Where are all the posts?

•March 26, 2010 • Leave a Comment

framesgames.wordpress.com

I decided to move to a new url, it felt good to be able to just start fresh. Mass Effect 2 and Final Fantasy XIII reviews await

Game of the Year 2009 – Nominees

•December 12, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Previous games I’ve given the title of Game of the Year have all had one large similar trait in that they’ve all managed to completely immerse me in the experience, to the point where I would go through the day constantly thinking about when I’d get another chance to get back into the game. While I still think 2008 was a better year than 2009, and last year’s 5 nominees are as a whole better than the 5 I’ve chosen this year, my nominees from this year all have that necessary trait of stealing hours of my time until I could do nothing but think about them.

Killzone 2 (2.27.09/Playstation 3/Sony Computer Entertainment/Guerilla)

I don’t quite know where to start with Killzone 2. Once the game released to unimaginable amounts of hype behind it, many questioned whether or not Guerilla was going to be able to live up to the promises made with that original CG trailer. After people got a chance to play it, it was absolutely apparent that Guerilla had come pretty damn close to matching the technical finesse of that trailer, possibly even surpassing it. You see, the final product of the game has one of the most striking art directions of any game to date. The over saturated colours, such as the dark red of bloodshed, or the glowing crimson eyes of the enemy in a blackened urban sprawl with blue lightning flashes in the sky constantly prove a sight for sore eyes. Graphics and presentation aside, Killzone 2 featured some of the smartest campaign design in any game this year. With some of the most intense set piece battles of any action game in 2009, rivaled by only a few other nominees, such as a vicious hour long battle on the steps of Visari Palace, or tearing through a desert sandstorm in a mech, Killzone 2’s campaign was simply eight hours of non stop excellence. The pacing was incredible, enemy intelligence impressive, and arsemal of weaponry unique. After that, it was the innovative multiplayer with forty-five minute shifting battles that continued to keep gamers glued to their seats. With an excellent set of DLC following the game throughout the year, Killzone 2 was and still is one of the most robust packages of 2009, and one of the frontrunners to be named overall Game of the Year.

Borderlands (10.20.09/Xbox 360,Playstation 3,PC/2K Games/Gearbox)

Borderlands is easily the surprise hit of the year. When people hear “half a million guns”, the general consensus is that it’s too ambitious, and that it can’t be done. Not only did Gearbox Software overcome this ambition, by getting it done, but the number of guns isn’t even the main attraction of Borderlands. The number of guns available in this FPS/RPG hybrid is merely a bullet point among several others including great shooting elements, a whimsical universe in which the action takes place in, and pretty impressive cooperative design. Yes, Borderlands can be played solo (in fact, it would probably still take up a nomination if I had dont just that), but it’s the coop and the contrast of each character which steals the show. Over 30 hours of gameplay on one simple playthrough, drop in/drop out multiplayer, and the neverending prospect of finding new loot, Borderlands is one of those games that grabs you by the balls and doesn’t really let go. With great art and humour, a decent story, a fantastic soundtrack, outstanding weapons, and a good mix of stat-based first person combat, Borderlands really came out of nowhere to T-bone the gaming industry for the better.

Assassin’s Creed II (11.17.09/Playstation 3,Xbox 360/Ubisoft)

The original Assassin’s Creed is a game I’ll never forget. While I loved the final product, there was still a large contrast between reality and what people expected. Instead of putting you in the shoes of a 12th century assassin and letting you do whatever, the game only gave the illusion of freedom while being incredibly repetitive and linear otherwise. This year, Ubisoft Montreal returned with Assassin’s Creed II, a game that is every bit as awesome as people expected the original game to be, and then a whole lot more. Completely scrapping the 3 tasks, then assassination mission design, Assassin’s Creed II took on a much more organic approach to an open world game, similar to Grand Theft Auto IV. Gone were the menial tasks and here were the relevant, story evolving missions. Upping the ante on nearly all fronts, from narrative, to combat animations, to overall size of the game, Assassin’s Creed II IS a game I’ll never forget, and an obvious nominee for overall Game of the Year.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (11.10.09/Xbox 360,Playstation 3,PC/Activision/Infinity Ward)


Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is the biggest game of the year. Everybody is playing it, everybody owns it, and everybody likes it. A lot. It’s not really a wonder why it’s on my list of the 5 best games this year. I fall into the category of everybody. In fact, I own two copies of the game itself, one for Xbox 360, one for Playstation 3.

But popularity and sales numbers only go so far. Modern Warfare 2 is simply one big explosion of awesomeness. Although there are a few blemishes in particular to grenade launchers and double shotguns, there is no denying the greatness of it all. The campaign has one of the most controversial levels of all time, which is surrounded by several other missions that raise the bar for first person shooters in general. Racing down the side of a mountain on a snowmobile, infiltrating an oil rig from under the sea, and defending the suburbs of Virginia are just a few points to be made in the excellent campaign. Tag on the kick-ass Spec Ops mode with some of the most memorable moments from the Modern Warfare series, and the multiplayer which everybody is playing these days, and you can see that the accolades, popularity, and sales numbers do not go unjustified.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (10.13.09/Playstation 3/Sony Computer Entertainment/Naughty Dog)

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is easily one of the best game of the year, because it literally has so few flaws that the few that are noticeable don’t have any sort of effect on the game of the player. Uncharted 2 moves the gamer from moment to moment which are all just as mindblowing as the last. Climbing up a dangling train car, robbing a museum in Istanbul using the new stealth system, getting chased by mercenaries in Borneo, traversing ice caves in Tibet, gunning down helicopters from a collapsing building, fighting on a moving train, and blowing up a convoy with a grenade launcher don’t even make up a quarter of the amazing set pieces in Uncharted 2. No other game on this list has the graphical muscle of Uncharted 2, or the ability to tell a story as well as this game, or as intense gameplay, the list goes on and on. Beyond that, there’s really dynamic and vertical multiplayer as well as a coop mode that will ensure playing the 10 hour campaign a dozen times isn’t a necessity, but still a possibility. To say Uncharted 2: Among Thieves deserves a spot on this list is an understatement. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is one of the best games of the decade.

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So there you have it; check back later this month for the results in much anticipated numerical fashion. Which game do you think I’m going to pick for Game of the Year, what game do you think I should pick, and what game would you choose to crown?

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Review

•December 4, 2009 • Leave a Comment

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC

November 10, 2009

Activision, Infinity Ward

Call of Duty 4’s release in late 2007 was a bit of a shocker, as it managed to burst straight past expectations, taking literal days out of the lives of gamers. Not only did Modern Warfare have the most exciting single player campaign in the Call of Duty series, but its multiplayer component remains one that has its ideas borrowed by other trailing games in the industry. Call of Duty 4 had one of the largest online followings, for good reasons: it was ridiculously balanced and addictive.

Two years have passed since the beautiful blockbuster hit. Returning to the battlefield with a downright sequel, gamers may be wondering if Infinity Ward really put in a true effort or if they’re simply cashing in on the gimmick. Well, rest assured all you shooter fans, Modern Warfare 2 does enough to deserve your cash and accolades, and much more.

Picking up five years after the events of Call of Duty 4 (presumably 2012), Modern Warfare 2 follows the events of a terrorist organization that hates America and righteousness and justice, and a group of soldiers tasked with bringing these bastards down. This setting may sound realistic, and even the characters the story revolves around are believable, but trust me when I tell you that the way scenarios carry out are anything but believable. That’s not to say that the tale of Modern Warfare 2 isn’t enjoyable. In fact, the story and its pacing are more entertaining than any other game in the franchise, but you’re going to need to toss logic out the window to truly get the most out of the narrative. The characters, both returning and new are well rounded and extremely likable, the script is very high caliber, and the game is as cinematic as you could expect from a shooter.

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While the story doesn’t really have any faults with the direction it went in, a lot of Call of Duty fans might have a problem with how events roll out. If your favourite parts of Call of Duty games have been its idolizing of war heroes and the realistic scenes, Modern Warfare 2 may turn you off. In fact, it’s best to look at Modern Warfare 2 as a Hollywood blockbuster, one which rivals James Bond or Jason Bourne flicks, than it is to see it as a Call of Duty game. It strays heavily from the ways of the series, and all throughout the game you’re going to have to deal with this radical shift. If you can get past how the game is more about fighting evil maniacs than fighting bad guys, you’re going to really get a kick out of the well done narrative.

There are a good set of cinematic moments in Modern Warfare 2. Much like recently released Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, there are a great set of epic set pieces. One such moment puts you in the shoes of a terrorist, as you terrorize an airport in Moscow. It’s an emotional sequence, if a little controversial. The pacing to Modern Warfare 2 is pretty well done, moving you from explosive moment to another.

Although the story is more (San Andreas) than (IV), the gameplay generally keeps the tried and true Call of Duty formula, with some changes for the better. The weapon selection is just as impressive as you’d expect from a Call of Duty game, with the normal assortment of assault rifles, pistols, shotguns; the like. The shooting mechanics are smooth, intuitive, and responsive, which matches up really nicely with the big improvements made to the game’s AI. Both ally and enemy forces have been vastly improved in this regard, making the game feel a lot more polished and engaging. The limitless respawns of enemies have also been dropped for a more conventional and down to earth approach, which in turn opens up the level design. More than a few times was I surprisingly gunned down from behind because I had missed a few enemies. Frustrating no doubt, but still impressive, because it was due to an error on my part, not because the game likes to be a jerk.

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The variety to the missions has really taken a turn for the better. One moment you’ll be using stealth to infiltrate a military base, next moment you’ll be speeding past trees on a snowmobile, then you’ll be at the helm of a minigun. Needless to say, it’s obviously unrealistic to match up with the action movie formula, but it’s a welcome change that livens up the experience even further.

The single player campaign is perhaps a little too pure for its own good, as it’s a relatively brief experience. The first run took me just over five hours on the default difficulty. If the single player campaign was all the game offered, I’d be hard pressed to recommend it for a 60 dollar purchase, but thankfully that isn’t the case at all. The campaign is only one part of the Modern Warfare 2 puzzle.

In lieu of adding two player coop to Modern Warfare 2’s campaign, Infinity Ward crafted a specialized cooperative mode titled Spec Ops, and it’s pretty damn great. These missions can be completed on your own or with a friend, and eighty percent of them are based off of moments in the campaign, and the rest are based off of the greatest moments in Call of Duty 4. There are a few standout missions in this mode, such as racing snowmobiles, or watching your buddy from an AC 130 gunship as he makes his way along the ground. It’s a very good addition, and much like Resistance 2, proves that coop doesn’t have to be tacked on.

The real meat of Modern Warfare 2 is obviously the multiplayer. As a big fan of the first game, allow me to let you know that the game is more balanced and intense than its predecessor, and just about everything about the competitive multiplayer in Modern Warfare 2 is a step above what you’d expect. It’s got more legs than almost every other shooter available on the market.

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The biggest new addition to the multiplayer is the big emphasis on killstreaks. As opposed to the simple UAV, Airstrike, Helicopter setup as before, there are more than a dozen available killstreaks which you can choose from. Everything from a controllable Missile to using an AC 130 gunship in multiplayer is available, and adds a brand new layer of tactics never before seen. To balance all of this out, this is available to everybody in addition to the arsenal to deal with everything.

The perks system has taken a little bit of a backseat this time, as they don’t make as large an impact as before, but they still make multiplayer a very personal and custom experience. Infinity Ward’s also added a deathstreak system, which caters to newbies, even adding to the balance in effect.

There’s still a lot of customizable classes, such as choosing your own gun loadout, what attachments you want with those guns, which perks, which equipment and which camoflage you want with your weapons. It’s almost as deep a character system as you’d find in a role-playing game, which is absolutely unheard of.

There are of course a few gripes to be had with the multiplayer. As good as most of the maps are, there aren’t as many standout venues. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the maps are very tight, vertical, and well designed, but none of them really have that standout feeling like Bloc and Crossfire had from Call of Duty 4. Of course, there’s going to be a few maps which you aren’t crazy about, but for the most part, there’s a very good variety at hand here.

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Another issue I’ve had with multiplayer involves the matchmaking. Getting into a party with friends takes much more effort than it did in Call of Duty 4. Too often did I find my friends are getting booted from playlists, and our group separated, and too often did we find ourselves waiting upwards of 6 or 7 minutes for a match because of these problems. With seven hundred thousand gamers playing on Xbox Live, and about four hundred thousand playing on Playstation Network, these problems are uncalled for and inexcusable.

That being said, the experience remains just as smooth as ever, running at a blazing 60 frames the whole way through. In fact, this stellar presentation runs throughout all aspects of Modern Warfare 2. The visual presentation is a large step above most shooters out there, with outstanding lighting and character animations, very nice texture detail (an issue found with Call of Duty 4), and great weapon design. Environments drip detail and atmosphere to boot. The sound design is just as impressive as the visuals. Sound effects are authentic, voice acting is well done, and the soundtrack by Hans Zimmer is a nice little surprise.

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Modern Warfare 2 is far from perfect, but it sure is shiny. It’s got a ridiculous story which strays from the Call of Duty formula, but that story is just as entertaining as any Hollywood blockbuster. The campaign is short, but it’s pure and well designed. If you take that, add on 2 very robust and addictive multiplayer modes, and great presentation, there are few reasons not to recommend Modern Warfare 2. The question on whether or not it lives up to the hype depends on what your expectations were. Modern Warfare 2 isn’t the best first person shooter ever made, and I’d have a hard time calling it the best game this year, but without a doubt, you’d be an idiot not to be blown away regardless.

9.1 out of 10

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves Review

•November 17, 2009 • Leave a Comment

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Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Platform: Playstation 3

Publisher: SCEA

Devleloper: Naughty Dog

Release Date: October 13, 2009

There are certain aspects of games that place smiles on faces. Whether it be explosions, world-class cinematography, addictive multiplayer, impressive visuals, dynamic gameplay, or unforgettable set pieces, good games are designed with a few of these in mind. Imagine a game with essentially everything that makes gaming such an interesting fallback, throw in a dash of originality, and you’re left with one incredible and unforgettable game.

You’re left with Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.

It’s rare for a game to be able to leave this fantastic of an imprint on the deepest part of my mind. A game would require to be absolutely relentless in its attempts to impress the hell out me, make my jaw hit the floor repeatedly, and some pretty offensive yet positive words to spew from my lips, and rest assured, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is exactly that kind of game. But why?
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Picking up about a year after the events of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, Among Thieves once again follows the story of Nathan Drake, who has since grown out his beard and hit the gym. This time around, Drake teams up with a band of thieves as they set out for Marco Polo’s lost fleet.

The tale to be told in Uncharted 2 is executed near-flawlessly as the pace remains intense throughout with some extremely well created and imaginative cutscenes filling the gaps. You can bet that not everything will go according to plan, with some rather intriguing conflicts taking place. The script writers have done a pretty nice job developing a much more character heavy experience, and more of the relate-able goodness that comes with the protagonist to boot.

Of course, the story isn’t pitch-perfect, as the ending could’ve been a bit longer, and some situations range from ridiculous to outright far fetched. Even so, the cinematography is absolutely top notch, the script is well written, and the bottom line is that from the moment you start up the game, you will not be able to place your controller down until the credits roll. It’s simply that well done in its ability to suck the player in.

A large difference and improvement over the first game is the setting in which the game takes place. As you may remember, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune took place primarily on an island. Although there was some variety in the contrast of the weather as well as the time of day, much of the game took place either in the dark underground or in the luscious jungle. Among Thieves completely fixes this issue, and then some. Kicking off on the rooftops of Istanbul, then shifting all over the world to locales including the jungles of Borneo, and the ice capped Himalayas of Nepal, Uncharted 2 has a much better, faster, more raging pace that trots the globe like nobody’s business. It brings about a much larger variety to gameplay, as well as visuals.

Speaking of visuals, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is an absolute beast in this regard. The original was and remains a great looking title, but Naughty Dog has really worked their bottoms off in delivering a game that not only looks fantastic, but remains consistent technically throughout. It’s simply world-class game development.
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The character models have received a large polygon increase, resulting in much better facial and full body animations, more detail in complexions, and much better looking clothing. The environments also have received a large upgrade. Textures, lighting, particle effects, and even the artistry are all as good as it gets, really anywhere. There are some really impressive moments such as the sunlight reflecting off of the ice, or the way explosions rip apart buildings, or how the more detailed characters improve cutscenes in a large way. In short, Uncharted 2 is just an amazing looking title that not only shows off what Playstation 3 can do, but what gaming as a whole can accomplish. It really does not get better than this.

A complaint many, including me, had with the first game in regards to how it played was the difficulty of some of the firefights. In many instances, ammo was scarce and the gamer had to be very precise in their actions to accomplish success. The gunplay has been completely revamped to avoid this, and Naughty Dog has delivered a shooting mechanic that feels more natural and is a lot more fun than one could have imagined. Aiming has been drastically smoothed to be more reliable and easy, the cover system has seen some pretty nifty improvements, and overall, the controls are a whole lot more enjoyable. What all that means is that the shooting is more conventional, very comparable to other third person action titles, more notably Gears of War 2.

The other large chunk of gameplay in Uncharted is its platforming, which has been refined pretty nicely this time around. It’s much more imaginative, and in a way, a lot more difficult. The X button still gets the most use, as it’s used for jumping and climbing obstacles, but a few small improvements make the platforming in Uncharted 2 feel a lot more dynamic and natural. For one, the level designers have absolutely gone over the top in a few of their designs. You’re going to honestly have to think to figure out where to go, in contrast to the obvious straight pathed nature of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. The game still has a very straightforward path to it, but the levels are much larger and give you more options in how to approach situations and how to get from point A to point B. Sometimes you’re going to have the opportunity to use alternate routes which can give you an advantage.
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Another way the platforming feels different is how it’s used in puzzles. The puzzles in Among Thieves still revolve around a notebook Drake has, except this time, it’s his own and you need to flip through pages to find what you need for clues. The puzzles are highly creative and over the top this time, and you’re simply going to need to use your noggin’. There are more puzzles, and all of them are tougher and take longer.

While Uncharted 2 may feature shooting like Gears of War 2 and it still relies on a fairly Tomb Raider-esque approach to platforming, its gameplay is highly original in the way it merges all these separate elements into one great mixed bag of awesome. I’ll set the scene for you: you come across a street with several enemies, and a blatantly placed AK-47 with lots of ammunition. In Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, you would have no choice but to fight your way through. However, you notice a pipe which leads up to the 2nd floor of a broken building with a sniper rifle. You could also use that to take out enemies. Lastly, there is a plank of wood connecting your roof with another, and you can simply use stealth and climbing to avoid enemies for now.

That’s the beauty of Uncharted 2, and when you reach a sequence such as that, you’re going to truly be amazing at how dynamic that the gameplay can feel.

Again, speaking of “sequences which will impress you”, there are thousands of these in Uncharted 2. Most notably, levels which take place on a moving train as you fight enemies both inside the cars and above them, dodging signs and other obstacles. Levels which take place in a blizzard which make it difficult to see ahead, and chase sequences involving grenade launchers also make the list of memorable moments which make Uncharted 2 great.

Yes, Uncharted 2 has very good elements which fuse together into something quite nice, it’s got a great story and visuals, but what will really make the game stick are its incredible, Hollywood demolishing sequences that will ring inside your head til kingdom come. I kid you not, Uncharted 2 is simply filled to the brim with awesome. It’s what makes the game fantastic.
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With a campaign that ranges from 9 – 12 hours, and several unlocks and difficulties, it’s a fairly decent buy at sixty dollars, considering just how damn great it all is. However, Naughty Dog took the time to add some multiplayer features. These aren’t tacked on multiplayer features, but fully fledged multiplayer game modes which will give you a time dilemma.

There’s the standard fare of Team Deathmatch type games, and game modes which will have you completing objective like capturing zones or objects. The maps are designed pretty thoughtfully with the series’ gameplay in mind. The maps have a lot of opportunities to take cover, lots of weapons to pick up, and lots of vertical points to get to. It seems like just another multiplayer shooter, but when you add in the vertical gameplay with snipers on rooftops, and several means of chase and escape, you’ll really see how and why the gameplay is so original. It really does work in multiplayer, and it’s honestly a bit of a surprise.

In addition to the versus multiplayer, there are a couple of very generous cooperative modes. The first of which is a separate cooperative campaign which branches off of situations in the single player, which puts 3 of the protagonists on an objective in a thought out level, with its own cutscenes and purposes, and this is a pretty addictive mode, even though the levels are very limited. It’s definitely worth playing through because it’s more of the same awesome, shared with a couple of friends.
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The second cooperative mode is a ton of fun as well. Again it features 3 protagonists on a map and they have to survive against ten waves of enemies which get increasingly difficult. While it may be a ton of fun, there’s no denying it borrows much from Gears of War 2’s “Horde”, or Call of Duty: World at War’s “Nazi Zombies”. That’s completely acceptable, if a little unoriginal. To remedy this, another arena coop mode adds in a statue to steal en lieu of a flag, for bonus points and to end the round.

Uncharted 2 runs down the laundry list of good game design. However, Naughty Dog simply one ups the games it borrows from, resulting in one hell of a ride from start to finish. You’re going to want to play through the game several times over, the multiplayer should keep you occupied for quite some time, and the cooperative is surprisingly generous. If you can get past some slight originality quirks and can see that the game transcends these problems with world class cinematography, visuals, and features some of the most unforgettable set pieces in the history of gaming, you’ll come across a game that will leave you senseless, and a game that will scream its name at you for years to come. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is an impressive game to say the least.

9.6 out of 10

Killzone 2 Map Pack Reviews

•August 8, 2009 • 1 Comment

Killzone 2 (Ps3)

Steel & Titanium Map Pack

The first of three planned DLC map packs, Steel & Titanium is Guerilla’s first chance to show off what kind of post-launch support they can show for their critically applauded sci-fi first person shooter, Killzone 2. Steel & Titanium features two brand new maps for the Warzone, one of which is great, one of which isn’t, and the package comes at a steep price.

The first of two maps, titled Wasteland Bullet, takes place on the Tharsis Refinery train. Players should remember this level from the single player campaign. It’s a rather memorable sequence with awesome wind physics on display, and a very lengthy, narrow level for firefights to take place.

What has been changed for multiplayer is for the better. Because of the tightness of the map, and the highspeed of the train, pillars in the tunnel constantly pass by between two speeding trains. To get across, players need to jump, although it’s possible to get caught on a pillar and to instantly become killed. It adds a little bit of thinking to the navigation process, and it definitely livens up the experience.

Unfortunately, this is one of the weaker maps in Killzone 2. It doesn’t feature the verticality that the multiplayer is known for, and most firefights are little more than small sprints followed by a simple round of gunfire. The speed of the train mixed with the narrow map design can actually lead to some slight disorientation. This doesn’t make the map bad at all. In fact, no map in Killzone 2 is actually bad, they’re all very good. Intense battles can still be fought on this map, it’s a lot of fun to jump from train to train, but when compared to other maps in the Killzone 2 experience, Wasteland Bullet falls short of its potential and just doesn’t match up very well.

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The second map in the pack is called Vekta Cruiser, and this takes place on a big aircraft high above the skies of Helghast. This scene is also taken from a part of the campaign. This is actually one of the most balanced maps in Killzone 2, and it’s certainly better than Wasteland Bullet.

Vekta Cruiser is a very large map consisting of two nearly symmetrical floors. Each faction starts in a wide open area with stairs leading to the other level, and then leads out into the big core drive area (the big purple thing at the start of the campaign), where most battles take place. The outskirts of the map are on the outside of the craft, with the glaring Helghan sun in the distance, with lots of winding paths and doorways which are perfect for flanking. With most main battles taking place in the middle section, and small confrontations happening on the other parts, this is a well balanced and fun map, it’s about what you’d expect from anything in Killzone 2’s multiplayer.

If there’s one knock at Vekta Cruiser, it’s that the visuals aren’t quite as well as some of the other maps. That being said, this is still Killzone 2 and it still looks better than other Ps3 shooters, but it’s got a blander colour palette than anything else in the game, as well as some lingering aliasing issues.

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Steel & Titanium is a decent first DLC pack for Killzone 2, but it’s nothing mind blowing. Vekta Cruiser is very good, and Wasteland Bullet is decent as well as pretty, but the price of $5.99 is a little too high for two maps that don’t break the charts. If you’re not willing to purchase the mega bundle for $11.99, I suggest this could be a decent pickup and a nice addition to Killzone 2’s incredible multiplayer.

6.5 out of 10

Flash & Thunder Map Pack

Flash and Thunder is the second of three planned DLC map packs for Killzone 2’s multiplayer. As opposed to brand new designs, this is a bit of a throwback pack, as it features two original Killzone maps for the price of $5.99. Overpriced that may be, Flash & Thunder is by far the best map pack available for Killzone 2. It’s the prettiest, it’s the most balanced, and it’s got some pretty awesome surprises awaiting.

The first map in this DLC pack is titled Beach Head. This was the best map in Killzone, and the transition over to the Ps3 has worked wonders for it, so much that it’s in fact the best map in Killzone 2. Who would have thought?

One of the most straightforward maps in all of Killzone 2, Beach Head features a base for each faction, and one large open field for all the fighting to take place. Thanks to its beach setting, as well as some lovely weather, there’s a ton of trenches, hills, and cover from rubble. The way that the map is designed is about as close to perfection as one could imagine, which resulted in the best map in all of Killzone 2.

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Southern Hills is the second map in this DLC pack, and it’s no slouch either. From first glance, its art may put you off a little bit (what on earth are these structures the fighting takes place in?), but it turns out to be a greatly balanced and large scaled map.

There are a few buildings scattered throughout the map, all of which features some odd geometry, which is perfect for snipers, and it provides some great vertical gunplay. The surrounding areas aren’t simply flat, and intense firefights occur here as well. This is one of the best maps in regards to vantage points.

What sets this map apart is the nuke. This will scare the hell out of you the first time you see it. It’s unexpected and deadly. Off in the distance, you’ll see a bright light that’s expanding very slowly. All of a sudden sirens will begin to rage, and the best thing for you to do is find some shelter. There are few areas on the map that provide what’s needed. Stay out in the open, and you’ll get crisped. It’s rather fantastic, and unique to Killzone 2. This is the only map with anything like it.

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These are the two best maps available for download in Killzone 2. At $5.99, it’s overpriced, but out of the three packs, this is by far the best. If you’re only going to buy one map pack, this is it.

9.0 out of 10

Napalm & Cordite Map Pack

The last of the trilogy of map packs is called Napalm & Cordite. Again, like the other two packs, it’s overpriced. However, this isn’t the worst you can get for your money.

The first map on this DLC set is called Suljeva Cliffside. This is an insanely narrow and claustrophobic map. The action itself actually becomes too hectic when enough players get involved, and the addition of a flamethrower available for pickup doesn’t help. Even so, the map looks great, it features some great vertical sections, and with 24 or fewer players, it can lead to some great action.

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Arctower Landing is a bit of a different story. This map is fantastic. A jungle of metal buildings, it’s just an all out war from corridor to corridor. A medium sized map featuring the bolt gun, the action tends to sway back and forth. It’s large enough to fit 32 players, and it truly is the essence of Killzone 2’s multiplayer. It makes up for the lacklustre Suljeva Cliffside.

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Yet again, $5.99 is too high an asking price. Arctower Landing is magnificent, but it’s not enough to save this pack. The addition of powerful weapons is a great idea, and it works out in the end. Still, I recommend Flash & Thunder, or picking up the $11.99 bundle.

6.0 out of 10

6 Map Bundle

If you’re looking to only get one pack, I recommend Flash & Thunder. If you insist on more, you’re going to want to get this bundle. It’s essentially all 3 packs for the price of 2. It’s a decent enough value, and you do boot your playlist from 8 maps to 14, which is a daunting prospect. Guerilla did a great job with their map design here, I just wish they’d do a great job with their prices in the future.

8.0 out of 10

NCAA Football 10 Review

•August 4, 2009 • Leave a Comment

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NCAA Football 10

Electronic Arts, Tiburon

July 14th 2009

Playstation 3, Xbox 360

Electronic Arts’ college football series has often been looked upon as a cash-in, or some sort of catering to those who live for Division I play. For a very long time, that was true. NCAA Football games have not been very separate from Madden NFL, which pointed out the fact that perhaps the game didn’t need to exist. Nay sayers say what you may, but NCAA Football 10 differentiates itself so magnificently from any other football game on the market and makes it an absolute must buy for any hardcore sports gamer.

There is a healthy amount of new content in this year’s edition of the everlasting football game. Some of these aren’t so hot, whereas others are welcome new additions, and others are just downright badass.

Starting off with what will make fans so happy this year is EA’s focus on school spirit, with the new feature called Season Showdown. What this essentially does is prompt you to pick one school that you’re most loyal to, and from then on everything that you do in game, whether it be an exhibition match or a dynasty game or an online matchup, you’re going to garner points for your school. For example, if somebody were to select the Texas Longhorns as their team, and then they beat Oklahoma 107 – 0, they would earn some lofty points for Texas as a whole. Over the course of the season, these points add up, and it becomes a very hectic competition between hooligans. It’s something that has been seen in some way before in other EA Sports games, but none remotely close to being this fleshed out. It’s great to see. Something else I like about this mode is how it doesn’t restrict you at all. You aren’t required to play as your team to garner points for them. That’s the kind of freedom that the mode offers the player, keeping it from becoming overwhelming as opposed to just straight up addictive.
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Of course, the core gameplay itself would have to be good for this feature to be worth spending time on, and as you can tell from the tone of this review, it’s more than good enough. The improvements aren’t obvious ones. From afar, with no controller in hand, it’s tough to tell the difference between this year’s and last year’s game. However, it’s all of the subtle differences that really pile up. For instance, the amount of animations has significantly been raised, and clipping problems have nearly been erased completely. That’s not to say that you won’t run into a few glitches and problems here and there, but it is to say that the game is a whole lot smoother, realistic, and enjoyable because of this. It may not seem like much, but this is a completely different game due to the new polish the game has received.

Aside from that, the main core of the gameplay remains the same as last year. Quarterbacks are still quizzed after picks, composure is still important, and the game has a great sense of speed, something that separates it from Madden like no other.

Dynasty Mode remains the same for the most part, with only incremental upgrades to the formula. The menus no longer lag, which really helps the recruiting process. There are deeper goals and contract options as the coach, but aside from that there’s really nothing new. It’s still the best part of the whole experience, one that will eat up all your time. The introduction of Online for this mode last season is still something that amazes me. Being able to have an online dynasty with 11 friends is just great.

Road to Glory is just a fancy term for Campus Legend. Even so, the addition of Erin Andrews to the repetitious formula is completely welcome. EA has added Erin Andrews to host a fictional highlight show that follows your superstar upon his career, and it seems rather authentic for something that sounds like it’s simply just tacked on. It doesn’t really better or lessen the Campus Legend experience, but it does make it feel a little bit newer, which if probably a plus. The highlights are all great selections of your greatest moments, and the ability to save and upload them is great as well. There are some other new presentational upgrades in Road to Glory, such as more expansive sim options, which makes those tedious waits just breeze by much easier than ever before. Another change is the reintroduction of the room as the main hub for your star’s career. It doesn’t change much, but it feels more authentic and grounds you in the experience a bit more.
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Possibly the best new addition is TeamBuilder. From a PC on EA’s website, you can create a team’s every last detail, from their roster to their logo to their sock colour. You can then download that team from your console and use them in exhibition or in dynasty. So, if you want to recreate Harvard as a Div I team, you now have that opportunity. You also have the option to download other teams people have created. There are some great ones already up. The USC 2005 Trojans and the Montana Grizzlies are standouts among the pack.

This does unfortunately lead to NCAA 10’s biggest problem. You are allowed only 12 slots for teams, and after that, you can purchase new ones. That’s not the only thing you can buy. You have the ability to purchase school upgrades for Dynasty, or a 5 star caliber for RTG. What’s the point of all this? It just seems like a chance for EA to grab some more money, and it’s rather insulting to be prompted to purchase these useless, menial items. It feels as if parts to the game are missing, and you have the choice to buy it for 99 cents. It’s ridiculously unnecessary.

Something that NCAA 10 does extremely well is maintaining an incredible sense of school pride and atmosphere. There are over 100 authenticated stadiums in the game, each includes school specific cheers and mascots. As always, away teams with poor composure heading into a 6 star team’s turf will have its effect on them. Receivers will drop balls, defenders won’t know their assignments, and quarterbacks will make boneheaded throws. It really drives home the fact that this is college football and not professional. The sound design mixed with the fantastic visual aspects makes NCAA 10 a serious viscerally good sports game.
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NCAA Football 10 is pretty freaking awesome. It feels much more different than Madden this time around, with a great theme and focus on school spirit and crazy trick plays. If you are into sports games annually, there’s literally no reason you won’t have a good time with NCAA Football 10.

8.1 out of 10

Prototype Review

•June 26, 2009 • 1 Comment

Prototype Logo

Prototype

Playstation 3, Xbox 360

Activision, Radical Entertainment

June 9th, 2009

My name is Alex Mercer. I’m the reason for all of this. They call me a killer, a monster, a terrorist. I’m all of these things.

Prototype begins with these words from its protagonist, and becomes the underlying theme of the game. An open-world action title from Vancouver-based Radical Entertainment, Prototype is a superhero game, where being a hero isn’t necessarily the focus. It provides an open Manhattan Island, unique and varied powers, and several ways to cut a man in half. Nearly every aspect of Prototype is awesome.

Waking up in a morgue with no recollection of who he is or where he’s from, the only thing he knows is that he has the ability to jump 50 feet in the air, and can kill a man with his arm, which is actually a blade, Alex Mercer makes a promise to himself that’s he will kill every single last person responsible for whatever happened to him.

Prototype’s narrative is very intriguing, as it explores Alex’s past, what the virus has to do with all of this, and how the military fits into the equation. The biggest reason the story in Prototype is so great, is because of Mercer himself. He is a fantastic main character. Whether you look at his overall design, his excellent voiceover, and his motives to keep going forward with his goal of vengeance, he is the reason that you’ll care about what’s going on with the story in Prototype.

Cutscenes play out in both CGI and in-game cinemas, and get the job done that way, but the real star of the storytelling are the Web of Intrigue targets. There are 131 people across Manhattan that have something to do with the virus or Mercer. If you consume these people, a flashback of sorts plays through the mind of Mercer, exposing some information on an event. Individually, these don’t make much sense, but once you gather more info on the universe that Radical has created, then it really becomes more interesting in that sense, and it’s like nothing really seen in a game before.

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You may have noticed that I said “consume these people”. That was not a typo, and in fact, that’s not the only thing that Alex’s powers brings to the table. When you consume a person after you’ve killed them, you gain health through this, as well as the ability to take on their form entirely. This can be used for infiltrating military bases, or hiding from strike teams. It’s something that you will come to rely on.

Alex is one hell of a badass. He’s got five main offensive powers: the Whipfist which is great for attacking enemies from longer distances, Musclemass which allowed him to pickup and throw almost anything in the game very far away, Claws which are great for tearing up bigger enemies, Hammerfists which are useful for smashing things up, and my personal favorite, the Blade which is absolutely perfect for killing just about anything.

Through most of the game, you can just use your favorite to get through most missions, but there are a few scenarios where you’ll definitely want to use a certain power. For example, the Whipfist is the only way you’ll ever latch onto helicopters, and Musclemass is the only way you’ll be able to deal damage from hundreds of metres away. The game balances itself out enough that you’ll definitely be switching between powers from time to time. If not, you’ll have fun experimenting with each one just for the hell of it.
What’s even better about Mercer’s powers, is his speed. The first time you ever run straight up the tallest structure in all of Manhattan in a matter of seconds, it’s really something that is rare to experience in games. Gliding across rooftops, running along buildings, is all easy to do, and is essential in outrunning pursuing enemies. It’s a serious rush to simply run across the city.

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As a result of all this variety, combat has a very dynamic feel to it, allowing you to handle most of the missions however you want. If you’re just looking to button mash your way to glory, or you want to fly in, attack, and fly out, you can. The variety of powers at your disposal literally begs to be experimented with, and this really keeps the game from feeling repetitious. Without spoling anything, the game does switch the way the game is played forcefully on some occasions, which also does help in that regard

You’ve also got the ability to pilot tanks and helicopters in Prototype, and these are both excellent ways to wreak havoc on Manhattan. The tank controls like you’d expect, but the helicopter is a complete dream to pilot. This is the best controlling helicopter I’ve ever controlled in a game, which is surprising. What’s best about taking a helicopter is how Alex gets into one. He throws the pilot to his death, then climbs into the back and snaps the neck of the gunner. It’s the same animation everytime, but it puts a smile on my face as well.

A few gripes of mine are to be had with the combat in Prototype. Yes, you have a lot of ways to kill things, but sometimes the controls can slip away from you. There are just so many moves to pull off, such as a bulletdive drop from 100 feet in the air, to slicing something down the middle, and this requires some odd button combinations. With a few moves, you’re going to have to move your hand on the controller to spots you’re not used to, but in time, it will become second nature to you. Another issue I had with combat is its difficulty spike. There were a few fights with some of the larger enemies in the game that I felt like snapping the controller in half. These difficulty spikes make the game feel a little bit uneven in places, but it never truly wrecks the great pacing of the game.

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The story features 31 missions, with objectives ranging from simply killing everybody, to reaching places in certain time limits, to protecting a target. It all feels really cookie-cutter in design, even if the fun never becomes less than it could possibly be. It’d be nice to have some variety in mission types, perhaps some more chase sequences, but what’s here isn’t boring, it’s just not very new.

If you just rush through the story, Prototype will take at least 10 hours, which is well above the status quo for games this generation. However, if you take the time to see the depth of Manhattan, kill some people that don’t deserve to die, that could very well stretch over 15 hours on your first playthrough.

Aside from the story missions, there are Web of Intrigue targets around the city, there are 200 glowing orbs to collect, and there are side missions to partake in. These are basically all skill testers, such as gliding onto a target from high heights, killing a number of enemies within a time limit, rooftop parkour time trials. There’s a lot to do, and most of it is actually really fun. On top of that, you’re rewarded EP everytime you obtain a medal on an event.

EP is something that is absolutely necessary to upgrade Alex’s powers. You get EP for completing events and missions, or just flat out killing. The upgrades tree is really in-depth. There are a ton of upgrades for everything from your 5 offensive powers, to upgrading your shield and armor powers, how high you jump, and how fast you run. In one playthrough, it’s impossible to max out everything, so doing events and just playing with the city are important factors in success. On full health, or on low health, Alex can gain the ability of a devastator attack, which almost kills anything within 25 feet of him. That’s only attainable through upgrades. If you take the 10+ hours it takes to complete the story, and you add on a second playthrough as well as simply messing around with the city, this is a game that can really be played endlessly, especially with a few of the achievements Radical implemented.

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The way that the disease is handled in Prototype’s presentation is nothing short of stunning. A series of red and green tints the sky of infected portions of Manhattan, hundreds of taxis and military vehicles pile up on the streets, and literally thousands of infected zombie-like citizens run along brainlessly. It’s the perfect place to test out that blade of yours. The rest of the city is no slouch, either, with less pop-in than you’d expect. The framerate remains solid throughout all the chaos, and you’ll definitely recognize more than a few New York landmarks. The detail isn’t too bad either, and all of the effects from the virus and Alex’s powers are great looking as well. Prototype is a very good looking game, and it’s even more viscerally awesome when you slice about a dozen people in half with one attack. From higher up,the city can become to look a little bit bland, and it never really changes from start to finish, so that can be considered a small thing to nitpick at.

The sound design is even better than the graphics in Prototype, in particular the voice acting which is completely solid in every regard. The soundtrack isn’t too bad either, but many of the songs sound like different versions of the main theme, which does tend to get repetitive after awhile. The city in chaos is done greatly as well.

Prototype can be a little tough, a little repetitious, and it can feel a little complex, but if you just stick with it and let it consume you, you’ll find yourself to have made a pretty smart investment. It’s rare that I recommend a game to everybody. I’ve reviewed better games and recommended them to shooter fans only or sports fans only, but with Prototype, I’m certain that anybody who gives it a chance will come away with a big smile on their face, and a little blood on their hands.

8.7 out of 10

UFC 2009: Undisputed Review

•June 12, 2009 • Leave a Comment

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UFC 2009: Undisputed

Playstation 3, Xbox 360

May 19, 2009

Ultimate Fighting is one of the fastest growing phenomenons in the world. It’s growing in fanbase, it’s growing in assets, it’s growing in talent, and it’s growing in entertainment. It’s huge, and it’s going to continue to improve upon itself as time moves forth. An unfortunate trend that comes with popularity, is a videogame to match up with the real life counterpart. UFC is large enough to get that said videogame tie-in, as UFC 2009: Undisputed was released late May 2009. Was getting THQ and Yuke’s to handle this delicate piece of software a unanimous decision, or is it a deadly rear naked choke from which nobody can escape?

I like to get straight to the point in my reviews, so I can basically tell you right off the bat that UFC 2009 does a lot of good things, and it does enough of them to maintain a high level of entertainment throughout. It’s got some issues, as you’d expect, but for the most part, Yuke’s really took the right steps and made the best decisions possible, resulting in an authentic gameplay experience. This is a fun game.

Quite possibly the first thing gamers will notice about this title is how unique the controls are. Strikes are mapped to the face buttons simply enough, with the left shoulder buttons as modifiers for hitting high or low. The striking game is really simple to get a grip on, which is great for beginners, but those who take the time to really understand the game will realize that it’s more of a defensive game than an offensive one. Getting into a complete slugfest will get somebody knocked out extremely quick, possibly within seconds. The best strategy is to wait for an opening, and go for it. The game does a great job of counter-balancing this, giving fighters the ability to catch strikes for submissions of throws. Good timing both offensively and defensively is the key to maintaining a strong striking game.

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When taking things to the ground, or getting into grappling situations, the game opens up even more, showing off its superb depth and authenticity of its gameplay. Depending on your fighter’s fighting styles, you can perform throws or other special moves such as powerbombs and hip tosses. The way that these are performed is utilizing the right analog stick. Very similar to the control scheme in EA’s Skate, you’re meant to rotate the right analog stick in correspondance to your character’s position. For example, to move to a new position on the ground, rotate the right analog stick 90 degrees in the direction you wish to move to, and your fighter will attempt to. Here, it’s another timing game.

First off, your right stick rotations need to be legible, not simply attacking the stick. Then, you need to do it at the right time, when the other fighter is not putting down his weight on you, because assuming you’re not Forrest Griffin, you’re going to stay right where you are.

On the ground, fighters can still strike each other, move around and try to get the best position on their opponent. The Brazillian Jiu Jitsu fighters have the ability to counter their opponent, flipping them over and being in full guard. Some of the most fun I’ve had in UFC 2009 were results of intense ground battles. It’s a very dynamic system that feels good when you’re good at it, but can quickly become frustrating should you be bad at it. This is a game that really requires patience and good timing. To be successful, you need to be efficient, because simply button mashing and flailing your fighter across the screen will result in some embarassing losses.

That’s the beauty of UFC 2009: Undisputed. It’s always a fair game. No matter how badly you are getting your tail handed to you, you’ve always got a shot. You could be getting destroyed late the 3rd round, but if you’re patient enough, you could find a weak spot, or find your opponent getting lazy, and give them a swift kick to the head. Boom. Flash. Knockout. UFC 2009 is one of the most well balanced fighting games ever, if not the single most.

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Submissions are one of the most exhilarating parts of the fighting engine. Clicking down on the right stick while your opponent is vulnerable on the ground, or when you catch a strike for a counter, or when you are clinched while standing, allows you to perform a submission. Depending on your position and fighting technique, the submissions vary in terms of success and type. UFC 2009 features just about every submission you’ve seen in the real life sport, from armbars, to rear naked chokes, to triangle chokes. During submission attempts, the biggest button masher, the fastest stick rotator will most likely be victorious. This can feel very clunky and unprofessional, but it feels appropriate in the fact that it instills urgency to the situation. Of course, you can’t just submit your opponent at the start of a match. This is a balanced game. Stamina, strength, submission offence and defence skills are also taken into account, as well as height and reach. It’s very authentic and it’s easy to appreciate.

The way the game tries its hand at authenticity is rather impressive. All weight classes are present here, with over 80 fighters on the roster. There are 6 distinct fighting techniques: Judo, BJJ, and Wrestling for throws and grappling, and Muay Thai, Kick Boxing, and Boxing for striking. The way fighters need to take advantage as well as adapt to these different techniques really makes the game dynamic. It’s a thinking man’s game, despite how button mashy it may seem to those unfamiliar with the sport.

The theme song from UFC is here as well, as are a few ring girls, Joe Rogan is on commentating, and Herb Dean is among the referees. The game tries its best to deliver a realistic feeling UFC experience, and it gets the job done. The lack of ring entrances are a tad disappointing, but that’s something to expect for next year, right?

It’s a safe bet to call the core gameplay an authentic, well balanced, thrill ride. Really, the game never lets up. Every match is worth seeing through to the end because of just how dynamic the whole system works. It’s amazing.

There is a career mode present in UFC 2009: Undisputed which unfortunately isn’t as good as it could be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s certainly worth playing just for the ultimate reward of winning some hardware, but it ultimately feels too artificial to really be taken seriously.

After creating your very own fighter of surprising detail (you can really shape them into how you want them to look), career mode is essentially a repetitive series of fights. In between each fight, you can either spar to assign attributes to your stats, or automate training. After 2 or 3 training sessions, you fight again. Career mode is disappointingly bareboned. There is nothing to ground it into the universe, and it comes across as an irritating setup of matches.

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What’s worse is just how poor the menu system is. There are short load times almost everytime you select something in the career mode menu. Even simply selecting sponsors to put on your shorts, you need to go through a confusing set of more than half a dozen menus just to be able to select a spot to put on the logo. It’s unnecessarily complex.

Even while it’s really shallow and there’s not a lot to it, career mode is still worth going through, and I’ll tell you why. As you build up your fighters statistics, he constantly gets better, and as you retire from UFC, you can use your fighter in exhibition mode and for online fighting. There’s also something gratifying about seeing your fighter become champion of every single weight division.

While career mode remains an undeniable disappointment, the gameplay itself is the complete saving grace. Yes, career mode isn’t worth much, but just being able to face off against your buddies on the couch, or strangers over Playstation Network and Xbox Live, is worth the price of admission alone. The intensity and competitiveness that comes hand in hand with a title like this is just stunning. It’s easy to lose hours on end just doing fight after fight, trash talking, utilizing strategies, and overall just having an absolute blast. The price point of $69.99 is high, but it’s definitely worth it. If you dig the gameplay, you’re going to lose a lot of time on this game. This is one of those rare cases where a long list of features isn’t needed to make a game worth money, giving the title an old-school aesthetic that’s refreshing to see nowadays.

To anybody skeptical about how the visuals hold up, they can rest easy. UFC 2009 is an impressive looking game. The authenticity shows its face in just about every aspect of Undisputed’s presentation. Fighters not only look near-identical to their real life counterparts, but there are some nice effects added in as well. Cuts and bruises look absolutely painful, shorts will fold and sway upon contact and movement, and the animations are extremely fluid. Even the referees look like their own real life counterparts. It’s a good looking game.

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Still, there are a few qualms to be had. Animations do look very good, but you’ll be seeing the same ones in each fight, and it tends to get a little bit redundant after awhile, losing some of the awe that it initially instills. Also, the hit detection sometimes fails. Everything looks great at 30fps, but once the action slows down during a replay, you can really see just how lazy that Yuke’s got on some of the action. Punches and kicks will go through body parts, or they’ll just miss entirely, despite the fact that it is still counted as a hit. Even so, the hit detection isn’t a large issue, because when the action’s fast, it’s hard to nitpick.

The soundtrack is a large improvement over SvR’s crap, but it’s still no homerun. Face the Pain by Stemm is the highlight there. The commentators do a really good job at telling the action, but much like the impressive animations, they repeat from fight to fight.

Yuke’s has done a very good job at crafting a complex and addictive fighter. The fact that it doesn’t have a lengthy list of features should not keep anybody away from the game. It droops authenticity at the seams and it’s got a generous roster of fighters. It requires thinking as opposed to mindless thrashing. It’s got its fair share of issues, but when if you find yourself playing the demo hundreds of times over and over, then it may be time you drop the cash and make a smart investment. UFC 2009: Undisputed is a well balanced, addictive, and intense fighting game.

8.5 out of 10

Killzone 2 Review

•March 2, 2009 • 1 Comment

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Killzone 2

Platforms: Playstation 3

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe/ Sony Computer Entertainment America

Developer: Guerilla Games

Release Date: 2.27.09

The hype that surrounded Killzone 2 was out of the ordinary for a sequel to an underwhelming, disappointing Playstation 2 shooter. A pre rendered trailer later, and the whole world goes crazy either claiming the second coming, or calling bluff on Guerilla and Sony. “Does Killzone 2 live up to the hype?” I’m not touching that one with an answer, because that is a ridiculous question. A more reasonable question would be “Is Killzone 2 good?” And my answer to that is a resounding yes. “How good,” you ask? Killzone 2 is not only the best game on Playstation 3, but Killzone 2 is the single greatest, most viscerally enticing experience yet to be had this generation.

It feels good to get that off of my chest. Killzone 2 is a modern masterpiece. There’s a large number of things that make it so exciting. Starting with the visuals, it’s initially breathtaking to put your eyes on Killzone 2 for the first time. The battle raging through my mind while playing (and this still gets me) is if the art was better than the technology on display. That is pure preference. Killzone 2’s textures, lighting, animation, draw distance, and effects are all the best in the business. However, Killzone 2’s art might be the reason it looks so great. There’s something to be said for when you look out on the street on Salamun Market, or when you sprint through the ash in the final battles in Pyrrhus, and you see in the vista, two glowing, staring red eyes, and you realize that they’re looking at you. It’s war, and he is your enemy. The environments themselves are just breathtaking, and the urban, bleek, destructed setting is rich with atmosphere. People have been complaining at the grey color palette, but they too can rest easy. Killzone 2 utlizes colour near perfectly, and you’ll never feel overwhelmed with dark blur. Beginning with the red eyes of the Helghast, or the sandy tone of certain levels, or the tint levels have to them, Killzone 2’s colour palette is diverse and varied. When you take the most technically advanced achievement, and riddle it with one of the most distinct art directions, you get what might just be the best looking game ever made.

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The sound design reaches as high a bar as the visuals. The sound effects of the weapons are perfectly recorded, and you’ll be able to decipher the sound of an SMG from an Assault Rifle in no time. The voice acting from all characters is nicely done, and even the orchestral score is so epic and so fitting, it’s one of the highpoints of the game. When you hear the cries of a fallen enemy, that’s when you’ll fully appreciate the work put into the sound design.

The suffix in Killzone 2 implies that there may have been a Killzone 1. That’s definitely true, which means that the setting and art match up pretty nicely. In the previous games, (Killzone and Killzone: Liberation), the British-Nazi-Alien-like Helghast invaded the planet of Vekta, looking for blood. This time, Vekta and its inhabitants are fed up with the constant flow of attacks, and the ISA (Interplanetary Strategic Alliance) finally takes the fight to the Helghast homeland of Helghan. You play as Sev, a sargeant with a nice hairstyle. As part of Alpha squad, your main objective is to capture the Helghast Emperor, Visari. While the setup seems rather cliche and actually quite simple, the overall quality of the narrative is exceedingly high. Whether you look at the excellent voice acting, or the greatly directed cutscenes, it’s all magnificient. The game focuses heavily on the consequence and triumph a war platoon can face. The four men in Alpha squad, Sev, Natko, Rico, and Garza are a brotherhood, and it really shows. The game gets you to truly care for the soldiers and their survival, sucking the player in from the opening cutscene to the end credits.

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So it’s safe to say that the story and presentation are incredible. To be as cliche as possible, it’s the gameplay that counts. Killzone 2 doesn’t have that many new ideas to bring to the table, but what it does, it does at the top of its class.

It’s tough to pick a place to begin describing why Killzone 2 is such an incredible piece of software. The weapons themselves pack a devastating punch, and each of them feel unique. While the controls certainly take a lot of getting used to, due to the heaviness of movement, it doesn’t take too long, and in no time, you’ll learn to love the different feel Killzone 2 has. The combat is incredibly satisfying. This is mainly due to the presentation. Everything just looks and sounds so incredible, that when you mow down an enemy with a machine gun, the blood splatter followed by a non scripted animation, and a gut wrenching scream are more than enough to bring a smile to your face. Perhaps when you hit an enemy with a shotgun, and their head explodes, or when you pour 25 bullets into his torso, ripping him to shreds, that you’ll understand why the gameplay is so rewarding, addictive, and just plain fun.

The weapon design is awesome. There’s your standard set of assault rifles that are fit for just about any situation, there’s your rapid fire sub-machine guns, a sniper rifle that utlizes steady hands to aim properly, but then there are some truly magnificient guns, such as the flamethrower, bolt gun, or the lighting gun. Yes, the names of those weapons describe them perfectly. The stream of fire that comes out of the flamethrower sets enemies on fire to stunning effect, the bolt gun knocks enemies off their feet and then blows them up, and the lightning gun (which you get to use for a long time), obliterates enemies and shocks them.

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While the weapons are incredible fun to use, it’d all be useless without the excellent opponent AI that sets a new benchmark for the FPS genre. For example, say you were having a firefight with a soldier 60 feet away. When he reloads, you run around the corner and get out of his sight. If you listen carefully, you can hear him mention he’s lost you. Now, he’s looking for you. The enemy AI never faulters, and always keeps a great challenge. They will call out your position to their allies, try to flank you, and they’re pretty good with a rifle themselves.

Because of the fantastic AI, Guerilla implemented a cover system in the single player campaign to give you a fighting chance. By snapping down on the L2 button, you can take cover on most of the low objects in the game, always maintaining a first person view. It seems to fit very well with the game, and is absolutely essential to survival. That’s not to say that you can’t kill enemies when not taking cover, but it’s to say that they will kill you should you avoid it.

There are some absolutely incredible set piece battles. In fact, most of the campaign will consist of one after another. The way that the campaign is designed, is that it constantly gets better and better. It stays consistent like that, always having a steady increase in quality, until the final battles at the end of the game, which are honestly the most exhilarating moments that I ever remember playing in a video game. There are a fair number of turret and vehicle moments that fit the bill as well.

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While the campaign is only about 7 hours long, there are several trophies to unlock, as well as stats that it keeps on you, like how many kills you have, how long a certain section took you to complete, and there are hidden collectibles strewn throughout the levels. The menu system is also quite generous in allowing you to revisit any section of the campaign quite easily. While it’s short, the reply value is actually pretty high.

The 32 person multiplayer component in Killzone 2 is actually quite innovative. The way that matches play out is seamlessly merging game modes together into one consistently raging war. There are five game modes, Search and Retrieve (which is a variant on Capture the Flag), Body Count, Assassination (which chooses on player on one team, and is up for assassination), Capture and Hold (which is a variant on Zones), and Search and Destroy (which is similar to Sabotage in Call of Duty 4). Matches where all game modes are featured, scrambles around the game modes in random order. So matches can start out with 5 minutes of Body Count, then quickly shift to Assassination. Since it’s all randomized, it can be a real rush to try to talk things out with your team about where to go and how to carry out the situation depending on the objective. Sometimes an Assasination is called out, and your team has just 20 seconds to figure it all out before the identity of the V.I.P. is revealed to the opposing team. It’s actually quite dynamic, and it keeps every piece of action of every match fresh. Some matches, given the two teams are competitive enough, can last up to an hour long. Now that’s hardcore.

There are 12 ranks in multiplayer, that unlock rewards such as the ability to join a clan, or unlock new weapons, or even new classes. The multiplayer in Killzone 2 is fully class based, with soldier being your only choice when you start out, as you play and rank up, you unlock more classes such as Medic (whom can revive fallen teammates, Scout (whom can go invisible), and many more. It’s an incredibly balanced and rewarding system. On top of the 12 ranks, there are ribbons that reward you with specific abilities such as more grenades or a higher running speed. Ribbons are handed out for performing specific duties on field such as getting 10% of your team’s kills in a game. So with the rank system, as well as the ribbon system, Killzone 2 constantly rewards you for shining light onto its multiplayer.

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If somebody asked me to tell them what Killzone 2’s issues are, I’d mention the 3 or 4 motion control sections that take 4 seconds each. That’s really all about it. Killzone 2 is the best shooter currently available. Its visuals and audio are the best in its class, its combat is viscerally exciting and satisfying, its story is top notch, its campaign is perfectly paced and full of awesome moments, and its multiplayer just keeps on giving. There is absolutely no reason not to play Killzone 2. That being said, should you play Killzone 2, play as much of it as you possibly can.

Story 9.2 out of 10 – Killzone 2’s surprisingly strong narrative heavily explores the consequences and moral effect war can have on a fleet of soldiers, with protagonists that you truly care about, and antagonists you learn to hate.

Presentation 10 out of 10 – While the tech and art clearly some of the best yet to be seen, the sound design doesn’t fall too far behind.

Gameplay 10 out of 10 – From start to finish, the campaign is consistently an intense and viscerally exciting experience, where its multiplayer’s innovative design has epic matches that can last up to an hour.

Value 9.5 out of 10 – The campaign may only be 7 hours, and it may lack cooperative play, the replay value is insanely high. The multiplayer on the other hand outdoes the depth found in Call of Duty.

Overall 9.8 out of 10

Skate 2 Review

•January 29, 2009 • Leave a Comment

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When Skate was released back in 2007, it revolutionized the skateboarding game genre. With unparalleled realism in its approach, controls that radically changed the way the game is played, and a really awesome intro vid, Skate was awesome, and managed to snag my personal choice for runner up Game of the year 2007. It was fantastic. For anybody who loved the first game as much as I did, or to any newcomers, I’ve got some good news for you: Skate 2 is here, and while it’s not as revolutionary as the first game, it definitely is more refined, more enjoyable, and more kickass than its predecessor.

What really sets skate apart from past skateboarding games, is its unique trick system. Implementing a Fight-Night-esque control scheme in which the right analog controls the way your board flips. There is, of course, no grind button. Using momentum and physics, just jumping on a rail will allow you to grind. It takes some getting used to, but it becomes natural in time. It still works extremely well in Skate 2, and with a few new improvements like the ability to use modifiers for footplants, the whole core is still intact. Liptricks are now possible using the R1 button, and with those previously mentioned modifiers, more extreme moves like inverts are available. The trick system still feels really innovative and fresh, especially if you’ve never played skate before. Certain tricks are hard to differentiate from each other, which can be a large issue for more trick oriented goals in the career mode, and in the competitive game of S.K.A.T.E. (which is like HORSE), but when you’re just cruising the city, looking for lines, it’s a lot of fun and feels intuitive.

There are many more places to get huge air in the New San Van. This opens up a new emphasis on vertical moves, which were in Skate, but you never really had the opportunity to fully use them. That can’t be said about Skate 2. You will get high in the sky.

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In Skate 2, you can create your own skate from scratch using an impressive and deep interface, allowing you to create whoever you want. In terms of the story, you play as the same skater from the first game, and after spending 5 years in prison, you find that San Vanelona has changed. Earthquakes have shifted the land, and the evil MongoCorp has taken over rebuilding the city, making it a not so friendly place to skate. It’s up to you to reclaim the city. It’s best to call this an overall setup for the story, in which case it does a great job.

In Career mode, you skate around the city taking photo sessions to get onto covers of Thrasher and The Skateboard Magazine, which has you jumping over fountains, speeding down mountains, and the like. One issue found in the original, was that too many goals focussed on utilizing the trick system to do a certain trick, which became infuriating because of its difficulty. That’s been remedied completely here. The career mode consists of photo shoots, jumping gaps, gaining high scores, and doing races. The occasional game of SKATE pops up every now and then, but it’s still good fun nonetheless. This isn’t to say the game is completely devoid of difficulty. What Skate did greatly was it captured the essense of trail and error that comes with the real life sport, and that’s in full effect yet again. It’s still tough to nail the perfect line that you want, but when you do, it’s more satisfying than any amount of blood or headshots can bring. It’s exhilarating.

New San Vanelona has really changed and matured into a skating haven. Each locale, from the Rez, to Couger Mountain, Downtown, Old Town, and the Waterfront each have their own unique style. As you may remember, the Rez was the perfect place to hit up for some speed. Couger Mountain is the new spot for this, which then leads into the Rez for some awesome races. Old Town and Downtown resemble Vancouver very well, capturing the city’s urban feel and vibe. The Waterfront has been completely recrafted, feeling like a beautiful and bright plaza perfect for skating. The most fun you’ll have in Skate 2 is just skating around searching for the perfect place to hit up.

The ability to get off your board was oddly gone in the first game, but is now here in Skate 2. The controls suck, your skater is slow, and he turns like an old lady, but hey, it’s better than not being able to do it altogether. You can finally go up a set of stairs! Ah, the beauty of evolution. As seen in Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground, you can now move objects around to create your own perfect line, and then upload that spot online for people to try out. There are some costs to this, however, and a few flaws. So that each object could be light enough for your skater to move around, simply bumping into them will move them, throwing off your potential skate video. It’s not a big problem, but it’s very unnecessary.

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Some new game modes made their way into the equation, but Hall of Meat is the true hero of the day. You garner points for bails. Painful. This can honestly become an unhealthy addiction, as it can be played offline with 4 people, or online with 6 friends. There are some undeniably satisfying cliffs and walls to hit, so be on the lookout.

Jumping online reminds me of Burnout Paradise. Hitting the select button brings up the online menu, where you can then jump quickly into a freeskate session and setup your game there. It’s a breeze. Any game modes found in Skate 2 can be done online, with full headset support. There are freeskate challenges, like Burnout, such as 6 skaters on a rail simultaneously. With modes like SKATE, Hall of Meat, the ability to upload your own replays online, full stat collection, (and did I mention Hall of Meat), Skate 2’s online mode is fully robust and will keep you occupied with limitless possibilities.

The graphics engine has been booted up to 60 frames, and the lighting has been contrasted more, giving off a sunset glare most of the time. It’s a good looking game. The physics and animations, as always, are fantastic, and while some of the texture work could be better, the anti aliasing is great, and there is little blur. The camera remains unchanged, sometime getting in the way, but it maintains the rush of adrenaline that comes with going fast and hitting rail. The soundtrack is no slouch, with some really great tunes, and the pro skaters in the game are all voiced by the skaters themselves. It’s very authentic.

I must give my regards to EA Black Box. It’s because of them that Skate and Skate 2 have had this hillarious, light hearted, laid back personality to it. It’s a game about the fun. Hanging with buds online, playing a game of Hall of Meat. The funky soundtrack. The funny situations. Skate may live on, but I fear that the personality aspect and awesome vibe may go with Black Box. A moment of silence for an awesome developer.

Skate 2 isn’t a revolution, but it is a damn fine game. It’s the first must buy of 2009, because Black Box’s swansong project is as good as they come. It didn’t fix all of the series’ issues, as the camera problems remain. However, it’s a big upgrade to an amazing gameplay experience. Skate 2 is recommendable to anybody who doesn’t have a nasty hate for skateboarding.

Gameplay 8.8

Presentation 8.6

Value 8.6

Overall 8.8/10