Friday, August 31, 2007

LAIR


Developer: Factor 5
Publisher: SCEA
Release Date: Sept. 4, 2007
System: PS3
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: So You Want to be a Dragon?

0:01 Man that THX logo movie is funny. A Dragon drops some water on the Factor 5 logo.
0:02 The world's most generic fantasy movie music plays over the menu screen. Lots of trumpets, violins and timpani.
0:04 "No one knows how long the ancients have lived before the divide." But volcanoes divided the people who had been united by one faith. The volcanoes unleashed fear in the form of dragons. Snappy writing and delivery. Seriously!
0:06 Whoever controlled the skies had dominion over the land." Beautiful vistas and water in these cut scenes.
0:08 The tilt controls for flight are a little floaty. Also, the dragons seem to fly very slow. Flapping helps a little, but where's the dash button.
0:10 Someone is giving a speech about the evil guys. Boooring. Suddenly, the walls crack and it's off to battle! All right! The dragons look a lot better in the cut scenes. In fact, everything does. "Bring your blades back dull." So I brought this blade sharpener for nothing?
0:11 I'm not flying for five seconds before a cut scene shows my character taking out a catapult. Er, couldn't I have done that myself? Oh, probably not, because I don't know how to breath fire.
0:13 Back in control. Turns out the square buttons breathes fire. I take out the first ship easily. They blow up real nice. But there's no challenge or urgency, at least not yet. Just hovering and blasting flame breath at the ships.
0:17 Now there's ice dragons. There's a lot going on above the city, and the system stutters a bit trying to render it all.
0:18 "I can't keep track of the dragons. They're everywhere," one of my companions said. You're telling me! It's nearly impossible to tell good guys from bad, so I just launch fire in all directions. It's hard to aim, but remarkably easy to hit -- probably some sort of auto-aim correction being used on my shots.
0:19 People are blathering on about the mills being on fire. I DON'T CARE. I can't do anything about it. Save it for the post-game cut scenes!
0:22 OK, I'm into some one-on-one fighting now, floating wing to wing with a Mokai general or something. But I have no idea what I'm doing. I can move around, but I can't seem to strike. Braking and setting his wings on fire doesn't have much effect.
0:28 After a lot of trial and error, I still can't figure out what to do. My lunge attacks from behind seem to just bounce off, and fire has no effect (on the ice dragon... go fig).
0:36 Holy crap. Apparently I'm supposed to lunge the controller left and right to attack. I tried this 10 minutes ago, but it didn't seem to register. YOu have to REALLY shove the controller to the side to make it work. Ugh. If they explained this on-screen I totally missed it.
0:37 I get the feeling the people behind this game wanted to make a movie. The environments are absolutely stunning and the cut scenes are very well produced and written. If only the gameplay were more interesting.
0:44 This is a bit unfair. My dragon rips through a group of 80 enemy troops like they weren't even there. I mean, it's fun seeing them bowled over, but there's no real challenge or engagement to it. It's not even close.
0:47 Major annoyance: The arrow that points my way is a perfect equilateral triangle, meaning it's very hard to tell which ways it's pointing. I can't tell if I'm coming or going. Without the arrow I have a hard time making out where I'm supposed to go in the over-detailed environs.
0:49 I know dragons are known for flying, but these guys handle like tanks on the ground. The camera is painfully bad during the melee combat as well. Also, while walking around, I get hit for what I believe might be the first time so far in the game.
0:50 The camera just got stuck IN THE GROUND during some ground attacks. Sigh.
0:51 My wingman, upon taking down a dragon: "That dragon is history." YES THANK YOU FOR THAT VERY INSIGHTFUL OBSERVATION!
0:53 You know what this game needs? A radar. Also: Thank god for lock-on. I'd never be able to aim well enough without it. With it, this is way too easy.
0:55 "Take out those trebuchet before they take down the walls. Without it, the armies could march on the city." You mean the walls protect the city? Do tell!
0:58 Taking out the trebuchet is much harder than it needs to be, mainly because I'm struggling with the controls. It's also a bit hard to see what's going on. But I manage with more hovering and launching of fireballs. Reminds me of the first mission... hmmm...

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Probably not.
Why? While I'd like to see the rest of the cut scenes, slow repetitive gameplay and unresponsive controls make me reluctant to work for it.

This review based on a retail copy provided by Sony.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Talismania


Developer:
RocketJump Games and PopCap Games
Publisher: PopCap Games
Release Date: Aug. 10, 2006
Systems: PC
ESRB Rating: N/A
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Talisman Mania

0:01 Story in a nutshell: King Midas has to make money to spend on others so Zeus will un-transform his golden daughter from gold. Makes perfect sense!
0:04 Game in a nutshell: Rotate pieces to match up pipes and makes a path. Super simple so far.
0:08 Things I like so far, the presence of a bonus countdown timer that isn't too pressing; an interface that's incredibly easy to pick up. Things I don't like: The over-prevalence of one type of block which makes it too easy to circle around the goal.
0:11 Mini-game time. I'm clicking arrows to build a statue to Artemis. It's ridiculously easy if you've ever used a mouse before. "Fun Fact: Artemis was one of the few Greek Gods to remain chaste and unmarried." Bah! Get that book learning out of my game!
0:15 Immovable rocks are getting in my way now. Longer paths get me nicer buildings. The lack of a strict time limit means I end up tinkering away at my paths forever. I always think there's something better possible.
0:18 The "Talismania" mode is nuts. Click on blocks as fast as possible to turn them to gold. Nice action touch in a puzzle game.
0:19 Mini-game #2 has me clicking flying hammers. Its only slightly harder than the first one. I hope the challenge picks up soon... this is a bit simple so far.
0:22 Five levels down and I've built a cottage for some poor farmers (with a cute little pig!) "Our new cottage is wonderful! And Shiny! It's WONDERFULLY SHINY!" Awww.
0:26 Most levels I end up just below the "gold" line. I take too long tinkering to get the good coins. I gotta focus on speed instead, it seems
0:27 Wow! I save up ten stars for Talismania and manage to clear the whole board in a barrage of clicking. Satisfying!
0:30 Bonus game three. This time I have to click hearts and not harpies. I'm perfect again. The hit range on these hearts is ridiculous. If I click anywhere near them I get it.
0:32 There's a steady stream of new stuff in most of the levels now. Minotaurs, multiple talismans. My favorite is "Pandora's blocks" just for the name. Hooray for variety!
0:35 Things are getting complicated now, with more blocks and more paths to keep track of, Minotaurs on the loose, freeze blocks, etc. etc. I'm liking it.
0:39 The strategy is already getting much more innate. Less thinking, more rotating. My scores are showing the improvement.
0:45 These medusas and minotaurs are getting annoying, constantly destroying blocks. I need to watch out for them more, it seems.
0:46 All right! I've unlocked timed hero mode. Now this should be a challenge.
0:49 The first level of hero mode is dispatched pretty quickly. I like being able to focus on quick connections rather than long, complex trails.
0:54 "Talismania" seems a little overpowered. Every time I use it I max out my score for the level quickly. And I use it pretty often. Is this a puzzle game or a twitch game?
1:00 No matter how long a level takes in timed mode, so far I seem to gain all the time back at the end, and then some. It's not that much harder than untimed mode, unfortunately.

Would I play this game for more than an hour?
Probably
Why? While the game is diverting enough and there's a little room for improvement in my strategy, it just seems too simple overall.

This review based on a deluxe copy provided by Popcap.

Broken Xbox 360


Developer: Microsoft
Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: Nov. 22, 2005
Systems: Er, Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: E - M
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: My first hour with a broken Xbox 360.

0:01 I put BioShock in my disc drive and turn the power on.
0:02 The TV is still black. I look down and notice three red lights surrounding the power button.
0:03 I desperately try to reset the system. No change.
0:04 - 1:00 Soft weeping.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Not if I had a choice.
Why? I wanna play BioShock. Waaaaah!

This review based on a retail system purchased over a year ago. It will be missed.

Note: It probably goes without saying, but don't expect any Xbox 360 reviews on this site until this issue is resolved.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Dynasty Warriors: GUNDAM


Developer: Koei
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Release Date: Aug. 28, 2007
Systems: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Two, two, two arcane Japanese series in one.

0:01 The Original Mode, which is the only one available in the demo, says it lets me "play missions centering around a mysterious planet." Ooooh. Sounds mysteeeerious. Selecting my character, Heero Yuy, he says "I'll kill you" in a deep, menacing voice. This is the good guy?
0:02 "A mysterious planet appears from beyond space and time." MySTEEEERious. It's headed towards Earth. "Is it nothing more than a planet, or some kind of mobile weapon? Heroes from across generations unite to uncover the truth." A fanboy's wet dream.
0:04 My summary of the last two minutes of talking:
Guy #1: "How did you beat me?"
Guy #2: "I'm better than you and I don't care about fancy titles like you do."
Guy #1: "Teach me to be as cool as you."
Guy #2: "OK!"
Neither of these guys is my character, by the way.
0:07 The battle prep screen has a nice flow chart of button combos. Seems pretty straightforward.
0:08 "Combat level, target confirmed, commence destruction." My character talks like the robot he pilots.
0:10 The system handles an impressive numbers of on-screen enemies without missing a beat. Of course, most of those enemies just stand there and watch as I tear them to shreds, so it's probably not that hard to render them.
0:12 "Master Asia" says I need a strategy to break through the enemy field. So far my strategy has been hitting square followed by other buttons. It seems to be working very well on the barely mobile enemies.
0:14 My comrade on the enemy defense commander: "He's the best I've ever seen!" He says this as I commence beating the guy to a pulp.
0:16 "They must be mad attacking with so few units," says random enemy woman. I'd agree, except that the hundreds of enemy units seem to do nothing but watch as I tear them through them.
0:18 "What is this feeling? Fear? Me?!" might be the best line ever written in the history of mankind.
0:20 Puru is extremely happy to battle me. He's actually tough, meaning he actually attacks with some ferocity. Meanwhile, the dozens of flacks surrounding us just stand and watch.
0:21 Heero: "Mission complete. All enemies confirmed eliminated." He says this AS HE'S FIGHTING ENEMIES!
0:26 If I understood the ridiculous Gundam backstory, all this talking might make sense. As it is, it just seems overwrought and distracting.
0:27 I finally get taken down by a guy named "Milardo." His winning strategy: Continually attacking! Someone was bound to figure it out eventually!
0:31 Going through the mission again now. It's surprisingly cathartic ripping through scores of enemies with an energy sword. Attacking controls are pretty responsive, but I wish it were easier to move while attacking.
0:35 The camera has a bad habit of not moving unless you actively move it. Of course, if you use the right stick to move it, you can't hit the attack buttons. Tres annoying.
0:38 Proptip: Hitting square square square triangle X square square square unleashes an attack combo that's good enough to take out 99 percent of the enemies in the demo. I am not joking.
0:43 Hmm, apparently holding L1 makes me invincible. That's nice to know. Not nice enough to help me beat Milardo, though. He's merciless. Nice of the difficulty to jump from ridiculously easy to ridiculously hard in one enemy!
0:44 I decide not to restart, as I would just be tearing down more simple enemies and wouldn't be able to get back to Milardo in the hour.

Would I play this game for more than an hour 44 minutes? Probably
Why? I feel like I might get better if I kept at it, and, what's more, it might be kind of fun to do.

This review based on an early demo downloaded from the PlayStation Network.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Two Worlds


Developer: TopWare Interactive
Publisher: SouthPeak Interactive
Release Date: Aug. 24, 2007
Systems: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PC
ESRB Rating: M
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Oblivion without all the things that made Oblivion good.

0:01 Starting off in the character editor. I can choose from four whole hair styles! And one whole costume! And... one whole facial type. It makes the Mii Channel look expansive. And what the hell's with this Lorenna Mckennit cum hard rock guitar background music?
0:04 During the loading screen: "The stun skill is usable against a helmeted opponent." Good to know... I guess...
0:05 "Why did you not tell me. You will bleed to death." says my character. "'Tis just a flesh wound." says his female companion, without a trace of irony. or voice acting talent. This is the most stilted delivery I've heard this side of Resident Evil.
0:06 Kira goes missing, but my character seems unconcerned. Sure he cries "Kira!" but he sounds pretty bored when he says it.
0:07 "The village elder will be here directly. They have found another body." "I shall wait!" You really have to hear the delivery on these lines. It's classically bad.
0:08 These facial models are just ugly. Not uncanny valley ugly. Just ugly ugly. Misshapen.
0:09 "Since the dwarves went north, 'tis only Groms that visit this temple." Of course! That makes perfect sense! What's a Grom?
0:10 Hey, I'm finally playing! Anything's better than that horrid voice acting.
0:11 First battle consists of hitting RT a lot to attack a pair of Goblin-looking Groms. The dungeon environment is pretty detailed... the artists went a bit overboard.
0:12 Wait, that was it? I killed two enemies and now they're telling me to go back outside and find my employer. A stranger tells me that some warrior came to the village looking for me. He pays me. "Forsooth, twas generous... where I come from, no one pays unless forced too." This is hard to sit through.
0:14 I like how they let me choose my hair color when making a character, yet they keep my head covered with a hood at all times.
0:15 The stranger finishes with his expositional backstory. To tell you the truth I tuned most of it out. Lots of random fantasy-sounding names and places. Blah blah blah.
0:16 I love how the jump animation just kind of freezes at the peak of your jump. Not quite so-bad-it's-good, but definitely so-bad-it's-funny.
0:18 The detailed graphics are too much for the system -- bits of grass are popping into existence two feet from me. Kind of detracts from the world.
0:19 I try to attack a stray wolf, but my sword goes right through him on eight shots out of ten. Is this the ghost wolf of legend? Wait, what did I just say?
0:21 I stumble across a magic source. Only after fumbling with the buttons for a while do I realize that the L trigger shoots a magic flame. That... might have been nice to know earlier.
0:22 Upon being killed by two Groms and being resurrected nearby: "I'm alive again." Well goody. Apparently I've been resurrected right in a new village. A person there tells me about taxes in northeast Thalmont. Wow... gripping.
0:23 "Ah, you are the mercenary of whom I have heard." How's that for natural writing. This guy wants a moutain crystal as a gift for his wife. No thanks... I'm not an errand boy. He mentions that orcs are attacking a caravan. OK. That's at least potentially exciting later!
0:26 "Well met, stranger. Are you seeking some special wares, perchance." This line is spoken by a guy who sounds like he has the barest understanding of conversational English.
0:27 I open a door outward, and it GOES RIGHT THROUGH MY CHARACTER. Like completely. Not a good sign.
0:28 Someone sees me breaking into a cabinet and calls the guards. "Don't hurt me," he whimpers. Then I talk to him. "Good day to you." he says, cheerfully. Sigh.
0:30 The guard arrives in town. "You've been caught stealing. That is a crime here!" So... there are places where it isn't a crime? When I call him a cur, he responds "You're one dead stranger." My sides are starting to hurt from laughter.
0:31 So the guard who confronted me promptly runs off, but the angry citizens attack me with sticks. One hit and I'm down... the villagers are stronger than the enemy Groms! This would be funny if it weren't so pathetic.
0:34 Apparently wolves don't need to breathe in this universe. I'm up to my waist in ocean water but the wolf keeps following me, totally submerged. Too funny.
0:36 Someone sends me an Xbox Live message asking if Two Worlds is better than Oblivion. I almost fall out of my chair. Oh well... at least responding is more interesting than playing the game.
0:39 OK, response sent, back to the game. I admit I have no idea where I'm supposed to go. I remember them mentioning a hut south of the city, but I have no idea where the city is. Or where south is, for that matter.
0:40 Holy fuck, a black bear. It would be scary if I couldn't easily out run it. Seriously, I have yet to meat the enemy or beast I can't easily run circles around.
0:42 I somehow stumble upon Gandohar, the guy who was looking for me. The Groms that were chasing me wait patiently off to the side as I talk. Seriously, I can see them as behind me during the cut scene, just standing there grumbling!
0:43 For some reason, Gandohar kills the Groms that were following me once our conversation is done. Not that I mind, but... is he my friend now or something?
0:45 I just noticed there's absolutely no background music. After all that effort on the full vocal score during the intro screen, the world is completely silent. What gives?
0:46 I try going around the village I stole from, but some villagers follow me and take me about about 100 yards away. Holy hell, I'm sorry I stole from you, OK?! Just leave me alone already!
0:49 Some wizard guy is blathering on about teleporters activators.I fantasize about what I'll be doing in 11 minutes.
0:57 The most ridiculous battle I've ever taken part in just ended. I take out a group of 12(!) young Groms simply by throwing fireballs from afar and then retreating to a nearby magic restoring point. This whole process takes eight minutes, but isn't even remotely as dangerous as it should be.
1:01 I spend my last four minutes amusing myself by literally running and jumping circles around a pack of wolves. They just sit there growling and occasionally trying to lash out at me. I'm just skipping around them, la la la.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Not on your life.
Why? It is one of the worst games I've ever played.

This review based on a retail copy provided by SouthPeak.

Monday, August 27, 2007

TMNT


Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: March 20, 2007
Systems: Wii (reviewed), any other you can name. Even the GBA.
ESRB Rating: E10+
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: The game based on the movie based on the revamped cartoon based on the classic cartoon based on the original comic book.

0:01 A super zoomed-in Michelangelo blinks at me from the Wii Menu screen. Creepy.
0:03 "A sensei once consoled a grief stricken boy as his brother prepared for battle." Master Splinter introduces the game with an inspiring parable about family over some uninspiring comic book art.
0:04 Double jump! All action games should be required to have double jumps. There, I said it.
0:05 To collect certain coins I have to "first complete my mission, then replay it." Way to squeeze some artificial replay value, game.
0:06 I know this is the first level and all, but so far I've spent three minutes running down a linear path and jumping. No enemies. No special moves. No real tutorial. Nothing.
0:07 Here we go, some Prince of Persia style wall running. And then... more jumping.
0:09 I've gotta say, so far I like the animation and the responsive controls. I just I had something to do with them. This tutorial is dragging on.
0:10 Every so often Leonardo exclaims "Wa-ha-hooo!" for NO APPARENT REASON. Very annoying.
0:11 Oh my God... an enemy! It only took 11 minutes! Of course you swing the remote to swing your sword.
0:12 Boy that was some easy combat. My wrist is already hurting from constant shaking.
0:14 Okay, seriously, running forward and jumping over near identical pits is only interesting for so long. Give me something else to do already.
0:15 Oh great, another set of wall jumps. I wonder if this will be different from the half dozen I've done already. Hmmm... nope.
0:16 Taking out bad guys "charges our inner strength," Leo says. There's a positive message for the youth of America.
0:17 "Unleashing your inner strength" means slowing everything down and putting a hazy graphic effect around everything, making it harder to attack. Yawn.
0:18 Leo: "This is the bomb. I don't think I'll ever see anything this beautiful again." The graphics are nice and evocative of place, but the most beautiful I'll ever see? No. Also, it's the bomb? Really?
0:19 Raphael hints that the upcoming story will nearly break the family apart. Intriguing. Who the hell is the Night Watcher? Supposed to be Batman? He has a pair of sai, so maybe he's Raphael in disguise? Whoever he is, I'm playing as him.
0:24 This Night Watcher is very good at taking a wide range of bad guys, from tough guy with bat to "tough guy with pipe" and everything in between. Wait... there's nothing in between!
0:26 After the fifth straight wave of nondescript bad guys, my wrist needs a break. Note to developers: sometimes, button presses work just as well. At least the enemies are actually attacking now, even if they aren't too smart about it.
0:28 OK, this is funny. In a rooftop battle, five identical guys with bats surround me. I double jump and do a downward strike to knock them back. They get up in unison and walk towards me in exact lockstep. Repeat x 8 and they're all done. Too much.
0:30 Two more waves of enemies go down to the unstoppable jumping attack. They can't touch me!
0:31 "Crime doesn't go away dude, but the Night Watcher sure put a lot of it out of commission." Pretty heady stuff for a game aimed at ten-year-olds.
0:33 OK, at least the guys with pipes are smart enough to block my jumping attacks. They're sitll pretty easy, though.
0:34 The level and anticlimactically on an empty rooftop. Whatever happened to boss battles?
0:35 Raphael is the Night Watcher. I thought so. Now we're controlling Don, out looking for components for his latest invention. If this story is supposed to hold together, then the mission has failed.
0:40 When Don falls in a pit "There must be a... system... error." Jeez. Later: "This does not... compute" Cornball.
0:41 So far, the game seems to be split into fighting levels and platforming levels, both of which are painfully straightforward.
0:44 The voice-over story during the platforming is a nice conceit. Keeps things interesting even when the action is pretty by-the-numbers. The dialogue and voice acting are actually pretty good.
0:45 The controls that were so responsive and intuitive are starting to show some wear. I'm messing up more than I feel I should.
0:48 The new batch of electric-bow enemies are actually pretty challenging. They dodge and strike at opportune moments. Nice difficulty curve.
0:49 You know what's fun. Jumping over a dozen identical electric barriers like they're hurdles. Wait, no, not fun... what's the word. Boring. That's it.
0:50 Don, upon beating some enemies. "To be or not to be. NOT!" Shakespeare is rolling over in his grave. Also, it barely makes sense. Is Don suicidal?
0:52 The platforming challenge are starting to get more interesting. Moving obstacles and platforms shows some promise.
0:53 Boss time against a living statue. When you die, all you have to do is shake the remote to recover some energy. Lame. Make death important!
0:55 This boss is actually quite tough. Like unfairly so. He moves incredibly quickly and his attacks are near impossible to avoid.
0:57 Boss battle done, I have to escape the slowest rising water ever. How slow is it. I didn't pause to type this timestamp.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? No.
Why? I am no longer a ten-year-old Turtles fan. Plus I could be playing Sands of Time instead.

This review based on a retail copy rented from GameFly.

Friday, August 24, 2007

SingStar: '80s and Singstar: Amped


Developer: SCE London
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: Sept. 18, 2007
Systems: PS2
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Sing while you watch videos. Just like MTV used to be.

This review features guest commentary from my wife, Michelle.

0:01 The game starts with a video featuring Twisted Sister that might as well be an ad for the game. Er, we already own the game. You don't have to convince us to buy it. At least it's skippable.
0:02 The game seems to automatically import my save data from the first SingStar. Very nice touch. But I have to choose my difficulty before I choose my song. Not a nice touch.
0:04 Some wifely comments from our initial perusal of the '80s song list: "This seems very representative of the '80s." "I hate that song. [about Tempted]" "Now that's a haircut."
0:09 I type this during a mid-Rio saxophone break. The interface leaves something to be desired. It's hard to keep the pace when the speed of the notes constantly changes with each line. Oops, back to the song.
0:11 Song's over. It's hard to read the streaming lyrics and view the note tubes since they're so far apart on the screen. It can be hard to match the notes with the specific lyrics if you don't know the song. I do like watching the videos during the silent parts.
0:13 My wife picks "Kids in America" for her first song. "Do you know it well enough?" I ask. "We'll see. If not I'll fail and it'll be your turn," she responds. True enough.
0:15 My wife misses the first line because there is little warning the song is about to start. Darn interface.
0:16 "I have to do the backup part too? If she's not singing I shouldn't be singing." I agree. Upon finishing, the game calls her a wannabe and shows a small duck icon. "Quack quack," says the game. "I got quacks," my wife says morosely.
0:18 I just noticed that Eye of the Tiger loads immediately when I choose it. Very nice touch.
0:21 No video for this song... just a lame visualization. What's up with that? The game seems good at keeping me steady on long notes, but bebops and scats all over on the quick ones. Or maybe it's just me.
0:25 My wife points out that it's impossible to tell how hard an individual song is before you start it. This is a major omission.
0:29 These '80s videos are patently ridiculous. The video for Everybody Wants to Rule the World features two black guys in tuxedos are dancing in front of a gas station. Then dune buggies. What the hell?
0:34 The "Pure '80s Medley" is over too soon. Very short pieces from each of five songs. No loading in between songs, thankfully.
0:35 You don't have to reset the system to put in a new version. Another nice touch.
0:36 My wife sums up the song selection on Amped. "Ooh, I like this one, too!"
0:39 Michelle: "Wow, I'm gonna be totally distracted by the video and not gonna be able to sing a thing." Of course for people who've ever watched a music video before this will be less of a problem.
0:40 In Don't Fear the Reaper the background part practically overlaps with the main part, but you have to sing them both. Tough and annoying.
0:44 My wife's reaction to the "robotizer" voice changer during the recorded playback: "Dear God make it stop."
0:49 The volume slider seems to just make the background song softer. I just want the recorded vocals to turn down, not the whole song.
0:57 In playback mode the video doesn't move in real time during fast forward or rewind. Makes it hard to use the features.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes
Why? Only because all my various Karaoke Revolution songs are getting a bit stale.

This review based on a retail copy provided by Sony.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Blue Dragon


Developer: Mistwalker
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studio
Release Date: Aug. 28, 2007
Systems: Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Final Fantasy + Dragon Ball Z = Blue Dragon.

0:01 The title screen is a stark white background with the words" Press Start" floating there. Where's the title? I like the gently lilting music, though.
0:02 What better way to start a demo than some impossible to understand dialogue. "Wow, he's got all sorts of stuff." Who has what? One character has a glowing bracelet. "There's not much time left." "I'm gonna save you no matter what." Maybe it'll make more sense later?
0:03 So the glowing necklace around Kluke's neck is a bomb that we have to disarm. Yikes. Also: What kind of a name is Kluke?
0:06 Enemies can eat each other in a monster fight. Cool! Shades of Doom.
0:09 Just like Dragon Ball, you can spend massive amounts of time charging up your attacks.
0:10 Jira just kind of stands there impassively with arms folded as giant blue cougars slash at his body. He dies without flinching, then is resurrected for some reason. What's going on?
0:13 Jira dies again but this time he stays down. Luckily the demo packs me with plenty of items to revive him.
0:17 I'm fighting armored fish. ARMORED FISH! THEY WALK AROUND ON LAND! WITH ARMOR! Just thought I'd point that out.
0:19 Half my characters level up with relatively little fanfare.
0:21 I like the variety of options for each of my five characters. One has a meditation healing, another has multi-enemy attacks, another can steal. Makes them feel unique.
0:22 Holding A to powering up attacks is way too touchy. I can't seem to get the meter to land where I want it to.
0:23 The presentation is a strong point so far. I love the lifelike animation and the evocative music.
0:25 "Szabo, we destroyed you" "I am a machine, my body simply needed repairs." "That sucks!" The bad voice acting is only matched by the bad dialogue.
0:26 Boss battle time. The enemies get off half a dozen attacks before I get a turn. That hardly seems fair...
0:30 So far all but one turn has been spent healing or un-paralyzing from that first volley. Fun?
0:32 Quick question: Should a character named "Grand Silent Ku" really be talking so much in battle. Shouldn't his words be reserved for important moments, like Silent Bob in Clerks? Also, the boss battle music is possibly the most Emo song ever created.
0:34 Apparently healing was a bad strategy. Once I do start attacking, the mini-bosses go down very quickly. But then Grand Sazbo comes in. "I'll blow you to scum pieces with these cannons." "Oh yeah, we'll just smash those cannons." HINT HINT!
0:35 Jeez! The first volley of cannon attacks kills off three of my characters! I wasn't ready for that!
0:39 The bosses attacks really vary from turn to turn. One turn he'll do 27 damage to one character. The next he'll do hundreds to all at once. Sheesh.
0:40 Summon time. The "corporeal" attack turns my blue dragon into a white flying King Kong style monkey with fangs. An energy barf bathes the boss in a white cylinder. The whole thing takes a full 60 seconds.
0:43 The animations for the attacks are elaborate and beautiful. I love them now, but I'm sure I'll hate them around, oh, hour 20 of watching them OVER and OVER!
0:45 The boss battle is finally done. Apparently the mysterious "Nene" has been watching us this entire time. I don't know why that's a problem.. all we did was attack and rattle off some expository dialogue.
0:48 That was only floor one of the fortress? Jeez! Floor two looks a lot like floor one. I mean a LOT!
0:51 Yikes. After charging up for three turns, an octopus enemy explodes and does massive damage to everyone. I gotta be quicker.
0:53 I like the focus on fewer, more in-depth battles. I also like being able to group nearby enemies together for battles, and the ability to skip easy battles with a special barrier. Keeps things moving quickly. But... is it a good sign that I enjoy skipping the battles?

Would I play this game for more than an hour?
Probably.
Why? Let's put it this way. I'd play it for ten more hours, not 40.

This review based on a demo version downloaded from Xbox Live.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Burnout 3: Takedown




Developer: Criterion
Publisher: EA Games
Release Date: Sept. 7, 2004
Systems: PS2, Xbox
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Crash Simulator 3.0

0:01 "We are the lazy generation" blares over some impressive crash scenes. What this has to do with the game, I have no idea.
0:02 My initial car choices are red, blue and black. They're pretty similar otherwise. Red it is!
0:03 Video tutorial. "You're not gonna win races unless you take risks." Good summary. Also "Using boost gives you a speed BOOST." Thanks, Captain Obvious!
0:05 The video actually gave me a pretty good grasp on what's going on thanks to a deliberate pace and some telestrator action on freeze frames.
0:07 It's very distracting when the game zooms out to show a takedown. Beautiful, but distracting. At least I can turn it off in the options.
0:08 Crashes end kind of abruptly -- I'm thrown into racing again with little warning. Also, it's weird being rewarded for crashing. It throws off risk/reward structure when failure can be turned into success so easily.
0:11 I finish in second place. The level seemed kind of empty. More oncoming traffic please.
0:12 Tons of stats about damage, takedowns, etc. Great for a stat junkie like me. Not quite DiRT level, but still good.
0:13 Th tutorial for the crash events says it point blank: "Risk = Reward" Guess that answers my point at minute eight.
0:15 The camera moves around so much in the crash mode that I have trouble figuring out what I'm doing. Whatever I did was enough to get a gold medal, though, mostly due to money icons found on the track and not from actual damage I caused.
0:18 Another crash event. Again, the icons I find are worth much more than the actual crash. Makes the whole thing seem kind of pointless.
0:22 Another race, this time against a lap timer. It's still weird to benefit from messing up and crashing. I feel like there's no reason to even try to be skillful.
0:23 I know this game isn't supposed to be realistic per se, but having a radio station devoted to covering "crash action" is a little ludicrous.
0:24 Another crash event, another dollar. This time I don't manage to collect many icons and end up with a bronze. Why don't they just call it icon collector mode?
0:29 I love the slow pan over the destruction caused after the crash events are done. It's a thing of beauty. *sniff*
0:34 The latest crash event has a 2x multiplier. Without it you might as well not bother trying for the higher medals. Hooray for icon collection mode.
0:38 I can't get enough of the slow pan over the destruction. Worth the price of admission alone.
0:39 So I'm unlocking a bunch of cars, but I can't use them in any races yet. What a gyp!
0:42 Trapped against a wall, I get an "Extreme slam!" for a car crashing into me. What is this, a Mountain Dew commercial? From 1997?
0:44 Apparently crashing into non-rivals does hurt a bit... I go from a close second to five seconds behind and end up with a bronze. That'll learn me for crashing in a game that... encourages... crashing.
0:45 All I want to do is retry the race, but first I have to sit through a minute of unlock screens. Come on, game, let me play you!
0:48 Thank god for large orange arrows, because without them it would be near impossible to tell where to turn. Some other camera angles would be nice.
0:49 OH MY GOD NO ONE CARES ABOUT THE SPECIAL EVENT POST CARD I UNLOCKED JUST LET ME PLAY!
0:55 Finally, a Grand Prix event where I can use my unlocked custom compact.
1:00 I get second place in the first GP race. I can't get anything going until I take out some rivals. When they're not around, I have practically nothing to do. Sigh.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? Just to watch those beautiful crashes.

This review based on a retail copy borrowed from a friend.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Metapost: Missing a day

Well it was bound to happen. After putting up a new review every weekday for nearly three months, I missed yesterday due to travel problems. Enjoy a double dose of reviews today to make up for the delay.

And now... time for some BioShock!

skate.


Developer: Black Box
Publisher: EA
Release Date: Sept. 12, 2007
Systems: Xbox 360, PS3
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Er, skate.

0:01 The title screen is the word "skate" with a skateboard rolling sound in the background. Simple and effective.
0:02 "The community center it he perfect place to learn the basics." OK! These "flickit" controls are gonna take some getting used to for a Tony Hawk semi-pro like me.
0:05 The flicking and rotation to pull off moves kind of remind me of Street Fighter II. Also, I find it funny that I know how to do jump tricks but not how to skate around yet.
0:06 "You'll figure it out eventually. Timing just takes practice." This does not inspire confidence before my first try at jumping onto ledges.
0:07 "Yo, ease up on the push button, man. This ain't a button-mashing game." Cute.
0:08 The entire sky turns blood red when you fall. Nice touch. I also like the low to the ground camera angle. Dramatic.
0:09 It so weird having actual momentum. In Tony Hawk I'd be flying around like a pinball, instead, I slow down rather quickly by turning.
0:12 There's no grind button? No, instead you just jump onto a rail and grind if you're lined up right. I have to admit grinds that just kind of end because I lose momentum aren't as exciting, but they're definitely more realistic than in Tony Hawk.
0:15 Replay editing is full of options, but the analog controls are kind of touchy. Either it's super slow or super fast. Something more in-between would be nice.
0:16 I run into a rail and bail. In Tony Hawk I'd have just bounced off. I'm not sure which I prefer yet.
0:18 "Just close your eyes and pretend it doesn't hurt." I laughed.
0:19 I complete a challenge but this time I only get photos, not editable replays. What's up with that?
0:20 The rag doll physics make falls look awkward. The skater just kind of goes limp. Where's the tension in the muscles?
0:24 Ouch! I'm so intent on pulling off a nollie that I run right into a cement pillar. The bails aren't nearly as violent as they are in Tony Hawk, but they make me cringe more. Probably because they're not so over the top.
0:34 For the past ten minutes I've been trying to flip into a manual. Every time the off-screen helper says the same... exact... thing. I want to kill him!
0:39 Five more minutes and I still can't pull off the flip into manual. What am I doing wrong? Enlighten me, game!
0:42 Finally got it! The key seems to be going for bigger air, holding the stick down longer before the first jump, and using a very subtle touch for the manual. Requires much finer control than Tony Hawk, where mashing the control stick is more the order of the day.
0:49 I really feel a sense of accomplishment when I put together a line and getting 1000 points with three grinds. The game really lets your creativity shine.
0:51 In the middle of a trick I get a "demo is timed out" message and get bumped out to a video of some greater tricks then I'm kicked out to the dashboard. Note to EA: A time limit does not really promote the game's open, go-anywhere nature.

Would I play this game for more than an hour 51 minutes? Yes
Why? It's wholly different and shows lots of rooms for creativity and expansion.

This review based on an early demo version downloaded from Xbox Live.

All-Pro Football 2K8


Developer: Visual Concepts
Publisher: 2K Sports
Release Date: July 16, 2007
Systems: PS3, Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: E10+
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: All the football with none of the NFL license.

0:01 Jeez! I hit start on the title screen and rock music blares from the speakers. I lunge for the remote. Learn some volume control, guys.
0:03 So I just want to play some football, but instead the game forces me to pick 11 players. And that includes people like kickers and punters. I can't fill every position on my offense even!
0:04 Oh, it turns out I was only picking the star players. Now I get to pick non-star players based on generalized statistics. Why wasn't this available as an option for the stars, for those of us that don't care?
0:05 There's a good selection of team names and cities, but no option to enter your own? Why? If I can't be the Redskins, let me be whatever I want? I don't care if they say the name in the voiceovers.
0:06 I get five Gamerscore points just for making a team. I guess they appreciate you going through the whole ridiculous process.
0:08 There are pre-made teams for the opposition, but I can't seem to choose them. Grumble.
0:09 The presentation in the actual game a little rough at the edges. Blurry in places, and the faces are disturbingly dead looking. There are some big awkward pauses in the voice acting too whenever they say a player name.
0:11 While the player close ups are creepy, the animation is amazing. Players move smoothly and realistically in full formation.
0:12 "Oh yeah hope they come at us the same way," one of my team members says. I gained one yard on the last play. Personally, I hope they... do something different.
0:14 I can't get anything going on offense. My players seem exceptionally slow.
0:16 Defense, however, is easy as the computer does all the work and gets two sacks and an almost-interception. Hum dee dum.
0:20 I've figured out my problem on offense. Apparently I was trying to avoid tacklers. That was silly. I should just barrel up the middle instead. I've gotten two first downs already.
0:22 On a fake punt, for some reason my quarterback pump fakes instead of passing and gets sacked. The on-screen controls in the options screen don't help me figure out why.
0:24 I finally take part in a defensive play with a diving tackle. The wrap-around animation is great.
0:25 My tackler bounces off the ball carrier. I know it happens sometimes, but still frustrating. It looks like he had him dead to rights.
0:27 The player interaction is amazing. It's easy to follow a play as it develops, much more than in Madden. Runners bounce off tacklers and juke impressively. If only the close ups in between plays weren't so jarring.
0:28 Nice feature: Tapping A before a play speeds up time and gets everyone set faster.
0:30 The commentators say you "have to wonder if he heard some footsteps." Um, three of my guys surrounded him and tackled him as he caught the ball, so I'd say "yes."
0:33 ARGH! The ball bounces off three of my defenders and into an unintended receiver in the end zone. On the one hand this is extremly frustrating to have happen. On the other, it's extremely impressive that this can happen in the game.
0:39 Lofton: "Touchdwon, Touchdown. HA HA HA HA HA!" He sounds like a jackal. Oh, and I'm down 21-0.
0:40 "You can't be indecisive in this league or you won't be around for long." Which league is that again?
0:41 I somehow got into no huddle offense and can't figure out how to get out. I end up spiking the ball somehow, too. These controls are too much for me, apparently.
0:44 The controller rumbles at some very random times, like during a field goal block. It feels like it's gonna fall out of my hands.
0:46 I again slip into no huddle again, somehow. I give up.

Would I play this game for more than an hour 46 minutes? No
Why? Despite impressive presentation and options, complex controls make it hard to get into for me. Plus I'm not a big sports game fan.

This review based on a retail copy rented from GameFly.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Pac-Man World 3


Developer: Blitz Games
Publisher: Namco
Release Date: Nov. 20, 2005
Systems: Xbox (reviewed), PS2, GameCube, PSP, DS, PC
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: What if Mario were a large yellow circle with arms and legs?

0:01 It's Pac-Man's birthday. "You only turn 25 once." Funny that I pick this game to play on my actual 25th birthday (really!). "My Pac-Sense is tingling." You are not Spider-Man. You are Pac-Man!
0:02 Pac-Man is being teleported all over the place while a ghost plays a Pac-Man machine. What the hell is going on?
0:04 Pac-Man is talknig to someone on a Pactrometer? What is that even supposed to be. Orson the ghost apparently teleported him. He's a good ghost? I guess so.
0:05 I like the voice acting for Pac-Man. Gives real feeling to the cheesy dialogue. The other characters, not so much.
0:06 It could just be the Xbox 360 emulation, but there's a real stutter to Pac-Man's movements. Very annoying.
0:07 One of the best parts of PMW2 was the ability to endlessly butt bounce like a basketball. Here' it's limited to three bounces, then you're forced to land. Lame.
0:10 Orson: "Would you believe me if I told you the whole world was in danger." Pac-Man says "Let me get back to you," but I say "Tell me the freakin' plot already!"
0:13 I love the classic Pac-Man death sound effect when you die.
0:14 So far I'm impressed with the gently panning camera controls and the level design that makes it easy to see where to go next. The levels are pretty lively, as these things go.
0:17 I can't remember the last time I played a platformer so obsessed with points. Seriously, practically everything you collect increases your score and does nothing else.
0:19 My megalomaniacal adversary Erwin "hates chocolate and kittens." That makes you evil? What if you're allergic?
0:21 Instead of ghosts, I'm chomping "spectral monsters." Political correctness comes to Pac-Land? The game says they're tougher than ghosts, but they seem just as edible to me after a Power Pellet.
0:26 I find a "hidden" maze game which is just like the old Pac-Man. Except there are no sound effects for eating pellets. And the controls are too slippery. And it doesn't pause when you eat a ghost, or when you wrap around. And the ghosts seem much smarter. But besides that... classic.
0:28 The first level ends with little fanfare. I turned on some green rotating engine and then I'm told I got a high score. I wasn't even trying...
0:32 This game is full of platforms that it looks like you should be able to stand on, but which invisible walls prevent you from reaching. Tres annoying.
0:35 Using Pac-Man's spin-dash-like attack to eat far off ghosts = fun!
0:37 The levels are so sprawling, I constantly fee like I'm missing stuff. Lots of hidden nooks and crannies speak to some good replay value for completists.
0:39 The enemies are starting to get tougher. Some have spiked backs, others are charging me in teams and blocking my attacks. Nice to see.
0:40 The game pauses every few minutes for a cut scene that points out something obvious. You don't need to zoom in on the red crystal, game. Let me find it on my own! It's no fun in being spoon fed!
0:42 "You can use this [green] crystal to activate a green Pac0Dot machine." Really? Because after I used the red crystal to activate a red Pac-Dot machine, I was unclear on what to do with the green crystal.
0:44 I think I've put my finger on part of the reason this game feels less magical than the last one: the music! The background is like a low, mellow dirge. Bleh. Doesn't match the happy-go-lucky environs at all.
0:46 Punching an enemy should not ricochet me off a ledge. It just shouldn't.
0:52 Maybe these levels are too sprawling. I did what I was supposed to with th colored crystals and now I'm completely stuck.
0:55 I finally find where I'm supposed to go in an out of the way alley that leads to a semi-obscured door. Why no cut scene to point me to this one?
0:58 I have to go to the spectral realm to save the ghosts. I though they were the bad guys. Also, I have a robo-suit. A completely awesome robo-suit.
1:00 After a robo-suit training game, the level ends abruptly. Why bother splitting the game into levels at all?

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? I have a soft spot for platformers, and this one's relatively solidly built.

This review based on a used, retail copy.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Full Auto 2: Battlelines


Developer: Psuedo Interactive
Publisher: Sega
Release Date: Dec. 7, 2006
Systems: PS3 (reviewed), PSP
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Destruction Derby: The Next Generation.

0:01 The controls are shown for about ten seconds during the loading screen. All I saw was that the select button is self destruct. Intriguing.
0:02 I have a feeling durability is going to be important, so I chose the most durable car and some homing missiles and rear grenades.
0:06 Right off the bat the controls feel a little loose. The turning radius on this thing must be huge. Not very responsive. Also, I can't tell if my weapons are doing any damage, or how many weapons I have left. The interface is too sparse.
0:08 Finished with my first race. I had no idea what was happening much of the time, because the screen is so full of collapsing stuff and explosions. I get interecepted and wrecked without warning. Someone should tell the designers simpler is better.
0:11 As far as I can tell, there's no reason to ever stop firing homing missiles. So I don't. I've taken out five cars so far this race. Not that it seems to matter, they come right back, as I do when I explode. Very pretty though.
0:13 I finish race #2, this time in fifth. I like how there are multiple paths through the course, but I don't like how easy it is to crash into an exposed corner and lose a lot of time.
0:17 It's really hard to race when your view is clouded by the black smoke of the car in front of you, which is most of the time. Can we tone down the graphical effects a bit?
0:18 This time I get third place by focusing on the shortcuts instead of shooting. Still getting hung up on outhanging walls and corners. Very annoying.
0:19 Time to try gladiator mode, where the goal is to kill kill kill. I pick a car that resembles a tank mixed with an SUV.
0:20 A guy lasers my tail, so I turn around (slowly) and barrel into his lightweight ass. Yeehaw!
0:22 I just accidentally leveled a building. The environment seems like it's made out of balsa wood.
0:25 The quick slow-mo replays when you kill or get killed are a nice touch. They show the carnage well without slowing down the action too much.
0:26 The controls are a little better suited to the slower pace of Gladiator mode. Turning is easier at the lower speeds.
0:28 I win with 21 points. I get five kills in a row at one point. There homing missiles rule.
0:29 This time I'm trying out the "ram," a spiky cudgel o nthe front of the car. Hoo baby.
0:31 The environments are beautfiul, but it's a little hard to pick out opposing cars against them. If not for the little arrows over the cars it would be impossible. Even with them it's pretty hard.
0:34 My professional opinion is that the ram sucks. I'd barrel into opponents and they'd be no worse for wear. I come in last this time. Time to try some more weapons.
0:36 All the cool weapons I see my opponents using are locked. Boo for limited demos.
0:38 Annoyance: Dead cars stay around as carcasses. Fun to look at, but it's hard to tell that they aren't targets.
0:39 I get seven kills in a row before dying. I seem to get my best results with a combination of missiles and ramming. Yes it's as fun as it sounds.
0:42 After my initial salvo I can't buy another kill and finish third.
0:43 This time I try a speedy, manueverable, light car. Seems ill suited to the mode, but we'll see.
0:46 Wow! I get sandwiched between too cars and go flying in a 1080 end over end flip. Perfect opportunity for a replay with the touch of a button. Fun to zoom and pan around. I could watch this all day.
0:52 Surprisingly, the little car can still take a good number of hits, and the added manueverability makes it easier to position yourself. After holding first the whole match, though, I come in second.
1:00 I try to set up an online match, a nice touch in a demo. Eight minutes later we only have three of the required four players.
1:01 Now we're going. I'll go into overtime I guess.
1:06 Wow, the human players are a lot better than the computers. For one, they have much less tendency to run into walls. With only five players the course is a little sparse.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? Despite iffy controls and confusing graphics, it's just fun destroying cars.

This review based on a demo version downloaded from the PlayStation Network.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Overlord


Developer: Triumph Studios
Publisher: CodeMasters
Release Date: June 26, 2007
Systems: PC (reviewed), Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Pikmin meets Oblivion.

0:01 The loading screen features a goblin riding a ram. Bonus points right at the start.
0:02 This entire minute spent loading. I'm willing to blame my un-optimized computer, but still... annoying. At least the dancing goblin is interesting to watch during the loading.
0:03 Fiddle with options, choose new game and... another half minute or so of loading. Boy, I'm glad they took a minute to load that options screen!
0:04 A cryptic intro. It first looks like I'm a victim, but it turns out I'm their new overlord. O...K.
0:06 "Look at those keen little faces... ready to pillage and loot at your command." Nice.
0:07 The frame rate is very stutery, but that's my crappy computer's fault.. The camera, however, is the game's fault. It never seems to look where I want, and I have to constantly lock it behind me. Annoying.
0:10 The jester I'm training with flies about 15 feet in the air when I hit him. Very satisfying.
0:13 Ah, the right stick is used to direct goblins. No wonder it did nothing to the camera.
0:15 A lot of exposition about a tower and the "tower heart" energy source. The dialogue is trying too hard to be clever. We get it. He's evil. What a twist!
0:17 Brown minions will "happily die so you don't have to." That got a smile.
0:18 Slaughtering sheep is as easy as... well, slaughtering sheep. As fun too. Um, I assume.
0:19 Bob the scrarcrow wants me to get his farm back from halflings. That sounds more like "good" than "evil" to me. We'll see what happens, I suppose.
0:22 The tower heart is guarded by pumpkins. Not amublatory, vicious pumpkins... no, just regular old pumpkins. Come on. Give me something interesting to do.
0:24 Clicking in the right stick gets a nice overheard view. Where was this in the tutorial?
0:27 The tower heart I recovered lets me control ten minions. It also gave me a fireball spell, but I can only learn that when I need it. If this game unfolds any slower I'm going to fall asleep.
0:29 Sending eight goblins to slaughter a helpless sheep is pretty fun.
0:31 So some guys ask me to rescue their friend to "prove we ain't halfings." Again, this seems supsiciously like good, not evil. Or maybe that's the point?
0:33 Nice of the halflings to conveniently walk into a field of wheat where my fire spell can roast them. Too easy.
0:35 So apparently killing innocents is good for my corruption level, but bad as a long term plan. Am I evil or am I some sort of middle manager here?
0:38 Now we're talking. A real halfling battle at a work camp. Guiding minions around with right stick is very intuitive, thought their response time could use some work. Not quite as tight as Pikmin.
0:42 I help some slaves out by lifting their gate. Again, this seems too much like good.
0:43 Hmm, OK. The peasants I rescued are now willing to die for me. Maybe it was worth it.
0:44 Nice of those halflings to sit back and watch while we slaughter their troll king. Really, it made things much easier for us. Thanks.
0:46 My henchmen tend to get stuck in walls pretty easily when I direct them. Don't they learn basic pathfinding in henchman school?
0:47 So we got a crane and now we're rebuilding the tower. Maybe I should have added SimCity to my "In a nuthsell" description.
0:50 Why do I have to walk through empty, barren lands I've already defeated to get to my new quest area? Seriously, why?
0:58 After beating a few more halflings and freeing a few more slaves, I wander around looking for something to do. Nothing presents itself, so I give up for now.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? No
Why? Intriguing concept, but it seems a little straightforward and dull. And my computer sucks.

This review based on a retail copy downloaded from GameTap.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Madden NFL 06


Developer: EA Sports
Publisher: EA
Release Date: Nov. 16, 2005
Systems: Xbox 360 (reviewed) every other system known to man
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: That new game minus two years.

0:01 Great, fictional intro. featuring Donovan McNabb getting within one play of winning Super Bowl 40. The graphics look a lot better than the last Madden I owned back in 1992.
0:03 Choose "play now" and I'm on the D.C. side of a Redskins/Cowboys match in less than a minute. No tutorial though... and the controls screen fades away pretty quickly.
0:05 Kickoff is simple one button affair, and on-screen instructions explain what to do. Nice.
0:07 I have no idea who I'm controlling on defense. Makes it hard to, um, defend. Still, just asking Madden to suggest a play seems to be working OK.
0:08 Now I've got it figured out. I actually make a tackle! Whoo!
0:10 Most plays on defense I end up just picking what Madden says and watching the computer does things. This is... exciting?
0:12 On offense now. Some very impressive gang tackle animation. I trip over three players trying to run up the middle for three yards.
0:13 Whoo! Get a pass off for 29 yards! It was as simple as hitting a button and watching.
0:15 Wow the ref is ugly. But I'll take the encroachment call he gives me regardless of looks.
0:17 After a failed pass, an easy dive in for the touchdown. Does Dallas' run defense suck or does the computer AI? Hard to say.
0:19 I take control of a defender only to see him dive and totally miss the ball carrier. Funny stuff.
0:21 After a big first down, I stop them on three straight pass plays. What's more, I actually feel like I did something by swatting the ball away with my character! Go Kyle!
0:25 My offense is marching up the field with no problem, until a holding call. Come on. I didn't do that. Stupid computer-controlled teammates...
0:27 The penalty kills my momentum... I can't get in for the touchdown. What happened?
0:28 Compared to other sports games, the commentary seems kind of light. Where's the constant chatter of the big-name commentators?
0:30 Dallas lets the clock run down on the first half rather than using their two time outs and good field position. Weak.
0:32 My running game is unstoppable. Until it gets stopped, that is.
0:34 Don't try a fake punt in MY HOUSE. I will CRUSH YOU! And I do.
0:36 Uh oh. An almost-interception and then a fumbled turnover. The tables have turned.
0:37 Madden keeps recommending blitzes. Dallas keeps beating them with runs. Maybe Madden isn't as smart as I thought.
0:42 Oh boy. I start at the four yard line after a disastrous return and go three and out. It's only 10-6. They could win it now!
0:43 Nope, my defense stops 'em again, no thanks to me. Go computer-controlled defense!
0:45 I make an extremely ill-advised 4th and 4 attempt and mess up. It keeps things interesting at least.
0:46 It doesn't matter, my defense stops them in three downs anyway. Yawn.
0:48 Most of this minute spent running down the clock.
0:49 Another third down conversion locks up the game.
0:50 I unlocked three achievements? For what? Apparently, for complete an offline game, getting a first down and scoring a touchdown. That was easy.
0:53 Playing around in the options. I like how you can set offsides and other penalty frequency for other players. I'll have to try that.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Probably not.
Why? I might break it out if a friend is over, but playing the computer is less exciting than watching football.

This review based on a used retail version picked up ridiculously cheap.

Monday, August 13, 2007

BioShock


Developer: 2K Boston
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: Aug. 21, 2007
Systems: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PC
ESRB Rating: M
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Ayn Rand meets underwater FPS.

0:01 The Hard difficulty level is disabled initially. You gotta prove yourself first, I guess. Kind of annoying.
0:02 "They told me, son, you're special. You were born to do great things. You know what, they were right." Screams, then the title, drenched in water. I'm hooked already.
0:03 I'm drowning? A purse floats into view. Then a plane fuselage. I surface to find flaming wreckage. I also find I can move, which is surprising, becauseI could've sworn this amazing reflected fire on the water was pre-rendered.
0:05 I swim towards a big piece of fuselage and it explodes. I seem to be OK, but the spluttering coming from my speakers indicates otherwise.
0:06 I watch what looks like the tail of a plane sinking below the water. Splashing looks a little fake, but that's really nitpicking.
0:07 I finally make it to land. I walk about as fast as I swim, which is to say, rather fast. I enter a castle that reminds me of Myst and the lights go out as the door closes behind me. A crimson banner reads: "No gods or kings. Only man." Ayn Rand, eat your heart out.
0:08 A plaque: "In what country is there a place for people like me?" -Andrew Ryan. Heady stuff. A lonely violin in the background plays in the distance: "Somewhere, beyond the sea..." Creepy.
0:09 The lights come on as I climb down the stairs and enter a bathysphere. A filmstrip plays. "Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow." Andrew Ryan rails on about Washington and the Vatican. "I chose Rapture." The filmstrip falls away to a breathtaking oceanic view. "Rapture can become your city as well." Thanks!
0:11 The atmosphere is so thick I'm almost choking. Neon signs, aquatic sea life, and more drift past my window. The scene is unfortunately broken by a ten-second loading screen.
0:12 I watch helplessly by flickering light as a man gets ripped apart by another with a scythe. "Is it someone new?" The killer lets out a blood-curdling scream. The bathysphere shakes among electrical crackling and scratching. I want my mommy.
0:13 Back in full control, I pick up a radio. Atlas, my new guide, says he "aims to keep me alive." Well isn't that nice. I have to get to higher ground. "Take a deep breath and step out of the bathysphere." Do I have to? I'm still a-scareded.
0:15 Placards strewn about the floor: "Rapture is Dead." "Let it end, let us ascend." "Ryan doesn't own us." Intriguing. A sign on the wall says all bathysphere travel is forbidden. Whoops. Sorry about that.
0:17 The scythe-wiedling maniac gets gunned down by some automatic defenses. Atlas blames it on the "damn splicers" or somthing. I turn on the subtitles so I don't miss a word. "Would ya please find a crowbar or something," Atlas asks. Gladly!
0:19 Only now does the real tutorial begin. I get a wrench and learn how to swing it and crouch. A flaming couch greets me as a I crawl through an opening. Eep!
0:20 My first fight with a screaming "thuggish splicer." He looks like a zombie. It's over quickly. Some little girl is talking about fire creepily in the background. An old advertisement, perhaps? The splicer is still twitching on the ground. Ew.
0:22 I've always wondered why eating potato chips and candy bars gives you more health in video games. In my experience, those things harm your health.
0:24 Practically everything that isn't nailed down reacts to a swing of the wrench. The little things matter!
0:25 Signs describe plasmids as "evolution in a bottle." That's not creepy at all...
0:26 I inject a plasmid and fall to the floor as my "genetic code is being rewrtitten." Some guys in masks walk by and decide I'm not worth the trouble. A guy in an old diving suit clambers by with a little girl. Weird.
0:27 I wake up to find I can shoot lightning from my left hand. Cool!
0:31 I take down my second splicer using the "zap 'em and whack 'em" one-two punch suggested by Atlas. Easy peasy.
0:33 Atlas tells me a sob story. "I know you must feel like the unluckiest man in the world right now, but you're my only hope..." Gotta go to Neptune's bounty to rescue his family. I guess I owe him, but altruism is weak.
0:34 Creepy! A mom with some sort of antennae on her head cries over a stroller. I approach and she lunges at me with a shotgun, screaming "Baby and me! Baby and me!" I'm practically shaking as I take her out. Atlas tells me the plasmids did this. Is this going to happen to me?
0:35 There's a revolver in the basonet. Just when you thought it couldn't get creepier.
0:36 Signs advertise the Rapture Masquerade Ball for the new year 1959.
0:37 I take out a couple of arguing splicers, one of whom has a shotgun.
0:38 Drinking two bottle of merlot in a row makes me tipsy. Whoda thunk it?
0:41 The cigarettes are called "Nico Time." I laughed.
0:43 It's a little annoying you can't seem to save any items for later. On the other hand, it streamlines things quite a bit. No stalling in inventory screens.
0:44 I find an impromptu shrine to Andrew Ryan, who created this underwater hellscape. I smash the picture. It's surprisingly cathartic.
0:47 I gt a new flamethrowing ability. "Light up foes to 1000 degrees. Warning, fire spreads!"
0:48 So far the foes have been pretty easy. They just lunge at me and I shock-and-drop. The game has been very friendly with health and power ups too.
0:50 Atlas tells me about the "little sisters": little girls who have the DNA that helps keep rapture running. He tells me to throw out whatever I thought about right and wrong. Looks like he's setting me up for some little girl slaughtering later on.
0:51 I watch through glass as someone goes after a little sister and is quickly and mercilessly slaughtered by a "big daddy" in a huge shambling diving suit.
0:52 A sign: "Eve's garden, come bite the apple."
0:53 The women seem much tougher to kill than the men. Interesting.
0:54 I set off a security alert without knowing how or why. I take out a security bot with a lightning bolt and then attempt to hack it with a mini-game. It's Pipe Dream! I used to love this game. Now the bot helps me take out his brethren.
0:59 This is getting a little annoying. I keep setting off security alert with no warning and no apparent reason. Meanwhile, "atruism is the root of all wickedness," according to a sign.
1:02 I set off another secuirty alert, this one with a flame thrower. Three splicers come out at me and catch me off guard. My first death,and a good place to stop, I guess.

Would I play this game for more than an hour?
Oh hell yes.
Why? Humminah humminah humminah humminah (The excellent atmosphere, story, controls and concept have left me speechless).

This review based on a demo version downloaded from Xbox Live.