Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Xbox 360 - Dragon Age Origins

Dragon Age Origins by EA Games / Bioware

I was hoping for great things from this RPG. Having seen Mass Effect and
Knights of the Old Republic, I was hoping for something similar in terms of play value. Well, unfortnately, Bioware doesn't fully deliver.

It almost seems as though Bioware felt the need to start over in this genre. While the party system and the questing system seems similar to Mass Effect, at the same time, it feels very much like a rewrite. I also don't remember so many fundamental problems with Mass Effect or KOTOR.


You play through this tale as any of the standard RPG classes: Warrior, Mage, Rogue (middle of the road), etc. You can choose from the standard races of the Tolkien-type era: Human, Elf, Dwarf, etc. I say 'etc' because I'll leave part of the game unspoiled in case you want to play through yourself.


The game play style is similar to Mass Effect in that you roam levels, find things and reveal a story in the process. So, the controller layout is similar and there's nothing overly complex about it. So, that's at least a good thing.

Fundamental problems

Where this game falls down at gameplay is the incessant dialog. The dialog is not just never ending, it's downright annoying. Seems about every place you end up important in the game, you end up having dialog that goes on and on and on and on. Yes, you can make choices in the dialog, but please. This is overkill. This is fundamental mistake number 1 from Bioware: too much dialog. At first, I found myself walking through the dialog carefully. After the twentieth time of it, I find myself skipping most of it (X key).

With this game, save early and save often. Especially if you think something is about to happen (like more incessant dialog). This way, you can go back to a previous save and see the various outcomes of various dialog choices. Saving early prevents your entire party's death.

Health issues

The second fundamental problem is that, unlike Oblivion, the enemy is whatever level that they are. So, that means that if you're level 6, you might end up fighting a level 20 enemy. Oblivion would level up the enemies around you close to your level, but yet still a challenge. With Dragon Age, I find my character is far far weaker than the characters in my party and even the enemies. On top of the characters being far weaker than they should, the game is predisposed to throw massive amounts of enemies at you at once. So, your party of 4 may encounter 20-30 creatures at once. You do have the ability to heal and the ability to drink potions. So,while a mage character can heal party members remotely, you must take control of each character separately to drink potions (tedious and time consuming).

Inventory system

The final fundamental problem is that Bioware failed to provide an adequate inventory system. First, the inventory bag is too small. So, after you pick up a certain amount of items (not very many I might add), you're out of space. So, I find myself constantly destroying items to pick up others. Selling items to traders is few and far between. Second, there is no rhyme or reason to size or weight of items. So, for example, you might have to destroy many items just to allow another item to be picked up (like a scroll). It's very random with regards to this issue. I find myself having to go through and delete items throughout the inventory just to find the proper item type or size to allow me to pick up something new.

On top of this problem, there's the lack of randomness of items around the levels. So, when you find an item, nearly every chest or container has the same item (and lots of it). So, you end up picking up 20 of a thing. Worse, when you go into the inventory to destroy an item (or 20 of them). You put them in the trash all or nothing. You can't choose to move only 10 of them. If there are 20, you must move all 20 to the trash and you must destroy all 20. Stupid.


The map is limited and problematic to navigate. There is no fast travel to speak of other than from the main map which only allows travel when you reach a 'World Map' portal. You can open the world map at any time, but you can only travel using this map when you are at a 'World Map' portal.


For as long as it has taken to get this game to market, the graphics feel far too low res. In fact, most of the texture maps (landscape, trees, plants) are poor quality and far too low resolution. I was definitely expecting more out of this title considering the quality of Mass Effect. Unfortunately, it didn't appear here.


Because of the fundamental problems that Bioware did not resolve before bringing this game to market, it makes the game tedious and not very much fun to play. The overly long dialog sequences make the game grindingly tedious. I find the story uninspired and not engaging. As well, the story feels unfinished and the game feels rushed even though I know it took Bioware plenty of time to get it to market. Because of these fundamental problems in design, this game is nowhere near a 10. In fact, Mass Effect's story far exceeds the quality of this story.


This game could have been something special. Unfortunately, Bioware managed to botch the title and make it average. The game unfolds far too slowly, the dialog is incessant, the characters are far too weak, and the fighting portions are overly uninvolved. That's not to say I don't recommend playing this RPG, just don't put it at the top of your list. Instead, for RPGs, save the top for Oblivion, Fallout 3 and even Mass Effect and follow up with some great shooters like Bioshock and the Halo series. Or, pick up some new titles like Assassin's Creed II or Halo 3 ODST. For more adult themes, there is great play value with Grand Theft Auto, Saint's Row (1 or 2) and even Call of Duty. If you have played all of the other major RPGs, only then would I suggest playing this game. Alternatively, you might want to save the money and wait for Mass Effect 2 in 2010.

  • Sound: 8/10
  • Graphics: 6/10
  • Gameplay: 6/10 (too many fundamental problems)
  • Story: 7.5/10
  • Bugginess: N/A
  • Controls: 9/10
  • Bang-to-buck: 3/10
  • Play Value: $15 (rent first, then buy)
  • Overall: 6.5/10

Monday, October 26, 2009

Xbox 360 - Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 by Activision

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is the sequel to Ultimate Alliance. In this game, you get to play as most of the major Marvel characters including Spiderman, Deadpool, Capt. Fantastic, Invisible Girl, Human Torch, The Thing, Iceman, Wolverine, Ironman, Captain America and several others.


In this game, the mutants are being forced to register themselves and their real identity with the government. Captain America takes offense to this act and goes rebel to keep the freedom. Others side with the government. From this division comes an enemy who takes control over many of the superheroes with nano technology and forces them to try to kill both humans and mutants. As the alliance, you must stop this from happening and clean it all up.


This game is pretty much the same as the first one with the exception that you could change out characters even when they were knocked out in the first game. In this version, that was taken out of the game which leaves your team weakened when one of your heroes is knocked out. Although, you can revive them if you get the right pickup.


The controls are easy and reasonably simple. It is a combo based game, though, so be prepared to press lots of buttons to get the right power out of the individual hero.


I liked the game about as much as the first game. I was hoping for more in this one, but didn't really get very much in that department. The story was reasonably engaging. Moreso than the first game, I'd say. Overall, I liked the game, but it would be preferable to rent it over buying it. It's not a keeper and it doesn't warrant a second play through.

  • Sound: 8/10
  • Graphics: 8/10
  • Gameplay: 8/10
  • Story: 9/10
  • Bugginess: N/A
  • Controls: 9/10
  • Bang-to-buck: 3/10
  • Play Value: $15 (rent or buy)
  • Overall: 8.5/10

PS3 - Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves by Sony / NaughtyDog

Style: Third Person Shooter

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is the sequel to Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. This game is similar to Lara Croft's Tomb Raiders series of games in story, but gameplay is a third person free roaming shooter. You are an Indiana Jones kind of character seeking fortune through antiquities.


The game is similar to Drake's Fortune, but they've done away with the timed button press maneuvering system (at least so far). Otherwise, the system is pretty much standard for a shooter. You can move through the various weapons you carry. It is a free form questing kind of system, so you can roam the levels looking for Easter Eggs. Unfortunately, there really aren't enough Easter Eggs to make wandering the levels terribly productive. So, you find yourself not really looking very hard after a while.


The story is that you are seeking a treasure that could lead you to Shangri La / Shambala. So, that's where you are heading. Along the way you run into various people who help or hinder you in that process. Ultimately, everyone needs you because of your knowledge. So, you end up tagging along with everyone even if they don't want you there.


The game is reasonably long, so the Bang-to-Buck is reasonably high here. Unfortunately, I don't find this game as enthralling as the original game. The character models also don't look as good as I remember from Drake's Fortune. So, it looks like they may have cut some corners to get this one out the door.

The game is reasonably well done, but it's definitely not a must-have game. If you want to play it, buy it. But, I felt that the first Uncharted was better than this one because it was new. This one didn't really improve on Uncharted in any substantial way, so it feels like more of the same.

  • Sound: 8/10 (better than average)
  • Graphics: 8/10 (characters could have been better)
  • Gameplay: 8/10 (same as Drake's fortune)
  • Story: 8/10 (good, but not perfect)
  • Bugginess: N/A
  • Controls: 9/10
  • Bang-to-buck: 6/10 (reasonably long play value)
  • Play Value: $15 (rent or buy, probably not a keeper)
  • Overall: 8/10 (I expected more from this sequel)

Xbox 360 - Clone Wars Republic Heroes

Clone Wars - Republic Heroes by LucasArts

Family Friendly: Yes

LucasArts games are hit-and-miss lately. Republic Heroes is a miss. It fails to understand what Star Wars is about. I understand they were trying to make this game feel like the new 3D comic, but it fails to accomplish this well enough.


This is basically a level based game like Super Mario Sunshine or Sonic 3D. It has a stylistic comic look. It attempts to look like the new Star Wars Clone Wars comics. While it mostly succeeds with this, the gameplay mostly fails.

You play as Anakin with his padawan. The padawan follows you around. You crawl the levels with the light saber killing lots of droids over and over. It becomes pretty repetitive relatively quickly. Like Sonic's Rings or Mario's coins, Anakin has blue orbs to pick up. So, as you run around the levels, this what you will need to pick up throughout.

Later on, you get to switch up and play as a Clone trooper for some unknown reason. The gameplay is identical to playing with Anakin, so there's nothing special here.


You can get a lot of achievements fairly rapidly with this one. So, if you're looking for easy achievements, this game has them.


The game is intended for a young audience who's attention span is reasonably short. I found the game extremely repetitive and underwhelming. The story was mostly not there and the graphics were simply mediocre. There's not much depth to this game, so it's mostly about getting the blue orbs.

  • Sound: 7/10 (better than average)
  • Graphics: 6/10 (could be much better)
  • Gameplay: 5/10 (far too linear, no depth)
  • Story: 5/10 (fair)
  • Bugginess: N/A
  • Controls: 9/10 (best part of the game)
  • Bang-to-buck: 1/10 (expensive, not enough to do)
  • Play Value: $5 (rent it)
  • Overall: 5/10 (could have been much better)

Xbox 360 - Borderlands

Borderlands by 2K games / Gearbox

Borderlands tries to be a semi-comic based roll playing / questing game. It uses an outline 3D model that makes the game look like a cartoon. Combing this with a cartoon image map on the models, it feels like a comic. Unfortunately, while it feels like a comic, I don't like this graphic style as it always feels cheap and unfinished. If they're going to work in a 3D world, then just do the 3D like 3D. Halo 3 is one game that uses a full 3D approach, but still takes a stylistic approach to the 3D models that keeps it from appearing 'realistic'.


You get to pick from four different characters to play. Each of the four characters has their own abilities. I won't spoil that here in case you want to play, but you'll get to see the characters and their abilities within five minutes of beginning the game.

The weapon button system is a bit confusing. So, it will take me a little bit of time to get used to where they are. The movement system is reasonably standard, though. So, getting around the environment is easy. The enemies in the game are all over the place, so you'll have to constantly deal with killing them.

Questing system

In order to level up, you will need to complete quests for various people. As you complete the quests, you get paid back with experience points. The trouble with this game, though, is that I don't see any real benefit to the experience points. I probably haven't played enough through the entire game yet to know if they matter, but it should really be apparent within the first few quests of playing.


There is a map, but it's not that helpful (doesn't show enemies). So, you're pretty much on your own when you need to locate things.


As I said above, the weapon controls are a bit confusing so I have to reprogram myself into this game. I prefer games that choose to mimic a popular game's button system rather than creating their own. When they choose to create their own system, it takes time for the gamer to learn the system.


The game is reasonably well done. But, the quests are silly and the game itself doesn't seem to take itself seriously enough either. So, it all seems very tongue-in-cheek. While that can work, I'd prefer they didn't do this here. Questing / Roleplaying games usually suffer from tongue-in-cheek storytelling and this game is no exception.

This game is not a Fallout 3 or Oblivion by any stretch. For a role playing and questing game, it's a good first attempt. However, it needs a lot more work to get near the caliber of Fallout 3 or Oblivion. I'm hoping that 2k / Gearbox can figure this out for a sequel (assuming it does well enough for that).

  • Sound: 6/10 (better than average)
  • Graphics: 7/10 (low res)
  • Gameplay: 7.5/10 (it's hard to like a rail shooter)
  • Story: 6/10 (not engaging enough)
  • Bugginess: N/A
  • Controls: 6.5/10 (learning curve)
  • Bang-to-buck: 1/10 (not worth replaying)
  • Play Value: $10 (rent it)
  • Overall: 6/10 (doesn't grow on you)

Xbox 360 - Halo 3 ODST

Halo 3 ODST by Bungie / Microsoft

ODST stands for Orbital Drop Shock Troops (or Troopers). These troops were part of the elite guard just behind the Spartans (Master Chief from Halo 3). The ODST are deployed in other parts of the fight separately from the Spartans. Spartans are deployed to work on mission critical operations (usually alone).

Therefore, Halo 3 ODST is a side-by-side sequel to Halo 3. This means that what's going on in ODST happens at the same time as the stories from Master Chief in Halo 3.

Campaign Story

Your character is deployed as an ODST. As you progress through the game, you will play as several different characters in the game. As an ODST, your armor is not nearly as strong as a Spartan. But, it's reasonably strong and recovers fast from gun fire.

The story is told after-the-fact with your character finding artifacts that trigger flashbacks. As the flashbacks occur, you get to play as other ODST from their perspective of what happened. After the flashback is over, you're back in the present holding the object you examined that triggered the flashback.

While this storytelling technique is good for cinema (because of the fast pacing), inside a video game this storytelling technique gets jumbled and is a bit disconcerting. The pace the game plays also leads to issues with these flashbacks. Personally, if I had been designing this game I would have done it as a straight forward first person shooter without all the cinematic gimmickry. Needless to say, once you understand the perspective and the flashback system, you get used to it and understand what it is and where the story is going.


The game plays pretty much identically to Halo 3 with the exception that your ODST armor is far weaker than a Spartan. To make up for this, there are a reasonably generous supply of Optican health pickups on most levels. You can also regenerate your armor by ducking behind something. Although, I remember hearing long before release that there wouldn't be any shields at all, but I guess Bungie changed that idea or the rumor was incorrect. As for controls, if you're familiar with Halo 3, you'll fall right into ODST's controls.

Audio / Music

The music is serene and calming. The designers choose to use orchestral and synth mixes that are light, simple and dramatic. A lot of games like to throw heavy metal at you in charged scenes, the Halo 3 franchise has never done this.. including ODST. I wouldn't say that music is cinematic, but it works for the environments.

Packaging / Extras

The game ships with two disks. Unlike Halo 3 which contained both the multiplayer and the campaign game on one disk, Halo 3 ODST has split this up into two disks. The first disk is campaign mode. The second disk is multiplayer mode. The first disk also contains the 'firefight' mode which is effectively your character against AI monsters in a multi-player type level. You get points for each enemy you kill and you have a limited number of lives in which to do this. So, this gaming mode is primarily for high score points.


I am not a big fan of multiplayer level portions of most games. ODST is no exception. So, I rarely get into this part of the game. Mostly the reason I avoid this is that I don't enjoy being constantly shot by some kid who feels the need to target one person over and over. While I understand the reasoning behind putting this game portion onto the second disk, I don't generally play or review these sections as they get boring really fast. Mostly the reason I don't review them is that they are pretty much all the same. Pick a level and then play one of several games: Capture the Flag, Bomb the Base or free-for-all kill fest (death match). Once you've played these types of levels, you've pretty much played them all. So, it's very difficult to review this in an objective way multiple times. Suffice it to say that if you enjoy this part of the game, it's here.


The game progresses in the present with your character wandering through a mostly deserted area looking for anything important and trying to get out of there. As flashbacks, you are an ODST who just dropped. So, the game plays off of the early part of the drop against the last part of the drop.

I found the game reasonably easy. Easier than I expected and easier than Halo 3. It is reasonably well done, but I think it felt a little too familiar and safe. I wish that Bungie had done something more daring with this game to give it something unique.

Overall, I was disappointed with the end result of the campaign level, However, it was close to as much fun as Halo 3. Although, there doesn't appear to be any skulls to be found in Campaign mode (at least not on the Normal hardness). I was hoping for a more unique experience. That didn't pan out. I also felt the levels seemed a bit too small overall. I liked the more expansive qualities of Halo 3's levels.

  • Sound: 9/10 (better than average)
  • Graphics: 8.5/10 (good, but a bit too much bloom)
  • Gameplay: 9/10 (like Halo 3)
  • Story: 7/10 (original, but not perfect)
  • Bugginess: N/A
  • Controls: 9/10 (average for the Wii)
  • Bang-to-buck: 7/10
  • Play Value: $35 (rent it or buy it used)
  • Overall: 8/10

Wii - Dead Space Extraction

Dead Space Extraction by EA games

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

Style: First Person Rail Shooter

This one will be short and sweet. EA has converted the Dead Space Shooter on the Xbox 360 from a first person shooter to a rail shooter. That conversion doesn't help this game at all. Frankly, I don't like rail shooters to begin with (other than certain arcade style games). When it comes to a first person (or even third person) Doom style game, I prefer free roaming to constrained gaming... hands down. For this game to become constrained to a rail shooter fails this game miserably. It would have worked far better as a straight TPS or FPS game.


The game is basically the same game as Dead Space on the 360. However, now that it's a rail shooter, they have added more people who tag along with you. Unfortunately, the tag-alongs don't help you at all. Once the shooting begins, your 'helpers' disappear and do nothing to help you. Thankfully, EA didn't require you to protect them while shooting the enemy. Thank goodness for small favors. But, even as small a favor as that is, this game fails on so many other levels.


This is the first failure. This game harkens back to 320x240 shooter days. Most of this is because of the Wii's limited 3D abilities. But, it doesn't do this game any favors. The levels look ok, but the people look horrible. This is only made up for in the motion capture which works reasonably well.


Fair, but nothing to write home about. Average for today's games.


This game lacks in being original because it steals so much from Dead Space. If they had made this a follow-up or a new story with new sets, I'd have been more impressed. Unfortunately, they've stolen most of the level environments directly from Dead Space and inserted them into this game and that doesn't make this game original at all.

Worse, they even steal much of Dead Space's story and pacing and put it in Extraction making this game even more unoriginal.

Checkpoint saves

The game uses the end of each level as a checkpoint. So, you have to work through the entire level before it actually saves your play position if you want to turn off the game and start up later. However, whenever the player character dies, the game starts back up at the current play position. Thanks again for small favors.


This game is, as I've said, unoriginal. Because it's a rail shooter, you have no control over where the character looks or goes (except at random limited points in the game). When you do have the ability to look around, you only have a few seconds (frustrating). Most times when they give you the ability to look around, there's nothing to look around to find (wasted opportunity). You can also occasionally choose a direction to go, but that's also wasted.

This game isn't the worst game I've played, but it is definitely mediocre at best. If you are desperate to play something, then this might suffice. However, I'd suggest renting the game first. Say no to rail shooters and don't buy this. If you must play it, rent it.

  • Sound: 8/10 (better than average)
  • Graphics: 5/10 (low res)
  • Gameplay: 5/10 (it's hard to like a rail shooter)
  • Story: 5/10 (unoriginal)
  • Bugginess: N/A
  • Controls: 7/10 (average for the Wii)
  • Bang-to-buck: 2/10 (expensive for what it is)
  • Play Value: $10 (rent it)
  • Overall: 5/10 (say no to rail shooters)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Xbox 360 - Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters by Atari

I had been waiting for this game for over a year. When it got postponed last year, I was disappointed. It almost seemed like it wasn't going to be released. However, it has since been released (in June 2009) and upon release I high hopes for this game, but alas the balloon has burst.


I was hoping for a brand new story with brand new things. Instead,
Ghostbusters gives a rehash of everything that's been done in the films already. Basically, the game takes off with the lore set up in the films and tries to expand on that. Specifically, the Gozer mythos. I was hoping to get away from this, but I guess it fits with what they are trying to do.

Unfortunately, there is a severe disconnect between the story and the gameplay. So, what you're doing in the game seems distant to the story line. Basically, you play as a new recruit to the Ghostbusters team. So, in addition to Egon, Ray, Peter, Winston and Janine, you are now a new young recruit to the team.

Because you are new (and in the game's driver's seat), you are expected to do everything. All the while, the team gives you praise after you finish off a ghost.


You carry a backpack and traps. You have to trap ghosts that appear. In much of the beginning of the game, you do this. Later on in the game, there's far less ghost trapping. In fact, there are some things that appear to be ghosts, but the game won't let you trap them. So, you just have to eliminate them with your protonic stream.

Each level is prefaced by a cinematic that leads you into the gameplay. Unfortunately, the cinematic is disconnected from the gameplay. So, while it's kind of cool to watch, they get boring really fast when you just want to get to playing. In many cases, I found myself often skipping them just to get the level going.

Note that the cinematics are rendered and not actual footage. So, they are sometimes tedious to watch.


The controls are reasonably intuitive. There's nothing overly strange about the way your character handles. The one thing that is annoying is that there is no health gauge to speak of. So, you really don't know when your character is about to die. The other annoying thing is that the proton pack overheats and you have to release the heat before you can use it again.


There are upgrades in the game, but they are mostly useless.


The bosses in this game are reasonably easy to defeat. The exception to this are the flying cherubs. These things are actually the hardest enemy to deal with. Because the pack is so imprecise, you can't easly target these flying cherubs. And, even when you do, another one swoops in and knocks you down. There is no defense against these things. Even on the easiest level of this game, these cherubs are difficult to defeat. Even the final boss wasnt nearly as hard as the flying cherubs.

Perfect Aim

This is another in the ever growing numbers of shooters where you have sucky aim and every enemy has perfect aim even when they are but one pixel in size. Game designers MUST stop doing this in games. They must give some level of random probability of miss to enemies.


The game is way way too short. The hardness levels go up exponentially. Unless you really like your frustration level high, don't play this game on anything other than easy. The story is far too familiar and not enough different from the first film to really say this has a great story. The gameplay is medicre for a shooter and, at times, tedious. The proton stream weapon is cool, but you don't really get to use it enough in the way it should be used.

  • Sound: 8/10 (average)
  • Graphics: 9.5/10 (looks great at times)
  • Gameplay: 5/10 (fair, but hard a times)
  • Story: 5/10 (too much the same as the films)
  • Bugginess: N/A
  • Controls: 9/10 (well done)
  • Bang-to-buck: 1/10 (too short, no replay value)
  • Play Value: $10 (rent it)
  • Overall: 5/10 (needed a lot more work)

Xbox 360 - Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Harry Potter (and the Half-Blood Prince) by Warner/EA

Preface this by saying I've liked most of the Harry
Potter games. I specifically liked Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix game. Order of the Phoenix took advantage of some things that HBP doesn't. Let's explore Half-Blood Prince.


The game's story pretty much follows the book, but does leave out a lot of elements. For a movie game, the games have always been light on the story side. Even lighter than the movie, unfortunately. So, this basically leaves the game elements to pick up for what the story lacks. The game does put in most of the major story points, but leaves out a lot of nuances that makes Harry Potter stories intriguing. This is unfortunate because a game has a lot more time to give the player to explore Hogwarts, Harry and his friends. But, in every HP game, they've always ignored what can be done with the length of a video game... and Half-Blood Prince is no exception.


You play as Harry most of the game. You do change to play as other characters twice in the game... first Ron, then Ginny.


Quidditch is a big part of this game, but unfortunately it fails completely in gameplay. The Quidditch sections force you to practice each time before a 'real' game and you cannot skip the practice. The practice course has nothing in common with the 'real' course when you play the game. Worse, your sole goal is to chase the snitch by flying through star shaped rings. You can't fly faster or slower, you simply have to follow the course laid out for you. You have a limited amount of time to get through all of the rings and if you miss enough rings, you run out of time as flying through the rings extends the time. There is no timer on the screen, only the color the rings guides you. Green, you're ok, red you're running out of time. Of all of the sections of Half-Blood Prince, the Quidditch is the most annoying as you can't skip it.


Unlike Order of the Phoenix, this game has no quests to speak of. There
are a few side quests, but not near the quality of what was in OOTP. This game basically removed most of the side elements that made OOTP fun. So, there's no Wizard Chess, no Gobstones and none of the other little things that made OOTP a better game then HBP. This game is fairly light on anything but the main storyline. So, pretty much everything leads you back to the main story. The exception to this is dueling and potion making.


The passageways remain from OOTP, but there are fewer and you get the passwords to them far easier than OOTP. In fact, most times you just happen upon them by some character telling you the password after you've completed some part of the game.

Crests and mini-crests

The game offers both Crests (large medalions) and mini-crests. Most other games offered collecting jelly beans to give you things. In HBP, the jelly beans were replaced with mini-crests. Certain things like lights, bushes and suits of armor can be touched to give you mini-crests. Once you collect enough mini-crests, you will be awarded a full crest. There are 150 full crests in the game.


Because HBP is mostly about the HBP's potion manual, this game focuses on potion making as a big part of the mini-games. You do potion making through the potions club. So, you are tasked with making various potions. The most annoying part of this is that the potions have a timer so that you must complete the potion in a specific amount of time. The problem with the timer, for example, is that this doesn't follow with Rowling's canon. For example, Polyjuice potion supposedly takes a month to brew. Yet you have only a few seconds to make it in the potions club. In fact, I don't even see why there is a timer on potion making. It should take as long as it takes. I understand the gaming aspect to adding a timer, it's just not realistic with the actual canon of Harry Potter.


The second mini-game aspect to HBP is dueling. This was present, somewhat, in OOTP, but it becomes a mini-game in Half-Blood Prince. In dueling, you have to try to get the most points by using the most unique spells. The problem is, it's far too easy once you know the trick. Basically, if you stand a few inches away from the other person, you can hit them with any spell every time. Expelliarmus knocks down the opponent and then you can hammer them with smaller spells to whittle down their health. This works in any duel (whether in the dueling club or outside it).


Considering the release date extension from November 2008 to July 2009 for the film release, this game is not nearly as good Order of the Phoenix and is overly short. The questing system is incomplete. The lack of quests is annoying and the linear nature of the game basically forces you to stay on track. Quidditch should have been fun, but was completely botched. Overall, as a family game for kids, they might like it. For adults, this one is much weaker than the previous games... but at the same time, it's also much much easier than OOTP. I liked some of the challenges in OOTP because they were challenging. Especially the chess. Unfortunately, that was taken away in this game and what's left is far too easy.

  • Sound: 7.5/10 (reasonable, but could have been better)
  • Graphics: 7.5/10 (textures are done well enough)
  • Gameplay: 6/10 (too linear, too easy)
  • Story: 5/10 (not enough detail)
  • Bugginess: N/A
  • Controls: 9/10 (same controls as OOTP)
  • Bang-to-buck: 2/10 (too short, too linear)
  • Play Value: $7 (rent it)
  • Overall: 5/10 (needs a lot more work)

Xbox 360 - Prototype

Prototype by Activision

I get a lot of people asking me about Prototype and if it's a good game.
As this is a no-holds-barred review site, suffice it to say that this game is an almost exact rip-off of Spiderman: Web of Shadows right down to the story. The only thing that's substantially different from Spiderman is the character and his abilities. His abilities lead to only minor differences in play between Spiderman and Prototype.


As I stated, Prototype rips off Spiderman: Web of Shadows near completely. From the pods on the side of the buildings that you have to defeat, to the city-wide infection, to the people on the street trying to attack you. Everything is nearly identical.


Instead of webs to hurl you through the air, in Prototype your character can run up the sides of buildings (although, even Spiderman could do this). You can then jump off and glide between buildings.

They've added a few new things to this game that Spiderman didn't have (i.e. consuming your enemy and disguises), but that's really not enough to warrant calling this a brand new game.


The controls on this game are fair. They work about as well as Spiderman, but not always.


I understand the need to recoup monies from the investment in game development. But to take an existing game, give it a slight facelift, new graphics and slight story changes is not enough to warrant this game as new. This game is really not worth the money considering its revamped ties to Spiderman: Web of Shadows.

Ultimately, I would lump this in as a sequel to Spiderman even though it's not of the Spiderman genre. The game and story is just too close to Spiderman for comfort.

Spiderman was a better game only because of the Spiderman lore. Prototype, on the other hand, isn't nearly as good primarily because you have to ask who is this guy and why should I care?

  • Sound: 7/10
  • Graphics: 8/10 (reasonable)
  • Bugginess: N/A
  • Controls: 7/10 (control works well enough, but could be better)
  • Bang-To-Buck: 1/10 (played it already)
  • Play Value: $5
  • Overall: 4/10 (unoriginal)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

PC - Sims 3

Sims 3 by EA Games

I recently purchased Sims 3 and here is the Gamezelot take on this game. It is definitely not an improvement over the Sims 2. There are still far too many quirky problems that have yet to be resolved in this game from Sims 2. The one major thing they improved is the loading times when moving around the map. But, that's really as far as the improvements go. The game and pacing are cloned from Sims 2.

Yes, it is a human simulator. No, it is not perfect. Let's hop back in time to 'Little Computer People'. This was actually the first (and arguably) the best human simulator that's been devised for the computer. You took care of a single household with its occupants and pets. You had to feed the dog and you had to manage the people in the game. You could play games with them and interact (or not). Fast forward to the Sims (as a copy of Little Computer People). Now, that's not to say that the Sims is a bad simulator, it's just a bit too quirky. And, you'd think by the third time around that EA could have finally fixed all of the major problems with this game. Alas, they haven't.


If you haven't played The Sims, here's the rundown. It's a game where you can build houses and have these houses become occupied by computer controlled people. In the first game, there was little you could do with your 'Sim' (short for your player). They did whatever they did and they had mostly bland personalities. By the Sims 2, the focus was taken away from the building and placed onto the people. So, EA tried to give the people personalities, but that it was only somewhat successful. The problems with the Sims 2 were numerous... from your constantly having to run to the bathroom to pee, to constant things breaking (the toilet, TV, computer, etc) to fires and burglary. Each day it was always something different, but there was always something. So, your sim ended up spending far too much time cleaning up messes that the game simulator made for you and not socializing or going places.

Enter Sims 3 and, unfortunately, you are still cleaning up far too many simulator created messes. Basically, it's one household disaster after another. The person builder is great, but that's really where the game fun mostly stops. Once you get into the game, the game is overly verbose with tutorials even though you can turn this off from the options menu. That's fine if you've never played a Sims before. It's completely annoying when you already know what to do.

As you progress, you begin running into many of the same problems that plagued The Sims 2. You also quickly realize that very little has been added in the way of substantial new features. At least, that's what I thought that a new game was supposed to be. The things that remained are still annoying. For example, while your character does not need to go to the bathroom as often, other things have now taken the place of that stupid and quirky issue. The main problem is that there is not enough time in 'Live Mode'. For example, in order to get money to buy things, your sim needs a job. Once your sim lands that job, the job kills most of the day so your sim can't do hardly anything but work. Once your sim is off of work, your sim is so tired he/she can't even go grocery shopping. You have to send them straight home to nap or play video games. Even then, the energy runs out very rapidly.

Passage of time is also too fast in 'live mode' and too slow in 'turbo mode'. So, for example, your sim needs to wake up at 6am for his job at 7am. Here's the perfect example with 'Live Mode' time. Your sim usually needs to take a shower, use the toilet and eat breakfast (and possibly even do more than this). Unfortunately, you can't do that many things in a 1 sim hour. It's just not possible. This issue plagued Sims 2 and I was expecting it to have been resolved in Sims 3. In real life, it would certainly be possible to complete all three of these things. But, in The Sims 3, it doesn't work. So, you end up having to cut the sleep time (yes, your sim has to sleep to regain energy) in order to get more stuff done. The problem with that is that by cutting sleep short, your sim doesn't get 'well rested'. Your sim runs out of energy very rapidly during the day. So, there are all of these stupid quirky things. Basically, in order to solve one problem, you create others.

Worse, in preparation for work, your sim usually ends up breaking something like the toilet, shower or sink. Or, in preparing food for breakfast, the surfaces get grimy or dirty dishes pile up. In this game, perfect cleanliness is a must or the 'mood meter' takes a firm nosedive. At least in the Sims 2, you could choose if your character was a clean freak or not. In the Sims 3, your character is now always a clean freak. He complains when he stinks, when others stink or when dirty dishes stink. When a sim complains, that reduces 15-30 mood points.

Mood Meter

The mood meter is the barometer by which your sim is happy or unhappy. When green, the sim is perfectly happy. When red, the sim needs something (food, sleep, etc). Your sim doesn't stay happy for very long, so expect to have him/her constantly do something to please them. The sims will do for themselves, but usually not that well.


After a period of time, your sim will 'Grow Up'. This is a complete disaster of a feature. I don't necessarily WANT my sim to grow up, or at least as fast as it does. But, you don't know how long you need for your sim until you've actually played the game. Suffice it to say, the default settings for a sim to age is not nearly long enough to complete sim goals. For example, I started my sim as an Adult. Within just a few hours of play, my sim had a birthday and turned into an elderly old man. It's like HUH? Why didn't I get a say in this matter? The game should ask you if you want to your sim to age instead of just outright doing it.

And why to an elderly old man? Where are the other stages between adult and elderly? So now, the game I've just spent several hours playing is pointless. I don't want to continue to play this game as some crotchety old geezer. That's not what I expected or intended for my character. It also negates the point of the game. The game changes your sim from a healthy robust adult around 45-48 years old to a 70 year old geezer. With the growing up feature enabled, you need to start your sim on at least young adult for maximum play time. Otherwise, you need to extend your sims lifespan (or turn off aging).

Life Stages / Aging

Further, the aging system is not well designed. You have baby, toddler, child, teen, young adult, adult and elederly. Between the first six stages, there's an age progression of 5-15 years. Between adult and elderly, you're talking about a 30 year jump to 'retirement age'. EA should have added at least 2 more stages between Adult and Elderly. This is part of the reason EA is failing as a game company. They cut so many corners to produce games, this is what you get.

The Urbz / no story mode

Let's jump back in time again for comparisons. Here is another Sims title where EA decided to take the Sims in a new direction. Instead of the free form gameplay of Sims 2, the Urbz created small stories and completion goals. It was linear progression in that you had to get your sim to do very specific things in order to progress in the game. Comparing this to the Sims 3, there is none of that. I was full well expecting at least some story progression system to have been added. So, as you complete small stories, the rest of the game (city) becomes unlocked so you can move forward. For me, this would have been an improvement over the Sims 2. Yet, it didn't happen.

Sim Needs

The Sims 3 requires you to constantly baby your sim. Like, for example, the sim simply won't pay any bills on his own. You have to make him do it. Sure, you can press buttons in the interface to do this, but the sim should simply do this task on his own without your help. If the bills don't get paid, people come and repo the purchased possessions. Again, I'm like HUH? I paid for the things outright. How is it that I need to any pay bills? This is a pointless stupid activity and just wastes time (and money) for the sim.

Because of the constant hands on to keep the sim in line, you can't really spend much time socializing as there's always something getting in the way (phone ringing, potty break, hungry, needs to have fun, etc). If you want to go any place, expect that that's the only place you be able to visit in a single day.

New Game Design and Sequels

I'm not sure why people tend to feel satisfied with clones of previous games. Sure, there's something to be said for releasing a game that's very similar to a previous title. After all, you want lightning to strike twice as a developer. At the same time, you want to provide the gamer with a unique and different experience from the previous title on which s sequel is based. You don't want them walking away feeling that they were duped into buying a slightly upgraded sequel. Well, unfortunately, that's exactly what Sims 3 is. Everything that's in the Sims 3 could have been added to the Sims 2 as upgrades and expansion packs. The Sims 3 is not a new game more than an expansion of the Sims 2. When you design a sequel, you want to retain many of the better elements from the sequel, but you also want to add new features that make the gameplay unique and new over its older cousin. EA's developers failed at producing a game system that was uniquely different from the Sims 2 in the Sims 3. So, $50 for this title is not really justified. An upgrade or expansion pack to the Sims 2 would have cost far less than the outright purchase of this title. EA is now effectively grasping at straws trying to keep this franchise alive. And this is part of the reason that EA is known for making mediocre titles. Unlike developers like Bethesda, Rockstar, Bungie, Ubisoft and Bioware, EA just doesn't go the extra mile to produce the perfect game.


Here is the sorest point of this entire game (excluding Birthdays which is really just bad design). Unless you strike up a relationship with someone first thing out (so you end up with two sims to play with), during the work day there is absolutely nothing to do but wait. Literally. You can't even build on your home because time progression stops while you do this. Instead, you have to sit through an arduously long work day waiting on the sim instead of actually playing the game. In real minutes, that's about 10-15 minutes of real dead game time per sim work day. You actually do nothing during this period of time inside of the game. You might as well go do something in Real Life during that period (like check email, surf the web or make a sandwich).

This, in game design terms, is a complete and utter disaster. You NEVER want your game to come to a complete standstill forcing the gamer to do absolutely nothing. Worse, when your sim is it work, you can't even see the sim. You get to watch the sim's icon parked inside of a building. You can't watch the sim work, you only hear sounds while he/she does it. Again, one more failure from EA. If this game had been complete, they would have added the ability to actually control your sim while at work and make him walk around and do things. Instead, you're limited to a drop down menu that lets you change how hard your sim works. Even that is somewhat pointless. A fully in depth game (which is expected from a new version) would have allowed you to control your sim's behavior 100% of the time both at home and at work. Again, this is EA cutting corners.

EA's missed opportunities

I could probably write a book on all of the poor design choices in the Sims 3. Suffice it to say that what is covered in this review only scratches the surface of the issues. If you choose to wade through the myriad of issues, be warned that there is more than what I'm discussing here (including mediocre graphics). However, if you like the minutiae of making your sim do every little thing and the dead time waiting for your sim at work (and about 10 minutes real time waiting), waiting even longer watching them sleep or spending most of the home time cleaning and fixing, then you might like the Sims 3. I was hoping that EA would have taken this minutiae out of Sims 3 to replace it with something more story based like the Urbz, but it didn't happen.


What multiplayer? Exactly. In this day and age with services like Xbox Live and PS3's online gaming, where is the multiplayer in Sims 3? Again, EA completely botched this. There is no multiplayer mode at all in Sims 3. Adding that feature would have been a huge enhancement. In fact, it would have been awesome to share sims back and forth between online players. Perhaps in Sims 4, EA can finally get all of this right.


I would have preferred far less minutiae and for more things like socializing, sim control 100% of the time, story goals (like the Urbz) and working on relationships and life goals. Having to spend time sending your sim to the office every day is useless and a waste of time (especially because you waste about 10-15 real dead minutes waiting for this activity to complete). In fact, I would prefer just to completely skip that work time altogether. If you're not going to allow 100% control over the sim, then show the sim leaving for work and show him coming back with the amount of hours missing (in two small cutscenes) and then place the cash in the bank. I don't need to watch the sim sitting in a building losing energy for 10 real minutes.

That level of micro management may have been good in The Sims 2, but I'm well past that. For me, the point to this game isn't to micro manage every little detail, it's to play a game (which includes building up the house, having the sim do things, having the sim learn things and having the sim socialize). That's the point in the sims. The minutiae of fixing broken sinks, fixing and scrubbing toilets I can really do without. It was fun in the Sims 2 (for a while), but in the Sims 3 it should be gone.

Finally, the two biggest game design flaws are the birthdays and work. The jumps between each of your sims' life stages leave a lot to be desired and should be more consistent. If you play with the default settings, you need to start your sim out as a kid in order to be able to actually attain your life goal. If you start your sim as an adult, you don't have enough time... and there is no warning of this if you begin your game with your sim as an adult. If you want to start your sim as an adult, you need to change the aging options of the game to actually complete the game. Work time is complete gamer dead time. Dead time in a game is as bad as a game can get. You ALWAYS want the gamer engaged in the game and doing something moving the game forward. Work time, unfortunately, makes the game come to a complete stop where the gamer literally has nothing to do during this time (assuming only one Sim). To avoid the dead time, you need to start a family as the first thing you do in Sims 3 so you have at least two sims to control. In fact, the game should have started you with two sims to avoid the dead time issue.

  • Sound: 8/10 (reminds me of Desperate Housewives)
  • Graphics: 6/10 (useable, but not great)
  • Gameplay: 5/10 (too much minutiae)
  • Story: 1/10 (no story)
  • Bugginess: No issues
  • Controls: 8.5/10 (reasonable, but not the problem)
  • Bang-to-buck: 2/10 (not worth the price)
  • Play Value: $15 (buy the Sims 2 instead)
  • Overall: 3/10 (too many disasters and distractions, too much deadtime, time speed incorrect, bad gaming design not an improvement over Sims 2)
Note, you can alter some of these issues by altering the options in the menu. What you can't alter is the lack of improvement over Sims 2, the complete dead time that is work, the repetitive and constant babying of your sim, the repetitive nature of this game and the lack of actual gaming goals or a story that move this game forward. The game gets a 3/10 rating because it is a sequel and is not enough of an improvement over the Sims 2 and, thus, doesn't warrant the full price tag of a new game.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Upcoming Game Releases for Xbox 360

Here are several games I look forward during 2009. Look for most of these games to be reviewed during 2009.

GameTypeRelease Date
Alpha ProtocolRPG10/06/09
Bioshock 2Shooter10/05/09
Dragon Age OriginsRPG11/03/09
Fallout New VegasRPG06/01/10
Halo 3: ODSTShooter09/01/09
Harry Potter: Half Blood PrinceMovie06/23/09
Mass Effect 2RPG12/31/09
Overlord 2Shooter06/23/09
Star Wars: Republic HeroesShooter09/08/09
Two Worlds 2RPG02/01/10
Witcher: Rise of the White WolfRPG09/15/09

Games with Possibility:

GameTypeRelease Date
Planet 51---11/20/09
Splinter Cell: ConvictionShooter
Rogue Warrior
Aliens vs Predator

Note that dates are subject to change, especially dates scheduled after October. Dates listed on December 31, 2009 can be expected to actually show early in 2010.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Xbox 360 - Ninja Gaiden 2

Ninja Gaiden 2 - by Team Ninja

Rated for Violence, Gore
Game Type: Fighting

Here's a game, like Dead Space, that seems to work well enough for a couple of levels and then completely fails. The graphics on this game are gorgeous, but beyond that, this game is one of the worst games I've played in quite some time. I usually don't get into fighting games, but I'd heard some reasonable things about this title and I picked it up on the cheap... and that's a good thing!


This is a 3D level based third person fighting game. This isn't a two player fighting game like Mortal Kombat. Instead, this is a level game where you run around on platforms or paths, pick up things, buy things and kind of quest. But, the sole purpose of this game is fighting. You fight enemy after enemy just to get to more enemies to fight. Like I said, it's a fighting game. Note, I started out on the Acolyte Level (Easy).

The controls are simple: X short attack (weaker), Y long attack (stronger, less likely to succeed). So, in the first two levels you are running around attacking every other attacker. Some have arrows and shoot you, some have Wolverine-like claws and some have swords. Whatever it is the attacker is using, you can't be complacent. They attack fairly ruthlessly, but they're reasonably easy to defeat once you get the upper hand. As you progress through the game, you learn more and better combos by examining corpses (?). Yeah, I couldn't figure that one out either.

Of course, as with most games of this sort (and since it's level based), you will have to fight a boss at the end of each level. And... here's where the game falls down. At the end of the first level, the boss is moderately hard to beat. There's a health meter that you have to whittle down, so at least you know where you stand. You can do this if you focus on the boss instead of the other attackers. Once you defeat the boss, the level is over.

Game Failure

Unfortunately, here is also where the game fails. While the first boss and all of the level based attackers are reasonably easy to beat, the second boss you find on the second level is pratically impossible to beat. He's got combos far ahead of yours. He's got attacks that will wipe out half your character's (Ryu) health in just one or two moves. You have none of this. Your weapons are weak at best if you can even land a strike. When you land a strike, it takes away a tiny amount of his health. He's so fast at combos and so quick moving that there is almost nothing that works on him. You can spend probably an hour just trying to get past him and still not succeed. The only thing that even works against him is blocking and that only works minimally. He can still land devastating attacks against your character even when blocking.

This level 2 boss is a prime example of game design failure. This game was very clearly NOT play tested. It was not given to an average game player to find out if the game is actually playable. Instead, they just created it and dumped it on the market. And here's exactly the reason why games like this do not make the money they should (and why I was able to buy it as cheaply as I did).


The graphics on this game are quite literally stunning. The buildings, lighting, trees, everything are about as perfect as they come. Even Ryu, your character, has an excellent outfit and is well made. They did a superb job building the environments. It's too bad that Team Ninja failed so badly at putting together a playable game.


The audio is reasonable, but not outstanding. It works for the context of the video game, but there's nothing here that's going to win awards. The sound effects are ok, but a little on the cheesy side.


I wanted to like this game when it began. But, after the major failure of the boss on the second level, I won't be playing this game any farther. Again, like Dead Space, this is a waste of time and I really don't want to get arthritis in my hands just because they make you constantly and repetitively press buttons and combos.

Note, the second level boss is a boss that should probably have been the final boss of the game and not a boss on the second level. If they had actually let you level your character up to be a more even match, I would have appreciated this game a lot more. Unfortunately, Team Ninja completely botched this game design majorly.

  • Sound: 7/10
  • Graphics: 9.5/10 (outstanding)
  • Gameplay: 5/10 (poor boss design)
  • Story: 6/10 (limited story line)
  • Bugginess: 3/10 (1 crash/lockup, several major slowdowns)
  • Controls: 8.5/10 (reasonable, but not the problem)
  • Bang-to-buck: 2/10 (poorly designed fighting game)
  • Play Value: $5 (rent it)
  • Overall: 4/10 (even with the excellent graphics, gameplay is poor)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Xbox 360 - The Godfather II

The Godfather II by EA Games

Rated for Violence, Language and Adult Themes
Game Type: Third Person Shooter / Questing

I saw the commercial for this game and decided it looked a bit like Grand Theft Auto (older versions of it). After playing the game, it is pretty much like Grand Theft Auto and Saint's Row combined. It has all of the gang aspects of Saint's Row combined with the GTA and Godfather themes.


You start as a small time bodyguard in Don Corleone's crew. You progress your way up to Don and then Godfather. You do this by taking over other family businesses and eventually eliminating the rival families.


There are effectively 3 maps/cities separated by an Airport: New York, Florida and Cuba. You start in New York and open up the other maps as you progress. Unfortunately, for this game, there are way too many helpful hints and tips throughout the game (even at the very end) that really get in the way of gameplay. The tips should have stopped after the tutorial level.

This is a standard GTA style shooter. You can change weapons with the left bumber button and selecting the weapon. The weapons don't hold nearly enough ammo. I guess that's made up to you because you can carry so many different weapons each with its own type of ammo rather than pulling from a single pool.

Unfortunately, this game is not nearly as complete as it could have been. For example, the only shops you can visit are the ones that you can take over. But, once that's done, there's nothing else to do at the shop (other than cracking the safe, blowing it up or setting it on fire). You can't shop at all in this game. So, the money's only value is in upgrading your characters. Once that's done, there's nothing else to spend it on (except as multiplayer wagers).

Weapon Upgrades

Weapon upgrades are, again, found and not purchased. So, you have to wander through the entire game's levels to find all of the weapon upgrades. The game implies, at one point, that you can purchase weapons for your 'family members', but that's all done through the menu and not through shops.

Building your Family

As you progress through the game, you build your 'family' (recruit new men with certain talents called 'Made Men'). The talents include safecracking, demolitions, engineer (wire cutter), bruiser and medic. You don't really need all of the talents on your crew, but you will eventually get the chance to pick up men with these talents as you recruit them. Unfortunately, your own player character cannot learn any talents himself (we'll come back to this issue later). The other families also have 'Made Men', but in order to eliminate a rival family's made man, you must do favors for key people (keys appear above their heads). Once you fulfill the favor for the key person, you will receive the kill condition for a specific made man. For example, you may have strangle him or throw a molotov cocktail at him. There are many different conditions under which you must kill them.

Although, I found the activity of killing rival family made men as a waste of time. Instead, I focused taking over the busineses where you earn money. Once you've taken over all of a rival family's businesses, you can attack their compound and blow it up. Once you accomplish this, that family is gone. As long as a rival family continues to exist, they will continue to attack the businesses you control.

Jacking Cars

As with GTA, you can easily jack cars from all over the place. Unfortunately, there's really nothing you can do with the cars once you jack them (you can't sell, store, mod, paint or fix them). The cars are used strictly to get you from point A to point B or as bombs. This is pretty limited.

Characters in the Game

Character interaction doesnt always work properly. If you're standing on the street and people walk by, they push the characters out of the camera frame. The game doesn't really handle this aspect very well.

Taking Over Rival Businesses

In order to take over a rival business, it's pretty simple. You should go in with 3 of your made men and take out all of the guards. If you're careful, you can do this without dying. Make sure you have a medic on your staff to revive you should you fall. What you're looking for is the 'owner' of the business. In order to take over the business, you need to intimidate the owner until his 'intimidation green bar' is between the two red bars and closest to the red flashing bar. Note, however, that the far right red flashing bar eventually disappears. You don't want to over intimidate or kill the owner. If you overintimidate or kill the owner, you will fail in your takeover attempt. If you fail, you have to wait a while before you can try again.

Once you intimidate the owner correctly, he will allow you to become boss and pay you money. So, after you own the business, you can then add guards to the business to prevent takeovers. You will also receive a certain amount of money each day from this business.

Controlling Crime Rings

Some businesses make up crime rings that have 3 or 4 pieces that you must fully control. When you fully control all of the pieces, your family gets a perk (bullet proof vests, incendiary ammo, carry more ammo, access to armored vehicles or cheaper guards). As you take over a place, you must continue to guard the places or rival families will attack them and try to take them back. Unfortunately, this aspect of the game was far too easy. Once you put up at least 4-5 guards at a place and sent a few made men over during an attack, you would never lose a place.

Sending made men to attacked businesses

If you are being attacked in a city where you aren't, you can dispatch your made men to a business that's being attacked. They can aid in protecting the business from takeover. This is fairly easy if you send at least 3-4 made men to the business.

Side Quests

There are side jobs, but these are all started through characters on the street. There are three types of side quests: Key, Bribes/Back Pocket and Money. Each of these quest types does the same thing, but gives different rewards. The basic quests include burglary, arson, bombing, business sabbotage, beat someone up or assassination. As you are assigned the job by the random person, you will get a reward once the job is completed. The target has a symbol over the person or place that tells you what you need to do. If the target is a person, you will see a red symbol over the person's head. If it's a place, you will only see this on the map.

The rewards are simple. A key gives you a kill condition for a made man. A bribe gets you some kind of favor (get out of jail, heal your men, call off the cops). Money quests get you the specified amount of money (between $1500 and $10000). This is the extent of side questing in GF2.


The controls are standard for a GTA-style game. In fact, it's pretty much cloned from GTA, so it's easy to fall into the controller system here.


As with most EA games, the graphics are subpar. The characters look low resolution and the texture maps don't always hold up. The characters tend to move and act stilted in the main game. In cinematics, they move more realistically, but they still look low resolution. When characters are talking, the mouths might as well just be opening and closing. Also, the characters you see on the street are not nearly random enough. There are way too many times where the same two or three characters are standing side-by-side looking like clones.


The audio is reasonable. It sounds like it may have used part of the original Godfather soundtrack. But, I haven't seen that movie and quite some time. So, I'm not sure. Some of the music sounds like something from GTA. So, EA tried very hard to make this game look, feel and sound like GTA.


This is typical for this sort of game. I preferred the multiplayer in Saint's Row 2 where another person can join your game in progress and you can share the play field. You can't do this in Godfather 2. Instead, you must join or create games already in play and they are random playfields that the game has designed. You can expand your made men by getting them higher weapon grades, but why bother? Coming back to the issue of the player character, you cannot even use your player character in the multiplayer levels. Specifically, in the quick matches. You can only use the made men you've recruited. This is highly annoying and stupid. You spend all that time building up your character to Don and you can't even use him in multiplayer mode.


The game works reasonably well. But, there are some issues that need to be addressed. For example, even when you have obtained all of the keys for Made Man Kill Conditions, keys still appear above random people's heads. The game should be able to realize there are no more keys necessary and stop making them appear above random people on the street. If you're not paying attention, it's easy to keep doing the key quests thinking there's more to do and this ends up a waste of time.

  • Sound: 8/10
  • Graphics: 6.5/10 (average)
  • Gameplay: 7.5/10 (limited side questing)
  • Story: 9/10 (cohesive, keeps you playing)
  • Bugginess: 10/10 (no crashes)
  • Controls: 8.5/10 (targeting system works well enough)
  • Bang-to-buck: 4/10 (a big on the short side)
  • Play Value: $25 (recommend renting or buy it cheap)
  • Overall: 8/10 (reasonably well done, some issues, good story)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Xbox 360 - Wanted: Weapons of Fate

Wanted: Weapons of Fate from Grin/Warner/Universal

Game Type: Third Person Shooter
Rated M for Violence, Language

I purchased this game hoping it would be a reasonable shooter. Unfortunately, this game is relatively one tracked, repetitive and hard to control. But, it does have a few redeeming merits.


The story is simple. Your character's mother was killed by an assassin and this has forced your character to become a killer in retaliation. So, now the character is a trained killer. Unfortunately, most of this game feels like a rip-off from Harry Potter. It kind of reminds me of Harry Potter with guns. The character even looks a little like Harry Potter. From Warner Brothers, I can understand why they might want to recapture that success with that formula. So, enter this game: Wanted.


This is where the game fails to work. Basically, you traverse each level by hiding behind cover and killing everything that moves. In between each level, there's a cinematic that tries to tell the simplistic story and then takes you right back into another level where you end up hiding behind cover and shooting everything that moves. As the game progresses, it expands your abilities with the weapons. So, you get to do creative things like curving bullets.

The repetitive nature of the game is really disappointing. You end up doing the same thing over and over. You don't really accomplish much during the level and there's no side quests to speak of. So, it's all one-tracked.

There are also times where you enter into certain situations, like Sniper or Gattling Gun where you can't exit. You must complete this part of the game in order to move on. The problem is, it's difficult because there may be 20 enemies in the play field who all have perfect aim. Bad bad bad!


The cover hiding gimmick is just not enticing. It's far too sticky when it doesn't need to be and you pop out of the stickiness when you least want to. It's difficult to get the game to recognize the next piece of cover so you can move there when you need to. So, I wasn't impressed by this gimmick. Worse, between this and the curving bullets, these are the real gimmicks in this game. Creating gimmicky controls is not the answer to producing an enticing shooter.


This game isn't really worth the money, so I'd recommend renting. I felt that it was way too gimmicky, but not in the way that matters. The curving bullet cinematics are kind of cool, but that's not enough. The game is not really that compelling to play. The characters aren't built up enough to care and overall the story is weak and ripped off.

  • Sound: 6/10 (average)
  • Graphics: 8/10 (textures are done well enough)
  • Gameplay: 6/10 (a bit too gimmicky)
  • Story: 6/10 (too much like Harry Potter)
  • Bugginess: 10/10 (no crashes yet)
  • Controls: 7/10 (game relies too much on hiding behind cover)
  • Bang-to-buck: 2/10 (not enough game)
  • Play Value: $5 (rent it)
  • Overall: 4/10 (needs a lot more work)

Xbox 360 - Chronicles of Riddick - Butcher Bay

Chronicles of Riddick:
Escape From Butcher Bay
from Atari

Game Type: First Person Shooter
Rated for Violence, Language

This game is a re-release of a 2004 original Xbox game that appears on Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena. However, Atari decided to redo this game to fully utilize the Xbox 360. So, if you haven't played this game, you are in for a treat. If you have played it before, the graphics, sound and achievements are all updated for the Xbox 360. So, it may be worth a play through again.

I didn't play this game in 2004 even though I owned an Xbox. So, this game is new to me. Because it's included on this game disk and because it's been facelifted for the 360, I am including a review of it here now as I consider it to be a 'new' game.


The game starts with Johns, a merc who's interested in placing Riddick into a high security prison in exchange for money. He drops Riddick off at Butcher Bay (apparently one of the toughest penal colonies out there). Riddick must attempt to escape. The story follows Riddick as he works his way around through this prison talking with all of the inmates and working on a plan to get out.

As the story unfolds, you'll learn of how Riddick gets his 'shined' eyes (the way he sees in the dark). Unfortunately, this story line doesn't really follow with the movies. Pitch Black and even Chronicles of Riddick allude to solitary confinement in the dark for extended period of time that led to this. But, that's not how this game's story tells it.


The gameplay style is, as would be expected, like Dark Athena (on the same disk). I should really say that Dark Athena is like Butcher Bay, because this game came first. This is your basic first person shooter. You are in a prison colony, so you can't really do a whole lot other than wander and ask lots of questions.
In return for helping people, you get rewards including weapons and cigarette packs (extra content).


The controls are reasonably straight forward. There is a weapon wheel that you pull up with the right bumper button (RB). So, you can change your weapons using this wheel. You don't actually get Riddick's 'shined' eyes until later during this game. But, you will get the ability to see in the dark after that happens. Before then, you are limited to needing lights or flares. In one case, getting out of the level is difficult. Of course, this is the level right before you get the 'shined eyes'.


The music score and sound effects are done well. The game relies on swelling sound tracks and ambient noises to set the tone of this game. It does this well. This is a very cinematic sounding experience even when the graphics of the game doesn't lend itself to the musical themes and events.


I liked the story and the idea behind this game a little more than Dark Athena. Butcher Bay gives a lot more back story to the Riddick character than Dark Athena. The revelation of the shined eyes is good, but I was expecting more from the female voice in Dark Athena. The voice that seems to guide Riddick throughout Butcher Bay (and is in the films). I like the idea of a guiding force behind Riddick, but that force never manifested itself in Dark Athena.

  • Sound: 9/10 (cinematic, ambient)
  • Graphics: 9/10 (textures are well done, Riddick could be better)
  • Gameplay: 8/10 (straight forward gameplay)
  • Story: 6/10 (not revealing enough)
  • Bugginess: 5/10 (crashed once)
  • Controls: 8/10 (works well in most places, doesn't work in tight spots)
  • Bang-to-buck: 8/10 (2 games on one disc)
  • Play Value: $25 (worth it, but the game is a bit short)
  • Overall: 8/10 (not an RPG, but definitely an 8 for a shooter)