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True Crime: New York City (PS2) Review

Developer: Luxoflux / Publisher: Activision || Overall: 8.3/10

In my experience, it has been hard to appreciate any free-roaming style game as much as the Grand Theft Auto series. Since the inception of the formula into many recent games, in practice, games including free-roaming never really compared to Grand Theft Auto’s execution. It’s even more apparent when a game is in an urban setting, such as the True Crime series or other “GTA clones.” True Crime: New York City, the sequel to True Crime: Streets of LA, from Activision and developer Luxoflux, obviously are out to tap into the large fan-base GTA has acquired over the years.

True Crime: New York City has a few things going for it, the most important being the story. Just like what you’d expect from a movie or an episode of a popular crime-drama, you’ve got the set-up: the main character, Marcus, once a gangster, becomes a cop. A detective named Terry, who was a father figure to Marcus, is killed in a mysterious explosion on Terry’s first day of becoming a detective. Not knowing why Terry died, Marcus is motivated to find out why when he is confronted by the FBI asking him to bring in some people and solve some cases to figure out why it happened (and if there is a mole in the police department) on his own with basically no support. The story is delivered very well with a cast of voice actors including Christopher Walken, Laurence Fishburne, and Traci Lords. Being a Christopher Walken fan myself, it makes me happy to have his voice accompanying the story.

True Crime: New York City, quite obviously, takes the approach of you being a cop. As such, when you break the law it goes against you, rather than “for” you, like in a Grand Theft Auto game. Aside from the story, TC: NYC can basically be summed up as a fleshed out Vigilante mode to GTA fans. There is a satisfying aspect of being able to arrest or stop “perps” (as the game calls it) committing crimes. While you could question what good will come out of smacking two people in a domestic dispute (who are beating each other up) with a sledgehammer repeatedly and then arresting them both, the general idea is to beat up whoever is breaking the law. There are lots of different crimes to stop, from hostage situations, drug raids, investigating food poisoning — you get the picture. Most will just end up with you beating the crap out of people though. You can also frisk any person walking around and if you get lucky you’ll find something on them and put them away for whatever illegal item they had on them.

While you’re not cleaning up Manhattan of its lesser-important crimes, you’ll be taking on major cases. Other than finding out why Terry was blown up, there’s an illegal street racing circuit to take down, an illegal fighting syndicate, and several “informants” that will give you particular jobs to do. As a total, there are basically five things to do during the whole game, since exploring the city isn’t exactly as fun as you might think it should be. One thing True Crime: New York City has over the Grand Theft Auto games is in its combat system. TC: NYC’s combat is quite fun – more like beat-em-up-oriented with more than just one button to hit. The only unfortunate part about the combat is that it isn’t as responsive as it should have been; there’s a feeling of being “held back” as it were. Because the controls aren’t as fluid as they feel like they should be, the more and more you play the combat becomes dull.

There are many different types of guns and melee weapons to buy. When you buy a weapon, you basically have can use the gun forever, but can only carry a certain amount of ammunition for the gun. You reload by opening the trunk of one of your personal cars. Unfortunately, you can’t collect weapons you find – you have to buy anything before being able to freely use them, though you can use them until they’re out of ammo. There are also some skills to buy that will enhance your current skills. When it comes to cars, you have to buy the ones you’re able to use from the Police Station as well as at car dealers. Cars in True Crime: New York City hold more value as the police cars you buy will retain the damage that was dealt to them the last time you used the particular car, meaning you’ll have to repair them when they gets shot up or you crash too often into oncoming cars. There are also a number of car skills that you acquire as you progress.

An ethics scale in the game describes your behavior as you play the game. You can either be a bad or good cop. If you take bribes, extort money, or kill people you shouldn’t, you’ll earn Bad Cop Points. If you arrest perps or solve crimes, you’ll earn Good Cop Points. As you collect evidence from different crimes and from searching people, you’ll be able to either turn in your evidence for legitimate pay or sell it at a pawn shop for illicit cash. When you turn in your evidence and gain more career points, you’re paid through a salary that you collect while at the police station.

The graphics in TC: NYC are quite impressive. The game exhibits very nice lighting effects and damage shown on cars is always accurate-looking. Character models are nice; they’re generally what are expected. The graphics are easily the second most important aspect. Sound is quite exceptional as well. Other than the great cast of voice actors, the gun sounds, car sounds, and general atmosphere all comes off well. The things civilians say become redundant after a while, unfortunately. There are also a lot of cuss words tossed around during the whole game, as its M rating surely implies. The police siren (which you use quite a bit) is not nearly as annoying as the one used in a GTA, though, and I prefer it immensely because it doesn’t pierce your eardrums every time it squeals. The soundtrack has a nice selection of songs, and music can be bought at actual music stores through the city. The soundtrack is basically divided into about 60% rap and 40% other styles, the category of “metal/punk” taking the biggest chunk of it. There aren’t any radio stations, but there is a “music player,” which can allow you to listen to all the songs without just hanging onto one radio station playing one style of music.

What racks up against the game is the general interactivity of the city of Manhattan. While you’re able to go into practically any door in the game, most places look exactly the same as another depending on the type of store or establishment it is, meaning a hotel will look exactly like another hotel with barely any changes in what is in the interior. But it’s not like you can really do much when you go inside; it’s only important when you go to solve crimes. Many items in the game are breakable, and can be made into makeshift weapons if you just so happen to be able to break something.

Do I like True Crime: New York City? The answer would be an emphatic yes – but I would take any GTA over it. I truly didn’t expect it to be that great originally, but the game is a nice diversion in between releases of Rockstar’s flagship franchise, providing for a nice bit of fun to free-roaming game enthusiasts. While it may not be perfect right now, the True Crime series holds potential to become an absolute must-buy in a future incarnation. Its second outing, however, falls a bit short of that status.

The Controversy of Video Games in Modern America

In recent years, controversy in video games has heightened to unprecedented levels. Every once in a while, a gigantic outburst is made in regards to controversial content matter in a video game. With increasing realism being worked into video games, they have matured into a viable mainstream media comparable to movies and television. However, just like its longer-existing counterparts, video games have hit their proverbial puberty – major scrutiny and an attempt to squelch its expression of speech. Certain groups aim to control the industry through laws and sales restrictions, citing that children could get their hands on mature-rated games.

One of the first truly controversial games came in 1983 in the form of Custer’s Revenge for the Atari 2600, a home gaming console. Custer’s Revenge depicted General George Armstrong Custer raping a Native American woman tied to a fence post. The amazing irony of the controversy was that the graphics for the game were so bad that it was barely distinguishable what was going on. However, activist groups like the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the American Indian Community House still made an outcry against the game. Not knowing who to point the blame on, the activist groups blamed Atari, the maker of the console, instead of the developer named Mystique. After the controversy had blown over, Mystique went on to develop other “X-rated” games that didn’t garner the same amount of attention as Custer’s Revenge had.

Criticism against video games declined when more sophisticated video game consoles came to market. Nintendo, a very and still popular video game console maker, brought about a licensing system that required games to pass their various tests of blood, nudity, and other such themes to ensure the moral quality of the games released under their license. The Nintendo “Seal of Quality” was featured on games approved and released on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The licensing system did its part to establish some sort of barrier against any bad publicity for a game with controversial content matter.

In 1992, a game called Mortal Kombat attracted activist groups for its simulated violence and exaggerated amounts of blood. Though fighting games were not uncommon during the time, it was the first to use animated pictures of real people, making it more realistic than others during the time. Senator Joe Lieberman had even spoken out against the game during a Senate investigation into video game violence. Mortal Kombat is usually credited with being the vehicle for the establishment of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), which is now the governing rating body of the video game industry. The ESRB uses an age-based system, similar to the MPAA’s certification for movies.

The ESRB has become the video game industry’s self-governing body that approves games and slaps certain ratings on a game to show its appropriateness. By use of five different ratings and 32 descriptors, the ESRB aims at giving the buyer a good idea of what to expect in the title. Titles rated eC for Early Childhood have content for children ages three and older. A rating of “E” for “Everyone” has content that is suitable for people six and older; the equivalent of a rated “G” movie. A rating of “T” for “Teen” has content that is suitable for people ages thirteen and older; the equivalent of a rated “PG-13” movie. A rating of M for “Mature” has content suitable for people aged seventeen and older usually containing intense violence or sexual content; the equivalent of a rated “R” movie. For titles that are basically on the level of pornography, a rating of “AO” for “Adults Only” is given. The AO rating is the highest rating to be given, and a very limited amount of games have ever actually been given the damnable rating. AO games are not carried at major retailers and you would be hard pressed to even find an AO game other than ordering it online. The reason behind this is because the major retailers agreed together through an organization called the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association (IEMA) that they would not sell games that were rated AO as to avoid the game from falling into the hands of children, similar to how porn is not usually sold at major retailers. The ESRB’s rating system has become the prevalent and only rating system widely accepted for video games in America. Other countries deal with their rating in different ways, some just having the same rating body as movies and music rate video games as well.

Ratings can themselves be seen as a way to advertise a certain product. A game aimed at children will want to have the E rating, being apparent that it is more family-friendly. A game that is rated M is advertised as a game that for older people, and has suggestive themes not found in a lesser rated game – it appeals to people because mature themes like violence and sex make people interested. Many of the wildly popular games to have been released recently have had an M rating and are perceived as ultra-violent. One of the most popular M-rated game series is a series named Grand Theft Auto (GTA). Starting life as a two-dimensional top-down game on the Sony PlayStation with GTA and GTA 2, it wouldn’t be until Grand Theft Auto III that the series really made an impact on the way video games were perceived.

Grand Theft Auto III was the first game to show the world that video games weren’t for kids anymore. While there had been other Mature rated games in the past, they generally flew under the radar because they just didn’t sell an amazing amount of copies to warrant the attention. To date, the Grand Theft Auto series has sold around fifteen million copies. Grand Theft Auto III was the first game of the series to be in full 3D, being a nearly realistic rendition of a boundless world where you could do as you please. The most common stereotypical summary of what is said to be done in a Grand Theft Auto game is that you murder, steal, and destroy anything you want to, healing by having sex with prostitutes which afterward you can beat them to death and take their money to recover the funds spent on them. And if it were any more of a consolation, it is also described in a way that players are allowed to wreak as much havoc as they like without progressing through the game’s storyline, as if it would be more acceptable to those stereotyping it if you progressed through the story while wreaking havoc. However, the description of the game picks at parts of the game that are the most miniscule of the game’s features, such as sleeping with a prostitute to heal (which should really be taken as more of a joke than anything). A player could go through a whole game without ever picking up a prostitute to heal, and the description avoids the aspect of the game in which you choose to actually do things in the game, or even play the game to begin with. At the end of the day, nothing included in Grand Theft Auto III was any worse than a rated R movie.

The newly found controversy that came with the Grand Theft Auto III subsided, as its sequel Grand Theft Auto: Vice City flew relatively low under the radar. The megaton bomb that would set in motion legislative action against the industry would come in the “Hot Coffee” scandal of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Hidden on the disc packaged with the full version of the game, a mini-game in which you could have sex with your in-game girlfriend interactively was discovered. Not intended to be a part of the final game, the only way to actually access the mini-game is through the long, arduous process of wooing your girlfriend into liking you enough to invite you in for some hot coffee. In the normal version of the game, all that would be shown is a wide shot of the house and some moaning, but if a hack was employed (which had to be intentionally found, downloaded, and applied), the scene would be replaced by the sex mini-game. Since the mini-game was actually on the disc and the game was rated M as by the ESRB, the ESRB’s own credibility came into question — especially about their rating procedures. The ESRB, under political pressure no doubt, re-rated the game as AO, effectively banning it from major retailers. Whether or not the ESRB was right in overruling their own rating and not standing by their ratings, they showed that as long as there was enough controversy about certain aspects of a game they could possibly force the ESRB to re-rate other games. Had the “Hot Coffee” mini-game actually been included in the main game itself, instead of being hidden, there would have not been as huge of a controversy. Whether or not the whole thing was a publicity stunt, awareness of the game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas very much hit the mainstream and sent the message that games aren’t for kids anymore.

Proponents of legislation restricting the sale of games with controversial matter cite that they want to protect the children from getting their hands on particular games, and make it the retailer’s responsibility to make sure it doesn’t happen. Legislation has been passed in many states already, but is being challenged by the video game industry on the basis of the laws restricting First Amendment rights. Lawmakers who vote for these types of sales-restriction laws want parents to be involved in the purchase of the games, by saying what games kids can or cannot buy. The lawmakers want to protect children because they feel that it propagates violence in young children, such as school-shootings and murders.

Opponents of legislation, such as most of the video game industry, view any sort of sales-restricting laws as going against their First Amendment rights of free speech. They view it as unfair, as well, since the music and movie industries (pornography aside) do not have any laws in place to sanction sales of product. If sales-restricting laws become more common, video game publishers will be forced to self-censor themselves to sell their games to the largest audience possible, similar to how the movie industry will commonly release a seemingly should-be-rated-R movie as PG-13 to get the largest audience possible.

It isn’t surprising that there is controversy over video games. Video games are not accepted in the mainstream as a serious form of media, and are often seen as a toy rather than a viable form of entertainment. Video games have hit its boom, with sales being higher and higher every year. Analysts predict that the video game industry will eventually make as much as the movie industry and political figures aim to get easy brownie points with their constituents while video game companies continually push the envelope on their end. Whether or not the legislative actions being taken during video games’ early days affect the full maturity of the media remains to be seen.


Anderson, Craig A. April 2000. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 78(4), pp. 772-790.

Gonzalez, Lauren. Gamespot.com. 2005 November 13. “When Two Tribes Go to War: A History of Video Game Controversy.”


Wikipedia. 2005 November 13. “Video Game Controversy”


Infected (PSP) Review

Developer: Project Moon Studios / Publisher: Majesco || Overall: 8.5/10

Just in time for the holidays, Infected is the right game to spend your free time with. Instead of killing your zombie-like family members, you can kill computerized zombies on your PSP in the corner of Aunt Suzy’s house with no one ever being the wiser. If your Aunt Suzy happens to be tech savvy, you can take your zombie shooting obsession online with the PSP’s wi-fi capabilities. Just be careful, because the PSP screen is so big it might attract the zombies of your real life — your family members.

The story of the single-player mode in Infected is very simple. A disease breaks out that turns people into mindless zombies, and they start causing lots and lots of problems. Like eating and infecting people. It’s basically run-of-the-mill when it comes to that much. Before each new mission, you’ll get a dose of humor in one way or another – either through voice-only briefing or an actual cutscene. After the preliminary story material, you proceed to select and finish the next mission.

In Infected, you shoot zombies, and as if that isn’t obvious enough, with weapons. As you upgrade your weaponry through the Upgrades screen, you’re able to use more powerful weapons and power-ups. Every time you start you’ll begin with the least powerful weapon, the Pistol. As you kill more and more zombies, you’ll build up your Ballistic weapon gauge, and as it fills up more and more you’ll work your way up to a shotgun, machine gun, and two types of rocket launchers.

In the single-player mode, there are different kinds of objectified missions. They range from evacuation of citizens, defending a certain target, simply eradicating all of the zombies in sight, or a combination of types of objectives to make a mission harder and more complex. The concepts of the objectives are very easy to learn and understand through straightforward tips given. Because the single player mode is not story driven, the motivation to play the game comes from the gameplay itself. The game is easy to learn, but to master it you’ll need to learn how to use the controls almost by reflex to get further in the game. Luckily for those who require a little more or little less challenge, you can change the difficulty between missions with no penalty. Infected is a fun game, and when it starts getting less than that, you can fix it. There are quite a few single-player missions to go through, but they won’t take too much time to complete. There is also a ranking of how well you do a particular mission, so you can go back and get that gold medal in the mission you originally got a silver or bronze on.

Multiplayer is a fairly important aspect of the game. While it isn’t as technically immersive as the single-player mode, multiplayer does arise some interesting concepts. Other than just combating against other enemies in deathmatches, when you beat an opponent, you will infect them with a “virus” named after you. By infecting your opponent with your virus, you can spread it around farther and around the world; when a player gets infected by a virus, to clear that virus they must either defeat three other people in multiplayer or three tagged single-player missions. By defeating other opponents in multiplayer, they spread your virus to the other players, and the process repeats. But if you play the tagged (called “infected”) levels in single-player mode to replay, you can stop another person’s virus from getting spread farther. It brings up a new kind of massive competition, and if you really got into it, you could work up to the point of having your virus the most infected. To keep track of these stats, Infected uses the PSP’s web browser to check all the stats corresponding with your stats and also the overall trends through all the copies of Infected spread through the world. It’s definitely a cool thing to see a game use the PSP’s web browser and have this kind of interactivity level for a game. Not to mention it doesn’t cost anything extra for it.

As for graphics and sound, the graphics are pretty cool. The textures shown in the game could have been a little less bland, but they’re tolerable. Between shooting zombie mall Santas and the like, it’s not going to matter as much. Cutscenes are nicely animated and generally well-made. As for sound, the voice acting included in the game isn’t bad at all. Sound effects are awesome since there’s lot of explosions and guns shooting. The best part hands down is the soundtrack. Full of hard rock and death metal (if that’s what they can be called) songs, a large selection of which are composed by Slipknot, it genuinely creates an overall feeling that is needed in an M-rated zombie-shooting game. It might not float many people’s boats, but if you’re like the music that is on Slipknots latest album, Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses, you’ll dig the other few songs by other groups in the game as well. In total, there are 22 songs and all can be turned on or off in the options screen.

Your character’s appearance is a fun aspect of the game. You can basically create your own character or unlock different “avatars” by buying them or finding them through the game. Other than being able to make anyone from a goofy lookin’ nerd to a person who looks like he could be in a Good Charlotte-Green Day band, you can play as all the members of Slipknot! What fan would pass up the opportunity to go around shooting a bazooka with Corey Taylor?

Where Infected really does suffer is in its controls. While it can be considered part of the challenge of the game to get used to the controls, the game really would have benefited from a second analog stick. It’s just an unfortunate fact that camera angles and control hold the title back from being better. As a consequence, the controls in general aren’t very sympathetic to your inability to adjust the camera, especially since the view is locked to being right behind your character showing the waist up.

If there’s one thing to say about Infected, it’s that there’s definitely fun to be had with it. While on its own, it isn’t a console-selling “killer-app,” Infected does bring out a concept or two to show what is possible with the PSP. Infected shouldn’t be overlooked — it’s a fresh experience, filled with humor that will make you either burst out laughing or cringe in embarrassment.

Suikoden Tactics (PS2) Review

Developer/Publisher: Konami || Overall: 8.9/10

Konami’s Suikoden RPG series has finally gotten its own strategy RPG offshoot, in the form of Suikoden Tactics for the Playstation 2. Rather than comparing Suikoden Tactics to widely known staples of the genre, it would be more appropriate to compare it to another recently released strategy RPG — Stella Deus: The Gate of Eternity, from Atlus. If you’re in the market for a new strategy RPG, Suikoden Tactics would be an excellent choice, even on its own merits.

Suikoden Tactics takes a while to set up the story; it takes nearly two hours before you can really start to catch on to what might (or might not) be happening. From what you might be able to gather from the first couple hours (as to not spoil anything later on) is that the story has something to do with a band of travelers trying to find information about Rune Cannons, the main character being named Kyril. The traveler’s interests in Rune Cannons are not explained, but during their search they stumble upon, presumably, a Rune Cannon that changes people into fish-human hybrids. However, the origins of the protagonists and their interests in Rune Cannons becomes a subplot (or takes a backseat, rather) to events and conspiracies revolving around Rune Cannons in general. Even more puzzling is the weird goat girl that never says anything and doesn’t partake in battles, but follows the main character wherever he goes. The beginning stages of the story are fragmented, and take place over a number of in-game years, however, its not all that complicated. The most important point about the story is its ability to keep the interest in playing the game.

Suikoden Tactics takes all that has made strategy RPGs great in the past, and rolled it up into a neat, polished package. Not only that, but it adds on a level of complexity (in the form of elements), forcing you to be more tactical in your approach to each battle. In regards to controls, Suikoden Tactics uses the tried and true command-menu. Unfortunately, after experiencing the “Direct” control scheme implemented in Stella Deus: The Gate of Eternity, which sped up battles considerably by making buttons shortcuts to individual commands that would normally be on the command-menu, it makes it seem like Suikoden Tactics is lacking in that department. However, Suikoden Tactics is considerably more complex, and there are aspects of the game that make battles go faster, so it evens out the playing feel in that regard.

As said before, the usual features in a strategy RPG are present. There are the side quests in which you can send a party member to accomplish, side quests that you can actually participate in, the building and maintaining of an army of personality-less allies, and other bits and pieces. But it is the unique aspects of Suikoden Tactics that make the game shine, namely the elements. Elements are your usual magical properties in any RPG like Fire, Earth, Lightning, Water, etc. Each element has its own opposite, no surprises here. Where it gets more complex is that each character has an “affinity” to a certain element. So if a character had a Fire affinity, and they were standing in a square that had the elemental property of Fire, they would get “powered-up” – attack and defense are noticeably higher as well as the prospect of healing after every turn while in the friendly elemental field. Keeping that in mind, it becomes wise to try standing in friendly elemental areas, avoid opposites to your affinity, and manipulate the battlefield to your advantage. Enemies are also able to use elementals in the same way. Besides the elementals, there are other nifty aspects such as switching out party members for fresh troops (allowing you to exploit your whole army in a battle if need be), and mounting party members on animals you find along the way. There are also a number of battle skills that characters can learn that allow you to customize each of them in a way that will be optimal.

There are parts of the battle system that give leeway to speeding up each battle, as well as stepping out of the norm of regular strategy RPGs. There is no use of Action Points, normally seen in strategy RPGs, to dictate each character’s turn. They basically get to move and then act, but if they act before they move, they aren’t allowed to move again (unless they have the specific battle skill to do so). There are also no Magic Points, as the special skills and magic are lumped into a category called Runes; you can use a specific Rune skill a limited amount of times in each battle and the number you’re allowed to use them increases as you level up. If you equip the battle skill on a character to do so, a character can attack more than once during his or her action, speeding up the battle quite a bit compared to what it could be if the battle skill weren’t equipped.

The town and back-end systems aren’t too out of the ordinary. There are five different places in a town that are of interest: the Outfitter, the Blacksmith, the Quest Guild, the Rune Master, and in certain areas a training ground. The Outfitter is the place to buy your equipment and items; armor and hand gear being the most important, they can affect the status of a character. There are also about ten extra slots for each character to hold items or extra equipment as you so desire. At the Blacksmith, you simply upgrade the weapon each character has (there’s no weapon-choosing here, it’s just straightforward upgrading). The Rune Master is the place to go for your special skill and magic needs. When you acquire an orb you have to pay a Rune Master to equip or unequip the Rune Orb. There is also a training ground of sorts every so often where you are able to level up and find treasure. Oddly enough, a permanent death situation is presented in the training levels of the game, while not integrated into the story battles. So, what it basically means is you shouldn’t push the capabilities of your group so far as to have someone in your party die, making them not playable anymore.

Sound and graphics do take a place in the fold as well. Most notable for the sound portion of the game, the voice acting is either a hit or a miss. Many might not like the choice of voice work for the main character, because he comes off as a young adult with the voice of a ten year old, but any fan of the .hack series will recognize Kyril’s voice as Kite’s. You’ll probably be more able to accept the voice of Kyril if you played through the .hack games, like I have. Other voice work is moderate at best, sometimes falling lower than that. Graphics-wise, the game is modest at best. The characters are cel-shaded, and scenery isn’t that striking either. The entire story takes place with in-game animation; CG movies will be admittedly hard to come by, if there are any to speak of. However, we should probably be grateful they took the time to have in-game animations rather than still pictures talking back and forth a la Stella Deus: Gate of Eternity.

As for what is disappointing about the game, it mostly comes in its overall package. While yes, Suikoden Tactics is very recommendable for a strategy RPG, it doesn’t have that extra “oomph” to push it over the edge and make it one of those games you’ll cherish forever. If there were a better story (and to a lesser extent a stronger overall voice cast), the end product would have been better balanced between it and gameplay. Nevertheless, Suikoden Tactics is a refreshing experience for the strategy RPG fan.

Sly 2: Band of Thieves (PS2) Review

Developer: Sucker Punch Productions / Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment || Overall: 9.2/10

Sly 2: Band of Thieves is the follow-up to Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus. A major overhaul was made between the two games, and while the basic gameplay has transitioned over from the first game, Sly 2: Band of Thieves is an improvement over its predecessor in nearly every way. What had also made the first so great in terms of atmosphere and overall feel was carried over in almost every way, capturing the unique feeling that is to be expected for a sequel.

The story in Sly 2 follows up two years after Sly had defeated Clockwerk the Owl. After Sly Cooper was able to defeat Clockwerk (he was made of metal parts), his mechanical pieces were stored in a warehouse. That is until the Klaww Gang stole the Clockwerk parts to use for their criminal plans. Because Clockwerk was a super-evil owl that was bent on destroying the Cooper clan, Sly Cooper made it his mission to steal back all the Clockwerk parts as to avoid any kind of reincarnation of his nemesis.

The major gameplay change in transition to Sly 2: Band of Thieves comes in the basic level design; it is all free-roaming and mission-based. The sectioned-off areas from the first game are gone, as all the missions you’ll play are in a large “city” that is unique to the episode you play in. The game itself is segmented into episodes, like the first, and the overall story is presented in a way as if it were a cartoon. Another important change comes in the perfection of the controls — the ailments of gameplay that were present in the first (mostly in association with the special moves) have basically disappeared. Instead of cycling through special abilities to use by pressing the triangle button, you assign the moves to the shoulder and trigger buttons, allowing for better control. Not only that, the L3 and R3 are also utilized – it immensely streamlines the control interface by putting functions you don’t use often to less accessible buttons. The refinement of the control scheme from the original to the sequel is definitely a welcomed change. A new default ability added to the game is crawling under items (like tables and cars), which aids in your sneaking around.

Health is also a major change to the game. As opposed to the one-hit defeat that was prevalent in the first Sly game, you’ll be able to take as many hits as it takes for your health to fully deplete. What this also means is that your enemies will also take more than one hit to be defeated. There is also the complete eradication of any sort of life-gaining system, since there is no concept of “lives.” You’ll just be able to retry over and over again, which definitely does decrease the difficulty of the game. Since coins used to be only used to gain lives, they have taken on an actual purpose for being money in the first place – being able to buy things with them. What you can buy, exactly, are more moves (known as gadgets) to use during the game. Making money becomes an important factor as you’re able to loot guards and actually have an incentive to collect more money.

Sly 2: Band of Thieves doesn’t stop there in its gameplay changes, however. Though the game is named after the main character Sly Cooper, you’re able to take control of Sly’s friends, Bentley and Murray. While most of the game you’ll play with Sly Cooper, Bentley and Murray take active roles in missions made specifically for them. They’re not as “useful” per se as Sly is, but Bentley and Murray have their own fleshed-out set of moves that really signifies them from each other. There are also some missions where all three characters will be out to complete the objective (such as two defending the other while he does something), and it mixes up the variety of missions and how they’re completed. Other pieces of variety added into the game include mini-games which are very similar to retro genres (such as the shooter) and are worked into the game.

While the free-roaming level designs in Sly 2 are very intuitive, some of the advantages to having linear levels are lost. In the first Sly game, the levels were full of action, forcing you to think fast and use timing to get through the levels, but while these elements are still present in Sly 2, they just don’t seem as diverse. But saying that there are absolutely no linear-style stages in Sly 2 would be a farce; there are some worked in to diversify the gameplay. The way the missions are laid out in the game is in a nice format. Typically, you’ll be completing a bunch of missions as you set up the “big heist” that is at the end of the episode you are on. It actually makes you feel like you’re part of the planning process and by completing the big heist at the end of each episode you see what all your previous work came down to, giving a great sense of accomplishment.

Sly 2 also improves in the amount of things to collect. If you remember from the first one, you had to collect 30 bottles for almost every stage – that made about 120+ bottles to collect, in effect making the game a collectathon — but no more! You only have to collect thirty per stage, and it’s completely optional to do, as the clue bottles will help you open safes for special moves you can get through the game fine without. Only if you wanted to complete 100% of the game is it really necessary to collect the bottles.

The graphics are pretty much the same as were used in the first except with a definite polish. Since the whole game is cel-shaded, it really makes everything look good, especially if you like cel-shading. The cel-shading accompanies the animation scenes to create the feeling that you’re playing a cartoon. Most of the sound was also carried over from the first game, except of course the voice acting. Voice acting also received a definite sort of “polish” from the first as well in terms of audio quality, and the actual actors’ acting abilities. The biggest changes that were noticeable to me were Carmelita Fox’s voice and Sly Cooper’s voice. Carmelita Fox’s voice was a big change because, well, she lost her almost stereotypical Latina accent that was used in the first game. Sly Cooper’s voice actor must have had voice acting lessons during the development of the second game because his voice is definitely a lot better than what had been presented in the first.

There really isn’t anything bad about Sly 2: Band of Thieves. It’s a game that you can definitely get your money’s worth out of, especially because you can find it at a budget price now. And while the story isn’t exactly a masterpiece, it definitely keeps you going. Sly 2: Band of Thieves is one of the greatest platforming games to be released, and it really encompasses the evolution of the genre itself.

X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse (PSP) Review

Developer: Raven Studios / Publisher: Activision || Overall: 8.5/10

X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse for the PSP has made the transition from console to portable almost flawlessly. Though it is a port, it’s by far the best kind of port as it preserves the game’s original build in practically every way. Aside from a few annoyances, X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse is a great action RPG; one you can really get a lot of play-time out of.

The story of X-Men Legends II starts up in the middle of a mission where the X-Men and the Brotherhood have seemingly joined forces to rescue Professor Xavier, who is being held hostage. It isn’t until later do we learn the reason why – a mutant known as Apocalypse has arisen and plans to do things that aren’t exactly approved by the X-Men or the Brotherhood. Xavier and Magneto realized the only chance they had to defeat Apocalypse and his minions would be to join forces and set aside their differences, for the time being, to do so. Story progression is a strongpoint in the game, and really drives the motivation to play.

X-Men Legends is your more or less simple action RPG dungeon crawler. For those who have played Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade, there will be recognizable similarities between the two. X-Men Legends II can be viewed as a superior version of Untold Legends, with almost all the aspects of gameplay executed in a better way. Just like in Untold Legends, you’ll be beating on a bunch of enemies, collecting equipment, and getting new quests to go on constantly. Unfortunately, they both share some similar problems, first of which would be the loading times. There’s quite a bit of loading involved in the game, and can last up to about fifteen to twenty seconds depending on what level is loading. The load times alone make the game unable to be played in short bursts; you’ll have to have a bit of free time to make any significant progress. Another similarity between the two games that is striking the large spiders you fight in the first part of the game. They look exactly like the spiders in Untold Legends, and it’ll almost feel like you’re playing Untold Legends with the X-Men.

The control scheme is fairly simple. You have two buttons that are your regular melee attacks, one button to pick stuff up, and one to jump. And just like in the console version, you hold down the R shoulder button and select one of four assigned special skills to use. Special skills are attained just by simply adding on levels to your characters, and if you let the game control what skills are assigned and what stats are upgraded after each level, it’s very easy. You can take things into your own hands, but it might be more trouble than it is really worth. There are practically no real camera issues, as the camera is automatic and will always be positioned in such a way that it will show you most of what you need to see at all times.

The graphics and sound in Legends II are very impressive. In general, the game is very comparable to the Playstation 2 version graphically. The CG cutscenes are also in widescreen to compliment the PSP’s screen, not to mention they’re at a very high quality; you won’t see any pixilation in the CG cutscenes. It isn’t cel-shaded like its console counterparts, but this stylistic change really doesn’t affect the look — you can’t really notice the difference. The soundtrack and sound effects are great, but where the sound falls is in the voice acting. There is a great cast of voice actors, and even Patrick Stewart lends his voice talent as Professor X. However, the fault isn’t exactly in the voices (though some voices could have been better), but the actual things they say. When you’re watching a mission briefing, you’ll often sit through at least a stupid exchange of witty quips by members of the X-Men and the Brotherhood. Sure, it gives more character to the overall game in some way, but the mission briefings end up being more corny than useful.

X-Men fans will definitely enjoy X-Men Legends II. If it comes down to the question of which version of the game (console or PSP) to get, something to take into consideration are the extras tossed into the PSP version — nine exclusive missions and four new playable heroes. Also, the inclusion of local (Ad-Hoc) and online (Infrastructure) WiFi multiplayer modes is nothing to look over either.

X-Men enthusiasts and action RPG fans will definitely find a game worth their time in X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse. Just for the sheer amount of time you could spend on playing the game, it is definitely worth a purchase. The portable version of the game allows you to take the game anywhere, which might compliment your needs more than a console version, with no loss in the integrity of the game. Its one thing to port a game, but it’s another to be a good port. X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse is an excellent port of an excellent game.

Serious Sam II (PC) Review

Developer: Croteam / Publisher: 2K Games || Overall: 7.8/10

Serious Sam II is the latest from Serious Sam development company Croteam. Serious Sam II has a bit to live up to as the previous games in the series have earned it reputation in the genre they are a part of – the first person shooter (FPS). In a market saturated with FPSs, there are stand-out names that you’ll recognize as a “canon” FPS game; unfortunately Serious Sam just might never be as recognizable of a name as Half-Life, Quake, and Doom because of the unfortunate fact that it does little to really distinguish itself and lacks the quality of the top-rung FPSs out today. Serious Sam II is a step in the right direction for the Serious Sam series, but it’s just not enough to be considered anything more than second-tier.

Serious Sam II starts its single-player mode with Sam being summoned to destroy an ultimately evil guy named Mental, who is the commander of the evil forces that “came from nowhere” in the first Serious Sam. Basically, the goal is to blast your way through all of his minions that come your way on five different planets while in search of a piece of an artifact. When joined, the five pieces hold the key to destroying the seemingly invincible Mental. It’s not a very compelling story to say the least, but there is a sporadic amount of silly humor that can get a few laughs to break up the large amounts of action involved through the game.

So, what separates Serious Sam II from all the other first person shooter games out right now? Not much. The formula of Serious Sam II rides on the droves of cartoon-like enemies (characterized in the Hell motif) that are to be killed. Enemies will constantly appear in large groups and seemingly never-ending amounts. There are solid graphics with pretty scenery, interesting-looking enemies, and aside from the guns the game is full of weird sound effects. As said before, you’ll go through five different planets which will basically just be different in terms of particular enemies you’ll see and possibly guns you’ll pick up. It should be noted that every part of the game is fairly visually pleasing, and as a consequence very demanding on your hardware.

There are plenty of weapons available for use throughout the game. The standard issue radial chainsaw, plasma gun, and dual magnums have unlimited ammo, and at the beginning of each new planet you’ll be reset to the basics. Guns you’ll pick up along the way in each level include the single-shot shotgun, double barrel shotgun, plasma rifle, rocket launcher, and dual Uzis, among others. In first person mode, the guns look very nice, but in third person mode, they won’t be as flashy since you’re looking down from a few feet behind Sam. One thing about the weapons is that you don’t technically reload; you just have to keep your guns fed with ammo to keep them working.

If there’s one thing to say about Serious Sam II, it’s that it’s hard. Really hard. Really really hard. If you play the game on normal or more, you’ll be wasting gobs of time retrying certain parts of levels over and over. I had originally played the game on Normal; about two hours into the game I couldn’t pass a part where an armada of enemies just kept coming and I would keep dying. I got so frustrated that I restarted the game at a lower difficulty and within twenty minutes I was stuck at the same place. If you’re looking for a challenge when it comes to testing your FPS skills, you’ll find it in Serious Sam II.

There is also the possibility of playing multiplayer. There’s not much to it, since you’ll just be playing cooperatively through the whole single player mode with unlimited ammo for all weapons. You can turn friendly fire on or off, but you can’t play a makeshift deathmatch-mode in this way since everyone’s lives feed off the same pile. Believe it or not, that’s all there is to multiplayer — Co-op.

There are parts about Serious Sam II that take a toll on the overall game. First, the frame rate will take a dive when you’re in the middle of huge battles with lots of enemies. What’s even worse is that when you’re NOT in huge battles and there actually are no enemies at all, you’ll still be suffering from a low frame rate. Thankfully, the frame rate isn’t so low that the game is absolutely unplayable, but it does get annoying. The reason behind it is probably because the whole level you’re on is loaded before you play since there are only load screens at the end of the huge stages. Another annoying thing is the sound in pre-rendered cutscenes — it hiccups or cuts out every couple seconds which is also very annoying to say the least. Thankfully, however, there aren’t that many pre-rendered scenes and the real-time cutscenes don’t have sound problems at all.

The level designs also don’t allow for much strategy in how you undertake certain areas such as hiding behind walls or the like. More often than not you’ll be in a somewhat open area fighting the onslaught of enemies rather than fighting a small amount of strategically placed foes. What the game basically comes down to is how good you are at surviving rather than relying on strategy with weaponry, and that gets pretty repetitive. At least there are a lot of levels to play through, however. At times, you’ll have to move items by “picking it up” and if you use certain things to your advantage you can get to certain areas you wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. Not to mention there is a bit of clunky platforming integrated into the game.

What’s presented here might be all that’s really expected from a Serious Sam game, but with weak multiplayer modes, a very lacking story, and difficulty levels that would put escaping from a natural disaster to shame, Serious Sam II ends up not being much more than a first person shooter with tons of enemies to kill amidst massive amounts of frustration. With all that aside, if the culmination of performance problems weren’t present, and it included some more multiplayer options, Serious Sam II could have been a very fun game.

Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (PS2) Demo Preview

Developer: Level 5 | Publisher: Square Enix ||

It’s been a while since a Dragon Quest game has come out. The last Dragon Quest (also known as Dragon Warrior) game to come out was Dragon Warrior VII in 2000 for the original PlayStation. Needless to say, the old Enix canon franchise now sees its latest incarnation under the guise of Square Enix and developer Level 5. Level 5 has already built up a reputation with Sony’s Dark Cloud series, one that I am very fond of, and the same cel-shading style used in Dark Cloud 2 shows through in Dragon Quest VIII.

I had the opportunity to actually play the demo for Dragon Quest VIII because GameCrazy gave me a copy of the demo disc when I finally got one of their cards to get discounts on used games. So, naturally, I decided to play it. I hadn’t had the pleasure of playing any of the previous games in the series, so I started Dragon Quest VIII with a clean slate. I was an avid fan of the Dragon Ball Z series back when it was in its popularity spike in America, so I noticed the art style of Akira Toriyama right off. Coupled with the cel-shaded look of the whole game, it gave a very anime-esque feel to the game that is very similar to Toriyama’s previous works in animation. The environments don’t fare as well from what is shown. Even though it is a demo, the areas available weren’t very impressive or breathtaking to say the least; rather, the environments in the demo were more or less just trying to accomplish what they were trying to do and little more. The areas available were an open field, a cave, and a town.

Like what was mentioned earlier, the field and the cave aren’t all that spectacular. The field had some nice colors with trees and hills, so the features of the field weren’t all that boring. The cave also had some nice colors in certain parts, but most of it was just brown. The town was also colorful, but it just felt like it didn’t have anything special to it. Of course, being a demo, it doesn’t usually reflect on how well the game will look in all instances, and I expect that Level 5 has made some nice-looking areas, and of course, to some extent, utilized the help of Akira Toriyama in that regard. The sound is nothing less than what you should expect from a Square Enix game; simply, it’s a nice fantasy-oriented orchestrated soundtrack. The limited amount of voice acting present was only available during the very important parts of the story mode. The voice acting isn’t half bad either. It should also be said that the automatic stand-out for best voice in the game is the character of Yangus, who sounds like some guy that would be in The Getaway. The main character doesn’t talk, though.

As far as gameplay goes, Dragon Quest VIII is pretty much a run-of-the-mill RPG. There’s not a lot shown in the demo to distinguish it too much from regular RPG gameplay, but there are a couple of unique things to it that go toward making it more than just normal. There are random battles — this is nothing really surprising. But what is different is that there are also extra enemies on the map that you have a choice of fighting on the map as well. Sometimes you can be forced to fight the enemies that appear on the field. So, they could be guarding a treasure or present an extra battle challenge. Battles are also fast-paced and you can get through them relatively fast if need be. What helps this is the use of tactics that you can assign to your other teammates, whether you want them to automate in a certain way or if you want them to follow your orders. So if you had your allies automated (and you can change their tactics mid-battle) you’d only really control the main character and be supported by your allies’ decisions according to the tactics you selected for them.

As for the actual story, it’s a charming adventure they have going. Even though they drop you into the middle of the story (which is probably not even in the real game as it is presented in the demo), it did interest me, and I wanted to find out more about the problem at hand (which was something about a king being transformed into a monster) and who the non-speaking main character really was. The town structure also reminded me of the 16-bit era RPGs; it wasn’t really anything in particular, but there was just something about the way the buildings were laid out, as if we were still in 2D. I also had the same feeling when running around on the field outside of the town. Whether or not the developer tries to keep that feeling through the whole game could be questionable.

The Dragon Quest VIII demo has cemented my decision in definitely getting the full retail version. If you’re able to get your hands on it, take the demo for a spin, as it’ll definitely show off some of the style of Dragon Quest VIII and what’s to be expected from the game. Judging from the demo alone, Dragon Quest VIII is sure to not disappoint.

Burnout Legends (PSP) Review

Developer: EA London / Publisher: EA Games || Overall: 9.3/10

The PSP’s first Burnout game isn’t an entirely new title in the Burnout series; rather, it is more like a compilation of all of the best parts of Burnout 1, Burnout 2, and Burnout 3, using the physics and gameplay engine of Burnout 3. Burnout Legends is a perfect arcade racer for the PSP, capturing the feel of its console counterparts amazingly well. Burnout Legends works perfectly for a portable without skimping on what makes the Burnout series great in the first place.

To put it bluntly, Burnout Legends is a great game. Just like every other game in the series, it revolves around high speed racing action full of dodging traffic and crashing into your competitors as you try to place in an event. The basic formula for Burnout is amplified by the sheer amount of modes and things you can do in the game; you’ll never be bored. For PSP owners that haven’t gotten around to buying any of the Burnout games prior to Burnout Revenge, Burnout Legends is a must-have. Even for people that have all the Burnout games, Burnout Legends’ value will come with its portability and its truthfulness to its console roots.

As for the modes and events you’ll see in the game, they should be familiar to any Burnout fan. There are the World Tour, Single Event, and Multiplayer modes with the events of Race, Time Attack, Road Rage, Pursuit, Crash, Eliminator, Grand Prix, Face-Off, and Burning Lap – it’s all here. In World Tour mode there’s also the different car classes of Compact, Muscle, Coupe, Sport, and Super. Each World Tour class has its own set of challenges that includes a mixture of the previously mentioned events, with each class getting more difficult and speeds reaching higher levels.

As for the events: In Race, you’ll go up against three other opponents and try to get in first place. Time Attack is a Single Event mode-specific event in which you just try to get the fastest time you can for a particular track. In Road Rage you’ll attempt to get a certain amount of takedowns before your car is destroyed. In Pursuit, you’ll drive a cop car and attempt to chase and bring down another car within a time limit. For Crash, there are exactly 100 levels in which you try to rack up as much damage as you can, by crashing. In Eliminator, it’s like a regular race except that the racer that places last in each lap is eliminated. Grand-Prix offers a run-of-the-mill tournament mode in which you’ll race through a certain amount of tracks and earn points based on what you placed in each race. Face-Off is a one on one race, and Burning Lap is basically like Time Attack except you’re in a supercharged car with the nitro gauge filled up the whole way. Needless to say, there’s plenty to do in the game.

The PSP’s analog nub isn’t plagued by sensitivity issues, and feels just about perfect control-wise. The only thing that might make a difference, though, is your thumb could start to hurt after a long hour or so of playing. Because of the absence of a second analog stick on the PSP, you’ll have to resort to pressing a button for your gas.

The graphics in Burnout Legends are really some of the best you’ll be seeing at this stage of the PSP’s life. It’s nothing short of eye candy (for a handheld) and looks very similar in terms of graphical quality compared to Burnout 3. The sound also compliments the game very well, on the sound effects and music side. Though there are 21 songs in the soundtrack, it isn’t very diverse after long amounts of playing and you’ll start wanting to hear stuff that is a little bit different than the punk/rock repertoire included. Sound effects overall are very nice as well, but during Crash mode, the sound can get a little bit irritating when you sit there waiting for the end of a Crash event. It is just the long monotonous noises of car horns that can get on your nerves, especially since the volume isn’t decreased in-game while the monetary damage is calculated.

There are a couple of nifty points to the game, such as the amount of cars and game sharing. As a total, there are 89 cars to unlock and if you can find a friend you can challenge them a “Collector Challenge” in which you can win a car they have that you want in your quest to collect all the cars in the game. Game sharing allows you to play with a friend in a one-on-one race or let them play a single-player demo of the game. So, anyone with a PSP (no UMD required) can play a game of Burnout Legends against you.

As for what’s bad about the game, there really aren’t many things to pick out. The game can be buggy at times, the most apparent bug being shaking floor texture panels. Once during a Crash event, I hit a car so hard that I opened up a portal to a void in which my car just kept falling. Even after Crashbreaker (if I had even thought in the first place it would do anything), I wasn’t able to get out of the void until the end of the event. It may have just been a fluke to discover the void, but the floor textures shaking around should have been fixed. What could be seen as a discerning point about the game is that there is no Infrastructure mode present that would allow you to play the game over the Internet.

Burnout Legends is a recommendable game to any PSP owner who likes arcade racers. For what is included in the game and its myriad of challenges, modes, events, and amazing value of gameplay, it really is worth the price. It can’t be stressed any more that Burnout Legends is one of the greatest PSP games on the market right now.

Sly Cooper And The Thievius Raccoonus (PS2) Review

Developer: Sucker Punch Productions / Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment || Overall: 8.9/10

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus is one of those games that remind me why platformers are so great. The game is relatively simple, and while not perfect, it is definitely an enthralling experience that doesn’t take too much of your time. Since 2002, two more sequels to the original have come out, with Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves just being released last month.

The first thing that strikes you about the game is its completely animated style and presentation. You’ll feel like you’re playing through a cartoon movie spliced into “episodes” featuring a variety of beautiful landscapes and some very cinematic elements during Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus is one of those games that remind me why platformers are so great. gameplay. As a fan of the classic Looney Tunes cartoons, I enjoyed this style of presentation greatly, as the influence really shows at times. But don’t let the game’s cel-shaded appearance dupe you; there is a spectacular platforming engine that drives Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus.

What could be called more of an “introduction” to the character of Sly Cooper and how he learns his amazing thievery skills is a very involving game on its own. The five different episodes of the game create the feeling, as mentioned before, that you’re playing through a cartoon series/movie hybrid of sorts. Each of the five different episodes will take you through its own unique areas with its different challenges, as should be expected in a game like this. As you acquire more skills through the levels, you’ll increasingly be expected to know how to use the skills masterfully and in conjunction with each other. When you get to the later levels of the game, you’ll have to get your timing perfect and know exactly what you’re about to do to complete the task.

There being only one mode, story mode, you’re plunged right in the middle of a robbery, introducing you to the main characters and the basic mechanics of gameplay. Sly Cooper’s cohorts Murray the hippo (the driver) and Bentley the turtle (the brain) back up Sly when he needs help. Carmelita Fox, the hot Latino fox character, will appear from time to time and chase Sly and attempt to capture him. All the characters, including the bosses, are well voice-acted for, though Sly Cooper’s voice could have been a little bit more unique when it comes to personality in regular speech. With all the platforming fun you’ll be having, it’ll be easy to overlook it.

Gameplay is very much a strong point of the game. I’d call it pretty much a perfect platformer if it weren’t for a couple of things. The first and foremost is the way in which special abilities are used. Instead of having one of the R or L buttons assigned to a special ability, the triangle button becomes the designator of the special ability button. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if it wasn’t for the fact that there are a couple of abilities that require you to hold the triangle button to use, and to take advantage of it also press another one of the face buttons. Of course, you can use two fingers instead of your thumb to remedy the problem, but it doesn’t feel as natural and rightly so. It seemed like the trigger buttons were wasted, with the L1 and R1 bringing up your “Binoc-u-cam” (which are binoculars) and the L2 and R2 are used to shuffle through the abilities. With a little bit of better planning, the buttons could have been utilized in a better and more natural way, or the abilities becoming user-assigned. The other smaller problem is the camera. Sometimes you aren’t able to move the camera in a way that will really help you out, making you resort to your Binoc-u-cam to look for something (which allows for free look). More than a couple of times the camera actually got caught behind a wall or something and couldn’t follow Sly Cooper around anymore.

Sly Cooper is also a collectathon. You’ll be collecting as many coins as you can, smashing things open and going out of your way to obtain “clues” that lead to gaining new abilities. Sometimes it’s easy to miss the vital “clues” because they could be hidden. Even though there is something you can obtain for each world (which are Blueprints of the area you’re in) which unveil the location of coins and clues when looking through your Binoc-u-cam, it could be a pain when you’re looking for the clues that you need to get the Blueprints, which makes it sort of a Catch 22. Saving and loading throughout the game are so well masked that you practically don’t know it’s going on. After each level or new ability gained, the game will save but won’t stop the game asking for your permission to do it. You’ll go right on not even being asked to do anything and it happens in the background. This is the first game that I’ve seen that doesn’t have a dialog screen up when saving. Loading is also seamless and is barely noticeable as you move between areas. There aren’t even any loading screens to speak of. The loading and saving aspects of the game should be praised and become more widely used if possible.

As said before, the voice acting is quite good. On top of that, the regular sound effects are excellent and satisfying. The graphics and presentation style also push the title to near visual perfection, as most cel-shaded games are. The graphics really couldn’t be made much better for the Playstation 2’s hardware. The movies and “briefing” scenes are also all animated, never taking you out of the experience of feeling like being in a cartoon.

While almost obviously appealing to the younger crowd, Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus is definitely something a gamer of any age can enjoy. Since it is a pretty aged title, you can probably pick it up for a few dollars used or get it new at the Greatest Hits price or even lower. If you’re in for a relatively short, fun game, Sly Cooper 1 would be a wise decision.


Developer: Killer Game / Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment || Overall: 7.0/10

FRANTIX is 185 levels of puzzle fun. Taking place in a fantasy land, FRANTIX ends up being a glorified version of Chip’s Challenge, with a distinct challenge presented in each and every level. As one of the three heroes Kaz, Bear, and Uri, as well as the “bonus hero” Meeper (from the short film “The Chubbchubbs”) you’ll go on your frantic race against the clock to complete each puzzle as fast as you can.

In the beginning of the game, you’ll only be allowed to select one hero, Bear. However, once you get through the introduction/tutorial part of the game called Tutorialandia, all the other heroes will be unlocked. Somewhere later on, the “bonus hero” Meeper will become available. First, if you’re wondering why Meeper is even in the game, its because FRANTIX includes the short film “The Chubbchubbs” (made by Sony Imageworks) on the UMD itself. When watching the movie, it isn’t as full featured as the regular movie watching functions available on the PSP, so you can’t exactly pause or fast forward or anything. The short film also gives inspiration for a world called The Chubbchubbs in FRANTIX as well.

FRANTIX, like most puzzle games, has no story. You’re plopped down in a “world” and with your “hero” of choice you go around and collect crystals, completing any challenges presented in the way of you achieving all the crystals in the level. It’s a simple concept, and the game itself is pretty simple when you think about it, but there are a few puzzles that will make you stop and think about how to complete. Sometimes it’ll take downright luck that allows you to finish a level. As an extra challenge and bonus, if you finish a level quick enough, you’ll get a gold gem.

The main things you’ll encounter and have to avoid or manipulate are hazards (like water, quicksand, and lava), creatures (like catdragons and monsters), boxes, bombs, missiles, portals, doors, and walls. The game uses all of these elements to create the challenges involved in playing the game. There’s nothing too out of the ordinary, but the game will keep you busy and manage to not be monotonous in its execution.

Gameplay in itself is very simple. You move on a grid, push things, and collect things. Though you’re able to use the analog stick, it just isn’t as precise as using the D-Pad throughout the game. You’ll have to have fast reactions sometimes and really practice a level before you can finish a level sometimes. Loading is not a problem in the game at all. If you have to restart a level, you can do so instantly without having to load the level again. The only loading to actually be seen is in the middle of levels and even then it only lasts for a few seconds. In the end, the game is definitely geared toward being a perfect handheld game.

The six worlds available for you to play are a nice mix, and definitely the most original of all would be the world of The Chubbchubbs. The detail of the environment is equal to the level of Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade. Or at least it reminded me of it. Basically, that means it’s pretty good, and you’ll see relatively nice sprites and environment. You’re also able to “zoom” in to your character to see the action up close. But the graphics really aren’t anything too special, though nice. The sound is a strong point as well, especially because of the soundtrack which is a sort of mix of electronic and fantasy-ish music. The sound effects aren’t bad either.

Though FRANTIX does have an abundance of levels, nice gameplay features, and good challenges, it’s just not overall a compelling title. While, yes, you can have a lot of fun with the game, it doesn’t give off a special sort of flare to really make it have a better feel. Despite any of the shortcomings, FRANTIX is an original handheld game for the PSP that is worth a look.

GripShift (PSP) Review

Developer: Sidhe Interactive / Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment || Overall: 7.5/10

What is GripShift? You tell me. Calling it a racing game alone doesn’t do it justice as it contains a unique mix of platforming and puzzle-type challenges all while in a speed buggy. GripShift isn’t all that amazing, but what it tries to accomplish is bring something new to the table. And while GripShift possibly has the makings of a perfect formula for a handheld game, some gameplay issues hold it back from being as good as it could’ve been.

There’s not much to explain about GripShift; you just pick up the game and start playing. You play through hordes of levels, each with a number of goals needed to be completed, and the difficulty of these levels progressively become more difficult with each level completed. Just by the sheer amount of levels present in the game, it will keep you busy for a long time to come. A total of one-thousand credits are available to earn through challenges, races, and bonus games, and when specific amounts of credits are acquired, new unlockable items make themselves present in the game, including new racers, cars, tracks, bonus games, and things of the like. It is also a prerequisite to earn a certain amount of credits before going to a new “level” of tracks, since they’re separated into their respective difficulties.

To earn credits, you have to complete certain challenges within the level you select. The most common way to earn credits is through the single-player challenge mode, where you can do one of four things to progress. If you simply complete a track within the time that’s given to you, you’re able to unlock the next level, but if you complete a track before a certain time, you can achieve up to three credits, one for a bronze time ranking, one for silver, and one for gold. It’s basically a finish-this-as-fast-as-you-can sort of thing, and you’re awarded accordingly. Each level has its own time limit and goals. The other things you can do in each level are collect all the collectible stars present or a “bonus credit” in the level and end up finishing the level before your time is up. Needless to say, once you get to the harder levels, it can get pretty freakin’ hard. Nitrous boosting is a very important part of completing your tasks because it can help you get over gaps and almost fly around while you have some juice to use.

During race mode, you’re able to race against three other computer opponents and beat them. If you’re able to get into first place, you’ll get three credits. When you play the races in challenge mode, however, you’ll go up against only one opponent, except the difference is that there are stars to collect, and to get the credits for collecting all the stars, you have to obviously collect them all and then beat your opponent. During the races, you’re able to use three types of weapons against your foes, including a homing missile, a box of TNT, and a shield. It’s a skimpy selection, but it does well enough since you won’t really be racing that much during the game. Once you achieve a certain amount of points, you can unlock certain bonus games that are completely different from anything else in the game. You’re able to earn credits by achieving certain goals within each bonus game.

What I personally love about the game are the load times. There are no loading times at all when you restart a level (and that happens quite a bit), or the loading only takes a couple seconds before you go to a new level. It was definitely the right thing to do in a game like this, especially when the PSP has become admonished because of long load times. The lack of any really noticeable loading definitely gives the game a good reason to be played in quick bursts and to keep up at trying to complete a level after multiple failures without becoming frustrated for reasons other than the actual challenge of the level.

What holds GripShift back from being a must-have PSP game is the lack of polish when it comes to actual gameplay. While there are some parts of the game that are good (like level design, challenge, and the sheer amount of levels and things to do), there are three main aspects that I can pick out as worth noting. For one, the sensation of speed is off tremendously relative to the actual mph (or kmph) to what you feel like you’re going in the game. When it feels like you’re going around thirty mph, it says that you’re going something like fifty five. Not that it’s a really big deal (because you’re not really going to be looking at how fast you’re going most of the time), but it reflects on the how well the game is polished. Another aspect is the control. Unfortunately, whether it was the programming or the actual hardware limitations, the PSP’s analog nub makes it hard control especially around the tight bends and fast turns. Another aspect that is quite un-fulfilling is the race mode. GripShift is no Wipeout Pure when it comes to racing, especially with the limited selection of weaponry involved, and due to the sensitivity of the controls being a bit off it can be harder than it should be. But, all of these elements really don’t take a huge toll on the overall feel of the game, as you’ll just have to compensate with the game’s downsides.

When it comes to graphics and sound, it’s a mixed bag. The graphics are nice to say the least, and definitely what should be seen on the PSP at this point of its life. Music and sound effects are a different deal though. I don’t know why, but GripShift has an awfully weird music selection for a driving game, especially one that involves frustrating platforming, time limits, and star collecting. I couldn’t really even tell you what genre of music it is, but it sounds like a hybrid of hip-hop, rock (with a light amount of ska), and a little bit of electronica. Not only that, but I couldn’t even distinguish if there was more than one group/band on the soundtrack just by listening to it. I would have appreciated a little bit more of a regular rock soundtrack as it would have just blended better, but in the end the music really doesn’t take away from the experience. Sound effects are fine, especially the car screeching sounds that your buggy makes at every direction change. Depending on which driver you select for your persona in the game, you’ll hear their sayings as they fall off the level into oblivion or when time is running up. The driver selection is basically a stereotypical cast; the one I use the most is the stoner surfer guy that I think is on the front cover of the game and he says stuff like “Whoaaaaaa” and “duuuuuudeeee” and “hurry up dude!” all the time.

If its one thing that GripShift is good for, it’s wasting time. If you can get past the small control issues and tolerate the music and sound effects, you’ll find one heck of a game that’s loaded with enough challenge to keep any bored person busy. Especially with a thousand credits to collect (which might not seem like a lot, but when you gain only one or two credits every once in a while it will seem like a major feat to accomplish) and quite a few aspects to unlock with the credits gained during play, it’s a game that will take a lot of hours to finish.

Zone Of The Enders: The 2nd Runner (PS2) Review

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

Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner is the sequel to 2001’s Zone of the Enders. Fans of the original should consider it practice, since ZOE 2 is where the real challenge starts. ZOE 2 has reached new heights of diversity in gameplay compared to the original, and everything (and I mean everything) about the original battle system has been improved. The visuals have also taken a completely different course into the anime/cel shading direction. If there’s one thing to be sure about, almost any fan of the first Zone of the Enders will enjoy its sequel.

If you felt like me when playing the first ZOE, we were kind of left in the dark as to who the enemies really were and what their intents were. Thankfully, a “Previous Story” movie is included on the main menu screen which gives a recap of the whole first game and explains the different plot holes that were left to question. We learn that an evil “army” named BAHRAM, bent on creating all-around destruction, went to the colony where the first game’s hero, Leo, lived to retrieve an orbital frame (which are what the mechs that are in the game are called) named Jehuty. Jehuty would be used to activate a weapon of mass destruction named Aumaan. At the end of the first game, we were given a non-elaborative statement about what Jehuty’s “final” mission would be, which was to go to Mars and self-destruct in Aumaan. So, we were left to wonder what would actually happen to the characters we saw through the first game, as well as what would happen to Jehuty and its AI named ADA.

Many years after the events that happened in Zone of the Enders, the story picks up with a character named Dingo on a Metatron mining mission on one of Jupiter’s moons. Metatron, being the precious energy substance of the future, was very highly valued. While on the mining mission, Dingo finds Jehuty hidden away in a large box on the moon. Unfortunately for Dingo, BAHRAM did as well. Dingo hops into Jehuty and proceeds with kicking the bejeezus out of all the units sent after him. ZOE 2 is a very straightforward game, and progresses more or less like a regular action game. The “world traveling” parts that were present in the first game have been done away with and replaced with cinematic sequences filled with story. But while ZOE 2 loses the “freedom” aspect, it definitely makes up in keeping the challenges diverse.

The primary objective of beating up an endless amount of ambiguously named enemies has been done away with in the transition to the sequel, but there are still plenty of enemies to slaughter. Raptors, Cyclops and Mummies make their way back into the game, but not without friends and some new characteristics. Raptors, while more or less the same as in the first game, are the most common unit you’ll be seeing. The Raptor AI has been immensely improved, and actually poses a challenge at certain times. The Cyclops, which was just a hard-punching version of the Raptor with no long-range attack, has now become a formidable opponent as well. Using some sort of distortion blast for long-range attacks as well as getting an AI upgrade makes the Cyclops not-so generic of an enemy anymore. The Mummy has also had an AI boost, but besides having the usual couple of sub-weapons to use against you, when defeated can sometimes revert into a Raptor and continue fighting. Other enemies making their first appearance in the game are orbital frames such as Spyders (basically mini walking tanks), Leonardo, Mosquitoes, among others. Just about as often as you’ll be fighting against “regular enemies,” you’ll be fighting boss-like enemies. There are so many different boss battles (not to mention they can take a while) included in the game, and they really diversifies the experience as you play. Each boss is extremely unique in how to beat them, almost reminiscent of the way a Metal Gear Solid game treats its bosses.

Nearly all of the sub-weapons from the first game also made the transfer as well as a couple new sub-weapons. Absent sub-weapons that were featured include the Javelin and Bounder, but the Javelin can be seen being used by a Raptor sometimes. New sub-weapons include the Vector Cannon and the ability Zero Shift. The Vector Cannon is a huge cannon that has so much energy it can blow the crap out of battleships many times bigger than Jehuty, but to use it Jehuty’s feet must be on a firm ground. Zero Shift is the ability to travel from one point to another with almost no time spent between traveling. If you can’t grasp the concept, just think of it as teleporting. The new sub-weapons, as well as enhancements to the pre-existing ones, add another layer of gameplay as you’ll have to use sub-weapons intelligently through the game. Many of the sub-weapons now rely on a pressure-sensitive button command, unlike the original ZOE, allowing for more control over your sub-weapons.

While the gameplay experience being extremely revamped is a very important part of what makes ZOE 2 great, the visual aspects also take a very big part. ZOE 2 is easily one of the most visually impressive console games to come out of this generation, let alone for the Playstation 2. The detail used in mech design, environment, and the use of cel shading to give the game an anime feel along with anime cutscenes really gives it a distinct art style. It’s not 100% cel shaded though, it still uses the “realistic” style seen in most games for a majority of what is seen, but the cel shading amplifies the visuals immensely. Music is also very good and fits in exactly as it should be, and even the J-popish theme song the game has fits in. I may not understand the words in the song, but I still feel the emotion they convey…sniff.

While the game only took me eight hours to beat on normal, it is an amazing eight hours at that. After you beat the game, there is a New Game+ sort of thing that allows you to play through the game again with a different version of Jehuty (whether or not you have certain abilities dictates the version, as well as the look). A Versus Mode is included, allowing you to play against a friend or computer using mechs from the game, but until you beat the game once you won’t be able to play with anything but Jehuty. What will take the largest amount of time, though, are the Extra Missions. Throughout the game, you collect items called Ex Missions that allow you to attempt specific challenges, whether they are survival, objective, etc. What it comes down to, is extending the length of the title quite a bit past the ten hours or so you might spend on the single player mode after one go. Also worth mentioning is that there is a level that is basically one huge, epic battle fighting against literally hundreds of orbital frames while being assisted by only a few allies. Needless to say, it’s definitely a weird kind of adrenaline rush to take part in it.

Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner is a game that makes me clamor for more ZOE-action. Packed full of high-paced mech action has always been its most appealing aspect, but the story is also another factor in its appeal. ZOE 2 is one of the best games for the Playstation 2, but is unfortunately fairly rare nowadays. If you see the game and it interests you, my advice would be to buy it, you won’t be disappointed. Here’s hoping for a Zone of the Enders 3.

Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, The (PS2) Review

Developer: Radical Games / Publisher: Sierra || Overall: 8.7/10

It’s open to question whether The Incredible Hulk has ever gotten a game worthy of his comic book heritage — that is until VU Games released The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction! And what a game it is. Set in a GTA-style “free roam” world, you are the Hulk and the city is yours to destroy as you please. Filled with enough variety to keep anyone who enjoys the game busy for a while, you’ll encounter experiences that really can not otherwise be had if it weren’t for the fact you are The Hulk.

As one of the few games released based on a comic book character that is not based on a movie, Ultimate Destruction is the best comic book character game I’ve played since Spider-Man for the PlayStation. At The Hulk’s disposal are a myriad of attacks and abilities that will take a lot of practice to master being able to use all of them effectively. As you progress farther and farther the action gets more and more intense as the enemies become harder, faster, and larger forcing you to learn how to use the abilities strategically. The battle system is chock full of so many abilities that you get a feeling of freedom as you control the Hulk. You can do anything from a simple punch to creating a force shockwave in the ground, to swinging a tank around and around, launching it at a foe. Once you reach Critical Mass (the state which The Hulk is at his strongest), all of his attacks become more powerful, as well as having the ability to use special attacks that create huge amounts of damage. After each chapter of the story missions you complete, more abilities will be available for you to buy.

There are a few types of collectibles that are important to say the least. Green orbs (that can come in different sizes) add health to Hulk’s gauge, and is also required to add energy to the Critical Mass gauge as well. At certain points you’ll be able to increase your gauges and increase your power. Yellow orbs give you a certain amount of “Smash Points.” Smash Points are used to buy new moves for Hulk to use, and other than acquiring the yellow orbs, you get them basically by smashing or destroying anything. While very easy to obtain, you’ll need a lot of Smash Points to buy new moves. Green “C”s representing comic books are also floating around. These “comic books” give you extra things such as unlockables in the extras gallery (like enemy renders, Hulk renders, making of movies, etc.), cheats, and Smash Points. There are also green question marks that give you hints about the game play and things you can do. Supposedly if you collect all the hint question marks, something good happens, so it entices you to look around for the hints or at least get them when you see them.

Most of the enemies you’ll encounter are military units from the United States Army. You’ll encounter no mercy as they send tanks, harrier jets, helicopters, rocket launchers, infantry, and developed-just-to-kill-The-Hulk Hulkbusters. The Hulkbusters are simply just mechs, and as you progress through the story missions they will become more and more of a nuisance as they get stronger, faster, bigger, and team up on you. But if you’re good at the game, you’re usually not going to have too much trouble with them. The only times they REALLY get challenging is when you fight a huge robot in a boss battle, which happens quite often. One of the shining aspects of the game is that the boss battles take a long time, not being all too boring at all since they really challenge your skills and are very fast-paced nature.

In addition to the linear story missions, there are “challenges” that put The Hulk into unique situations to have fun in. Some of the challenges include seeing how fast you can get through a predetermined path, kicking field goals with a car, and quite a few that have you destroy as many enemies as possible in a limited amount of time. You’re also able to revisit the challenges (once you complete them the first time after finding them on the map) from the menu screen, which allows you to see the whole list of all the challenges and the records that you hold in each. This feature makes it seem like it’d almost be fun to play with a friend because the challenges are so different and require different skills, and when it comes down to it, they’re really just mini-games.

What is great about the game as a whole is that nearly everything can be interacted with including being picked up and thrown, and weaponized. Weaponization allows you to create weapons out of the things around you, and in conjunction with your other abilities, you can use them to defeat your enemies. For example, you can create “steel fists” out of small cars, “shields” out of larger trucks (that can double as a skateboard-type thing), and huge bowling balls. You can also catch, punch-back, and use missiles to destroy enemies.

The story itself follows Eric Banner in his pursuit of creating a machine that will allow him to be cured of The Hulk before he loses all his sanity. Throughout the adventure, you’ll encounter your arch-nemesis of sorts, called The Abomination, who is basically another Hulk-type mutant of a man named Emil Blonsky. His roots and intentions are explained well, and you’ll be seeing him quite a few times throughout.

Not saying that the game is perfect, there are problems with it that I’d like to point out. While most is nearly flawless in its execution, the biggest problem is the loading. Before each mission/challenge you undertake you’ll have to sit there waiting for the loading to finish, which is obvious, but this wouldn’t have been something to complain about if it wasn’t for the fact that the loading takes a long time, and if you retry a mission/challenge it has to load everything again. Another problem was that I felt the city didn’t look as diverse as it should have been. There aren’t many special landmarks or easily identifiable buildings which would usually be characteristic of a true city.

Any reservations I had about the game when I played the demo have all been forgotten, and I’m glad to have experienced The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction in all its astonishing fun. Just by being able to do things like throw a bus at a helicopter floating above a building, The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction is definitely the ultimate Hulk game. The world of Ultimate Destruction is yours to rampage through, and it’s pretty incredible.

Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories (PSP) Preview

Developer: Rockstar Leeds/Rockstar North | Publisher: Rockstar Games

The name Grand Theft Auto has stricken fear into the hearts of politicians and conservative moralizers as of late with the aftermath of the Hot Coffee mod. But now they have even more reason to be afraid – Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories is coming to the PSP in October. It was worse enough for them that the game was only limited to households, but with the first true incarnation of a full 3D handheld GTA, the possibilities become endless. You could jack a car while jacking a car in real life (though you really shouldn’t do that)!

Those who played through GTA III should remember Toni Cipriani. The reason why, is because he is the main character in GTA: LCS. Taking place a couple years after GTA: San Andreas, in 1998, Liberty City is in the midst of a mafia war for control over the city. Problems galore have washed over Liberty City from political corruption to massive organized crime and drug trafficking. It’s up to Toni to clean up the mess and put the city under Leone’s control.

Probably the reason why there is so much interest behind GTA: LCS is because it is not a throwback to its top down roots like GTA Advance for the GBA is, and is touted to be as immersive as the console versions have been come to be known as, all on a handheld. Not only that, but many of the radio stations from GTA III will make its way back and then some.

Furthermore, in regards to the radio stations and music, GTA: LCS will allow for a “custom” radio station playing music off of your memory stick rather than music included on the disc itself. This adds to the variety of the game and is something yet to be seen, other than in the Xbox versions of the GTA games. While the radio stations will probably not be as diverse in their music selection as the console counterparts, Rockstar will probably have packed the game’s disc to the limit. GTA: LCS will not be “stripped” like many port-downs appear to be.

The game shouldn’t even be called a port as it will feature a whole new story, voice acting, the same (if not, larger) city we saw in GTA III, and the massive amount of things to do that are signature to the series. GTA: LCS should not disappoint, and with the enhancements the series has gone through with Vice City and San Andreas, it’ll be nice to play with those improvements as well as with motorcycles in the city we first visited in the world of GTA.

Developed by Rockstar Leeds and Rockstar North, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories will be released exclusively for the PlayStation Portable on October 24, 2005.