Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Xbox 360 - Dead Space

Dead Space

My final review for 2008!

Parental Advisory: This game contains graphic violence and mature themes. Parental guidance is suggested.

As is expected from EA, this is standard third person shooter wrapped around an 'Alien' (movie) type story. What makes this one stand out? Nothing specific, but let's explore this game anyway.


The story behind this shooter combines themes from Alien and Event Horizon to create this tale. You're a team sent to investigate what's happening on a floating scientific research station orbiting a planet. When you arrive at the station, bad things begin happening (expected). First, you almost crash into the station. Then, later, your ship explodes and you're stranded there.

As your character explores the station trying to bring the station back to life so you can leave, you find mutated Alien-esque creatures. Of course, you have to kill them.


The 3D engine used here works quite well. The imagery and textures are very well done, if not a bit graphic. The lighting used is reminiscent of what's used in the Alien movies (lots of strobes, flashing lights, flourescent lights that flicker, etc).


The music and thematic elements swell when enemies arrive in the area. It is very cinematic in sound and the eerie sound effects add to the chill-factor. But, even as good as it sounds, it's not enough to save this mediocre title.

Gameplay & Controls

The controls work well enough through much of the game up until Chapter 4 (we'll get to that shortly) where the game completely breaks down.

The suit you are tasked to use has limited protection, but allows you to walk in zero gravity and has a small amount of air for vacuum space walks (nevermind the temperature issue in this game). Anyway, you start off with no guns and obtain them either as you find them (in containers) or you can buy them at the store.

Save Points

The save points are strewn throughout the levels attached to the wall (as if that makes any sense) and opens up to reveal a holographic save area. So, there are limited places where you can save. However, the save points do seem to be in convenient enough places that it's easy to save often. So, in this particular shooter, the save points aren't the issue.


As you progress through killing aliens and opening containers, you will find various items including money, health, ammo and power nodes. Money allows you to buy things at the Stores in various places on the levels. The stores contain ammo, health, weapons, stasis replenishment and various other things. While you wander, you will also find schematics for new weapons and suits that you can buy. The idea that there is a store is ok, the way it's done sucks.

The problems with Dead Space

The problems with this game are many and varied. The primary problem with much of this game is that there is so little health on the levels that you're always one step away from dying. When you do find a store, the health is so expensive you have to practically give away all the money you've found just to get a small container of health. For example, you're lucky to have about 8000-9000 credits when you get to the store and a small container of health costs 1250. That price would be fine if there was abundant health on the levels, but there isn't.

Worse, as you progress through the levels, you end up finding more and more ammo and less and less health.... to the point at which, on level 4, that you don't find ANY health in any containers or after killing the aliens. This makes the game annoying at best.


Again, here is another sore point. Nodes are used at work 'benches' throughout the various levels to upgrade your suit, weapons or abilities. The problem, again, is that there are so few nodes found on the levels, you really get no benefit out of the upgrades. Worse, at the workbench, the system forces you to waste nodes on useless node intersections just to get to an intersection that lets you upgrade. This is pointless and a waste. You find so few that you end up wasting over half of the nodes you find on worthless things.


There are many times where the game continually throws alien after alien at you simply to use up your health and waste ammo. The encounters are not there to be a challenge because the weapons will eventually kill them. So, it's just a time, ammo and health waster. If the encounters were far less predictable and the weapons were far stronger, then I might feel less this way.


The map is just plain annoying. At first, it seems like a cool idea to have this 3D holographic type map which shows your present level. Unfortunately, you can't leave it on while you walk as it prevents button presses. But, in order to find out where to go, you have to leave it on. So, you have to pray you don't get attacked while you have it open. You also end up having to waste time getting the map into the correct position so you can even see where you are and where you need to be.

Applying health

As you pick up containers of health, they are stored in your inventory. Your inventory is limited, so you will eventually run out of space, which is arbitrarily stupid. When you open your inventory to view it, the game continues to progress. So, the game does not pause and you continue to be attacked while the inventory is open and you try to apply more health.. which is, again, arbitrarily stupid. So, if you need to apply health during a battle, you do so at your own peril.

Level 4

Up until level 4, the game was pretty much a straight shooter with aliens jumping out at you from all over (at very predictable times). Through trial and error, you can work your way through the level by having the character die and then restarting the level. In fact, many sub-levels I had to do this just to try to figure out what the game wanted me to do.

However, after you traverse across the outside of the ship and make it across to the other side (without becoming asteroid smashed), you end up at a chair with a gun. Ok, so here's my BIGGEST gripe with this game. You're working your way through the levels as a typical shooter and here the game completely breaks that stride for a stupid chair based asteroid mini-game. Then, the mini-game starts you off with 85% hull integrity. Each asteroid reduces 8-10% hull integrity with each hit. So, you are tasked to blow up the asteroids and keep the hull safe while you wait for something to happen. That's fine, but the game starts throwing more and more and more (and even bigger) asteroids at you all over the screen. Not only do the big ones break up into smaller ones, like the old Asteroid game, they accelerate towards you faster and faster. In fact, it begins throwing so many at you so rapidly (while waiting), it's basically impossible to complete. All the while I'm thinking, "What the hell does it have to do with the game?".

To top that off, the gun has an 'overheat' mode that prevents you from firing 5-10 seconds at a time far too frequently. Ok, so what the point of this level is, I have no idea. It's not challenging, it's not fun. In fact, it's a stupid remake of an old Old OLD arcade game from the 70's which, in Dead Space, has no real point.

Worse, you've got your 'friend' chiming in saying 'Just hold them off for a little longer' or 'I'm almost done' or 'Keep it up for a little longer'. It's like, "Shut the eff up!" These little taunts are enough for me to take this game disk and run it through the shredder. There's nothing fun about being taunted while you're trying to concentrate on a near impossible task.

After all that, the gun controls don't perform well, there's no auto-targeting, you always way overshoot the mark and it seems to miss even when you actually are able to aim. Oh, and did I already ask.. What's the point to this Asteroid level?


This game has way too many problems to be fixable. Was this game even play tested? Did someone actually run this by human beings to find out if it was a passable game? These are the kinds of games that are throw-away commodities. This will be forgotten in less than a year and no one will want to play it. It will sit on Gamestop's used shelves and collect dust. Some random shmoe might buy one periodically to try it, but quickly return it in the 7 day grace for a full refund.

  • Sound: 9/10 (best part of this game, keeps the suspense up)
  • Graphics: 9/10 (textures and figures are well done)
  • Bugginess: 10/10 (no bugs or major glitches found)
  • Controls: 6/10 (controls well enough until the Asteroids part)
  • Play Value: $10
  • Bang-To-Buck: 1/10 (if you must play this, rent it or buy it used)
  • Overall: 4/10 (inconsistent game play, tedious in places, predictable, not enough supplies)
Note, I would have given this game an even lower overall score, but the first 3 levels of the game were reasonably enjoyable. However, the Asteroids mini-game is so out-of-touch with the rest of this game, I no have no intention of finishing this game.

Happy New Year ... I'll see you in 2009.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Xbox 360 - Rise of the Argonauts

Rise of the Argonauts - Codemasters

This third person shooter tries to be too many different things at once and fails at most of them. But, that doesn't make the game unplayable or unenjoyable. It just makes this game tedious and frustrating at specific times. This game tries to be an RPG, but fails at this. It tries to have multiple quests and fails at that. The only place where this game succeeds is in the story and in the fact that it's a third person shooter.


The story of the Jason and the Argonauts is not new. In fact, it was born out of Greek mythology. So, there's a lot of canon for this game. The story plays like a movie with interaction between certain elements... not very good gameplay, though.

Basically, you play as Jason (King of Iolcus) and you must battle your way across the lands with various helpers (only two at a time). Your helpers include Pan the satyr, Hercules, Argos and various others. Not all of them join your party permanently, but some of them join your party in a permanent way.

Gameplay & Graphics

Here's where the fun begins, or should I say where the fun doesn't begin. Let's start with the graphics. The graphics on this game are really no better than those you would have seen on an Xbox (yes, the old one) or possibly even a Wii. So, don't expect super high res textures or fluid graphics here. The graphic design was somewhat lacking and the final graphics in this game are most definitely sub-par (lots of tearing, slowdowns and glitchy controls). Jason's 3D character handles horribly and gets caught behind every little object (see below). So, be prepared to get frustrated over the controls for Jason. However, I can overlook the graphics if the game works. And, this game does work on many levels, but just not 100%.


The fighting is hard to control and has no targeting system. So, you're just swinging in the breeze hoping it'll strike a blow. The bosses and mini-bosses can be challenging because there's really no clue what to do until you figure it out through trial and error. I'm not a fan of trial and error gaming. Just tell me what to do or make it simple enough to figure it out. The game gets somewhat easier as you progress and gain abilities (as far as fighting opponents).

Health and Magic

There is no health meter and no magic meter. So, when the enemy starts hammering on Jason, you have no idea how far he is from death until you start to see a red halo. The problem with the red halo (and this was also a problem in Turok) is that by the time you see it, you're practically dead. In some cases, the red halo doesn't even appear.. you only hear the 'near death music' and see the screen start to echo. Worse, your health does regenerate, but because there is no health bar, you have no idea how much it has regenerated. So, you end up spending time running around in circles avoiding the enemy trying to regain enough health to keep Jason from dying. Game developers.... PUT A HEALTH BAR ON THESE GAMES WILL YOU ALREADY?!!!

This whole part of this game makes fighting a tedious activity when you're working on bosses or mini-bosses.

Character navigation

The character movements and navigation is, to put it bluntly, horrible. The motions are completely stilted and Jason tends to run into wall edges or other small objects and get stuck. So, you are forever getting stuck and then walking around the object. Bad bad design.

Character design

The 3D characters are made from very low mesh objects. The texture mappings are also quite low res. The best looking character in this game, not surprisingly, is Jason. All of the subordinate characters look quite bad. Hercules looks like some hulk, but not like Hercules. Achilles ended up being an arogant self-righteous annoying character (even if after he becomes part of your party).

The Argo

The Argo is the boat you end up with that takes you sailing to the various places. Unfortunately, it's just another static object. There's no real navigation with the boat. The opportunity here would have been to allow sea warfare on the boat. But alas, it wasn't to be.


The audio to this game works ok, but there are far too many times where voices are cut off in mid-sentence when the screen cuts to a new scene. There were at least two cut-scenes where the volume was so low that turning my TV's volume up 100% just barely allowed me to hear it.

RPG aspects

While it appears they tried to make this game somewhat RPG-ish, they failed. The game has no treasure to speak of and nothing really extra to quest for. While you can level up, you can't really role play.


The game was quite rushed. There were many things that were unfinished. Again, there were two cinematics at the end of the game that were so low volume, you couldn't even hear them. I can't even believe that someone didn't playtest this thing, let alone proof it. Frankly, in the shape that it is presently in, I'm surprised any publisher would touch this release.

The linear aspects (no pun) and the shooter portions of the game makes it not an RPG. If you're really desperate for a new RPG-ish game, then by all means buy it. If you're not thrilled by mashup games that are basically unfinished, then I'd skip it or buy it used when it gets to about $20.

  • Sound: 7/10 (voiceovers are very well done, fluidity sucks)
  • Graphics: 5/10 (lacking, raw, unfinished, low res textures, bad movements)
  • Bugginess: ?/10 (not rated yet)
  • Controls: 7/10 (not outstanding, Jason hard to control at times)
  • Play Value: $20
  • Bang-To-Buck: 1/10 (won't play it through twice)
  • Overall: 6.5/10 (plenty of save points, graphics & controls seriously lack, tedious in parts)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

PS2 - Persona 4

Persona 4

Yes, you read that corractly... this is a PS2 game. I originally bought this game because it was represented to me as an RPG. Well, it is sort of. This is a Pokemon / Final Fantasy turn based fighting game with limited 3D roaming aspects and annoying 'time limits' on quests.

Note, I generally do not play turned based RPG systems because they always end up with far too many unavoidable random encounters. These games also end up far too one-sided favoring fighting over questing. Persona 4 is no exception.

Game Play

The game play starts off with this very very very long dialog-based almost cinematic sequence with lots of button pushing to get past dialog. After probably 1-3 hours of playing, you finally get past all of the intro stuff that really leads nowhere.

After you get past the exceedingly long and boring intro sections, you finally get to the point where you get some action. Unfortunately, the action consists of Pokemon style battles where all you're doing is leveling up.

The idea is that you get playing cards which give you personas. These personas help you in battle.


You've moved to the country from a big city. You're staying with a family that consists of a dad and daughter. While staying there, you end up investigating some mysterious deaths. Because of your investigation, you find that there are supernatural forces at work. These forces lead you into an alternate dimension of 'shadows'. You constsantly fight these shadows as you roam through the dimension.

You ultimately find that as the fog arrives in the 'real world' city that a shadow crosses over and kills the victim. So, you are tasked to roam into this alternate dimension and kill the shadows before they can do more damage and kill someone else.

It's an ok premise, but where this game fails is in the execution.


The fighting is ok, but it's not outstanding. It's a typical turn-based game. Sometimes you have the advantage, other times the enemy does. You have no control over the strength of the enemy that appears (or how many appear). It's all a random tossup when they occur. You can avoid the enemy (sometimes) by running around the enemy before the battle sequence starts. But, they do chase after you reasonably fast, so you sometimes cannot outrun them.


The soundtrack for this game is actually quite good. In fact, they include the soundtrack CD with the game. So, the only redeeming thing for this game really is the soundtrack. But, it doesn't make it worth the money just to get that soundtrack CD.

Game Save Locations

This is the sore spot of this game. Once you get into certain parts of the alternate dimension, you are stuck. For example, in one quest you end up going into a castle. As you enter the castle, the castle is multiple levels. I got the 6th floor and realized there are no save points, there's no way out and it would take far too long to go all the way back down just to save.

So, you're stuck in the middle of a bunch of battles with limited supplies, no way to save and no way out. You're ultimately going to just "game over" at some point without winning the final battle. The intermediate battles just serve to whittle down your supplies, health and points. Worse, this castle quest is the first you receive. And, you're only level 8-9 (weak) and they're throwing level 15-20 monsters (or higher) at you on this quest. Not really that much fun.


I am not impressed by the concept, layout or realization of this game. In the beginning, it goes far too slow. Once you get into the action, it's completely one-tracked (fights). The fighting is limited and boring. The personas are weak and, overall, the game is just not that fun. There's really very little to do other than fighting.

  • Sound: 9/10 (best part of this game)
  • Graphics: 7/10 (decent for PS2, but could be better)
  • Bugginess: ?/10 (not rated yet)
  • Controls: 7/10 (look controls reverse, no way to change them)
  • Bang-To-Buck: 1/10 (may not even play anymore)
  • Overall: 5/10 (lack of save points, one-tracked, limited questing, too much dialog, too many encounters)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Gamezelot's Top 15 Holiday Console Game Picks

So, we're fast approaching another holiday season and you're trying to decide what games to get and what games to leave on the shelves. Well, if you're an RPG, FPS or racing game fan, then I'll go through all the games that are on the top of my list.

15. BioShock

Bioshock is an older, but still well done shooter. The game has some questing and RPG aspects. The leveling up system on this shooter is unmatched by any other shooter. It's not a full out RPG, but it definitely straddles the line between being an RPG and a shooter. Definitely worth a play if you have not played it. Contains violence and possibly unsuitable themes.

14. Civilization Revolution

CivRev is a strategy game through and through. If you like games like Risk, then you'll like CivRev. This game is not quite as complete as Civilization IV, but for a console crossover, this game is quite well done.

13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

While I generally don't put movie games on my lists, this one is particularly well done. The questing system is RPG-like, the quests are fun and you get to fully roam Hogwarts. Definitely a fun play if you've never played it. It might be hard to find new at this point as it's a bit old now. This game is also quite family friendly.

12. Oblivion: Elder Scrolls IV

This game is over 2 years old at this point, but it still tops my list of best RPG games out there. If you haven't played this game yet, you owe it to yourself to play it. It takes a little bit to get into this game and you have to like the medieval type genre of games. But, this game system is one of the best concieved to date. It might be hard to find it new, but even used this game is great. Get the Game of the Year edition to get all of the add-ons. May contain unsuitable themes.

11. Halo 3

What list wouldn't be complete without Halo 3? I debated about not putting this one on the list. But, because this game is so well done, I had to put it on the list for this year even though it is now over a year old. Contains violence and possibly mature themes.

10. Drake's Fortune (PS3)

While this game isn't exactly an RPG, it does have some RPG elements. The game has an excellent graphics system and the puzzles are well thought out. The game is one of the more fun titles on the PS3.

8. Gears of War 2

Gears of War 2 is a first person shooter that offers all of the same fun that Gears of War offered. It's fun and challenging, but not overly challenging. The guns and vehicles add excitement to the game. Note, contains mature themes and violence.

9. Assassin's Creed

Assassin's Creed came out last year, but is still a fun play through. It's also on this list because apparently the next Assassin's Creed is already in the works and may be out sometime in 2009. You should play this game before buying Assassin's Creed 2. Contains mature themes and violence.

7. Grand Theft Auto IV

This is a psuedo-RPG. The storylines are reasonably engaging and all of the fun of ripping off cars is still there. Too bad the game didn't expand to add storage, modding and selling of the cars, but the game still works. This game is not recommended for anyone under 17.

6. Gran Turismo: Prologue (PS3)

This game is absolutely gorgeous. The graphics are stunning, the driving is amazing, but this is only a teaser game. The real game will arrive in 2009 (hopefully). However, this game is still very much worth getting just for the shear beauty of the cars. Amazing. However, don't expect the be able to mod your cars. That will be in the final game.

5. The Orange Box

The Orange Box is an amazing title in itself. This package holds 5 games in one: Half-Life 2, Half Life 2: Episode One and Episode Two, Portal and Team Fortress. All of these games are worth playing. The Half-Life titles are shooters and are extremely well done. Portal is a puzzle game. Team Fortress is a multiplayer level-based shooter. This is definitely a must-have if you haven't played Half-Life. May contain unsuitable themes.

4. Fable II (and Fable I)

These games are both high quality RPG-style games. Fable I is for Xbox and Fable II is for Xbox 360. I like both of these games quite well, but I actually like Fable I just a bit more than II. Fable II's mapping system needed an overhaul, but the quests are still quite fun.

3. Mass Effect

Mass Effect is a Sci-Fi semi-RPG from Bioware (same people who did Knights of the Old Republic). While this game did not come out this year, if you haven't played it, it should be on your to-play list. Contains mature themes.

2. Saint's Row 2 (and Saints Row 1)

Saints Row 2 is the latest installment. This game is ahead of GTAIV only because they have been able to far improve the GTA formula. The game is about gangs and that genre, but the quests are still of the same style as GTA. This game is not recommended for anyone under 17.

1. Fallout 3

Fallout 3 is technically the successor RPG to Oblivion: Elder Scrolls IV. While it does have the a similar combat system, they did add some improvement to it in the VATS (targeting system). This game is fun, but can be tedious to play at times. The imagery of the game is stark and there are no vehicles to speak of. That said, though, the guns are fun and the quests keep the storyline interesting until the end. Note that the Fallout 3 main quest is much shorter than Oblivion's main quest. Contains violence and possibly mature or unsuitable themes.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Xbox 360 - Fable II

Fable II by Microsoft Studios

While I haven't reviewed Fable I on Gamezelot, suffice it to say that I liked it reasonably well. Excusing the less than steller graphics, after all it was on the Xbox... it turned into a reasonably decent game after you get through the starting-off-as-a-kid beginning.

Fable II has a similar beginning, but the one thing that has changed between Fable I and Fable II is the look and feel of the entire game. But, that's not all that they've changed. Many of the changes make the game fun, many more make the game tedious. Note that there is a lot wrong with this game, so this review will be long.

What is Fable II?

Fable II is the sequel to Fable I. At the same time, it really isn't a sequel. Think of it both as a sequel and as a new beginning for the franchise. Since Fable II doesn't begin where Fable I left off and, instead, chooses to start the story line all over again from the beginning, this really isn't a sequel in the truest sense. Fable II really should be considered a remake.

At its most fundamental level, Fable II is a Role Playing Game in genre. But, at the same time, it lacks some things for me to consider it a full RPG in practice.


The quests are reasonably lengthy and work well. I've found no specific glitches in any of the quests I tried and was able to get through each of the ones I've attemped. However, the quests rapidly become repetitive and too much the same.

Map (or lack thereof)

Unfortunately, there is nothing good to say about the mapping system here. For whatever reason, Microsoft and Lionhead decided to NOT put a real visual world map into this game. There is a map on the loading screen, but there is no map within the game itself. There are area maps that show you where you are in a given play area (exits, entrances and quest spots), but there is no world map. Instead, they offer a text based menu of regions (and subregions) where you can fast travel.

Unlike Fable which you practically lived on the World Map, Fable II developers, for whatever reason, decided to not include a visual world map as part of the game play. This is one of the primary reasons (there are others, read on) why I hesitate to consider this an RPG as such.

The lack of an overall world map was a complete surprise, considering that Fable I had one. Removing this feature leaves the player fumbling to understand how each of the cities and townships interrelate to one another and how far something is from another city.

That said, the developers decided to tell you (in hours) how far something is from something else whenever you travel there. It's not really that it matters, though, as the time passage in Fable II is irrelevant (other than for shop opening and closing purposes).

For me, the lack of a world map is a huge sore spot in Fable II. For this reason alone, this game will not get 10, or even 9 stars. An RPG needs to have a full visual interactive world map as part of the game play, period.

Golden Trail

In lieu of an interactive world map, Lionhead decided to create a 'golden trail' for Sparrow to follow. While, in theory, it's a good idea... in practice, it sucks. Think of it kind of like a GPS that leads you to your final destination. The reason this system sucks is that it makes you feel like you are 3 and you need someone to hold your hand to play. Just give me a World Map and let me see where I am in the world and I'll make my own way there. I don't want to have to follow this stupid Golden Trail.

Thankfully, the developers do let you turn it off. But, what I quickly found is that when you turn it off, you rapidly get lost. Without a world map or the Golden Trail, you never get where you need to be.

The main problem with the Golden Trail is that it doesn't give you distance. So, you have no idea how far you are from your destination. Because there is no world map, you can't even reference that.

Finding Places

As with most other RPG style games, you can't fast travel to a location where you haven't been. Worse, however, is that given that you can't fast travel, it also does not help you by even letting you travel to a close destination. Without a world map, you just have to know where you are in the world. So, you can't even figure out a close destination. Naming sometimes helps, but in other cases it doesn't. There were times where I just roamed forever trying to get to the final destination.

If you can buy a real world map or download one, I highly recommend it. Again, the lack of a world map in this game is the biggest sore spot and majorly detracts from this game.

Choices and Game Saves

As with the original Fable, at the end of certain quests you will be required to make a choice. Unfortunately, there is only one saved game location available for this game. Worse, the Xbox 360 will not allow you to copy your saved game to either another profile or an MU for backup purposes. So, you cannot make a backup of your saved game. This means you also cannot start the game from previous saved positions.

So, once you make a choice and the game saves (and it will), you are stuck with that choice unless you start the game over from the beginning. Again, this is yet another MAJOR problem with this pseudo-RPG. An RPG should allow you to save at any time and allow you to have at least 10 different save positions... although, placing any limitations on saved games is highly stupid.

Marriage and Kids

Fable II does offer a Sims-style interactive relationship system. So, you can have relationships (both straight and gay) in the game. Note that later in the game, you are offered a way to change your gender and become female which completely reverses all the roles. However, you can have kids and these kids can become quests later which is kind of cool.

Treasure and the Dog

In Fable II, you find that you now have a dog that follows you around. You can teach the dog tricks from books that you find along your quests. These tricks come in handy later for other quests. However, note that a later choice from a quest eliminates the dog so you no longer have it.

I found the dog mostly a problem. It's constantly barking showing locations of treasure, keys and dig spots. This is ok, but I find that the treasure you find is really so petty and useless, why bother. For example, most treasure where you find money, it's 100-150 coins (not enough to worry about). Or, you might get a rusty necklace, an emerald or some other trinket that you can use as a relationship gift or to sell for some tiny amount of cash..

Owning Property

In Fable II, you can now own property that gives residual income. Because of the residual income, the trinkets you find as treasure really becomes pointless as sources of income. But, owning property doesn't allow you to collect treasure as Sparrow can carry infinite amounts of treasure (again, un-RPGlike). So, once you amass enough property, you'll be earning 11-15k about every 5 minutes. Since the game bases these 5 minute increments on our real world clock, you'll get that amount every 5 minutes whether you are playing or not. So, if you don't play for 24 real hours, you'll end up with like 300k-500k in coin when you do play again.

You can even just set the Xbox system clock ahead if you need fast cash. I'm not sure why Lionhead did this. Basically, once you understand how it works, money is trivially easy to obtain in Fable II.

Will (magic) User

The magic that is offered in this game is, at times, downright annoying. As with the first Fable, the stronger your magic, the longer the magic takes to manifest. The problem is that while you're manifesting the magic, you can't do anything other than get hammered on by the enemy. Really, it takes way too long to manifest the fifth (final) level of magic. There should be a way to speed up this generation, but there isn't. I would have preferred an actual mana bar where you use up mana to manifest. This would mean that instead of taking longer for spells to manifest, that it uses up more mana. For me, using a mana bar is a much more of a traditional RPG approach to magic and spells than the taking long times to manifest.


I found Fable II to be entertaining, but lacking and frustrating. The quests were good enough, but the quest system was only mediocre. Once you get to the point where the quests become repetitive, the game is really no longer very fun. The main quest shouldn't take you long to get through. The side quests may take you longer (unless you get bored and put the game down).

This is not an RPG in the truest sense because 1) you cannot fully customize your character or their stats and 2) it does not have a world map. Fable II does not hold a candle to Oblivion's system.

I'm hoping that Microsoft will decide to try Bethesda the next time around for Fable III. I also don't like playing the same game designed as a sequel. This game should have had a completely different story than Fable. But, it overall it isn't. The game is pretty much the same idea as Fable from beginning to end as Fable II (with slight alterations in the story and characters).

  • Sound: 9/10 (reasonable, decent voice actors)
  • Graphics: 8/10 (smooth, but not outstanding)
  • Bugginess: ?/10 (not rated yet)
  • Controls: 9.5/10 (reasonable controls)
  • Bang-To-Buck: 2/10 (will play through once for each quest)
  • Overall: 6.5/10 (Too much like Fable, no map, one save spot, can't backup saves)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Xbox 360 - Xbox Experience Update

The 'new' Xbox Experience

While I know that this isn't exactly a game, it does influence the way you think about games and gaming. For those who don't know, Microsoft recently updated the dashboard interface on the Xbox 360. The interface went from a side to side dashboard to a more 3D interface.

In a lot of ways, the interface is new. In others, it's not so new. I will say that I do like it slightly better than the PS3's interface.


It's not that the Xbox 360 hasn't had gamer images (Avatars) in the past. But, now Microsoft has taken it one step further and made them 3D and moving. The problem isn't that they're 3D, however. The problem is that the Avatars end up looking far too similar to the Miis on the Wii. This isn't necessarily a good thing. We'll get to this issue in just a few.

Xbox 360 Audience

The Xbox 360 has always tended to appeal to avid, hardcore and more mature gamers. The types of games like Gears of War, Halo 3 and Assassin's Creed make this console live up to its reputation. You rarely, if ever find games like Mario Kart, Super Mario Brothers, Brain Age or Cooking Mama. The exception include games like Thrillville: Off The Rails (which is still more mature than most Wii games).

Enter the new Xbox Experience. With characters that look cartoony and feel like something that should be on the Wii, this is completely out of place on the Xbox 360 considering the audience that Xbox 360 attracts. These cartoony avatars are even more cartoony than those on Second Life. I would have preferred to see 3D avatars of a Halo 3 Spartan, ODST or Marcus from Gears of War. These are avatars that I could appreciate, understand and would feel is much more befitting of this console.

Xbox Experience

Additionally, besides the new Avatar feature, they have redesigned the interface and menuing system. No longer do you have the flat screens that fill like Web Pages, now the interface looks like trading cards placed one in front of the other.

You have to scroll right and left to move through the 'cards' and you scroll up and down to change the context between Games, Videos, My Xbox, etc. The My Xbox is now effectively your settings panel and where to launch games.

Loading Games onto the Hard Drive

One of the newest and probably best additions to the new Xbox experience is the ability to load games onto the hard drive. On the one hand, this makes the games load faster. On the other, it still requires that you put the media into the drive to play. So, it's not fully playing from the hard drive.

Copying the game to the hard drive not only takes quite some time to accomplish, but they also consume a fair amount of space. So, for games that have reasonably speedy loading times from disk, it's probably not worth the effort. For games like Fallout 3, it is probably worth it.


I somewhat like the new interface, but I don't like the Wii-ish nature that Microsoft is trying to do with the 360. There are so few Wii-type games, that these interface features make the console feel childish, yet the games are not. This dichotomy may send the wrong message to parents that the Xbox 360 has more kid-friendly games than it does.

So, don't be fooled by these Avatars, the Xbox 360 is still just as hardcore as it was. However, the danger that Microsoft is facing is trying to retarget the wrong audience. Making sweeping changes like this without gamer approval could lead to people turning away from the 360 should more Mario-ish titles start coming out. Clearly, Microsoft is up to something, but what that something is I'm not sure (and maybe they don't either). But, they need to be extra careful not to chase off their hardcore gamer base by trying to turn this system into becoming more Kid Friendly. We already have the Wii. We don't really need another one.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Xbox 360 - Gears of War 2

Gears of War 2

This sequel to Gears of War and third person shooter has a reasonable amount of gore and violence along with some language. It is recommended for 17 year olds and above. If you are a parent, you may want to view the gameplay in the store prior to purchasing for your child. The gore can be turned off from the Options menu, but is turned on by default.


Gears of War and Gear's of War 2 are both about an army named the 'Gears' who work for 'COG' as the infantry against the enemy known as the Locusts (your typical humanoid enemy about the same size and shape as a human). Effectively, the game has a similar story feel as Halo. This time, the Gears must save Jacinto (and other cities) from being ravaged by the Locusts.


The primary game voiceover is done very well. That said, that's primarily thanks to John Di Maggio (who sounds just like Keifer Sutherland) doing the voiceover for the player character, Marcus. Thanks to the deep gruff voice, it works quite well to carry this character in this game. I think that's why I quickly liked the Marcus character.


The gameplay is pretty much the same as Gears of War with a few new things thrown in. However, that said, Gears of War 2 is a straightforward linear third person shooter. Don't expect much in the way of side quests or additional roaming options. But, that's the same as it was in the first Gears game.

The gameplay could use work in places. Some missions are exceedingly easy to get through with no enemies. Other levels are chock full of them and/or quite difficult (see complaints below). The sniper rifle works great when it works. The problem I have with this rifle is that the game specifically moves the enemy out of the way right before the shot hits. This doesn't happen all of the time, but it does happen often enough that it's not a coincidence. The game knows what you're aiming at and intentionally moves them out of the way milliseconds before the shot would hit properly. This makes working with the sniper rifle very frustrating. It's not as if ammo is scarce, but it is a problem because of the time it takes to reload the rifle.


The graphics, as expected, are quite well done. Not looking quite as nice as some recent PS3 games, but still very good. The graphics do get slow in places (so you can tell they're pushing the processor limits of the 360). The game, however, doesn't falter even with the slow downs.


The Xbox 360 achievements seem reasonably easy to obtain throughout the game. You simply have to get through the missions to get them. There are also other in-game achievements that you can obtain (like Half-Life used) that may not count toward Xbox 360 gamer score.


My major complaints with this game entail the levels themselves. On some levels, the Gears help you defeat the enemies. On other levels, you're the only one actually killing anything (even though other Gears are there). For example, you are tasked to defend the communication arrays against the flying Reavers. You're told to use the turret gun. That's fine.. except there are two guns and another gear there. Yet, you're the only one shooting down Reavers. Worse, by the time you even see the Reaver in the air, they've already shot off missles. So, it's next to impossible to complete this level.

And right there's my second complaint. Some levels are childlike easy, other levels are near impossible... and these levels can easily be side-by-side. Did anyone actually play test this game at all? This makes the gameplay frustrating, time consuming and problematic... and it also reduces this game's overall score.


It's a straightforward third person shooter. It's very similar to the original game, but with a different story behind it. The Gears are as tough as ever and the weapons are strewn throughout the level in such a way as to never run out of weapons or ammo. This is not realistic, but it works in this game context.

There are some very very frustrating levels that are not challenging in the gaming sense, but are very frustrating. You end up having to game the game (if you know what I mean) just to get through the level. The levels are haphazard and randomly laid out (for the most part). I prefer the walking gun levels over the puzzle-ish levels using vehicles or special weapons.

  • Sound: 9/10 (excellent voiceovers)
  • Graphics: 8.5/10 (great, but not perfect)
  • Bugginess: ?/10 (not rated yet)
  • Controls: 9.5/10 (no issues and responds well)
  • Bang-To-Buck: 1/10 (Once through, won't play 1 player again, maybe multiplayer)
  • Overall: 7.5/10 (Resonably well done, but typical for a shooter)
Note, games without side quests automatically get knocked off points simply because it forces the game to be linear. Too bad they didn't add a theater mode for taking in-game photos. Second Note, I don't rate multiplayer aspects because nearly all multiplayer games end up the same (running around on a multilevel course shooting each other for points).

Thursday, November 6, 2008

PS3 - Resistance 2

Resistance 2

This game is the second installment for the Resistance series. This is a linear first person shooter.


This is a standard first person shooter. There is nothing overly special about this game in terms of gameplay. Note that I purchased the Special Edition of this game because it included a Chimera action figure. Overall, the extra cost was really not worth it unless you're into these types of collectibles.


To escape a typical shooter situation without dying. The problem I have with this game is that it tries way too much to look and feel like Halo 3 (click to see Gamezelot's Review). The menus have a similar look, feel and layout (it even uses the same font) to Halo 3. The enemies remind me of the enemies in Halo 3 and the overall play style also reminds me of Halo 3.

In and of itself, the copying of Halo 3 isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does make the game unoriginal. The game's story, however, is nothing like Halo 3 and is not compelling in the same way as Halo 3. So, it fails on that aspect.

Basically, you're thrown into the action very rapidly and are given little time to become used to the game itself.


This game shows the PS3 offers a clear graphics advantage over the Xbox 360. The problem, however, is that while the graphics are crisp clear 3D with reasonably high texture maps, the game itself is not compelling enough to make the graphics worth the effort. Eye candy only goes so far. What makes a game fun is the gameplay, not necessarily the graphics.


I expected more from this franchise. I liked this game better than the first Resistance (which I actually hated to play). But, this game is still an uninspired shooter. The first Resistance was too much like Call of Duty with Zombies. Resistance 2 tries too hard to be Halo 3 and fails at that. While it is an improvement to this game, the developers still need to come up with a look and feel that's all their own without having to abscond from existing popular game titles on other platforms.


  • Sound: 6/10 (I don't remember it, really.. so, forgettable)
  • Graphics: 8/10 (too much like other games)
  • Bugginess: ?/10 (not rated yet)
  • Controls: 8.5/10 (worked well enough, but sometimes slow to respond)
  • Bang-To-Buck: 1/10 (Won't play it again)
  • Overall: 7.5/10 (Fun enough, but too linear and not enough excitement)

Xbox 360 - Fracture

Fracture by Lucas Arts

Fracture is a brand new franchise from LucasArts. This game is a linear shooter with changeable terrain.


Most games today fall into very specific categories. Fracture is one of these games. Fracture is a standard shooter where the game leads you from point A to point B with very little side roaming. Regardless of the terrain modification addition to this game, the game really adds nothing of value to the genre. The terrain modification is only mildly interesting and only gives the player the ability to create temporary walls to hide behind.

The downside to these 'walls' is that most enemy weapons can knock them down as easily as you can erect them. So, the ability to create a wall that can easily be removed by the enemy is pointless. I just don't get why game developers can't understand these these concepts? Having the enemy knock down a user created wall is not challenging, it's frustrating. You want to use it as temporary cover, but you can't. So, you end up ignoring the use of this feature and using existing environmental cover anyway. The only time when this feature is useful is when you need to find a way to get in underground. And, even then, that's just a novelty.


Controls are typical of a shooter. Nothing special here.


Nothing to brag about.


Better than many, but typical of a shooter.


This is a ho-hum franchise from LucasArts. The terrain aspect is interesting, but quickly becomes just a novelty and is, overall, pointless. The game is extremely linear without any side quests, so it's pretty straight forward. If you like mindless shooters, you'll probably like this. If you want extended gaming and like to roam and find hidden things, don't bother looking here.


  • Sound: 8/10 (Ambient, doesn't get in the way)
  • Graphics 8.5/10 (Gets the job done, but nothing outstanding)
  • Bugginess: ?/10 (not rated yet)
  • Controls: 9/10 (reasonable)
  • Bang-To-Buck: 1/10 (Once through, trade it in fast)
  • Overall: 7/10 (Better games out there)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Xbox 360 - Fallout 3

Fallout 3 by Bethesda

This is the successor in the Fallout series and also, in a way, the successor to Oblivion: Elder Scrolls IV (see my review here). This game uses the Oblivion engine to create a new world in the Fallout universe. I have mixed reactions to the use of the engine here. Let me explain why.

Note, the game can be in First or Third person style shooter mode by pressing the left bumper on the Xbox 360 control. So, you can view through the eyes of the character (FPS) or view the whole character (TPS). This same feature is available in Oblivion.


Granted, I am not that far into Fallout 3, but I have played Oblivion from cover to cover. Having worked with that engine in the past, I can at least talk about the things that work and those that don't in Fallout.

Overall, the gameplay is identical to that of Oblivion (walking and fighting). Additionally, Fallout 3 adds a semi turn-based targeting system, but in many ways it's pointless. If Fallout 3 works in any way like Oblivion, the characters will level up at an identical pace as the character player leaving these fighting techniques mostly ineffective. This was probably one of the single biggest sore spots with even Oblivion. I found that whenever I could avoid fighting in Oblivion and get what I needed, this worked best. Unfortunately, without the use of magic in Fallout 3, it's going to be a bit more difficult to complete the levels. The use of magic in Oblivion actually made the game workable. In Fallout 3, I'm reserving judgment, but I suspect it may end up being more difficult than it should be.


In the beginning of Fallout 3, you will find yourself walking and walking and walking (and very slowly, I might add). While this worked in Oblivion (due to the age in which it occurs), it really doesn't work well in Fallout 3. Yes, the world has been devastated by Nuclear Holocaust, but at least some form of transportation (such as a horse or mutant horse or something) should be available to aid in travel.

Fast travel is available once you have discovered a place, but you can't travel to places you haven't discovered (exactly like Oblivion). So, yes, fast travel works, but only to a point.


Unlike Oblivion, where the game throws very low level creatures at you in the start, Fallout 3 throws many very difficult (much higher leveled) creatures at you all at once before you have leveled up. You have no real weapons to speak of, no armor and very little in hit points. So, expect your character to die and start over regularly. This means, save early and save often.

Worse, the enemies are random. Like Oblivion, when wandering you'll find enemies and friends and they are very clear cut. There's no persuasion involved at all. This is the one thing I didn't like about Oblivion and I hoped they would fix in Fallout 3. I would prefer that most people you meet are neutral (neither like or dislike you) and don't attack by default. You have to then persuade them to be your friend or they will become your enemy (once finding out who you are). To me, this is a much more realistic way to handle first encounters. Characters should not automatically know you unless you tell them who you are. Automatically having most creatures become your enemy and kill you is really just over-the-top and rather lame. In this same idea, some non-sentient creatures may automatically attack you, but they shouldn't unless you provoke them. Of course, this isn't how it works. All enemies attack the instant they 'see' you.

Locating Enemies

Clearly, there is some kind of way to locate enemies on the compass, but it's really not clear enough to be useful. So, I'm not sure why it's even there.


Ok, so maybe there weren't any guns in Oblivion.. but there are in Fallout 3. My problem is that the 9mm pistol you're given can't even kill a mutant ant in one shot, much less a person. Unlike most shooters that allow head shots to kill with one shot, Fallout 3 doesn't. It doesn't even kill them with 5 shots. I mean, come on. It's a gun.. and radiation or not, as far as I know, a single gunshot to the head kills anything. This is probably the single biggest flaw in Fallout 3.

Map - Pip Boy

Don't get me started here. Ok, let's. I am not a fan of the Pip Boy device at all. It's lame and difficult to navigate. Just give me a map and quest system like Oblivion. Oblivion's system is clear cut, easy to read and tells you what you need to do. The green screen Pip Boy is hard to read, hard to navigate, annoying and difficult to decipher. This change was not a good design decision.

The Pip Boy's control settings are not changeable through control settings menu. So, while you can invert Y on the movement control, you cannot change them for movement on the map. So, I always end up moving the map in the wrong direction because Y control on the map needs to be inverted.

Oh, and why do you need to navigate into the Pip Boy just to change your weapon?!?!?

Waiting and Sleeping

These work exactly like Oblivion. Health regenerates completely when you sleep in a bed and waiting lets you pass time easily. That said, the leveling up system has been untied from sleeping. Now you can level up as soon as you have passed the right amount of points. This is a good thing. It was difficult to find a bed in Oblivion and appears equally so in Fallout 3.

Main Quest

Now that I have completed the main quest, I can definitively say the game is no where near as charming and inspired as Oblivion. Once done with the Main Quest, the game ends. You must restart from a previous save to continue playing. Worse, the ending is a series of static images with a voiceover discussing the outcome. This is highly disappointing as I expected to see at least some kind of cinematic. So, you don't get to see what happens, they just tell what happens.

Side Quests

I'm still working on these, but I'm not overly thrilled to finish them up knowing how the game ends.


The wasteland look, while impressively done map-wise, is really not going to be appealing to stare at for 1-2 months while I play this game. I'm actually already tired of the junky trash and waste all over the place. Yes, I realize this is supposed to be post-nuclear war, but perhaps this wasn't the best idea for game visuals?

With Oblivion, you at least got to play the game pre-gate creation by avoiding the main quest. So, you get to walk around a green lush forested countryside. Even after the Oblivion gates start spawning, the game is still mostly pleasant to look at. Not so with Fallout 3. It's a bleak barren wasteland with nothing really that pleasant to see. Visually, they spent a lot of time building the cracked pavement maps, but overall the look is not pretty. In some ways, it kind of reminds me of Half-Life 2.. but Half-Life's terrain looked far better.

The wasteland look was one of my main concerns with Fallout 3 and, so far, this is as much of an problem as I expected it would be. I will continue to play the game, but so far I'm not thrilled with the idea of staring at a wasteland for the entire game.


Just like Oblivion, there is non-combat and combat music themes. So, when you get in proximity of an enemy, the combat theme starts. Outside of that, it plays the non-combat theme. I found that in Oblivion, I quickly got tired of listening to either theme and eventually turned them both down to just barely audible.


There are some things I like about Fallout 3, but more things that I don't. I find it hard to get past some of the issues (like wasteland's constant junk piles and treeless hills). So far, I have not found much in the way of engaging weapons or enhancements that make this game that much better.

So, Fallout 3's story and experience is no where near as charming or as inspired as Oblivion. Even today, I'd still play Oblivion again simply because I want to revisit that world again. But, I can't say the same of Fallout 3. I don't particularly like the world set up in Fallout 3 nor will I want to visit it again. For this reason, I think an extended gaming experience in Fallout 3 is overkill for both the story and world. As much as I don't want to say this, a more straightforward linear shooter engine would have worked better for Fallout 3 than using Oblivion's very detail oriented game engine when clearly this much detail isn't necessary.


  • Sound: 8/10 (workable, but gets annoying after a while)
  • Graphics 8.5/10 (a bit glitchy like Oblivion... this wasn't fixed in Fallout 3)
  • Bugginess: 7/10 (locked up twice through the main quest)
  • Controls: 8.5/10 (reasonable, but could have been enhanced)
  • Bang-To-Buck: 2/10 (Not really wanting to revisit this world)
  • Overall: 8.7/10 (not a vast improvement over Oblivion)

Xbox 360 - Saints Row 2

Saints Row 2 by THQ

Parental Advisory: This game features mature themes and content. This game is likely best suited for ages 17 and older, but of course the decision is up to the parent.

While I wanted to love this game as much as Saints Row (click for review), it's just not as complete as I wanted it to be. I expected so much more from this game and really got the same gaming experience as Saints Row. That's not a bad thing, but it really should have been more.

Controls and Gameplay

The gaming style and play of this game is identical to that of Saints Row. The button mappings are the same as SR and very similar to the GTA series. That said, THQ really did little to make the gaming experience more than SR. There are some nifty additions to the game, but not enough to make it substantially different than the Saints Row experience.


The one thing that THQ added to SR2 is flying and water vehicles. It's unfortunate, however, that you have to play through the entire game to get the assault chopper (which would have come in handy far earlier in the game). However, you do at least get access to the Oppressor 'copter early enough (of course, no weapons) which speeds up traveling from place to place. Note, you obtain the assault chopper by finishing the last mission of the game. So, this is why you have to play through the entire game to get it.

In networked play, you can use an assault chopper (or any other vehicle) if another networked player has finished the game. They can bring out the assault chopper (or another vehicle) from their garage and let you use it. But, you cannot store their vehicle(s) in your garage. You can only get the assault chopper yourself by finishing the game.

Still, there are issues with the flying vehicles. Namely, while you can store these vehicles specially designed garages, you can only customize land vehicles. I really wanted a chop shop game and a mechanic place to customize the 'copters and watercraft vehicles. Alas, no such modification garages exist.


The mission play works identically, again, as SR. So, you're going after rival gangs and taking over their territory. You must play side missions to gain respect credits to access the main missions. Once you gain enough respect, you can begin playing through the main missions. You can play through the Brotherhood, Samedi and Ronin missions in any order until you get to the each of those respective mission threads. Once that's done, then the Ultor missions open. Once you complete the Ultor missions, you get the Tornado assault chopper.


While the 3D characters do look better and there's more verbal talking from the primary character, it really doesn't enhance the game that much. The movements of the characters were not that improved and the mouth movements are a bit stilted.

What's missing?

Well, lots frankly. I would have preferred to allow limited configuration of the player character up front and force the user to do missions to gain stats, improve physical appearance and change their abilities. Instead, just like SR, THQ opted to use the plastic surgeon to change appearance. So, the whole appearance thing ends up shallow and meaningless. I would have preferred something like if you eat too much you get fat, or you go the gym and workout and build up strength and muscularity. I liked this aspect of GTA San Andreas and was expecting it here. What I don't want to have, though, is forced eating.. so you have to stop by places and have to eat regularly. That really does get in the way of gameplay. But, as part of a gym mission, that would be ok.

In the personality area, THQ could have extended the relationship aspect of the game to allow for actual relationships between various people you meet. So, instead of just taunting and complements, this could have lead into Sims style relationships.

Co-op mode / Xbox Live

While this feature does exist, you have to beware of letting other players into your game. More about that shortly. The two-player gameplay is interesting and can be fun, but only if both players are playing through the game at the same pace. If you get someone in your game who has already completed the game fully, the other player who is still working through the missions will feel like the game is being spoiled.

Ok, so onto the Xbox Live Co-op issue.. Allowing a co-op player into your game with cheats enabled prevents further achievement by either player. When you accept someone into your game who is using cheats, you won't find this out until after-the-fact. This means, by the time the game tells you of the cheats, your game is already screwed. For example, I had just completed a mission (two missions, in fact) and hadn't saved. I got a request for a co-op session and allowed it. Only after I accepted the player in did I find out the player was using cheats. I kicked the user off, had to reload from a previous save and re-do two missions again to ensure cheats were not affecting my game progress. Beware when allowing random players into your game through Xbox Live.

The game really should allow you to prevent players who are using cheats from even connecting to your game or it should tell you of the cheats up front and allow you to kick the player off without affecting your existing game. Basically, if you want to play Saints Row 2 without this issue, turn Xbox live requests to invite only. Otherwise, someone with cheats turned on and who selects quickmatch may find your game and connect to you.


The game tries to be too much like Saints Row, but with only a few updated features. I really wanted more out of this gaming experience than I got with SR. Like, for example, THQ added the Taunt and Compliment features. But, these features are small and minimal making the game experience pretty much the same as Saints Row.

  • Sound: 8/10 (workable, but gets annoying after a while)
  • Graphics 8.5/10 (glitchy, camera problems)
  • Bugginess: 6/10 (many full out lockups towards the end of the game)
  • Controls: 9/10 (reasonable, overall works, could be somewhat better in places)
  • Bang-To-Buck: 3/10 (Might play more just to find details)
  • Overall: 8/10 (could have been so much more)
Note: bugginess is denoted by 1 = most buggy, 10 = least buggy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Xbox 360 - Force Unleashed

Star Wars: Force Unleashed by Lucas Arts

This review will be short and sweet. The Force Unleashed is a straight forward third person shooter. If you've played Shadows of the Empire, Obi-Wan or Jedi Outcast, you're already familiar with this game. The problem, this game is worse than those aforementioned games.


Autoaiming is horrible. You end up shooting in all directions except where you wamted. This goes for force powers and the lightsaber. The controls are slow to respond... especially combo moves and force lightning.


The camera in this game is highly annoying. Sometimes it locks in very closely. So closely, in fact, that you can't even see what you're doing or where you should be. On the Star Destroyer level, the camera is fixed... ??


The levels work ok, to a point.


Ripped off directly from the movies.


It's a reasonable game with the exception of the Pull-the-Star-Destroyer-From-The-Sky level where the game simply falls apart. This level is inconsistent with every previous level and doesn't progress the game story forward. It's simply there as a time waster. The final rest of the game after this level is mediocre and the story ends on a very predictable note (teetering on the edge of trite). LucasArts, if you're reading this, considering KOTOR, this one is half-baked.

  • Sound: 7/10 (repetative)
  • Graphics 8/10 (glitchy, camera problems)
  • Controls: 5/10 (bad aiming, hard to control, slow to respond)
  • Bang-To-Buck: 1/10 (Buy it used)
  • Overall: 5/10 (Lucasarts should have held it back and fixed it up)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

PC - Spore


Will Wright is well known for producing The Sims and Maxis' other big hit simulator titles. So, it was not without a big to-do that Spore would have a lot of fervor surrounding its release. Well, Spore is out and people aren't happy.

Digital Rights Management

Some people are upset over Spore's inclusion of DRM within the game. Visiting, you will find (as of this blog article) that Spore has a 1.5 star rating. And most of the bad ratings are as a result of DRM. Yes, DRM is a problem. But, DRM is by no means the only problem with Spore. Visiting the old Spore Forum and the new Spore Forum, you will find many users having a lot of problems with Spore (and it appears most problems are not related to the DRM). As of this writing, the old Spore Forum is in transition to the new forum, so most posts regarding issues are on the old forum. But, if you find that this link no longer works, it's because EA has taken the old forum down.

Just as an FYI, apparently Spore utilizes the Securom DRM method. This method uses a security key (located on the manual) to 'activate' your copy of Spore. This DRM system may check in periodically to make sure that the key is still valid (apparently, so they can invalidate keys and stop a game from working). Anti-DRM users feel that this is tantamount to renting a game instead of buying it. Since they have the ability to prevent you from playing the game at any time, it may very well be a form of renting. I feel that DRM is only necessary when you have something worth protecting. Unfortunately, Spore isn't original enough or that well done to be worth spending the money on DRM. This should serve as a warning for EA and Maxis. Drop the DRM before your users drop you.

Bugs, bugs and more bugs

Ok, so there's bound to be a pun in here somewhere. In all seriousness, the game is chock full of bugs (and I don't mean the pretty kind you can build through the Spore creator). The kind of bugs I mean are the ones that lead to frustration, crashing and overall bad game quality. Did EA or Maxis actually beta test Spore prior to release? I mean, come on.. I expect some bugs, but this bad?

Some of the bugs I've encountered include:
  • Can't install Spore into a directory other than the default (doesn't work)
  • Can't get past the cell level without crashing (see workaround below)
  • Changing colors in the creator leads to a crash in many cases
  • Random crashes while playing the game
  • Game is sometimes unresponsive to commands
There are numerous other problems that have also been reported by others. These range from problematic gameplay to the game not starting up.

Maxis and EA have both been slow to respond to these issues on the forum or otherwise.

Crashing after the Cell level

If you have installed Spore on Windows (XP or Vista) and can't get past the Cell level, try using alt-enter to move Spore into a window on the desktop just before you click to go to the next level. This should allow the game to progress to the next level and allow you to continue playing. This workaround doesn't, however, let EA and Maxis off the hook to provide a patch so this isn't necessary.


In spite of the severe installation issues and crashing problems, the game does play on my system now. I did manage to get it installed with a plain vanilla install. However, there are still crashing issues from time to time. So, save earily and save often... especially before you enter the creature editor.

Cell Stage

At this level, you are basically a small organism swimming in the primordial pool. You must eat your way up to becoming big enough to evolve into the Creature Stage. You are effectively a 2 dimensional creature at this point. Once you consume enough DNA, you are big enough to evolve. This is the stage where you decide if you want to be a carnivore, herbivore or omnivore. If you choose carnivore, note that the food gets progressively harder and harder to find except by killing other creatures.

You can obtain new parts for your creature by certain events. Increasing the parts you have gives you better speed, poisons (protection) and other means to better defend yourself.

This is a fairly short stage, but it sets a lot of groundwork for the rest of the game.

Creature Stage

You evolve from the 2D phase to becoming 3D and walking on land. This is the first time the game introduces you to the character creator. At this stage, you have a nest. You can make basic friendships with your neighbors or you can attack them for food. As you wander the level, you can pick up enhancements and then change the appearance of the species through the character creator. The quest is for sentience.

You'll note that at this point, all of the emphasis placed on obtaining power ups has really diminished by this level. So, everything that was setup on the Cell Stage is really not utilized much on this (or successive) levels. Meaning, you can add the power ups to your characters, but they really don't enhance the outcomes of battles much.

Tribal Stage

At this stage, you are now sentient and can band together to create a redimentary tribe. You can befriend or conquer neighboring tribes. You can domesticate pets. In this level, you are expected to turn your tribe into a village which leads to....

Civilization Stage

In this stage, you are basically playing at a much higher level. Instead of commanding individuals in the tribe, you are now commanding vehicles to do your work. You are building cities, creating homes, factories, entertainment and other things for your cities. You can go to war with other cities and take them over in various ways (militarily, religious propaganda, etc). Cities can be either religious, economic or military. Depending on the city you take over and how you take it over, the game may or may not give you the choice to change the type once you conquer it.

Space Stage

In the space stage, you have progressed to the point where you can venture into space with a space ship and operate space missions.

Creature and Object Creator

The creature and object creator lets you create objects for use in the Spore universe. You can build creatures, houses, spaceships and vehicles. So, when the game has you place houses in a city, for example, you can create your own or use another player's creation (if you're online). You can share your creations with the rest of and you can even set up a Sporecast to highlight your best creations.


The controls work fairly well. However, I did find the mouse to be unresponsive at times. For example, I select the entire military to do an action (attack an enemy vehicle) and they simply don't obey. I also found that as you progress through stages, the view of the world gets wider and wider. So, in the Creature Stage, you are at ground level. By Civilzation State, you're almost orbiting the planet from a high distance.

The mouse control to move the world is frustrating as you have to make sure to place the mouse precisely to get the world to move properly. The tiny map in the lower left corner of the screen is too tiny to be useable (no way to make it bigger). Many of the controls around the screen are too tiny as well. The tutorial mode is annoying and gets in the way, yet starts up when you start the game each time.

I also found that the zoom mode works reasonably well, but you can't always easily zoom on specific things you want. The control is not fine grained enough to accomodate this.

The controls do work, but not as precisely as I would have expected.


Most of the music is simply ambient and not all that appealing. The talking sounds are mostly Simspeak (gibberish). So, when you give commands to your fleet, they always acknowledge with non-sensical Simspeak.


While my graphics card isn't capable of running this game all on high at 1920x1080, I did try it briefly to see if it made a substantial difference. It does make a difference, but not enough for it to wow me. As you progress and the camera moves out, Maxis decided to use low-res texture maps for certain surfaces. So, even though you can zoom in, many of the texture maps don't hold up.

Note that the Creature and Object creator lets you assign texture maps to your creations. These texture maps look great in the editor itself. Unfortunately, once you're out of the editor, these texture maps no longer look that great in the preview area. Worse, when the objects are used in the game itself, many times they are so tiny that you can't even see all of the detail. Worse again, objects inherit the color assigned to your territories. So, even though you may have made your spaceship silver, it will have a bluish tint based on your territory color.

These issues make the game itself less than stellar graphically. I would have expected better from Maxis by this point, but it's just not quite all there.

Game Concept

If you've played any Maxis simulation games like Sim City, Sim Ant, Sim Farm and especially Sim Earth, you already have the concept of how Maxis games work. If you've played Sim Earth, then you've essentially played much of Spore. Spore, however, makes Sim Earth more 3D and adds the online creature sharing aspect (when it works).

EA and Maxis are clearly having growing pains with this game. The servers don't always want to work, so you can't always share properly. The game is still very buggy and the concept isn't terribly original. The graphics don't have a wow factor, the sound is also not great.

The best part of this game is the Creature Creator and sharing modes. I like that the game will use other user created creatures in your game, but this is really not enough for an online experience. If Spore had taken the extra step to turn this into a Second Life kind of simulation, Spore would have been something. Right now, it's really more of a novelty game and really not all that ingenious or original.

PC Games vs Console Games

The main problem I have with this game is its problems that people seem to be having across the board (Mac and PC). That said, for this exact reason. this is why I prefer console games. Consoles have a consistent interface and set of hardware. Once the game is working, it will work on all consoles. No installation troubles, few problems and patches can easily be addressed. PC games must work on multiple hardwares using multiple controllers, multiple operating systems (old and new), multiple PC vendors and multiple graphics card types. This is a challenge for any game developer, so some of these issues are expected. But, knowing this, EA and Maxis should have been ready for them and willing to make comments when the issues presented.

In other words, I would have preferred to see Spore on Xbox 360 or PS3 first to avoid all of the DRM, installation and PC related issues.


I like this game, but only to a degree. It doesn't have enough diversity to keep me playing for a long time, but I may play with the Creature Creator for far longer than the game itself. I actually find it more fun to build things than actually play the game. It's too bad these creations and objects aren't able to be used more effectively.

If you're looking for a real-time strategy game similar to the Civilization Stage, I would recommend Civilization Revolution or Civilization IV over Spore. Spore is fun to a point, but Maxis tried to pack too much into this title and ended up dumbing down too many aspects preventing it from becoming as intricate and detailed is it should have been. Basically, the Creature Creator could have been so much more. But, I find that by the time you reach Civilization stage (or later), your creatures are far less important overall and the game ends up more about your cities, buildings and ships. So, the creating new creatures is really only worthwhile up to the Tribal Stage of the game. After that, the creatures are so tiny on the screen (and as part of the game) that they become secondary.

  • Graphics: 8/10
  • Audio: 8/10
  • Gameplay: 6/10 (buggy/crashy, installer problematic, untested)
  • Bang-To-Buck: 5/10 (Not bad, but been played before)
  • Replay: 4/10 (replay until game is finished)
  • Overall: 6/10 (wait until the first patch release)