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 Amazon.com, 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 Spore.com 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)