Archive for the ‘Reviews – Video Games’ Category
Character creation is basically the same with both Champions Online and City of X, with some exceptions. Most notably, are the number of Characters you can create per server. In COH, I believe you can create 10 heroes or villains on each server (please correct me if I’m wrong) In Champions, for now you are limited to 8.
In the actual character creation, Champions allows for 5 major frameworks (Psionic, Magic, Mechanical, Martial arts, or general powers) divided further into 3 minor frameworks which can be used individually, combined with others within the major, or other minor powers outside the major. For instance, A player may choose to use electrical powers under force. He might then decide to augment his powers further by adding an electrical generated shield (still within the framework). He THEN might decide to use mechanical based shielding for protection, thus, choosing a power outside of force.
After setting up powers and the costume, the last thing is naming. In most MMOs that I’ve played, all the popular names have been taken. For instance, in COH, I wanted to name a character Scattershot, but the name was already taken. In my case, I came up with Scatterstrike, which solved my problem. However, in most cases, I’ve seen characters named ‘Devildood’, ‘Mightyguy123’, etc which to me, spoils the work and imagination that you put into character creation (it reminds me of trying to create an anonymous yet cool sounding user ID on a message board, only to find that 100 other users had the same idea). Champions solved this problem, by connecting the names to the User ID of the character. IE, I have a character named Psyche, which I created from the pen and paper days. I created a character based on her, and successfully named her, despite the fact there were at least 50 other characters named Psyche. Below is my character, then and now.
Next up, gameplay
Most of us are acquainted with the idea that the video games tied in to motion pictures are lesser offerings, often budget-priced mini-games. In this case, however, the video game version of “G.I. JOE: The Rise of Cobra” is a direct sequel to the movie with an original plotline that picks up where the movie left off. It is also inspired by the very first animated mini-series from the 1980s. Obviously, some people have been doing their homework.
It is so directly tied to the movie that Zartan is not amongst the characters because he is occupied at the end of the film. However, somehow the Joes don’t know who Cobra Commander is, despite their capturing him at the end of the film, and Destro is also at large. It makes me wonder if the movie’s ending was originally supposed to have Destro and Cobra Commander getting away. Actually, that would explain why their being captured and then locked up in tubes looked so fakey and disconnected from the scenes around it. If that’s the case, it would be too late for the game-makers to take that info account. Anyway, that’s my theory.
So long as I’m pitching theories about the behind-the-scenes politics, I’m guessing that the game-makers weren’t allowed to use any unseen characters that were likely to appear in any sequel to the film, which would explain why the characters you are allowed to play are either the prominent characters from the movie or some of the lesser lights who will never be in a sequel such as Sgt. Flash, Kamakura and Agent Helix (who?) but not Lady Jaye or Flint.
The Plot: Baroness is being transported in the mobile PIT when Cobra Vipers beam in and teleport her away. Yes, Cobra now has the MASS Device and their new teleportation ability is what you must seek out and disable/destroy. The pursuit will take you through jungles, deserts, polar terrain and gigantic Cobra facilities. You will rescue captured Joes, uncover more of the plot as you push forward, and listen in to Dial Tone’s snotty radio chatter.
The writing is not bad at all, especially when it comes to capturing the G.I. Joe tone and inserting some excellent inside jokes. The character voices are sometimes funny, other times annoying (Gung Ho’s complaining every second that he isn’t shooting gets tiresome), and some of the voice acting is terrific. The first time a Cobra BAT appears during an animated sequence, it is launched into the battlefield and lands with an Iron Mannish thump. There is a slight pause as the Joes take in the image, since up til now they’ve just had to battle Cobra vipers and ninjas. One of the guys observing your actions pipes in with perfect “what the hell?” comic timing: “Is…………..is that a robot?”
“G.I. Joe: ROC” is an old fashioned 3D arcade shooter. And I mean shooter; aside from pressing computer panels and the occasional recharging of some electrical generators…which is also done using your weapons…it’s all shooting.
You can play two-player or allow the computer to operate the second character (and you can switch between the two). There are three classes of fighters: soldiers, commandos and heavies. Soldiers are your standard fighters, commandos tend to have sword/close combat abilities (which are almost useless unless you’re fighting ninjas), and heavies can lay down some serious firepower. One problem with this arrangement is that often you’ll get into situations where you need one type of fighter in order to access a locked door, and the only way to get that person on-site is to access a teleport pod if you can find one.
Each character has a different primary weapon and a different special ability. Your primary weapon is the one that makes you just hold down the firing button for the whole game. Your secondary weapon might be something like a grenade or bazooka, which you have to acquire and you can only hold up to three at a time. You can do a close-quarters attack (if you’re a commando such as Snake Eyes, this will be a sword strike), but often you’re bringing a knife to a gunfight. An interesting aspect of the game is your reliance on cover in order to avoid fire and heal damage; you’d better get used to doing that if you want to survive at all.
Playing this for the Wii, I’m a little disappointed that it doesn’t take any advantage of the Wii’s controls. This is entirely a button-driven game.
First problem I encounter with the game: I can’t see what I’m shooting sometimes. This is one of the downsides of the X-Men movies and their “all those colorful costumes are now black, okay?” color schemes which have now become the standard for comic book adaptations. When your characters are wearing black leather and the opponents are in dark costumes and you’re fighting in a dark cavern…well, that may be more realistic but it sure makes it hard to see what’s going on! I think that’s one reason why your health indicator floats next to your character’s head: it also tells you which person you’re looking at. The Wii’s weaker graphics can’t be helping. But it’s more than that: sometimes I’m successfully targeting something and I have no idea what it is.
That’s going to require some explanation. The targeting system is a bit flaky. Point in a direction with the movement stick, and if there’s a target there, the system will find it for you. Nice. Problem is, there are all of these non-enemy targets that you can also find, such as power-ups and little point boxes. I can’t tell you how often I’m stuck in an intense firefight and then I realize that my character is choosing to blast away at a little box that’s worth some points instead of the two ninjas who are trying to kill me. Granted, you can force the character to pick another target using the right/left/up arrows on the Wiimote, but those aren’t the most accessible buttons when you’re trying to use the B trigger.
The biggest frustration for any players will probably be the camera angles. When the camera dictates that you are to move forward, the angle will not change if you decide you need to backtrack. And you will need to backtrack at times to recover vehicles, grab points and goodies you missed, return to a teleport pod, or to take down some enemies you bypassed. Unfortunately, you’ll be backtracking blind, running towards the camera as it shows you where you’ve been. Other times, the people you need to shoot will be out of camera view.
Wild Bill and Lift Ticket (NPCs, I’m afraid) will airdrop various vehicles for you to use. Steering the vehicles is sometimes a pain, but they can be a lot of fun and often they’re the key to taking down some of the heavy opposition.
Some bugs I’ve found: At times your shadow will appear halfway up the wall or even on the ceiling. Also, bonus items will float in the air, beyond your ability to retrieve them. Most annoying, enemies can shoot you through walls, boulders and stalagmites.
I do have to share one nice plus of the game: the accelerator suits are incorporated into the game, and here they make sense! They act as a power-up which you can earn as you move along. Activating the suit (with a hearty “Yo Joe!”) will give you invulnerability, deadly firepower, super-speed… and it kicks off an instrumental version of the much-missed “A Real American Hero” theme song! If you disliked the accelerator suits in the movie, you’ll find them super-sweet here.
Similarly, Rip Cord (the character people hated in the movie) will be your best friend. Your mileage may vary, but I found him quite useful because his special ability is a miniature robot cannon. Run out into a firefight, throw down the cannon, and then leap back to the safety of a cement barrier while the cannon does a better job than you do of taking out enemy fighters, cannons and automatic gun towers.
The real challenge is not to get to the end of the story (which is surprisingly easy to do) but to stay alive. If you play on easy mode, you can die and be reborn right away, but it costs you your points. Harder levels will not respawn your character, but you can rejoin at the end of a checkpoint…and on the hardest level, you are dead, period. I tried playing on the harder levels and it seemed almost futile; it’s bad enough losing points. Thus, staying alive requires some real skill.
I don’t know if this game deserves the full sticker price of $50, but it’s definitely worth a rental. As I said, I got through the storyline just by playing in the evening for a couple of days, which leaves only replaying the levels to get a better score and find any data files or other goodies that I’ve missed. I would have preferred if this game had had more levels or more challenges, or perhaps some mini-games. You could spend the same $50 to buy a Super Mario Galaxy or Twilight Princess that will preoccupy you for a good month or three; in that regard, “Rise of Cobra” is a lightweight game that you’ll be done with within the month. That said, “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” has some problems, but it can be fun, especially with a friend.
Game mechanics: Bit Wonky
Replay value: Medium
Graphics: Good, not great, at least on the Wii
Overall verdict: Rent this one, but definitely worth a rental.
5 out of 10
We will be posting a review of “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”. Watch this space!
The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena, which contains both the titular game and its precursor, 2004’s Escape From Butcher Bay, goes a long way to addressing and, for the most part, improving, the various beefs I have with the genre that is my least favourite and yet the most popular among my “demographic”, the first-person shooter. Why is it I’ve never quite warmed up to this bastion of hardcore gaming, and what improvements does Riddick’s interpolation of the stealth genre bring to the table? Read on, Macduff!
Hey, everybody! Tom Russell has returned to Monitor Duty. And while I’ve been busy the last year or so with filmmaking and other goodies, and while I have absolutely no shame about yapping about them as often as possible, I thought I’d start off with something useful: a game review, the first of hopefully many.
This is actually a review I originally wrote for my game design magazine, Russell’s Quarterly, edited slightly (and sans my fifteen original footnotes). It should give you a fairly good idea of the way I write game reviews so that as I review more games, both freeware and commercial, you’ll know what to expect.
This particular collection of games was created by Jonatan Soderstrom, a.k.a. Cactus, already a legend in the indie gaming world and most recently celebrated for his zany presentation at this year’s GDC.
From the moment I got my first Atari 2600, I was all about fighting games. Countless hours were spent trying to master that jump-kick move in “World Karate Championship.” But that was last century. In the world of next-gen gaming, “Tekken” was always my game. But when Midway Games announced that they would pit their signature Mortal Kombat characters against heroes and villains from the DC Universe, well they had me at hello.
I had a lovely little birthday party with my wife, Melinda, and niece, Jenny. They bought a glittery banner and I realized I’ve never had a banner for my birthday party before. They also restarted a long-abandoned tradition of lighting a candle on the cake for every year I’ve been alive, and there’s a reason why we abandoned it: the lighting took forever and the cake is now covered in wax, and now the top of the cake looks like a squirrel couldn’t find his nut and dug everywhere for it.
Here are my presents, presented not to gloat over the big haul (it’s not) but to show what a wonderful wife I have:
This was from my niece Jenny. Allegedly. Next time, Melinda, tell Jenny what “she’s getting me” so that she doesn’t take it from my hand and say, “What is it?” It kinda spoils the subterfuge. Anyway, it’s a Wii version of a game I’ve found addictive on the computer. Will that translate to Wii play? We shall see.
And then here is a present from my cats Nina, Doris and Natasha. (I named “Doris” so that she could be criminal partners with Natasha. Would have been Boris but who names a female kitten Boris?) The cats have good taste. These are the original Peanuts cartoons from back when the Peanuts gang was first being conceived. It’s rather dark stuff for the time, which seems odd considering that Charlie Brown and Snoopy came to symbolize the tired, trite and boring of the comics page. Charlie Brown, the boy who never wins anything, who loses every kite he’s ever tried to fly, who is ridiculed by his friends and is tricked repeatedly by a girl who offers to set up a football for him just to mock him when he falls on his back. Charlie Brown, whose baseball team is a bunch of losers who would rather hold rubber cats, fluff their naturally curly hair, hang on to their precious blankets or debate philosophy than play ball, and whose meanest pitches get batted back at him so hard he winds up lying in his underwear on his pitcher’s mound. In a world of Blondie, Family Circus, Alley Oop and Prince Valiant, that’s actually pretty edgy. I think my favorite moment is when Charlie Brown actually wins something, and it’s a coupon for a free haircut. He points out that his dad is a barber and gives him haircuts. And he doesn’t really have a lot of hair. (Maybe I just like that because it’s meta-referential; the strip rarely commented on itself.) I’m anxious to dig into this volume.
Surprise! I got one more present on Monday. My buddy Robert Bavington (who has done many of the costumed Fuzzballs for this site and Fanzing) sent me the season 3 box set. I’m over the moon. Thanks, buddy!
I’ve never been much for first-person shooters, but having played the review copy of Call of Duty: World at War, that was provided to Monitor Duty, I can see the appeal. COD:WAW focus on the Pacific and Eastern theaters of World War II. As soon as I popped in the disc, I was impressed by a visually stunning opening sequence that rival any Hollywood blockbuster. In fact, this is probably the best looking game I’ve played on my Playstation 3, and with recent eye-poppers like "Heavenly Sword" that’s saying something.
However, the opening sequence pulls no punches in immersing you in the horrors of war, featuring graphic footage of warfare, and even mass graves. The cut scenes in the game are equally captivating and grotesque. At times I wondered if a video game earned the right to exploit such footage in the name of immersive gameplay.
The single player campaign is fast paced, as you are dropped into battlegrounds, moving from checkpoint to checkpoint with speed. COD:WAW does a tremendous job of capturing the tension of war, as you’re never quite sure when the next enemy is going to spring a trap on you and your battalion. While things start off in a darkened, jungle setting, the game places you front and center in a variety of different battle situations, including massive fights with tanks, planes, and flame-throwers.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of the multiplayer sections of the game, but the overwhelming options lead me to believe that re-playability is high on this title, I’m especially looking forward to the co-op mode called Nacht der Untoten or Night of the Undead, which is basically a last stand against waves of Nazi Zombies. I love Zombie movies, and Nazi Zombies are pretty much the best target you could possibly have in a video game!
Fans of first-person shooters would do well to pick up Call of Duty: World at War. The game is rated "M" for Mature, so make sure you have a strong stomach, and a good sound system connected to your PS3, X-Box 360, Wii or PS2 and give ‘em hell!
No wonder this game always gets a 9.5 rating from reviewers! “The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess” gives you weeks of entertainment with a huge world to explore, numerous side-challenges, hidden items, puzzles and a 50-level cavern teaming with nearly every enemy in the game. This game has been my obsession for the last month or more…which probably explains my lack of blogging. Sorry.
If you got a Nintendo Wii for Christmas, “Twilight Princess” should be amongst your purchases for it. I’m selling my copy, but this isn’t a sales pitch to buy mine. No, go ahead and get a brand new one from this link:
Look for Ethan’s video game review this week as well.
Wii Sports, which is included in the purchase of a Nintendo Wii, can provide a nice light workout. I’m not saying it is as good as even walking for an hour, but it certainly can get the heart rate moving and muscles aching and that’s better for your health than sitting on your butt for the same amount of time. The nine pounds I lost last month were probably helped by all the Wii Tennis I played.
However, Wii Sports only has five games and there isn’t much variety to them after you’ve played a while. For this reason, I’ve been on the lookout for games that offer similar gameplay. There are a wide number of sport titles available for the Wii, but they often seem to rely more on the nunchuk stick or the Wiimote nav buttons than swinging and waving the Wiimote. My guess is that many developers are stuck in their design rut from other systems where it’s all a matter of button combos, and far too many Wii games rely on a lot of button clicking instead of arm swinging.
After scouting around on GameTrailers.com and other sites, I decided that my next likely candidate (until Nintendo decides to make their next sports entry) would be EA Playground. If nothing else, it has dodgeball…and I LOVED dodgeball as a kid!
The premise (in storyline mode) is that your player runs around the schoolyard, woods and nearby stadium challenging other kids to various competitions. Defeat the kid once, you get a golden sticker. Defeat all the kid’s “dares” and you’ll get a “bag of marbles” for completing each one, as well as unlocking other more challenging kids who play the same game. You can visit the Sticker King to purchase stickers in exchange for your bags of marbles; the stickers will unlock special moves and abilities in the games. Once you have mastered all other challenges (more on that later), you get to face off against the Sticker King in all of the competitions. I haven’t gotten that far yet. (Again, more on that later.)
Dart Shootout begins as your standard “Hogan’s Alley” of pop-up moving and stationary targets, then throws in some opponent kids who fire back at you with suction cup darts. This game’s more fun than frustrating, with a lot of kidding around by the enemy boss. Good replay value, especially as you can team up with a buddy for multi-player. My only complaint is that to play this in storyline mode requires unlocking the Woods, the last level to open, before you can play dart shootout at all. The other dart players tell you that they’ll play against you once you’ve challenged the kid in the woods, which is locked. That’s just a little mean. Also puzzling as to why they did that, given that you have to play a bunch of lesser games to unlock a fun one.
Best game in EA Playground, easily, which is why it’s ballyhooed on the cover. The controls are easily mastered, making it a simple matter of strategy and skill. One-to-four human players makes this comparable to Wii Tennis in exertion and sustained enjoyment. You won’t get tired of this one for some time, and it would be a good game to break out at parties.
It’s funny that we live in an era where the real life game is being banned from schools for various nanny-state hand-wringing concerns, but at the same time it’s finally being recognized as a real sport. The EA Playground version makes it akin to a Judo competition, with the challengers dressed as black belts and doing martial arts moves before the round starts.
Another winner. Simple racing along preset lanes, and you skip across the lanes with a twist of the Wiimote. Along the way, you’ll encounter accelerating and braking strips and little boxes containing bonus items. You can raise a shield against attacks or drop a pile of tacks into the path of pursuing cars. Multi-player, too. If I have a complaint, it’s a standard one about any racing game: after a while, your thumb hurts from holding down the acceleration button constantly.
NOTE: The video above seems to be preview art; the final product is a bit more polished and the colored lanes don’t go green-yellow-red.
The last of the fun games, Wall Ball, is basically raquetball/handball by another name, with power-ups and wormholes thrown in. This could be another party game, as facing off against a real person would be more fun than a computer opponent.
NOTE: Again, the above is a preview video. The sound effects are a little different on the final version (not as annoying, in my opinion.).
Kicks is a made-up cross between tennis and soccer. It’s tough to figure out and so far I’m barely surviving it. It’s certainly not tripping my trigger, though possibly someone who understands what they’re supposed to do could be having more fun with it.
I thought this would be one of the best games in the package, but it’s proven quite frustrating. Some of the challenges involve hitting hard-to-see multicolor rings and all you can do is run the course again and hope that you’ve remembered every location. I suppose this could be a cakewalk to the kind of gamer who runs through Super-Mario games at top speed while memorizing every move to get every hidden item, but for me it’s almost unplayable. I’ve hit a wall in my ability to solve these puzzles and thus win the full game.
All I can say is that this is as maddening and exhausting as real tetherball. Many’s the time I think I know exactly when to swing and yet I miss the ball. Others I’ve played this with have found it just as aggravating. Given the power-swings your opponent can use against you, as well as sending the ball higher or lower, the harsh timing of the ball adds too much difficulty to this game.
Frankly, I can’t see little kids playing this without crying. I know I do. I also clutch my chest and wait for my heart and lungs to slow down. I think I hurt my shoulder playing this! I want to finish the whole game but I just can’t beat the expert tetherball champs. To literally add insult to injury, every time the computer beats you the opponent character laughs at you and does this victory dance that just makes you want to hit that little son of a bitch in the mouth. I hate this game. Once I beat it, or stop playing because I’ve lost a limb, I’m going to finish the story mode and then never ever play tetherball again.
While we’re on the subject…in addition to the seven actual games, there are small story challenges which you must complete in order to proceed to the final face-off with the Sticker King. Dribbling a basketball is easy-peasy. Bug hunting with a small net is a bit of a pain only due to the 3D playing field and the flakey arrow controls. However, shooting free throws is proving to be another impossible challenge for me. As an arrow moves back and forth over the net, you have to shoot a basketball only when the arrow is in the middle…and the speed isn’t constant, and you have to shoot 20 balls in 30 seconds. Again, it’s a pain in the tuchas and I wish I could just skip this little auxiliary challenge, but I can’t.
The irritating weaknesses in Paper Racers, Tetherball and Kicks would be less frustrating if it was possible to skip the story mode altogether and just play the games you like. However, Story Mode must be played for at least a while just so you can unlock all of the players, areas and power moves for use in the Game Mode.
In all, “EA Playground” offers a truly exciting game (dodgeball), several solid entries (slot cars, wall ball, dart shootout) and of the remaining three all I can say is that your mileage my vary. Somebody must like those games or they wouldn’t be in there. I give it a “B+”, and it only rates that highly because it’s possible to play the games you like while skipping sucky ones like Tetherball.