Friday, December 17, 2010

Xbox 360 - Tron Evolution

Tron Evolution by Propaganda Games

Format: Third person shooter / racing / climbing / fighting
Type: Movie Tie-In
Rated: Violence

Tron Evolution is a sequel to the original film Tron and a prequel to the film Tron Legacy. The story in this game fills in the gap between these two films. You play as the 'System Monitor' program (another type of Tron-like program). As the 'System Monitor' you are designed to seek out rogue code and destroy it. Note, while this game borrows heavily on concepts introduced in Tron 2.0, this game has nothing to do with Tron 2.0 or Tron Killer App.

Because this game is a movie-tie in, it really has 'crap' written all over it. Surprisingly, it's better than I expected for a tie-in. However, it is by no means perfect. If this game had had another year for development, this game could have been as good as any top-end game. Alas, it wasn't meant to be. It's too bad that movie studios don't insist on better quality games for tie-ins.


You are System Monitor and are the nemesis of CLU and Abraxas. CLU and Abraxas have teamed up to wipe out the ISOs. You are there to stop this process as System Monitor. CLU has effectively turned rogue and you have to stop CLU and Abraxas from fulfilling their nefarious plans. Along the way you meet Quorra who occasionally helps you out.


The game play starts as you run around looking to do specific tasks. It starts with a small tutorial that leads into the larger game play. The trouble with this game is two-fold. The camera and the controls (both problems are really interlinked).

In many situations, the camera is way too active, moving around randomly and, by effect, causing control problems. Because the controls are based on the direction the camera is looking, it's easy to jump in the wrong direction. Combine this with way overly sensitive controls, and you end up derezzing over and over because System Monitor decides to jump off of a cliff or double jump into an abyss.

The style of many of the levels is to lock you into a space until you kill every enemy in the space. At that point, the blocking shield falls and you can move on.

Grid and Games

Unfortunately, I was expecting a lot more from the grid games and the game didn't deliver. I was hoping for actual grid gaming matches as part of the story. Instead, you're pretty much just fighting your way through each level on your own rather than on the game grid. The lightcycles part of this game is way too sparse. The few times you do get to use the lightcycle, it's unwieldy and uncontrollable. I was hoping for better here. The best part of this game is the tank. Once you finally get into the tank, you can start taking out Recognizers. Then the game almost takes on a feel like Flynn's very own fictional game 'Space Paranoids'. A game that we've never gotten to play, until Tron Evolution. So, once in the tank vehicle, the game feels like it would have to play 'Space Paranoids'.


The music is probably the best part of this game (and, in fact, a great part of the film as well). Daft Punk put together a very strong soundtrack that makes this game work quite well. Unfortunately, the camera really holds back the quality of this game even as good as the music is.


The graphics in this game are very good. I was hoping for slightly better graphics, but it still looks very good for what it is. That said, the cinematics are done with the Xbox 360 game engine rather than using pre-rendered animated cinematics. The game suffers graphically from this. While the Xbox 360 engine is good for gaming purposes, it's not outstanding for cinematics. I think Propaganda Games has made a bad design decision for not producing standalone cinematics to link the segments together.


The multiplayer aspects are similar to most multiplayer games. There are some team games and there are individual games. On some levels, you play only with throwing the disc. On other levels, you can do both disc and vehicles (tank, lightcycle, etc).

I wasn't that impressed with the multiplayer aspect mostly because you either have to run the server on your Xbox 360 or you play it on someone else's 360. If that person shuts off their 360, then the game goes away. So, it's probably better to host the game yourself so that it hangs around as long as you continue to play.


The story is short and the gameplay can be, at times, tedious. This game suffers from lack of control and an extremely unwieldy camera. Part of the camera problems stem from being too far back behind the player. So, it's constantly trying to avoid bumping into things. Because they have tied the direction of movement to the camera view, it's difficult to control where the character ends up.

The multiplayer aspects are ok, but not great either. The levels are very expansive, depending on the map, so you there's a lot of space to roam. The multiplayer aspects just didn't grab me and make me think it was something great.

If you are a Tron gaming fan, this one is a buy. Otherwise, I recommend renting. The game is very short, so any price above $20 is too much for this game considering its major shortcomings and the overall length of the story. However, if you are looking to fill in the gaps between Tron and Tron Legacy, then you should get Tron Evolution for the story alone.

  • Sound: 9/10 (excellent soundtrack, effects are good)
  • Graphics: 8.5/10 (characters look good)
  • Gameplay: 7/10 (somewhat repetitive)
  • Story: 8.5/10 (story is better than movie story)
  • Bugginess: N/A (no bugs found)
  • Controls: 4/10 (hard to control at times)
  • Bang-to-buck: 2/10 (definitely a rent)
  • Play Value: $20 (If fan, buy. If not, rent)
  • Overall: 7/10 (camera makes controls frustrating).

Monday, November 29, 2010

Xbox 360 - Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood by Ubisoft

Lightning doesn't always strike twice with games and Brotherhood is definitely a miss for Ubisoft. Bear with me as this is a reasonably long review. Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, while adding some interesting things to the Assassin's Creed franchise, fails on far too many occasions.


You're still playing as Ezio (in Italy) from Assassin's Creed II (and, of course, Desmond). All of the climbing, jumping and acrobatics are still in Brotherhood. The controls are identical to that of Assassin's Creed II. The trouble isn't with the controls (or, at least, I should say, they are no worse than the previous games). The climbing controls have not, however, improved either. Nearly all of the same problems that plague episode 1 and 2 are still present in Brotherhood. I do wish Ubisoft would actually fix some of the issues that affect Ezio's climbing abilities. Some of the problems stem from the fact that Ubisoft overloads each buttons' function based on current mode. For example, when climbing, the B button lets you drop. However, if you are using the high reach glove, the B button becomes grasp (for a few seconds). Immediately after, it goes back to drop. So, if you don't time everything perfectly, you'll drop off of whatever you are climbing instead of actually grasping the next ledge. This is completely frustrating and needs to be fixed.

In fact, I do not even know why you have to press the B button to grasp when you use the high jump in the first place. Ezio should auto-grasp high ledges without having to do anything.

Another issue is with jumping. There are many times where I am jumping along on bars and stop, yet Ezio keeps going and jumps right off and to the ground. At times, that can mean lost health or guard detection (if in a quest). Again, frustrating. These are just a few of the 'little things' that tend to plague Brotherhood.

In fact, in this game, there isn't really one single consistent story. There are many stories (like Grand Theft Auto). Each quest leads you to a different story. So, the stories change as the game progresses.


There is the main quest (those with a ! icon) and there are side quests (those with other icons). As you progress, the game opens up side quests as you play through the main quest. So, just be patient and the quests will all open to you. The same goes for the map areas (we'll come to this issue shortly).


Further, as you progress, one of the quests opens up the ability to recruit assassin trainees into your ranks. So, the more Borgia towers you burn, the more assassins you will have in your ranks. But first, you must send them on missions to train them, level them up, give them armor and weapons and then they eventually become rank Assassino.

What does the assassin brotherhood do for you? Well, other than bringing in a small amount of money that you won't need once you own all of the property on the map, they add a way to have non-detection kills during detection quests (at least, some quests). So, when you go into the 'Don't be detected' quests, just make sure you have enough assassin signals to handle the guards so you can move through the level without being detected.

Other than that, the assassin brotherhood is rather pointless.

Desmond and the Present

The present amounts to little more than wandering around trying to locate a handful of artifacts, talking to Lucy, Rebecca and Shaun (which is pretty pointless), read pointless emails and entering the Animus. You do get to wander around the town and hop from roof to roof, but you're limited to 10 minute stints (there's a countdown timer). Not that there's much out to do when you're running around as this part of the game is intentionally limited. I'd have really expected more from the 'Present' at this point than there is. There's still no combat, nothing really to do. I haven't personally waited past the 10 minute countdown to 'see what happens', but I probably should. It might actually be interesting.

Clearly, the present is intended to be solely a stepping stone to get you into the Animus and into Ezio's shoes where everything frustrating and repetitive happens.


The map is about as big as the previous game, Assassin's Creed II. The trouble is, there isn't really a whole lot to do besides the quests, finding loot, locating the four Leonardo war machines, restoring businesses and training assassins. The game is pretty much one-tracked. By that I mean, there's nothing surprising here. It's much the same as the last game. The quests are the same throughout (we'll get to the problems with the quests shortly). Sure, you get better weapons, armor and assassin robe dyes, but that's what you'd expect based on Assassin's Creed II. Beyond that, the weapons, armor and dyes really don't add much to the intrinsic play value of this game.


Ok, but repetitive. After you've played the game for a while, the soundtracks become exceedingly old. You might want to think about cranking up some Xbox tunes instead.

Problems that plague Brotherhood

Sync Challenges

Let's start by saying, there are many problems with this game. Specifically the quests. Instead of different hardness levels, which Ubisoft should have supported, the game developers lumped it all together in one game. When questing, for example, Ubisoft lumped two challenges together into each quest. The first challenge is to get through the quest from beginning to end (Ezio's story). The second challenge is to get a 100% sync for the memory (Desmond's story). To get 100% sync, you might have to avoid detection or use your assassins or do the challenge within X minutes. Whatever the challenge is, it tells you up front.

I would have preferred the sync challenges be enabled only on hardness level Intermediate. Perhaps even 'Hard'. There should have been an 'Easy' hardness that did not have the sync challenges at all. In fact, you should get 100% sync just by doing whatever the quest requires. The sync challenges don't really matter to the overall game. Nevertheless, having them there is annoying and frustrating. One of many problems with this game.

Slow Moving

The game is also very slow moving. By that I mean, there are many many main quests you have to do before you even get most of the map open. This is frustrating if you just want to explore the area. Instead, there are large parts of the map that remain locked out until some time way later into the game. Frustrating.

Too Many Detection Challenges

The one constant part of the questing that simply drives me absolutely batsh*t nuts is detection challenges which are seemingly endless. Seems every later quest requires you not being detected. The problem with being detected is that the game is way overly sensitive to detection. You can be climbing around minding your own business and then you're 'detected' and the whole quest starts over (and you wait while the game reloads). You can't even see what detected you. There are times where you assassinate a guard and just as he's hitting the ground, the game says 'detected' and, again, you're starting over. It's these kinds of problems that lead me to believe this game was not play tested.

Skipping Cinematics

Skipping long cinematics is a complete chore. Instead of one button skipping, how most other games handle this, Ubisoft decided to skip cinematics by using a main menu selection. So, you have to open the main menu, select 'Skip Cinematic' in the menu, then answer a 'Yes' or 'No' confirmation question. Seriously, 5 or so button presses compared to a single button press. After you do this, the game takes at least 30-45 seconds to skip the cinematic. That is, the game clears the screen, goes back to the blank Ezio loading screen (you can make him run around), you wait and then the game redraws the screen and places Ezio is in some 'new' location. In some cases, it takes way longer to skip the cinematic than it does to watch it. Worse, in some cases, Ezio will end up starting in some way distant location or on top of a very tall structure (not where you were when you skipped). This can be highly frustrating and puts Ezio at an extreme disadvantage if the quest happens to be a 'chase' quest. The thing is, if you don't skip the cinematic, Ezio starts on the ground where he was standing before the cinematic started. Why the game has to relocate Ezio when you skip the cinematic, I simply have no idea. But, it's frustrating and annoying. It almost seems like Ubisoft intentionally penalizes those gamers who choose to skip cinematics.

War Machine Handling

All of Leonardo's War Machines are a pain to manage, but the flying war machine is near impossible to control. At the same time, with the flying machine, you are tasked to fly around with this near-impossible-to-control flying machine and bomb a very tiny guy on a horse. The flying machine only works by shooting fire at the ground to create heat pockets to make the machine rise into the air. Expect to start this level over about 20 times at least. Again, I say, this game was not play tested.

Continual Button Controller Reassignment

Other frustrations include continual controller button reassignment. Basically, Ubisoft decided to overload the controller buttons with different actions depending on proximity to certain things in the game. For example, if you're in a crowd of people and there are bodies on the ground that you want to loot, if a horse stops and stands on the body, the game remaps the key to 'Hijack' instead of 'Loot'. So, now you're pulling the person off of the horse and not looting the body. If you want to use the high jump glove, the game remaps B to Grasp while the high jump is in action. As soon as the high jump is over (or at least, the game thinks the action is over), the game changes it back to 'Drop'. These controller remapping issues need to be desperately addressed. The game needs a way to stay focused on a specific object (even if it's a non-combatant). The remapping isn't intelligently designed either. For example, placing 'grasp' temporarily on top of the same button as 'drop' almost seems like a cruel joke played on the gamers.

Random Weapon Changes

In combat situations, you'll find your weapon changes based on the game's mood. You'll be going along fine with the sword in your hand. The next thing you know the game has switched you to fists for no apparent reason. So now you have to fumble to get back to your sword. Sometimes, you lose your sword for no apparent reason. I'm assuming one of the soldiers disarmed me, but there was no warning of this. I don't remember this problem in Assassin's Creed II at all. This appears to be something new in Brotherhood.

Random Finishing Moves

Smoke bombs are also frustrating. You throw a smoke bomb and all of the guards start coughing. So, you choose the sword and try to swing it. Instead, the game chooses to do some kind of fist punch and a back breaking thing. If I had wanted to punch the guards with my fists, I would have selected the fist weapon. Why is the game, then, choosing this fist finishing move INSTEAD of using the weapon I've chosen (i.e., the sword or the assassin blade)? It's these little annoying things that just continue to mount making this game less and less enjoyable and more and more frustrating. Use the weapon I select and use it when I tell you to.

Lose-No-Health-Square Challenges, Guards and Running

Further into the game, Brotherhood starts throwing 'Lose no health square' challenges at you. However, instead of making this challenge just progress normally, the game continually throws excessive numbers of guard after guard after guard at you while you're trying to make your way across the map. If this is supposed to be some kind of 'challenge' it isn't. This is a disaster and definitely indicates bad game design. The trouble is, if any guard connects with you, you end up falling on the ground and rolling around. This rolling maneuver kills time and lets other guards catch up. Worse, the guards can actually run faster than Ezio. This is wrong. Ezio is supposed to be a well trained Assassin and in peak athletic form. In order to scale buildings in the way that Ezio does, he would have to be extremely athletic and should be able to outrun anybody when sprinting. Yet, the guards are about 2 times faster than Ezio and the guards are usually oufitted in full body armor. Does anyone really think this stuff through?

Camera Problems

Later into the game, Camera problems also begin to surface. So, you do something like loot a body and then the camera decides to rotate around to a different view. Then, the game proceeds to leave the newly placed camera in the new position. That is, instead of returning the camera to the position before the looting started. Worse, when in close proximity to wall surfaces, the camera can get wonky. It will begin to act erratically and attempt to move into a position that's optimal. Instead, it ends up continually moving around completely disorienting the gamer. Again, this makes the game frustrating to play as the gamer now has to spend time reorienting to where the camera has decided it wants to be. When this happens during a quest (and it will), you lose time and, sometimes, lose the quest.

Countdown Timers and Chase Quests

Countdown timers should not even be used in Assassin's Creed Brotherhood or, indeed, in any Assassin's Creed game. The game is about being an assassin. An assassin who carefully, slowly and meticulously plans kills and then the means of escape without people seeing what happened. Instead, the game throws in 2-3 minute countdown timers to get from point A to B. So, instead of being able to plan the kill, you're racing to get to where the game wants you to be no matter how many guards it throws at you. Worse, when the developers combine chase/follow-me quests with countdown timers, it's the worst of all possibilities. When you're following someone, if the tail gets out of sight, a 25 second countdown timer starts. So, you have to 'see' your tail every so often to reset this timer. By 'see', I mean the camera has to see the person you are following. Ezio can remain hidden inside a bail of hay or some other hiding place.

Chases use a different mechanism. When you're chasing someone, the trouble is that person doesn't even have to get very far head and the game will say 'target lost'. Seriously, you can still see the target on the screen in front of you and the game still says 'target lost'. Bad bad bad. Again, no play testing.

Lack of Achievements

Yes, you'll get a 20G achievement at the completion of every quest (100% sync or not). These kinds of a achievements tend to annoy me. By that I mean, you have to complete the quest to move the game forward anyway, so how is that really an achievement? Yet, once you purchase all tailor shops, blacksmith shops, stables, or indeed purchase every single thing on the map, no achievement. That makes no sense. If you've spent the time and effort to scour the entire map and completely rebuild Rome, isn't that worthy of an achievement or at least Uplay points? How is it that the game developers don't see this? Yet, you get neither an achievement or uplay points. Again, bad design and more proof that this game was not play tested.

Ultimately, you end up fighting with so many problematic character controlling, unexpected button remapping, combat glitching and lack of play testing issues (that, in many cases, force you to restart over and over) that you really can't enjoy the game as it should be enjoyed. Instead, you end up fighting with the controls and stupid game design issues rather than actually playing the game.

Note that these are only a sampling of problems. There are many other small issues that drive me nuts about this game.

Glitchy Bug Problems

This game is reasonably buggy in places... especially the PS3 version. The Xbox 360 version seems much more stable overall than the PS3 version. Apparently, the PS3 version has issues with the tunnel system and various other showstopper bugs. The major PS3 showstopper bug that angers so many people is that people have played through the entire game and only received a handful of Trophies. So, if you decide to give this game a try, be wary of the PS3 version until these issues are resolved.

One additional bug I ran into was with parachutes. At a later time in the game, actually too late in the game really, you'll obtain the parachute from Leonardo. I think he gives you initially 3 or so. If you want more, you have to visit the tailor and buy more Parachutes. So, I visit the tailor and fill up my parachute slots to a max of 15. I go on a flag hunting spree and find one that needs a parachute to obtain the flag. I use about 3-4 parachutes to get to this flag. That's the last time I needed a parachute for a while. That also means I should have had 11 or 12 parachutes left. Yet, several hours later when I tried using the parachute again, I had no parachutes at all. I know that I hadn't used them up. So, somewhere along the way, the game removed all of the parachutes from my inventory. I was able to refill my supply by visiting a tailor, though. This is serious bug that needs to be fixed and a bug that indicates limited or no beta or play testing.


This game could have been great, but was released way too early in the development cycle. Instead it's a mediocre game with no real need for it in the Assassin's Creed lineup.

The Assassin Brotherhood part of this game feels like a last minute add-on rather than the main reason behind the game's creation. Even worse, at the times when you need the Brotherhood to assist you the most in the final main quests, the game inexplicably prevents you from using your carefully trained assassins. I'm at a loss here. Why would you spend all of that time and effort to create an Assassin Brotherhood only to prevent its use in the final quests? Seriously, the assassins that you've spent loads of time sending on contracts and leveling up should have been intrinsic to the final battles of the game, not completely ignored. Bad game design.

The game was seriously not play tested to any large degree. If it had been play tested, all of the frustrating problems would have been addressed long before this game hit the shelves. I can say, though, that I understand why this game hit the shelves early. Ubisoft wanted a title for the 2010 Holiday season. But, putting crap games out doesn't make people want to buy your games. Ubisoft would do well to take heed of that.

I can't recommend this game in its present state. It's too glitchy and problematic at this point. If you enjoy a high levels of frustration in a game, give this a try. If you, like me, don't like frustrating games (i.e., you're fighting with the game more than playing it), then you should avoid this game or rent it. Note, however, there is so much repetitive stuff to do that it will take you at least a week or two to get through the entire game start to finish (including all side quests). So, be wary of the time it takes to play through if you decide to rent. You might do better to buy it used from Gamestop and return it within the 7 day return period.

Note, I'm being a little generous with a score of 5 out of 10. In fact, this game really deserves less score, but because of high quality look of the characters, I'm rating it higher.

Frankly, I would have preferred that Ubisoft devote their efforts to finishing Assassin's Creed III rather than putting this weak and unnecessary game out.

  • Sound: 5/10 (repetitive verging on annoying)
  • Graphics: 9/10 (characters look good)
  • Gameplay: 5/10 (climbing and jumping are not yet perfected after 3 games)
  • Story: 4/10 (disjointed story)
  • Bugginess: 5/10 (glitchy problematic issues)
  • Controls: 6/10 (overloading needs to stop)
  • Bang-to-buck: 1/10 (definitely a rent)
  • Play Value: $4 (rent it)
  • Overall: 5/10 (repetitive, one-tracked, nothing new here, frustrating).

Monday, November 8, 2010

Xbox 360 - Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West by Namco

Type: Platform, Fighting, Climbing, Third Person

This is a pretty limited functionality third person shooter/platformer. Three basic modes are platforming, climbing and fighting. The story is weak and the gameplay is even weaker made problematic by the unresponsive controls and unpredictable camera tracking. On top of that, the game is exceedingly short. On the plus side, the characters look great, not so great for the environments, though. Cinematics are way too long.


You're a nameless guy who's been nicknamed 'Monkey' (most likely because you kind of look and act like one while climbing). While escaping from a prison ship, you cling to the last remaining escape pod containing a girl you were chasing through the prison ship as it disintegrates. When you wake up, you're 'Enslaved' to the girl, 'Trip', because she has put a slave headband on you.

From here you platform and fight your way through the rest of the game with Trip as your companion.


With the aid of Trip, the headband and your climbing skills (ahem), you work your way through each level avoiding such things as mines, 'Mechs' and turrets. The game works reasonably well, but each level is near identical to the last. With the exception of 'The Cloud' levels (surfing on a disc), everything is near identical level to level. Once you understand the types of mechs that attack you, you can devise a strategy that works.


You have a staff that you can melee your enemy. The staff doubles as a gun and can shoot explosive or stunning rounds. You have automatic shields that protect you for a limited time. The shields also automatically recharge after no fire. You also have a blocking mode that can take limited amounts of hits before it is ineffective.

Leveling Up

To level up in this game, you have to collect orbs scattered around the levels and also that pop out of downed enemies. As you collect more and more orbs, you get 'money' to spend to buy upgrades. Upgrades include health extension, health regeneration, weapons enhancements, shield enhancements, etc. So, save the orbs and buy stuff that keeps you alive longer.


The controls on this game work in 80-90% of the game. There are times where the gun is not accurate at all even when aiming perfectly. There are also times where you can't tell where the game wants you to go (like the cloud levels that require you to chase something).

Other issues include jumping. You try to get him to jump and he'll do everything but jump. This includes rolling, jumping in the wrong direction, or nothing. The controls on this game just really don't work properly in many cases.


This is the absolute weakest part of this game. There are so many hypocritical elements in this game, much of it is completely absurd. For example, when you enter Pig's area, you go through a door that's supposed to scan for mechs. Trip says that this detector prevents mechs from getting through. Alright then, I naturally assumed (incorrectly, of course) that there should be no mechs in this area. Yet, the place was swarming with them. So, if the mechs couldn't get through that doorway without being detected, how did they get in there? This is just some of the silliness in this game.

Game designers need to think through these elements to make sure their games at least follow through with rules they themselves have established. Also, at the end, and I don't want to give too much away here, Monkey doesn't remove his headband after it's all over. This is what I was waiting to see the whole game through and it doesn't happen. Note, this doesn't give away the ending at all, but it does give away this one visual that doesn't happen.


The game is exceedingly short. You can play through the level on 'Normal' hardness in probably 4-6 hours of straight play. Perhaps less if you don't focus on collecting the orbs. The story is weak and convoluted. The only constant are the mechs that use the same strategy to attack you each time. So you can easily devise a counter that works each time. The only difficulty is that instead of throwing three mechs at you, they might throw 6 or 8 or more. The dog mech boss and the bull mech boss are the only two mechs that really require a different thought strategy. I don't really consider the scorpion at the end a 'boss', mostly because you don't really fight it. You just damage it. This one is worth a day's rent, but definitely not worth paying $60.

  • Sound: 6/10 (average)
  • Graphics: 7.5/10 (characters look good, environments look bad)
  • Gameplay: 6/10 (bad controller handling, bad camera handling)
  • Story: 4/10 (weak story, no resolution, more questions than answers)
  • Bugginess: N/A (no bugs, yay!)
  • Controls: 5/10 (needs work)
  • Bang-to-buck: 2/10 (definitely a rent)
  • Play Value: $4 (What I paid Redbox to rent it)
  • Overall: 4/10 (overly short, bad story, bad controls, bad environments).

Friday, September 17, 2010

Xbox 360 - Halo Reach

Halo Reach by Bungie

Halo Reach is the prequel to the Halo Trilogy and, as far as I know, the final Bungie based Halo game. That doesn't mean there won't be more Halo games, but apparently not from Bungie. The story begins on the planet Reach where a team of Spartans is sent, at first, to locate a beacon. Along the way, it is determined to be a Covenant incursion and is a lot bigger than first thought. Further along, it is revealed to the Spartans that there is an important item to recover. An item that plays an important part in all 3 Halo games, although, not in ODST.

Campaign Mode

This review covers the campaign mode of Halo Reach. As with most recent Bungie Halo releases, the campaign mode portions are exceedingly short. Compared to, for example, Valve's Half Life series, the Halo Reach story is thin and the levels are tiny. Even comparing Halo Reach to Halo 3, the story is thin and the levels are tiny. By short, I mean, you can blow through a level in about 45 minutes or less and there are only 10 levels or so. From the beginning to end of each level, the levels are linear and the maps are tiny. This explains why you can blow through the levels in short order.

It looks like Bungie spent the majority of the development time on the multiplayer aspects of Halo Reach rather than campaign. Each successive game has spent more time on the multiplayer (and other alternative modes) and less on campaign mode. I don't know about you, but I really don't relish the thought of playing the same game levels 3, 4 or 5 times only with slightly different modes. I did that in Halo 3 and found the subsequent playthroughs to be rather tedious and boring. I'd rather spend time playing a new game than the same levels over and over.

Perhaps the 13-19 aged gamers like this repetitive game play, but it doesn't really do it for me. I'd rather be doing something new that I haven't done before. This is why I prefer to play RPG games where there's always a new quest.

Armory and Challenges

In Halo Reach, Bungie expects you to play the game through multiple times so you can obtain all of the challenges and achievements. With Halo Reach, Bungie introduces 'challenges'. A challenge is similar to an achievement, except you receive no achievement points. Instead, you receive credits that you can put towards buying armor and outfitting your Spartan better. Presumably, these better outfits help you out in multiplayer combat mode, although that's really questionable.

When you enter the Armory, you can now modify your armor to add things like shoulder pads, knee pads, chest plates, helmets, etc. So, as you receive more and more credits, you can spend these credits on items to make your Spartan or Elite better.

Frankly, as I've said, this is really not my bag. Playing the same game multiple times just to receive credits to outfit a soldier, not a great idea. If there was some way to use your newly and better outfitted character in some kind of MMO world, I might be more inclined to play. However, the multiplayer modes in Reach are the same as Halo 3. Effectively, running around on a level with a bunch of 13-18 year olds in free-for-all combat. No thinking, just constant killing. It's like Spore, they give you an excellent character creator, but how the character is ultimately used is pointless.


This game specifically and only deals with a Covenant incursion. The flood is not part of this game, which is unfortunate. However, there are some new Covenant creatures that are in here that we've not seen before. They're not any tougher than what we've seen, but they're here.


The story is overly weak. I was expecting a solid beginning, middle and end. What we get is a reasonable beginning and a very solid middle with no ending. It ends, but nothing is wrapped up. Your character is left behind and who knows what really happened.

There were also portions that were completely ignored. Twice you run into a scarab and twice the only thing you can do is avoid it. One of those times it gets destroyed. This is wrong. In this story, we should now be able to commandeer one of those Scarabs and use it as a vehicle or commandeer a Phantom an use it. There were so many wasted instances where the story could have taken a huge leap forward and.. nothing. Bungie took the safe approach and didn't do anything new or amazing to Reach. It's definitely a 'safe' game, but there's not a whole lot here to say 'WOW' over.

Easter Eggs

What easter eggs? There may be some, but there are definitely no skulls. The skulls are received after completing the game on Normal automatically. The fun is in finding and obtaining the skulls, not simply just getting them at the end. I understand why, though, as other than New Alexandria, most of the environments are rather sparse. So, there's not a lot of cubbyholes to hide things. Unfortunate, because the secondary fun on Halo 3 was exploring and finding all of the cool hidden things. Even with Halo 3, I really wanted a lot more of this, but instead Bungie is giving us less and less of it.


The game plays much the same as Halo ODST and Halo 3. The exception is that they've added the nightvision mode and a couple of new weapons, but overall the game is much the same as the previous.


The graphics haven't tremendously improved, mostly because it appears Bungie is still using the same game engine as in Halo 3. I'd rather see them abandon whatever engine they are using for something like the Cryengine 3. Much of the texture mapping, specifically the ground surfaces, are of a very low resolution. There are definitely better and faster engines out there. So, I'm not sure why they have chosen to stick with that engine.


On par with previous games. Nothing special or outstanding.


I liked the campaign mode, for what there was. The campaign mode is entirely too short and not involved enough. There should have been far more firefights than there were. Once you get the package, everyone treats you like kid gloves and the levels become laughably easy. Unfortunately, it appears Bungie spent the most time filling out the multiplayer aspects and not enough on a long detailed campaign. The campaign mode almost feels like an add-on. Like it was there only to appease those who like campaigns, but no real long term development went into this part of the game.

If you like multiplayer games, this is probably a good game. But, if you're looking for a long involved TPS/FPS, this isn't it. It's probably worth a play if you're really into the Halo series or if you intend to play the multiplayer parts. However, I would not recommend this game if you only intend to play the campaign. It's way too short and it's far too much like Halo 1, 2 and 3 and ODST. For campaign only play, you should probably skip this game and go get something like Singularity which is much more involved (even though it's mostly a clone of Bioshock).

  • Sound: 7/10 (average)
  • Graphics: 9/10 (random low and high res textures)
  • Gameplay: 7/10 (standard for Halo)
  • Story: 5/10 (story not finished, lacking, shallow)
  • Bugginess: N/A (no bugs, yay!)
  • Controls: 8/10 (same as Halo 3)
  • Bang-to-buck: 5/10 (still working through multiplayer)
  • Play Value: $10 (it's worth more if you are like multiplayer, if not, less)
  • Overall: 7/10 (overly short campaign mode, not enough story, lacking fights).

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Xbox 360 - Alpha Protocol

Alpha Protocol by Obsidian / Sega

Here is a self-purported RPG. It gets a GZ of 2/10. In actuality, this game really isn't an RPG. It has some RPG aspects to it, but it is no where near a true Role Playing Game.

Character Creation

First, there isn't such a thing. You are who you are and you can't change that. You can change the appearance, but very limited. In a true RPG, you can choose to be male or female. You can choose classes and you can choose your outfit. There is very little of that in Alpha Protocol. You can find other outfits along the way to increase your armor, though. But these are whole outfits, not single pieces (i.e., gloves, shoes, pants, shirt, etc).

With the character creator in AP, you can change the hair to about 6 different styles. You cannot change the hair color. You can change the skin color, but again limited. You can't change the look of the face (i.e., cheeks, nose, mouth, chin, etc). You can add features like limited beards.


The gameplay is actually very limited. Most of the time you are sneaking around places trying not to be seen. You can go in gunz-a-blazin', but this is really counter to the missions and who knows what kind of things the game may change later as a result.

Leveling up

You do get to level up through Action Points (AP). But, you get so few it takes ages to actually level your character up in any real way.


The controls are strange choosing to put lots of different things on LT, RT, LB, RB, back and start buttons. After a while, I guess you'd get used to it, but it's really mapped in a strange way. Definitely not intuitive.

Save Points

Ok, so here is one of the major problems with this game (not that this is the only problem). Instead of a save-anywhere system, which any RPG worth its weight in salt should have, Sega opted to offer a 'Save Checkpoint' option. So, basically, you can save your current checkpoint and go back to that specific checkpoint. You can't save anywhere. This means you will have to lose a lot of things to restart a checkpoint. This is frustrating, time consuming and overly stupid. Bad decision Obsidian.

Effectively, this game only supports checkpoint saves and the saving of checkpoints can be done only after the current checkpoint is reached. If you forget to save a checkpoint, you lose the ability to go back to that checkpoint later. This is not an intuitive save system.


Well, frankly, there aren't any. You get missions and that's that. Whatever missions they give you, you do. You don't get any new missions until you complete the few current outstanding missions. In a true RPG, you should be able to find and start missions at any time. As I said, this isn't a true RPG.


This game is completely bugged. This aspect alone was enough for me to stop playing it. In fact, there is a mission to retrieve data from a computer. Once I had completed this task, the game locked me into an area that had no exit. So, my character (and my game) was completely trapped in this space. I had no choice but to stop playing there. It is quite clear that this game was not play tested at all. From this point alone, I would recommend not playing Alpha Protocol.


For what it is, this game's graphics are incredibly bad. The characters look low res. The levels look low res and the textures are weak. This looks like it could have been ported from a Nintendo 64 and probably would have run on an N64 also.


My recommendation is to avoid this game. It is currently far too buggy to recommend playing.. unless you like hitting bugs that prevent you from continuing the game. The game itself needs a lot of work and appears to have been released in the beta stage. Frankly, they should have saved this game until sometime in 2011 giving time to work out the bugs and increase the texture quality.

  • Sound: 7/10 (not outstanding)
  • Graphics: 8/10 (bad textures, low res)
  • Gameplay: 5/10 (average, but also repetitive)
  • Story: 5/10 (no real story that I could see, just missions)
  • Bugginess: 1/10 (show stopper bug, prevents game progression)
  • Controls: 5/10 (needs work)
  • Bang-to-buck: N/A (not completed, probably not)
  • Play Value: $5 (wait till clearance, by then they might have a patch)
  • Overall: 2/10 (poor save system, bad gameplay, show stopper bugs).

Xbox 360 - Alan Wake

Alan Wake by Remedy

Starting with this review, I will give the overall score right up front.
This game is a 4/10. Why? This is one game I really wanted to like, but.... Let's get started.


You play as Alan Wake, a novelist. In this game, however, instead of writing a novel, Alan Wake becomes part of his own novel and must unravel the pieces before it's too late and everything is lost.

The game begins with Alan Wake and wife taking a vacation to a quaint cabin in the woods (cliche). It soon becomes apparent that there's something not quite right about the whole deal. When he visits the person to obtain the keys, he has a strange encounter that starts the whole deal of what follows.

Alan's wife disappears into the lake (along with the cabin, that supposedly hadn't existed in the lake since the 70s) and Alan must find a way to free her.

The story has a reasonably Stephen King like feel, but is marred by the unnecessarily repetitive game play. This is one game I was hoping would marry gameplay and story better than most, but unfortunately, it didn't.


This game is a standard third person shooter. It's not particularly inspired, but it does become both repetitive and annoying. It's repetitive because each level is nearly identical: running around in the woods trying to avoid the 'Taken' (spirits that manifest to kill you) and you must seek the next street light (that makes them go away). It's annoying because of the way the game spawns the 'Taken' to kill you (i.e., intentionally out of the camera and usually behind you). Unfortunately, each and every level is basically the same. There are a few exceptions to this when you have to avoid possessed objects instead of people, but even that becomes repetitive.

The weapons are mostly standard including a pistol and shotgun. Because the 'Taken' avoid light and seek darkness, you also have light weapons including a flashlight, flares and flashbang grenades. Unfortunately, the flashlight only removes the Taken invincibility and lets you finally kill them. You can temporarily increase the brightness of the flashlight to make it work faster (at the cost of using up the battery). The battery recharges, but very slowly.

At some points in the game, you get access to other light sources like search lights and construction lights, but these really do no better than your own flashlight. In reality, it's far simpler to run to the next street light checkpoint. And yes, the street lamps are generally checkpoints. So, it's actually far more beneficial to keep moving than to stop and try to defeat the Taken in each encounter.


The enemies you encounter include the Taken. These are dark spirits that manifest and try to kill you by throwing hatchets, chopping you or hitting you. They are primo at ganging up on you and, worse, the game loves to make them appear inches behind you out of the sight of the camera. For this reason alone, I am downrating this game. Using the lack of camera sight to throw enemies at you is a no-no. Never ever do this. If, as a game designer, you think this is some kind of challenge, it isn't. It's an unfair tactic to the gamer. If you want to design this kind of enemy, then offer a HUD where you can see them as a dot around you. So, you may not be able to see them standing just out of the camera, you can at least see them on the HUD.


The controls are pretty standard. There was nothing horribly wrong with the way the controls are mapped or how they work.


The game is broken down into distinct episodes or chapters, but this really wasn't necessary. So, you play for a short time and that segment ends (like a TV show). The next episode starts up and recaps what you did previously (like a TV show). You then move into the game play segment again.

The ending was a bit on the cliche side, but left you hanging enough that they can create an Alan Wake 2. It didn't really end as I expected it to, but the ending didn't really end either.


This game tried to be unique, but really ended up as a mediocre third person shooter. It's reasonably bug free, but it's still not perfect. It was also reasonably short as I was able to get through it in about a day of play.

  • Sound: 8/10 (eerie at times, but not that cinematic)
  • Graphics: 8/10 (not bad, but shaders could have been better)
  • Gameplay: 4/10 (boring and repetitive)
  • Story: 4/10 (episodic format was not necessary, ending weak)
  • Bugginess: N/A
  • Controls: 8/10 (average, nothing new)
  • Bang-to-buck: 1/10 (no replay value)
  • Play Value: $10 (story is really better than gameplay, not by much)
  • Overall: 4/10 (could have used more work).

Monday, May 24, 2010

Xbox 360 - Red Dead Redemption

Red Dead Redemption by Rockstar

Parental Rating: Mature Themes, Violence, Gore

Plain and simple, this is Grand Theft Auto with a new setting in the old west. Nearly all of GTA4 is in Red Dead Redemption (RDR), with exception of a few omissions (swimming, modern vehicles, modern weapons). Instead of jacking cars, you can jack stage coaches, trains and horseman. You have all of the old weapons. Your character is Jack Marsten.

While Rockstar did a reasonable job converting GTA4 to an old west setting, there are a number of problems that plague this game.


The controls could be better. For example, the 'Dead Eye' mode is nearly impossible to activate on the right stick controller. If you press or wiggle the right stick enough times, you might just activate this mode at the last minute and make it work. Then again, you might not. This mode could be great if it would reliably activate. Yes, I realize there is a 'dead eye' meter, but even when it's full it doesn't always want to activate.

Walking through doorways can be an immense chore. Instead of walking through the doorway, he straddles the door frame, first on one side, then on the other. No, I'm not talking about the right button (RB) that activates Jack in cover mode. I'm talking about in free walking mode. I spent the better part of about 2 minutes maneuvering him to walk through a friggin door. Seriously, this part is exceedingly bad. This is also obviously something new for this engine. I'd never had issues controlling a character through a doorway in GTA4. I have no idea why he's that hard to control in RDR, but he is.

Breaking broncos can be a chore when you're near cacti or cliffs. When the camera gets anywhere close to a tall object or cactus, it focuses so tightly on Jack, you can't see what you're doing and the game will ultimately throw you from the horse. If you want to break horses, do it in open areas, not close to cliffs or cacti.

Jumping onto a train (or between train cars) can be near impossible at times. Other times, it can work perfectly.

Controlling a horse can be near impossible at times. When you move the camera to view the character from the front, pushing backwards on the controller should turn the horse around. It doesn't. Instead, the horse keeps going in the forward direction. You have to actually use the stick and swing (rotate) the stick so that the horse also swings and turns. This is very annoying.

Note that nearly every problem with the control system is because of the sluggish controls on Jack. Rockstar pulled the highly annoying slow-to-respond controls from GTA 4 into RDR and this system makes this game suffer and suffer badly.


The gameplay is reasonable, but nowhere near perfect. The problematic controls prevent this game from being anywhere near perfect. It's probably too late to re-engineer the controls for this game, but hopefully Rockstar can fix the control problem with RDR2.


You are Jack Marsten. You are an outlaw who has decided to track down an old friend-turned-enemy. Since Jack is a clean slate, how you choose to handle where you are is entirely up to you. So, if you want to become an outlaw, the game gives you that option. If you want to be a good guy, the game also gives you this option. As you progress, you make choices that add or remove honor and fame. The more honor you have, the better people like you. The less you have, the less they like you. If your honor goes negative, then you're an outlaw.

So, as you progress, you learn new things and get new items and weapons. The missions run much like GTA4 in that they begin and end. You must complete some kind of task and you get a reward. If you complete the task successfully, you may get additional General Store items or new game features.

It's actually hard to tell what's the main story and what's a side story. So, you'll just have to play the game to determine that for yourself or read through the Game Guide.


Various weapons become available as you progress. These include a pistol, a shotgun, a repeater, a lasso, a knife and your fists (among others you can find).

Game Map Sections

Just like GTA4, as you progress through the game, other parts of the map open. So, completion of key missions will unlock more map areas. Until then, the bridges prevent you from visiting those other areas.

Game Saves

There are two ways to save games. This has improved over GTA4, but is still not optimal for this game. If you purchase a house in a town, you can save your game by sleeping (just like GTA4). Secondarily, if you get far enough out of a town you can set up a campsite and save your game at the campsite. Once you save, the game's clock will advance by 6 hours.

Accidental Mission Starts

Unfortunately, there are far too many times in RDR where proximity missions start accidentally and, if you want the reward, you have to see them through to completion. But, there are times where you haven't even finished a previous mission and a new one starts simply by reaching a certain area. So, when this happens, you have to make the choice to abandon the new mission to complete the other one. It's also unclear if you abandon a specific mission whether it is restartable later. Note that the main missions start with a yellow X that Marsten must get close to. But, bandit camps are activated merely by proximity (and not close proximity at that).

So as a tip, once you complete a mission, always immediately save before doing anything else. Because saving is so cumbersome in RDR, this part of saving is a chore. This is where RDR fails with game saves. Anyway, to save that means traveling to a house or setting up a campsite. If you don't do this, you will end up redoing missions over and over. Note that some missions (like duels), Marsten can end up dead several times before you figure out how to duel. So, save often.

As I said earlier, the save methods in this game are problematic because of this one issue described above. This game desperately needs a save anywhere system. Because it's so easy to trigger something by accident, RDR needs to allow the gamer to save anywhere at any time. Honestly, there is no real reason why you can't do this either. Without saving, you will end up redoing missions several times using trial and error gameplay to avoid the pitfalls.

Fast Travel

Note, you can fast travel to any destination on the map (including custom way points) when you are at a campsite. So, if you want to fast travel, leave the town you are in just far enough to set up a campsite, then select your destination and travel. Note that time will elapse the same during fast travel. So, if it would take you 3 hours to do it on a horse manually, when you fast travel it will also add 3 hours to the clock.

Accidental Death and Unknown Circumstances

Be prepared for accidental death by saving often. Because there are so many different ways to die in RDR (duels, falling off cliffs, falling into water, getting into accidental gunfights) or even simply just triggering things that shouldn't be triggered, Marsten could die, accidentally kill someone or end up with a hefty bounty. You might even botch a mission that might kill you or reduce your honor. So, save early and save often. There are too many times where the game triggered something that should never have been triggered.

For example, after I obtained the ability to break broncos, I activated a job by stopping on the yellow X and proceeded to hop into the coral. I drew my lasso and was trying to lasso the horse. In this process, the game said I had assaulted the ranch hand (who was outside of the coral) and the job ended. This is one perfect example where I had to reload a previous save to start this mission over again.

Failure and Game Loading

If you fail at doing something or die, the game reloads from the last save. Except, the game keeps state information from the last thing you attempted and won't let you do it again from that modified game load. So, that means you cannot attempt the last task again from the automatic load. This means you need to reload the game again from disk to reset everything so you can try that task again. Why the game has to modify the load to prevent redoing the last task again, I don't know, but it's annoying has sh**.

And further, the game load times are incredibly long. It takes at least 30 seconds to 1 minute to load a saved game. This is way too long. To reload the level where you are should take no more than 5-10 seconds.

Graphics and Sound

The graphics are reasonably well done, but surprisingly there is some screen tearing that happens. The audio is reasonable enough, but it's not cinematic by any degree.


Red Dead Redemption could have been a much better game if the designers had thought through the design to accommodate the mission design. Instead, the game designers decided to pull in GTA4 almost completely and simply change the scenery without thinking through the way things work. Further, it doesn't really appear the game was truly play tested as these issues should have presented during play testing. Unfortunately, Red Dead Redemption suffers as a result of the lack of proper design.

If anything should be taken from Red Dead Redemption, it should demonstrates that merely pulling a game engine forward from a previous game is not enough to accommodate a major game paradigm change. In the case of RDR, this game would have been far better served with a save anywhere design, with much more clearly defined missions (always used Xs to denote the start) and a far better control system. The sluggish GTA4 controls need to go away in lieu of controls more like what's in Saint's Row. The character's sluggish control (on or off of a horse) is just too problematic to make the game truly fun. A game's controls should easily become second nature. When you're fighting with the controls instead of playing the game, the game has failed the controller, the game and, ultimately, the gamer.

  • Sound: 7/10 (not outstanding)
  • Graphics: 8/10 (good, but not great, lighting works, skin surfaces flat)
  • Gameplay: 6.5/10 (needs some help, accidental mission starts)
  • Story: 6.5/10 (could be better, but works)
  • Bugginess: 4/10 (three lockups, one during at the first boss battle)
  • Controls: 5/10 (needs work)
  • Bang-to-buck: 2/10 (might replay)
  • Play Value: $10 (story and mission length will make this title)
  • Overall: 6.5/10 (needs better save system, needs better design).

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Xbox 360 - Ironman 2

Ironman 2 by Sega

Against my better judgement, I decided to buy this game. I knew that it was a movie tie-in, but I had heard they made the suit controls better. Ok, so this game started out like it might actually have a chance to be something unique. It's unique alright. It's unique trash. This game is no better than its predecessor. The suit is still completely uncontrollable, especially War Machine. Effectively, this game is crap on a stick.


Based on the movie. So, this is effectively a movie tie-in. Nuff said about that.


At least Sega could have tried. But, this feels very much like a game that was written in a weekend. Literally. They couldn't have made a worse game if they had actually tried.


So many problems with this, it's not even funny. Where to start. The weapons are weak, the weapon cool down is too slow, the rate of fire is minimal, you're constantly out of ammo, the suit is uncontrollable (especially when you're hit). I mean, there is so much wrong with this game, I don't think there's really one thing that Sega managed to get right.

And when it comes to War Machine, the game is simply pathetic. Not only is War Machine about a quarter of the strength of Ironman, he has crappy weapons and effectively no defenses. Yet, the game throws about twice as many enemies at you as it does Ironman. It's effectively impossible to win the higher levels when playing War Machine... especially the carrier levels (where the game forces you to play as War Machine).


The main problem in playing each of the mission levels is that the suit is completely uncontrollable. You're constantly being thrown in random directions.

There are these basic enemies:
  • Ground crawlers: Big boss sized enemies that end the level when dead.
  • Suited attackers: Their attack style is to just constantly melee you. Their attack style does nothing but kill the suit shield and eventually kill you. They gang up on you and attack you en masse to intentionally kill your shield.
  • Drones: Drones fire laserbeams from a distance and use distance attacks against you. These are usually teamed up against you with Suited Attackers
  • Ground Suited attackers: These guys are bigger and fire missiles at you from a distance.
Combining all of this with War Machine's incredibly lame suit which you are FORCED to use on some missions means that you are destined for frustration.

Frustration Central

The attack styles of the flying suited attackers is completely frustrating. All that they do is get close and melee your suit about 10 times with a super fast melee attack. It not only stuns you, but it prevents you from any kind of retaliatory attack while they are doing this. Worse, they throw at least four of these enemies at you at once on top of the six or so other type enemies on the level also targeting you. Ultimately, the suited attackers are the most single frustrating enemy in the game. They're not hard to kill, they just like to hide behind you so you can't see them and also gang up on you so you can't defend yourself and you ultimately lose health. The only defense from these attacks is running away, and even that's only temporary because they follow you at the same speed your suit can fly.

The second most frustrating thing is that when you're hit with a missile, the suit drops downward. When you're defending the flying carrier, it ends up throwing you below the carrier. Once you're down there, it's a b*tch to fly back up because the suit is uncontrollable.

The most problematic part of this game is that the Ironman suit should be able to fly supersonic. Yet, when you turn the jets on full, you're flying about as fast as a person walking. So stupid and unrealistic. If you turn on the jets on that suit, you should not only fly exceedingly fast, you should be able to control the speed to go well faster than anything else around you. Unfortunately, you can't use the jets to evade flying attackers. They just hang right behind you at the same speed. So, when you stop, they're right there attacking you again. So stupid.

There was even one time when, for whatever inexplicable reason, the suit decided to careen downward away from the carrier which ended the mission because it said that I had 'abandoned the carrier'. For whatever reason, the game didn't return control of the suit to me so I couldn't even control the suit to make it fly back up. Again, stupid.

Upgrades and Research

Sega wasted this part of this game. To include such a detailed upgrade system in a game containing such incredibly poor gameplay is immeasurably stupid and an insane waste of time. Because even though you get points to research upgrades, the upgrades do nothing to improve the suit at all... especially not War Machine. Worse, there is only one (1) War Machine suit to Ironman's 10 suits. Yet, at two levels of the first 6 levels force you to use War Machine negating the use of Ironman. This is supposed to be Ironman 2, not War Machine. Let me choose the character and suit I want to play. Don't force me to use a weak character!


For such a cool suit, the textures are too low res. The game feels rushed and incomplete graphically (and in all other ways too).


This is a bad game with basically no redeeming value. If you like wasting money, feel free. But, if you feel you really must play, then you should only consider a rental or buying it on clearance for about $5 (or less).

  • Sound: 7/10 (average)
  • Graphics: 5/10 (poor, cutscenes best part)
  • Gameplay: 2/10 (weak, suits too weak, ammo too weak)
  • Story: 6.5/10 (watch the movie)
  • Bugginess: N/A
  • Controls: 1/10 (uncontrollable)
  • Bang-to-buck: 1/10 (no replay value)
  • Play Value: $2 (recommend renting)
  • Overall: 2/10 (Absolute garbage. Nothing redeeming here).
Sega, with this game, you've failed. This is probably one of the last Sega games I'll ever buy.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Game design from a gamer's perspective Pt. 5

Game Design from a Gamer's Perspective Part V

Patronizing Behaviors - No!

Do not insert patronizing sounds or suggestions. In this case, for example, Dante's Inferno suggested that I should move to an easier difficulty after starting a boss battle over about 5 times. Here is another design no-no. Don't do this. Never patronize your gamer. Never. Patronizing the gamer is not only a way to cause the gamer to get mad, it's not going to help the gamer get past the level (no, not even if they change difficulties). You have to understand that changing difficulties may have other game ramifications. Secondarily, don't lower or alter the difficulty of the level because the gamer has started over multiple times. If you want to allow modification to the hardness level, then allow it as an option on the main menu that the gamer can turn on. Do not turn it on by default. Always design helpful hints into the game, but let the gamer decide if they want to see the helpful hints.

Boss Battles revisited

Even though bosses are discussed in part 1, another issue has cropped up regarding bosses that needs discussion. In this case, the issue is that you are thrown into a boss battle without any idea of what to do. You don't know the boss's tactic, so you're fighting blind. You are forced to trial-and-error your way through the battle to figure out what to do. Here is the perfect opportunity to offer an in-game tutorial to help defeat this boss. This tutorial should only be executed if the gamer requests, but a simple pause request going into this battle the first time only isn't patronizing. It gives the gamer a way to size up the boss and cut some time off of the battle. Some gamers like the challenge of not knowing anything. Others would at least like some kind of clue what to do and what to avoid.

Wave after wave plus enemies with no way to kill them

Here's a boss tactic to avoid, at least early in the game. Dante's Inferno is yet another example of bad design in this regard. The first major and real boss battle throws wave after wave after wave of enemies at you. Just about the time you think you're done, you start completely over again with an entirely new wave of enemies. Again, the problem with Dante's Inferno is lack of health. Always give enough health on a level! During many battles in Dante's Inferno, there is entirely no way to get any health. No health wells, no potions, nothing. So, you have to do the entire boss level on one single health bar. Worse, you're doing it against an enemy where you have no defense (tentacles shoot up from the ground). You just have to move out of the way and hope the next tentacle doesn't hit you. If you could at least target the tentacles and stop the attack, that would be one thing. But, you can't. This harkens back to another game, Batman Arkham Asylum that would put up enemies that you cannot kill. Again, reinforcing another part of the this very guide: never put enemies into the playfield that cannot be wounded, defeated or harmed! Never.

Adding undamagable enemies only serves to take player health and make the player avoid being hit during this useless period. It doesn't make the game any harder, it just makes it frustrating. Let the player use the health he/she has to defeat actually killable enemies. For some reason, a lot of game designers seem to think that reducing the health of the player is somehow challenging. It isn't. Again, it's frustrating and time wasting. This goes back to... don't waste the players time (see part 1 and part 2 of this guide).

Story vs Gameplay

I think a lot of game developers wrestle with this issue when designing a game. So, I'm here to definitively answer this question. If you have a story in your game, then single most important thing in your game is that story. Period. There is no more important aspect than getting through the story to the end. The game play enables the story to work, but the story leads you through. The story is what is most compelling and what drives most gamers to play. If you're setting up a story at all, then it has to be the single most important thing in the game.

What does that mean for your game? This means that all gaming elements must revolve around the story. That also means that should you put any kind of battles or elements in the game that prevent completion of the story, then your design has put a gaming element ahead of the story and you have failed your game and your story. There should never be any gaming element including boss battles, other stories or puzzles that prevent the gamer from moving forward. If a boss battle cannot be completed, then allow it to be skipped entirely. The gamer can come back and play it later. Patronizing the gamer by suggesting a lesser difficulty is not the answer. Letting the gamer skip the level, see the outcome and move-on is not patronizing, It also lets the gamer move the story forward which then means you value the story more than the gaming element... and that's as it should be.

Far too many gaming companies put in impossible roadblock levels that prevent the game and, ultimately, the story from moving forward. If the gamer can never get past the level, then you have failed. Yes, you may have made your $60 from that game purchase, but I can guarantee you that the gamer will think twice before buying another title from your company. This leaves your next game with sales issues.

Future Sales

Always consider your present game as a resume for your next game. That means that the gamer who is playing your current game will judge whether or not to buy future titles from your company based on the present game they are playing. A failure game is a failure for future sales. You don't want this. Make your games a success for the gamer and the gamer will come back to purchase more later. This means you should always think about the gamer when designing your game. Never design the game for your convenience.

Parts: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Friday, April 2, 2010

Xbox 360 - Dante's Inferno

Dante's Inferno by Visceral / EA

Ok, so while I was very suitably impressed by the graphics on this game, the gameplay is poor to average at best. Let's explore.

Poor design ideas

First, here's a game that is a complete waste. A throw-away title. The sad thing is, it could have been so much more than it is. By tying down this game as an average third person fighting game, it limits the overall quality of this title. But, that's EA for you. They're a churn factory of average games and Dante's Inferno is no exception.


Basically, the story to this game is lame. I do understand its origins. It originated as a book and then a film. So, in effect, this is a media tie-in game. This fact almost assures mediocrity and EA certainly doesn't disappoint in that.

You play a knight who is thrust into hell to find his love. The setup of this story was actually quite confusing overall. While the visuals were quite stunning, the story is muddled and lost in the mix.


This is a standard third person fighter intertwined with a number of cuts scenes. The problem with the cut scenes in this game is that they are cartoons, they are also repetitive. So, you might see a certain scene several times in progression. Not a great idea, actually.

The interweaving of the cut scenes works ok, but not spectacular. That's not the real problem, though. The real problem is in the controls and gameplay. Worse, if you end up replaying a level over and over (3 maybe 4 times), the game patronizes you by suggesting a lesser difficulty level. No. Don't do this. Let the gamer muddle through the level on their own. Don't suggest level difficulties and don't decrease the difficulty unless the player requests it. Here is yet another faux pas that will end up in the Game Design from a Gamer's Perspective. Again, DO NOT suggest or alter level difficulties.


But, this isn't the real problem. The real problem with the level isn't the difficulty. The real problem is that you're thrown in without any semblance of what to do or how to defeat a given boss. You HAVE to muddle through it. If the game at least gave you some kind of hint or gave something familiar from a previous fight, then you might even have a clue. But, you're going to end up starting a boss over at least 4-5 times before you get the right combination. So, patronizing the player by suggesting difficulty levels is HIGHLY annoying. Again, DO NOT DO THIS when designing your game.

Further, the problem with the bosses is that you have no idea their strength, their weaknesses or how to cut the whole thing short, if there is even a way to do this. Worse, the boss battles do not give any hiding spaces, ways of taking a break or in any way getting out of the fight. So, you're stuck for the duration (or you press pause). The last problem with the boss levels is, like Batman Arkham Asylum, it throws wave after wave after wave at you. By the time you get to the last wave, and you're not even sure if it is the last wave, you're down to basically no health at all. In other words, the whole point to the boss levels in this game ends up trying to retain as much health as you possibly can. The boss's goal, then, is to whittle down as much health as they can. Overall, there is no fun or pleasure in that. It's just stupid design. The point to any game isn't to make the boss level impossible, it's to make the game FUN. Note that impossible does not equal fun! Fun is making the game enjoyable to play all throughout (including the boss levels) and to keep your story going. Forcing the gamer to stop your story by waging impossible battles means that you value the gameplay over the story. Wrong. You should always value the story over the game. Always.

Note that I'm not playing on the 'easy' level. I'm playing on the second level, which shouldn't be easy, but it shouldn't be impossible. Impossible should be reserved for the final difficulty level. Basically, this game has their difficulty levels set up wrong.

Save Points

Here's another game that does both obelisk saves and memory based checkpoint saves. So for memory saves, if you lose a battle, the game is kind enough to start you back at the beginning of the battle. Bad thing is, you lose any skills you've purchased. After starting over again, you have to stop what you are doing, visit the shop and purchase everything again. Frustrating. The least it could do is remember the things you've purchased. Note that memory saves are gone once you quit out of the game and start over later. So, you'll have to start again from a real save (see obelisk saves below). That means you will also lose your progress and have to backtrack to a disk save.

With obelisk saves, you stop by a specific statue and by pressing RB, you can activate the save point and save your game for real. The trouble, once again, is that like the health wells there are not enough save points throughout the game.

Again, this is a bad design. There is no reason why a limit is placed on the number of save points in a game. In fact, why even use save obelisks when you can put save onto the top menu? If the gaming industry would get rid of this obelisk save idea, it would be too soon.


There is simply not enough health to be had in this game. You find health as wells that you destroy to get health from. The problem, though, is that you can travel an entire level and find only one health increase. Yes, that's right, one. You have no health potions, nothing you can carry with you, so you are entirely reliant on the game to provide you with a health well. When you do find one, it's when you don't need one or at a time when you can't use it (during a fight).

Absolve or Punish

This is an anomaly in this game. It stands out like a sore thumb. You can scoop up an enemy during battle and absolve or punish them. If you absolve, you get light side points. If you punish, you get dark side points. So, while you are absolving or punishing, the battle grinds to a halt, all enemies back away and let you do the deed. Like, huh? If you're going to do this for absolve or punish, then do the same thing with health wells. While I'm trying to get health from a well, all enemies should back off until I'm done. But, the designers didn't do this. So, the game does this for Absolve or Punish, but not when getting health. So, you can't get health from a well during a battle because an enemy will hit you and stop you. Again, wrong design.

Again, the point of a game is to be fun, not frustrating.

Hodge Podge

This game uses a mix mash of ideas all thrown into this game. You have the standard fight areas, you have Absolve or Punish, you have the wells, the doors you attack to open them and several other things I will let you discover if you choose to play. A lot of discordant ideas put together that don't really work as a cohesive whole.


This is the only place where this game shines. And shines does it ever. This game is absolutely gorgeous and stunning. The graphics completely hold up even under the most intense and fastest moving scenes. No chop, not tearing, nothing. Someone put a lot of work into making sure the graphics were as fluid as you could make them. On top of the fluid graphics, the texture maps are perfect, the lighting is perfect and the motion capture and lip movements have to be some of the best I've seen. This game easily gets a 10 in graphics. If every game looked and was as smooth as Dante's Inferno, it'd at least make the game somewhat more palatable. Dante's Inferno raises the bar in graphics on the Xbox 360. I haven't seen graphics look this good on the Xbox 360 ever. In fact, it looks so good, I'd swear it was on the PS3.

The smoke and fire effects are amazingly well done. I have to applaud the designers for the effort put into the graphics. It's too bad the graphics design team basically wasted their effort on such a mediocre title.


The voiceovers are reasonably well done. It definitely sounds like hired actors. The music is good, but not inspiring. I've heard much better music in games than here.


The controls work, but are odd in places. I would have preferred a more standard control layout, but the way it is set up works ok for this game. The controls are reasonably responsive, but overall it doesn't really help the gameplay much. The one place where there is an issue is when the RB flag appears on the screen. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. So, when you expect an RB symbol to appear, it doesn't.

Note, the default layout puts a darting move on the right stick instead of camera movement. While I would call Visceral on 'Messing with a good thing', it seems to work ok in this game. I would have preferred a camera control on this stick, but the way that it is seems to work well enough.


I can't really recommend this game. It's an average game that feels like a movie tie-in. It doesn't feel as rushed as most movie tie-ins (mostly because of the graphics subsystem). But, the game play is frustrating as are the boss levels. This is yet another in the endless stream of irritating boss battle games. Overall, I'm getting rather tired of this genre because it's basically the same things rehashed. There has to be some other way to play a game that doesn't involve boss battles to progress. In fact, I'd prefer puzzles to boss battles. Puzzles at least challenge the mind and make you think. Boss battles are mindless chopping, jumping and using combos. Give me something that challenges the mind over mindless gaming any day.

  • Sound: 8/10 (slightly better than average)
  • Graphics: 10/10 (easily the best I've seen for this genre)
  • Gameplay: 5/10 (average, weak in places)
  • Story: 6.5/10 (too much glitz, not enough story)
  • Bugginess: N/A
  • Controls: 7/10 (odd movement control on the right stick)
  • Bang-to-buck: 1/10 (no replay value)
  • Play Value: $5 (recommend renting)
  • Overall: 5.5/10 (nothing new here, even as perfect as the graphics are).

Monday, March 29, 2010

Xbox 360 - Bioshock 2

Bioshock 2 by 2K Games

This is the sequel to Bioshock. While I was hoping for a lot of out of this title, it really doesn't deliver more than the original. That's not to say that that's a bad thing if you've never played Bioshock, but if you have you'll quickly realize a been-there-done-that moment.


The story is similar to the original Bioshock. You're tasked to wander around Rapture (an underwater city) and gather Adam from Little Sisters. As you gather Adam (a form of plasmid currency), you level up your skills. As you add and strengthen your skills, you can defeat bigger and bigger bosses. The point to each level is to ultimately progress to meet Eleanor Lamb (the voice who taunts you all along the way).


Effectively, you are a Big Daddy in this game. But, you also have the ability to use plasmids (a biotech system that adds such abilities as electric shock, fire and telekinesis to you). So, in addition to the arms you find (shotguns, spear guns and what not), you can use your bio abilities to help subdue your enemies. Not that the bio abilities are not generally strong enough to kill on their own, so you are forced to use a combination of bioweapons and guns to defeat opponents.

In Bioshock 2, the designers added trap rivets and mini-turrets. Trap rivets are only set off once someone gets in close proximity. So, now you can trap an area against splicers (and other enemies). This is important because of the way you must gather Adam now. In B2, you gather Adam by first killing the little sister's Big Daddy. Then you adopt the little sister. You then use the little sister to locate corpses that contain Adam and then have her harvest the Adam from that corpse. That would be great if it stopped there. Unfortunately, the game designers felt that simply gathering Adam was too easy. So all the while the little sister is gathering Adam, splicers start coming out of nowhere and attacking you and the little sister. So, this is why traps and mini-turrets are important. In fact, its better when you can find the corpses near turrets or security cameras that you've hacked. I could really have done without this constant attacking exercise, but whatever. If there were rhyme or reason to this exercise, I'd have probably enjoyed the attacks more. But, they're mostly pointless. Worse, many of the splicers tend to come up from behind you. So, you're constantly having to turn around.

You can only do 2 Adam gathers per sister. Once that's done, you can either harvest the little sister at a vent or you can let her go home. If you harvest, you get the most amount of Adam. If you let her go, you get less (about half). So, if you want to progress in the game faster, you really need to harvest.

After you've either harvested or let the little sister go into the vent, a big sister may or may not come for you. Now, the point in the big sister is pointless. Just an exercise to drain health and eve (what fuels your bioweapons). Big sisters don't always seem to come, but when they do they are relentless until you kill them. Frankly, they're easy to kill. Since you can regenerate, just keep hammering on her until she dies. You may end up in a regeneration chamber 5-10 times, but you can kill her without using any Eve, without firing a single shot or without losing any health packs. You'll lose about half of your current health when you regenerate, but find a health machine and you can boost again for 9 credits (or find booze or food).

Anyway, I have found the big sister battles to be mostly pointless. What they give you after you search them isn't worth the kill. It's just a way to waste time (and health) instead of focusing on the story. Frankly, you can continue forward on your level ignoring the big sister. She'll keep coming, but you can still search and move forward. You will need to eventually kill her, but it's not really that important overall. The one thing, though, is that a big sister gives you a little bit of Adam (around 20-40). So, it's worth it just to get the Adam, but it's not really enough to make it worthwhile losing that much health and eve. So, use the Vita Chambers to kill the big sister and avoid using up health.

Trap Rivets

While setting up traps can help you score Adam gathers, note one important bug in this system. There is a limit on the total number of traps that can be on the playfield. After you exceed that number, the oldest placed traps disappear without warning and, after they begin disappearing, you are wasting traps. Note, however, that the game doesn't warn you of this fact. They just disappear. So, be wary when placing a lot of trap rivets on the playfield. I believe the number is around 15 or so. I haven't counted the maximum number exactly, but that's about what I could eye in the area where i was playing.


You have the ability to purchase weapons, health and plasmids. Weapons and health require money. You find money on dead bodies, chests, cash registers, etc. To buy plasmids, you need Adam. This you obtain by harvesting little sisters (and killing big sisters). You can also find Adam on some underwater levels, so keep your eyes open.

Bigger and bigger weapons are found around the levels. You can't buy these. Some plasmids are unlocked by research (using the camera) or by finding them on levels. The major plasmids can be purchased.


The game quality is similar to Bioshock. But, the gameplay isn't different enough and the levels aren't different enough to make it a new unique experience. I felt that the game developers played it too safe and tried to create Bioshock too exactly. Instead, they should have taken a risk and tried something new. Like, for example, add brand new and unique plasmids. Make this underwater station clean and bright. Something, anything different would have made it a unique experience. It was just a too much been-there-done-that experience for me to say that it was really a great game experience.

If you haven't played Bioshock, by all means play this one. If you have already played Bioshock, then this won't be anything new for you. If you're looking for a new gaming experience, this isn't really it.

  • Sound: 7/10 (average, but splicer voices can be annoying)
  • Graphics: 8.5/10 (good, could see texture loading in-game)
  • Gameplay: 7.5/10 (reasonable controls and action)
  • Story: 6.5/10 (slightly better than average, but too much like Bioshock)
  • Bugginess: 7/10 (traps disappear after unspecified number on playfield)
  • Controls: 8.5/10 (worked well in most cases, camera made it hard at times)
  • Bang-to-buck: 2/10 (might replay for release instead of harvest)
  • Play Value: $10 (recommend renting first, buying if you haven't played Bioshock)
  • Overall: 6.5/10 (been-there-done-that for B1 players).