid and the overall objective goes away from “beating” the song and more towards beating your opponent or getting the highest score you can.

On the PS2, SingStar games are typically available with the mics or without them at a cheaper price. New editions of the series come in at $40, while the packs with the mics can cost anywhere from $60 to $80 considering where you shop for it. The EyeToy can also be used in most (if not all) the SingStar games for extra functionality. Another cool aspect of the series is that it treats them all like the same game. The ability to swap out discs and quickly jump into another set of songs is a wonderful feature. PS3 users take note: This unfortunately didn’t work on my 60GB PS3 when I tried it, and it resulted in having to restart the console.

If you like straight-out karaoke games and still only have a PS2, the SingStar series is going to be the perfect game for your collection. While buying them all at the same time would cost a pretty penny, it’ll be worth it once a party gets going and people want to look through more songs, especially if you like most of the songs on any one edition. There’s also the promise of a future update to the PS3’s firmware that will allow the PS2 SingStar games to communicate with the PS3 versions, which would put more use to the PS2 versions of the game.

 

Yggdra Union: We’ll Never Fight Alone (PSP) Review

Developer: Sting Entertainment | Publisher: Atlus || Overall: 4.0/10

Yggdra Union from Atlus has a seemingly awkward place in the PSP library. It’s practically a straightforward GBA-to-PSP port, so it’s quite obvious that it won’t be visually pleasing. Yggdra Union is essentially the GBA game with some voice-overs and possibly some other improvements that are harder to gauge.

Typically in tactical strategy games there are two teams fighting against each other on more-or-less even ground. One would expect there to be new challenges here and there, just as long as both sides followed the same basic rules of gameplay.

Not in Yggdra Union.

If there ever was a tactical strategy game that made me want to play on the enemy’s side, it’s Yggdra Union. It’s almost amazing to me how two different games are going on at the same time, with the advantage always (and I really mean it) going to the opposition.

Now, there’s lots of needless complication to Yggdra Union. Even after playing over 20 hours, I still have trouble knowing which button does what in the game. In light of the confusion, I’ll spare you a helping and get down to the basics. The basis of combat relies on cards. You get a certain amount of cards, which you use for moving and performing actions during battle. Once you use a card to move, or create a Union (the game’s term for a battle), the card becomes unusable for the rest of the current map you are on. The same does not hold true for your enemy, however. They have one card to use and they keep using it over and over. Okay, I’ll give them that. During battle, however, is where this difference becomes even more of a factor in the gameplay.

When creating a Union, you can enter into a battle with other units as long as they match the certain formation the initiator of the Union has. Why this matters, I’m not sure, but it adds some sort of strategy to the game in the long run. The map itself is also very restrictive as far as positioning units in strategic ways. There are no “extra” pieces of the grid to traverse and flank an enemy, as the current map you are on has a bare minimum of squares required to accomplish whatever the current goal happens to be.

During a battle, there is a gauge at the top of the screen that you can fill up by going Passive or drain by going Aggressive. The higher the bar is filled, the more likely it will be that you will win the battle. Of course, its not assured as other factors are taken into consideration. When you go Aggressive and drain your bar, the likelihood of you winning goes even higher, but only until the bar is drained before going to normal. Going Passive refills it, but your troops are then more susceptible to losing.

Here’s the kicker: Take everything I said in the last paragraph and throw it out. Your opposition doesn’t have to worry about that at all, since they have a “Rage” bar that constantly fills according to the amount of time you spend in battle. Not only that, any amount of Rage that is built up from the first fight in a battle is rolled over to the next fight to benefit the next unit. The gauge you build up does not roll over in the same fashion, as yours is seemingly random considering how well off you are against your enemy.

The only thing that your Passive/Aggressive bar and the Rage bar have in common is that it grants access to a special ability when full. Your opposition can use the card’s special abilities from the get go, while you have to wait until the seventh map of the game (about eight hours in for me) before even finding out why cards are named something. The inability to use special abilities until that point in the game is absurd, especially when the opposition is able to use their card’s special abilities from the beginning of the game.

Particular cards also have Ace Types, which means only a unit that matches the Ace Type can use the card’s special abilities (as long as all other conditions are met). There are three basic weapons – Sword, Spear, and Axe. Sword is better than Axe is better than Spear is better than Sword. Using that formula, you are able to sweep through your enemies, as long as you have the right units attacking against a weapon type that is weaker.

And then, to top it all off, three more types of weaponry are added in halfway through the game. Sword/Spear/Axe are all better than Bows (except when attacking, and you can’t counterattack against a Bow), Rods (better than Sword/Spear/Axe) and something that looks like a Rock that is just tossed in somewhere, which isn’t exactly explained plainly enough for anyone to understand.

Really, Yggdra Union ends up a Chess-style game in which the other guy can take any piece he wants whenever he wants and says “live with it.” There’s something random tossed in each level that completely messes you up without giving you any ability to counteract it. You are constantly put at a disadvantage, seemingly out of spite, with no real rewards for finally succeeding and beating the challenge. Not even the story’s progression rewards you with much of anything interesting or suspenseful.

There are lots of voice-overs, but voicing as a whole is conspicuously thin. The voice actors themselves aren’t bad, which is a boon to the already low production values of the title. Needless to say, the sound effects, graphics, and pretty much everything about the game look like a GBA game, but that’s because it is a GBA game. Watching battles unfold isn’t particularly interesting either, and even though there is a “HIGH” speed option available, its still not fast enough for me.

Yggdra Union will make you hate yourself for playing. It is a fairly unique game, but only in the sense that there are so many weird things about it that make you frustrated. Some friendly user interface additions would go a long way to at least making the game somewhat more pleasant. What it comes down to, however, is that Yggdra Union is a poor strategy game in its very bearings, with very little actual strategy to experience, and more fumbling around with cards and weapon types than necessary instead.

 

 

Overlord: Raising Hell (PS3) Review

Developer: Triumph Studios | Publisher: Codemasters || Overall: 8.5/10

It’s not too often you get to be the bad guy in a game. In Overlord: Raising Hell, you’re given the primary role of being “The Overlord” – the master of the Minions. With their help, you’ll rebuild your evil kingdom, confronting those that have killed your predecessor and rebuilding your once-fear-inducing-yet-humble abode. Throughout the levels you’ll find pieces of your tower, power-ups, and more minions to help you.

Essentially, Overlord is a mish-mash of a few genres – action, RPG, and real-time-strategy. The action influences come from the obvious gameplay mechanics such as controlling a menacing dude who goes around beating people with his axe, solving puzzles, and the like. The RPG elements come in with increasing your stats by gaining new weapons and getting new power-ups to help you maintain those stats. The most interesting aspect of Overlord, however, is how it accomplishes being real-time-strategy in tandem with the aforementioned aspects of gameplay.

Fundamentally, the importance of succeeding in Overlord is using your Minions in a strategic fashion to accomplish goals. Sure, you could go in and swing your weapon around at your enemies, but that would take a long time — not to mention there are some very difficult enemies where taking them on alone would be nigh impossible. Thinking of Minions as your “units” in a real-time-strategy game, you send them into battle and watch the mayhem unfold, modifying their focus as needed. While it starts simple, more strategy is involved when certain enemies are susceptible only to certain types of Minions’ attacks.

There are four different types of Minions – Browns, Reds, Greens, and Blues. The Browns are multipurpose melee fighters; Reds are long-range, fire-based attackers; Greens are stealthy, poisonous melee fighters that are weaker than your Browns; Blues are weak but they swim in water and can resurrect other Minions. Using all the different Minions and their unique skills to your advantage is the real challenge of Overlord.

The control scheme is something to be appraised. While you don’t normally see RTS-type games on consoles, Overlord has an advantage from being in a 3rd-person perspective. If you just want to tell your Minions to go somewhere, you move the right stick and control your group to go wherever you want without moving The Overlord himself. The camera also follows your group of Minions without getting far away from The Overlord, just in case something starts attacking you, but it also keeps the focus of the game of you being The Overlord at the same time. This comes into use when you meet obstacles that only Minions can go through, and you must use them appropriately to solve the puzzle or defeat the enemies at hand. If you just want to send your minions in to destroy anything they see in front of you, you just press and hold the R2 button and you’ll be able to watch the carnage, get the rewards, and not have to get your own hands dirty at all.

While the graphics aren’t the most beautiful you’ve ever seen, there is a style to the game that makes it feel like if it were any different, a certain charm about the game would be lost. The visuals match Overlord’s zany humor, with all the different quests you’ll be going on and different things your Minions will say. In a sense, it’s almost like playing a cartoon. Your Minions say some clever/funny things at times like “Treasssurreeeee!,” or “For the master!,” or “For the Overlorrrrrd!” while they bring treasure and other items back to you. There are also some offhand Minion comments that are context-specific.

While visiting your Tower, a Jester will follow you around calling you different things based on the quests you have already accomplished. My personal favorite is “Persecutor of Pumpkins” — referencing a quest in which you kill evil pumpkins that are eating townspeople. While that may sound off, considering that you’re supposed to be evil, the way the game rationalizes doing any good for people in the first place is that if they’re all dead, there’d be no one to boss around and torture. However, you are given the option of killing any of your subjects at any point, which raises a stat called “Corruption.” A certain amount of Corruption allows you to gain more power and skills, but must be taken in moderation, as there are disadvantages to gaining Corruption percentage.

Overlord: Raising Hell for the PS3 includes the DLC that was available for download on Xbox 360 and PC. The DLC adds a good 10 or 15 hours of playtime on the 20 hours or so the normal game had previously. There are also some other improvements and additions to the game that are integrated, along with the extra levels compared to the initial release of Overlord.

Probably the only things that I can complain about is the loading and other small technical issues that make the game a bit cumbersome to play at times. Loading usually takes a bit longer than I would hope for, especially since there’s about a minute of loading as soon as you start up the game as well as loading whenever you enter a new level. I encountered a few bugs that would result in the game becoming broken, forcing me to either load the game from my last autosave or restart my PS3. The minimap is almost a pain to use: while it is definitely a needed and welcomed addition from the normal version of the game, it can be hard to find your quests sometimes since you can’t really zoom out on it. There is a full-size map, but it’s not nearly as useful as the minimap.

Multiplayer is also a huge disappointment on the PS3. There is no one to play with online, so that means you can’t even use the multiplayer mode. This severely diminishes the value of the game if you had ever intended on checking out the multiplayer portion. However, since I’m a big proponent of single player games, it’s not a huge dent to my overall opinion about the game, though it is still something to take into account when purchasing it. It is also worth mentioning that seven multiplayer maps are part of the additions to the game from the first edition. Even though on the box it says you can play multiplayer in split-screen, I couldn’t find the option to do so in the menu.

Overlord: Raising Hell is a fun title, especially if you can pick it up for cheap. Overlord: Raising Hell offers a unique combination of several genres that creates an enjoyable and humorous addition to any PS3 owner’s library.

 

WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2009 (Xbox 360) Event Preview

Developer: Yuke’s Media Creations | Publisher: THQ

I had the opportunity to go to THQ’s offices in Agoura Hills recently, braving three hours of traffic and the possibility of being burned alive (not really). Traveling from safe Orange County, into the middle of a triangulation of raging fires in the canyons, I was able to play an early build of WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2009 for about an hour.

After my somewhat scathing review of 2008, I am very glad to say that the game has been improved quite a bit, with nearly all of my concerns addressed. Personally, the ranking on the the fun-gauge has increased from “Annoying” to “Could Be Fun.”

If there was one thing that I’m most excited about, its that the loading times have been drastically cut down. Load times aren’t nearly as excruciating to wait through anymore. Not only that, there is a simple way to turn entrances off — right before each match you can select On or Off, resulting in even less possible load times, and more getting right into the action.

Unlike the former WWE 24/7 mode, the new Road to Wrestlemania tells scripted stories for particular superstars rather than a bunch of generic ones for your selected wrestler. As a result, you feel like you’re playing through an actual storyline, the likes of which you’d see in the actual TV show. This alone alleviates a majority of the problems I personally had with the WWE 24/7 mode, as this revamped mode will definitely be more appealing to play and finish. There is still a “career” mode in the game, but it’s a little different than what you may have seen before. Instead of going through the day-to-day aspects of WWE 24/7, you can have your wrestler fight his way up to a particular title that you select. You can also reassign titles to make the roster reflect the current WWE champions. However, even though there are many features being added, that doesn’t come without cuts, as Create-A-Championship mode will be left out this year.

Frame rate has also been stabilized, and the biggest improvement can be seen in matches with more than four wrestlers, which is a welcome improvement for those Battle Royale fans or six-man “Money-In-the-Bank” marathoners. The graphics are about the same, but since the frame rate has been improved upon, the game visually feels better for it.

There are a few new features that will be good additions, provided they don’t get dropped before the game’s release. The massively improved user interface allows you to get into the kind of match you want to play faster and easier, with at least as many options as have been offered before. The Inferno match will make its first appearance — the ring is lit on fire and the goal is to beat up your opponent and raise the temperature to 300 degrees and throw him out of the ring, setting him on fire. Some additions to Tag Team modes have also been made.

Controls remain mostly unchanged, but there are a couple of things to take note of. The most significant addition to the gameplay is the recovery button. When you take a hard hit and are about to come up, you can defend yourself by pressing a shoulder button and block any incoming attack from the other player, allowing you to get back on your feet and perhaps swing the match back in your favor. In the Wii version, opening entrances have also become a little more interactive, with the option of getting the fans riled up by doing certain expressions at the right time.

There were no online capabilities shown, but there will be a feature called the Highlight Reel that allows you to record certain matches and share them online in a YouTube-like fashion. The capability allows you to put reels together with a video-editing tool, and add in graphics or sound from the effects provided. The clips can be up to a minute long.

Another interesting addition is the Create-A-Finisher feature. A “Finisher” can consist of up to ten different parts. Depending on which move you input when doing the finisher, you are given yet another list of animations to continue it. You can have the resulting combo be one part or ten parts, its all up to you — on top of that, you can speed up or slow it down in certain parts. Something that I found humorous was if you picked up someone you could keep flipping them back and forth on top of your back over and over before you actually did anything harmful to them. You can assign your Finishers to any superstar or created wrestler.

Since this is Yuke’s second try at the game on the PS3, you can definitely notice the improvements. Toss in some user interface enhancements, as well as some new modes, and WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2009 aims to be the wrestling game you should own if you’re a fan of the WWE.

 

Wii Music (Wii) E3 2008 Preview

Developer/Publisher: Nintendo

At E3 2008, there were about four WiiMusic booths set up in the Nintendo area. WiiMusic, if you didn’t know, is basically a game where you can play songs with your friends. Except, there’s no score, no points, no punishment for being off beat, you just “play” your instrument using the WiiMote in a couple of ways. After you go through a song, you get to watch the performance again. Miis are the characters that are in the game, just like other games in the WiiBlank series.

Although WiiMusic is pretty pathetic when compared directly to Rock Band 2 (it was the loudest thing at the whole show), there is a little bit of enjoyment still to be had. It took me a little bit of instruction from the Nintendo employees as to how to actually play the game, and how to play each particular instrument. There are a vast majority of different instruments that range from trumpet, piano, organ, bagpipes, and the triangle to weirder instruments like the jaw harp, the aptly named “Dog Suit,” and beatboxing.

Categories of instruments dictate different methods of play. For wind instruments, if you tilt the controller up and down, the pitch changes. You press the 1 and 2 buttons to change the notes. For percussion instruments, you move your hands up and down in a drumming-fashion to make different beats. You can also hold onto different buttons while waving your arms around to create different sounds. The guitar is played like an air guitar, except you have a Wii controller and Nunchuk in your hands.

When you are actually performing, there is a metronome to help you keep to the beat, but you can basically go crazy and not go with it at all. The result, at least while playing Yankee Doodle, was that it sounded nothing like the song at all.

In the end, the game itself is pretty barebones. The current songs are pretty lame, since they’re all folk songs or the like. Although there are supposedly “60” songs planned to be included, they’re all going to be lyric-less MIDI-quality songs that sound nothing like their originals. To get an idea of what pedigree of songs will actually end up being in the game, think “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” “Yankee Doodle,” “Super Mario Bros.” theme song, “From The New World,” and “Turkey in the Straw” since those were the songs actually featured in the playable demo. Other songs that are known of are the Legend of Zelda overworld theme, “The Overture” (from an opera called Carmen), and an F-Zero song which was played at the Nintendo conference. I can only hope that “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Pop Goes the Weasel” are included in some fashion when the product finally comes out at retail.

The whole idea around the game appears to be creating performances and sharing them with your friends. You can play a performance over and over, providing the instrument for up to 6 different parts of a band. The Nintendo employees at the booth didn’t appear to actually know HOW you’d be able to “share” the performances with your friends – whether it was in video form or save file over the WiFiConnect 24. If you’re supposed to share with your friends so that they add their performances to yours, it will most certainly have to be some sort of save file.

There is also a drum simulator thing where you can use the WiiFit Balance Board as drum pedals, while you wave your arms around with the Wii controllers. There are no beats to play to, there are no other bandmates. It’s just you and an audience of Miis. There is literally nothing to do in the mode. Too often did I walk past the Nintendo booth and see a forlorn Nintendo employee drumming with WiiMusic having the worst time in their respective lives playing out in front of them. Not only that, the Rock Band booths behind them were so loud that they probably couldn’t even hear what they were doing. Eventually it seemed like they’d actually try to play drums to the music Rock Band was playing – it just seemed sad because the feature of actually having music playing while you’re drumming is lost in the mission for simplicity and appealing to the casual market. You have to ask yourself if someone would ever want to casually play this portion of WiiMusic for any more than 5 minutes before never returning it.

Unlike WiiPlay and WiiFit, WiiMusic isn’t going to come with a peripheral. Even the next Wii-titled game out next year, WiiSports Resort, comes with a peripheral. It’s questionable as to whether or not WiiMusic will have the same sort of appeal as its other siblings on account of that. In addition, the game itself just doesn’t have a real point to it. There are no points, there’s no sense of progression, all it is sitting around and listening to crappy computer instruments pretending to be real instruments. I don’t know how that is supposed to be enjoyable, especially with games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band already out on the market and already appealing to the same demographics WiiMusic aims to sell to. Unless WiiMusic has some sort of feature that will validate its purchase (let alone its existence) that we don’t know about, it will be a huge disappointment.

 

Dragon Age: Origins (PC) E3 2008 Preview

Developer: BioWare Corp | Publisher: Electronic Arts

I partook in a presentation for Dragon Age: Origins that was given at E3 2008. Giving the presentation was BioWare’s Dan Tudge, who is the project director for the game. He didn’t give us a lecture about the game before we actually got to see anything; we jumped right in with another BioWare employee showing us the game, with Dan explaining as we went along.

Dragon Age: Origins is BioWare’s spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate. The game itself actually melds Knights of the Old Republic with Baldur’s Gate, from what I saw. As experienced in Knights of the Old Republic, you are able to pause the game and give orders, as well as make decisions during the story scenes that can impact the way the story is told to you. The Baldur’s Gate influence obviously comes from the actual theme of the game – you’re fighting in a medieval-style game with many types of ogres and stuff like that. Maybe even a dragon comes along sometime, not that I saw in the demonstration, however. From the ground up, the game is built as a fantasy game for core RPG fans.

Similar to other recent PC RPGs, there is a bar along the bottom that you can select for certain attacks. This comes in handy when you pause the game and give orders to your allies and your own character. Seemingly, you can change your main party character, although I might be confused to that fact, since I didn’t actually see them change it. Hit points and mana seem to recharge as time goes on, not particularly needing someone to heal outside of battle, though it becomes vital to have someone healing as battles get more intense.

The battle system is party-based tactical. You can have a single member or up to four at one time. When I asked how many party members you could have, they said “what we’ve shown is four.” This sort of implies it might be possible to have more than four party members, as they said multiple times that the game is “scalable” combat. If this means you can have a whole army under your command, then it’d be an interesting thing to see, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Obviously a big part of these sorts of RPGs is loot and the inventory system. There will be loot — that much is certain. As for the inventory system, it is said to be more like Baldur’s Gate than Mass Effect, which supposedly had complaints about its inventory system. The inventory and equipment system was shown briefly.

As party members go through more and more battles, we see blood and gore that was sprayed by defeated enemies still left on characters. I don’t know if it goes away eventually or if it is replaced by new blood, but Dan Tudge was apt to point out that the characters do show signs of being in earlier battles

BioWare is determined on establishing Dragon Age as a new franchise. The “Origins” subtitle is symbolic to BioWare because they are going back to their own “origins” by creating this new game franchise. On top of that, Dragon Age: Origins is meant to be the first in the series, so its meant to give background information that the later games fall back on. They’ve been working on the game since 2004, so they are definitely planning for the game to be out in 2009 for the PC only.

 

Fallout 3 (Xbox 360) E3 2008 Preview

Developer/Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

The Xbox 360 version of Fallout 3 made an appearance at E3 2008 in Bethesda’s meeting room. Gamersmark, along with a select few others, was given the opportunity to play for exactly 30 minutes. While a half hour isn’t exactly a long time to be playing a game of this size, it definitely does let you get enough of a taste and a feel for what the game will offer.

Fallout 3 takes a first person shooter approach to the RPG genre. This approach is unique since we don’t see many AAA games that combine those genres. As such, it is really vital to use the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System, better known as the VATS, which essentially makes the game into a 3D-Tactical RPG. The VATS is very important to use as most of the enemies you encounter will be hard to shoot in a normal FPS way. Using the VATS depletes an AP counter in the bottom right-hand corner. When you run out of AP, you’re able to shoot the enemy using your traditional FPS skills until it recharges. Couple this with a chance that the shot you make doesn’t even go straight, on account of your weaponry slowly degrading with use, and the VATS becomes a necessary element of gameplay. We definitely found it difficult to shoot when outside of the VATS.

The gameplay pauses and allows you to choose your target carefully while using the VATS. A percentage will appear for the different body part you want to shoot at and tell you what the chances of hitting it is. You might want to disable an opponent by shooting out their legs so they can’t run away or shoot them right in the head if they’re about to beat you with a baseball bat. Depending on how much AP you have, you can tell your character to shoot up to four different times – this may change if they let you get more AP or if shooting with different weapons costs more AP.

The only weapons we were able to find and use were a couple of different pistols. The shooting was pretty fun though, as every time you use the VATS system it goes into a cinematic slow-mo shooting sequence. The camera follows the bullet as it shoots through your gun and into your enemy. When you shoot normally, you won’t see any of that. We’re not sure if there is a way to turn it off, either. Visually, reloading seems a little funky – we couldn’t really see what was going on too well for the pistols we used. You also have a flashlight at your disposal at all times, since it is attached to your Vaul-Tec console.

While we weren’t able to explore the world in-depth, the game itself looked expansive while we ran around the desolate area that was once a city. There are tons of dead trees, rocks, burned out cars and radioactive water. You could technically call the game a post-apocalypitc Oblivion. The content itself, however, is all about Fallout, so it should be pleasant for series fans once they adapt to the new way to play the game. We were also able to venture into Springvale Elementary and explore the burned-out and barely recognizable remains of the school.

There weren’t any noticeable frame rate drops while playing, which is a pretty big change from Oblivion. The graphics are okay, and the sound is also enjoyable. Some textures aren’t exactly that great, but the scale of the game is quite large, excusing some of the graphical inconsistencies. Looking out over the expanse of the desolate wasteland is something lends a feeling of awe, similar to the first time we walked around the world of Oblivion.

There are a lot more features in Fallout 3 that we didn’t get to experience. Perks, repairing weaponry, finding gear, choosing whether or not to be good or evil; there are so many things that the game will offer. Fallout 3 will definitely appeal to anyone who liked Oblivion, or want to experience something in the Fallout universe.

 

 

Resistance 2 (PS3) E3 2008 Preview

Developer: Insomniac Games | Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

At E3 2008, I had the opportunity to extensively play the multiplayer mode in Resistance 2. The demo was a 60-man multiplayer game, full of Sony and Insomniac Games employees. The single player demo was only available in a limited-access Sony meeting room.

The map we played on was pretty large and looked like a destroyed mountain town. There were cars strewn about, large holes and vastly different areas to see. There was a lumberyard as well as cabin houses surrounded by lots of trees and water.

The gameplay itself is largely intact from the original Resistance. There are a few things however that felt downgraded – at least from what the demo gives the impression of so far. The Chimera themselves seem to play more like the Human characters now. The Human side basically has the same benefits as the Chimera. All characters are able to use one of several special Chimera abilities called “Berserk.” Berserk powers are different depending on which side you’re on, but you are able to choose your weapon load-out and powers from the get-go. Berserk powers include things like invisibility (while not firing), increased health recovery, more ammo dropped and the like. A Chimera player starts out with one hedgehog grenade this time as well. While this evens the playing field, it feels like it sort of goes against what the first Resistance tried to accomplish.

Some weapons are a little different as well. A few of them got a face-lift, like the Auger and Bullseye. The M5A2 and Rossmore look the same, though. There are also one or two new weapons that are new, namely the Marksman, and the HE Magnum. The Wraith is also allowed for use in multiplayer, which was only available after you completed your primary run-through of Resistance: Fall of Man.

Oddly, I didn’t notice any rocket launchers. It could have just been the game mode, but it seems logical that the Wraith is replacing it. Or perhaps you just don’t start out with a rocket launcher and must find it on the map before you can use it. The Auger makes a bubble shield now instead of a door-shield, which seems weird, but it makes it easier for shooting through at different angles. The handgun is hard to aim precisely with, though adjusting the sensitivity might fix that. The new shotgun feels worthless; even if you’re at point blank range, you’ll have a hard time trying to kill someone.

Something I find very disappointing in contrast to the original Resistance is that you can only hold on to two weapons at a time, meaning you have to switch weapons lying on the floor for the one you’re currently holding. I enjoyed being able to use any weapon I found on the ground, as it was different than what most popular shooters nowadays like to do.

The game seems to emphasize strategy less than the original in this build. I’m hoping that element of the multiplayer isn’t lost when all is said and done. The map we played was just a big open map with a few interesting elements, but in the end it felt like a run-of-the-mill FPS map to me, which is also sort of disappointing considering the first game’s maps all had something unique about them.

Resistance 2 looks good for a third-generation PS3 title. The most obvious comparison I could make was against Killzone 2, which was right around the corner, though the games have vastly differing art styles. Here’s hoping that the single-player mode has some nice things in store as far as level design and character design.

During my play time, I had an unusual seven-kill spree. I was quite an avid Resistance player when I first purchased my PS3, and I’m definitely looking forward to playing Resistance 2’s multiplayer. However, Resistance 2’s single player will be the most compelling aspect when it comes to retail.

The demo didn’t let me customize controls, but one of the exhibitors said they’re still going to add more stuff to the options menu. Pressing R3 for melee was less comfortable than pressing X. You can also now shake the controller to perform a melee attack, which is a fine use for the Sixaxis motion control.

People who liked the first Resistance will probably like Resistance 2. It might appeal to more people because it aligned itself closer to the elements of today’s popular shooters. Since the single-player mode aims to continue the story-line, we can expect to at least learn a little bit more about the world that is created in the Resistance games.

 

Persona 3 (PS2) Review

Developer/Publisher: Atlus || Overall: 9.5/10

Persona 3: FES is the answer to any RPG gamer’s beckoning for a true, hardcore RPG. In recent years the non-turn-based “Action RPG” has mostly taken over the genre, moving away from the pen-and-paper games they originated from. Developed and published by Atlus, Persona 3: FES is the expanded version of last year’s Persona 3, featuring a whole new story arc and an ending to the whole storyline.

Separated into two parts (The Journey and The Answer), Persona 3: FES includes both the original game and expansion released in Japan on the same disc. Taking advantage of a re-release, Atlus added new Personas, events, and other small enhancements to the main game that you wouldn’t have seen in the original version. If you hadn’t played the original version, you won’t notice the difference at all. If you have a Persona 3 save, you’re able to import it into a new game of The Journey to play/replay it, or just skip it altogether and go right to the expansion, named The Answer.

Put simply, Persona 3 is a game about a group of high school students who have powers called “Persona.” A Persona allows its user to do lots of things like use magic, special attacks, and other stuff an RPG normally lets you do. Essentially, the game could be thought of as two separate but equally important parts: one part of the game, you are going to school, the other part you are fighting monsters.

While at school, you are able to build relationships and gain more power for your Personas with Social Links. Social Links are basically little storylines with particular people you meet. About 20 Social Links are available to explore, and you’ll have to tread carefully as going out with two girls at the same time might lead to putting one of those Social Links in trouble. Make a wrong decision in any of your Social Links, and they’ll be stuck in a rut. In addition, you have three types of statuses: Education, Charm, and Courage. You’ll have to build them up to an appropriate level to discover new Social Links. The most interesting part about this part of the game is that you literally go through every day and choose which events to partake in, just like a normal high school student in Japan may. There is about one year of time to play through, which means nearly 365 days to experience. On the average, it takes me about 10 to 15 minutes to complete each day, not including trips to the dungeon.

The real meat of the gameplay is certainly in the dungeon crawling, which happens during The Dark Hour, a time that most humans are not aware of. With a maximum of four people in your party, you will climb ever-higher in a massive tower called Tarturus, trying to solve the mystery of the tower and the existence of The Dark Hour. The goal at large is to defeat the enemies called the Shadows, who are wreaking havoc on humanity in the local area but could escalate to posing a threat in a larger scope.

You journey through Tarturus, gain more levels, complete mini-quests (called Requests), find loot, and beat the ever-living crap out of all the enemies you encounter. That is the game in a nutshell. Similar to the other Shin Megami Tensei games, you have control over “monsters,” but in this case they are called Personas and are your allies in the struggle against the Shadows. The key to victory in any battle is finding and exploiting your enemy’s weakness and defeating them as fast as you can by using the appropriate skills. There is also a Persona Fusion system, which you can use to create new Personas. Fans of the series will find that this is pretty standard for the series and not that hard to grasp. Every time there is a full moon, you’ll encounter a unique boss fight that breaks up the pace of the game a little bit.

Your main character is a more-or-less mute character that relies on the choices you make to communicate to the other characters in the story. Even further, the choices you make impact your Social Links and, at times, story as far as what other characters say. Usually you don’t have a second chance to choose what to say, so you’ll have to choose wisely.

The art in the game is pretty nice; you’ll feel as if you’re in an anime, as it’s mostly cel-shaded. Occasionally you’ll be treated to an animated cut scene, but they are few and far between. There are quite a few “events” where story takes places, as well as voice acting. The voice actors are almost certainly very enjoyable to listen to, except a couple who are just sort of lame-sounding. In particular, I don’t like the voice acting for the character of Ikutsuki, who is the chairman of the high school the main characters attend.

Music is somewhat of a concern, as it sounds Japanese Pop-like. It can get on your nerves since you’ll be hearing the same songs constantly over and over. Probably the worst part is that the songs you hear the most have lyrics, and if you actually listen to them, they are embarrassingly bad, especially the Battle Theme. There are some very cool tracks to listen to, however, so it’s not a total waste as far as the soundtrack goes.

A lot of time is to be had playing the game. The Journey itself probably would clock in at around 80 to 100 hours (or even more) if you take your time and enjoy it. With the additional episode called The Answer, boasting around 30 hours of extra playtime, the value is there, as long as you like the game to begin with. There is also a “New Game+” sort of thing, so you can replay the main storyline as many times as you like.

To explain what The Answer is without spoiling it, The Answer is a perpetual Groundhog’s Day, in which the main characters repeat March 31, 2010 over and over and try to figure out how to stop it after the events of The Journey. Since the same day is repeated, the whole “go to school” thing is pretty much eliminated from the gameplay and you almost exclusively dungeon crawl. Unfortunately, it seems like a few things you are used to from The Journey are taken out, I’m sure for the sake of the story, but in the end it feels like you’ve lost features.

Persona 3: FES is a massively enjoyable game that can be taken in small doses. A lot of time can be spent with it, and while it may be daunting to undertake a nearly 100 hour game, the hours will seemingly fly by since the fast-paced nature of the gameplay makes it seem like you’re actually in high school, developing friendships and hitting on the babes.

 

Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening Special Edition (PS2) Review

Developer/Publisher: Capcom || Overall: 9.0/10

The Devil May Cry series has been one of the more talked about games recently with the release of Devil May Cry 4, all with the exclusivity to Sony platform being thrown up into the air – but back in the day where none of that mattered, there was a game called Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition for the PS2. The Special Edition is the refining of the original game, Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening, and includes a bunch more goodies that the first version didn’t have, as well as a shuffling around of the difficulty modes. Usually action games peak out around ten or fifteen hours, but it’s easy to spend at least twice that with Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition.

Put simply, Devil May Cry 3 is an action game with horror and gothic elements. It’s not exactly scary, but the game goes back to its roots after Devil May Cry 2’s “offensive” locale. Not only that, but there is an actual story that you can comprehend, unlike any of the other games in the series up to this point. Though the story is actually worth its weight in words this time around, the main appeal comes from the gameplay itself, and it speaks volumes. Unlike most games, Normal mode isn’t for the faint of heart, and even that is considered “easy” by the original version of Devil May Cry 3’s standards.

The Devil May Cry series doesn’t have a combo system utilizing different buttons like in God of War. There is one button to use your melee weapon (typically a sword), one button for your guns, and one button for a special move. Used appropriately, you can string together all the different types of attacks to lay some serious hurt on the demons and rack up some impressive combos. Unlike Devil May Cry 2, you’ll have to hit the square button over and over if you want to shoot Dante’s guns (in Devil May Cry 2, you could just hold it down and it’d fire). As far as Dante’s pistols go, the faster you hit the square button, the faster he’ll shoot them. As you get different weapons, they all have their own firing rates, so clicking the button as fast as you are able to does not help you all the time. Melee weapons follow a bit different logic, however. A melee weapon has two or three different combos that rely on the timing of your button pushes. This can change a little from weapon to weapon, but it’s basically the same execution. In total, there are five guns and five melee weapons for Dante to acquire through the game.

The circle button comes into play when you want to use one of Dante’s Styles. The basic styles are Trickster, Swordmaster, Gunslinger, and Royalguard. Trickster allows you to make use of dashing and running up walls, which I found to be practically useless. Trickster is a hold-over from the circle-button command from Devil May Cry 2, but Devil May Cry 2’s execution in that regard was leagues better. Swordmaster is a bit more useful, and allows you to do some cool stuff with your sword (like throw it) once it levels up. Gunslinger is the one I used the most, and allows you to do quite a few things, like shoot your guns faster, charge them, and target two targets at the same time. Not to mention spin in the air like a tornado while shooting your gun! Gunslinger is by far the coolest of all the styles. Royalguard is kinda boring and only blocks. If you block enough, you charge up some power and can release it onto an enemy to kill them. It’s sort of ineffective at times, because you’ll still get damaged, and it’s not really smart to take damage since it’s very hard to find something that heals you. Other styles are acquired as the game goes on, but for about 80 percent of the game you’ll be stuck with those four. The more advanced styles you gain later on don’t allow you to level up at all.

The graphics are pretty nice for a PS2 game, but do sort of show their age as we get further into the current generation of consoles. The voice acting is not terrible at all, so that is something to be thankful for. The sound effects are good, but the music is where the game lacks. Every time you’re near an enemy, a cheesy battle score with horrible lyrics starts playing. I hated the song by the end of the game and tried to just ignore it, unfortunately to no avail. It would have been nice if they didn’t have such a horrible song, but what can you do? The story is good, and really the first competent piece of writing the series has shown after the first two games.

Overall, the game is very hard, even at the Normal difficulty. The easy difficulty allows for less experienced action gamers (or people who just suck at games) to get into the game to actually beat it and *gasp* enjoy it. Even hardcore gamers will probably at least take a pass through all modes of play the game has to offer, as it’ll add towards fully completing the game in every facet. Once you finish the game, a new gameplay mode called Bloody Palace will be accessible, not to mention being able to play as Dante’s brother Vergil in a new game. There’s plenty of stuff to unlock, so you’ll be playing the full game quite a few times, although it’ll be easier after the first time since you’ll know how to figure out all the puzzles.

Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition is a good game to play if you’re into action games. Since it has been out for a while now, you’ll be able to find it at a very cheap price. The Devil May Cry box set includes all three of the PS2 games in the series, and it’s a good value. Regardless of your feelings toward the second game, you’ll get a loaded action game in Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition.