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).

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Xbox 360 - Darksiders

Darksiders by THQ / Vigil

Here's another throwback to the late-90's / early-00s. This is your standard third person shooter with semi-irritating boss battles. You probably would have even found this game in an arcade or two in the late 90s.


Nothing spectacular here. Typical controls for a third person shooter. There is one control, however, that was completely done wrong. When you finally get the chain to swing from floating hook areas, the chain controls are badly done. First, you target the item to chain. Then you press the fire chain control (right trigger). That's ok, so far. But, instead of releasing the RT button to release the chain, you have to press the A button. If you release the RT button, you stop swinging. It's like, huh? Who thought this controller design up? It's far more intuitive to release the RT button to release the chain itself. Duh.


You're one of the four horsemen who are there to prevent heaven and hell from starting a battle on the Earth. Well, it happened anyway and they blame your character (one of the four horsemen). Ok, so the premise is weak, but it at least gets you motivation for what you're doing (or about to do).

So anyway, you'll find there's lots of hacking, slashing, chopping and stomping going on here. Not particularly exciting if you ask me. For a late 90s type game, it'd probably have been a hit back then. With gaming engines and stories that have long progressed beyond this level of hack and slash, it's really old hat at this point.

Level Ups & Combos

They did add the ability to level your weapons up by adding enhancements and obtaining upgrades. You can buy combos from Vulgrim (the local merchant). As you progress through the game, you find a Vulgrim merchant location in each of the map areas (with the exception of the Iron Canopy area). So, you can make your character somewhat stronger by finding (or paying for) new weapons, features and upgrades. You find items by digging through chests, but mainly by paying Vulgrim.

To pay Vulgrim, you obtain blue 'souls'. These souls pop out of things and enemies you destroy. There are blue souls (money), yellow souls (action points) and green souls (health) in various sizes. There are also healing spells that you can buy from Vulgrim when you can't find health on the level (and yes, there will be times).


Most of the bosses are quite easy, with the exception of Silitha (a large teleporting spider). It appears that THQ made this specific battle extremely difficult to complete. Not sure why unless they just like raising frustration levels. Simply search at Google for 'Defeat Silitha' and you'll find many many gamers looking for the answer to this battle.


As with many games of this style, the developers decided to add some quite irritating things to this game. When you're just about out of health, you have to listen to a heart beating until you find more health. Hello.. I can SEE the meter on the screen, I don't have to be reminded with an irritating heartbeat noise every second.

When you're trying to beat Silitha, about every 2 seconds she says, "Hold still little one" or some other such drivel. It became so irritating, I had to turn the voice volume all the way down.

Next, I play with Y inverted. Unfortunately, Darksiders doesn't remember that once you've restarted the game the next time. So, I have to constantly remember to go into the options and invert the Y setting. This should be saved to the game save.

The controls do not always respond well. So, when you're battling enemies, you seem to sometimes get stunned for no reason and that allows enemies to pound on you. It's almost like the game is doing this on purpose. In fact, it might actually be doing that.

Vulgrim Tunnel Travel

This part of the game was completely pointless. Yes, you do travel from one area to another reasonably fast. The part that is pointless is that you have to run around this track from point A to point B. There's no fighting, no quests and no treasures there. Frankly, I would have preferred to enter the portal and exit it with nothing in between. If you're going to make the gamer do something, then make it worth their while... here's another tip to go into the Game Design from a Gamer's Perspective manual. Although, it's really already there as 'Don't waste the gamer player's time'.


This is a tired, old and worn out gaming style. I understand a lot of gamers still like to play them, but for an RPG gamer, this play system just doesn't really work. If you're the kind of gamer that likes to roam through levels, figure out puzzles and battle silly creatures, then you might like this.

The best part of this game.. well, there is no real best part. This is an average/mediocre third person shooter with nothing overly special. If you simply must play everything on the Xbox 360, go for it. If you're looking for a quality, longer and more thought provoking game that's compelling, Darksiders isn't it.

  • Sound: 6/10 (irritating voices)
  • Graphics: 6/10 (good, but missing too many details)
  • Gameplay: 7/10 (mostly workable)
  • Story: 7/10 (weak plot wrapped with lots of hacking and slashing)
  • Bugginess: N/A
  • Controls: 6/10 (bad chain control. otherwise workable)
  • Bang-to-buck: 1/10 (definitely no replay value)
  • Play Value: $5 (limited play value, repetitive, boring in places, rent)
  • Overall: 5.5/10 (I definitely recommend renting this title. Not worth $60).

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Big Screen - Avatar

Avatar by James Cameron

While I know there is a video game for this movie (which Gamezelot may eventually review), this review is about the film itself. You're probably asking yourself, "Why is Gamezelot reviewing movies?" Well, I'll tell you. Essentially, Avatar is a nearly 3 hour video game romp. It is effectively one big cutscene from a video game. Because of this fact, I have decided to review this movie here.


It's actually 3 stories in one. Boy meets girl, boy falls in love, boy betrays girl, boy wins girl back. Ok, so much for the love story. The second story is for the battle over Pandora, the planet the Navi inhabit. Humans need 'Unobtanium' and to get it, they must displace the locals (the Navi) on the planet Pandora. The third story is of sacrifice and courage by those chosen to become Avatars.

Essentially, there are two factions towards domination of Pandora. The Sigourney Weaver character camp that believes that understanding the natives is the answer. She does this by creating the Avatars (lifelike representations of Navi bodies that humans can remote control). So, her intent is to blend in with the Navi and become one with them using these Avatars. This tactic doesn't work until a handicapped marine signs on to run an Avatar.

The second camp is the military commander. He wants decisive action to get the job done. If that means destroying the Navi to get the Unobtanium, he'll do it.

The Navi are the indigenous peoples of Pandora. Ok, so that's the setup.

In the 3 hours that unfold, lots of visual effects are used and some cool and amazing things are done. This is, to date, the best live action video game yet. When we can finally get consoles that can produce graphics that look like Avatar, then we'll be onto something.


The premise behind the film is sound, but the basic stories have been dumbed down to fit into the nearly 3 hour framework. In fact, this movie would have been better served as an actual video game where you could spend hours and hours playing it and get a truly in-depth experience. But, of course, the graphics wouldn't have been anywhere near as stunning.

However, ignoring the graphics work, which is outstanding, the stories are actually fairly weak with lots of holes. The writer(s) could have done much better at sewing up the details of Pandora and the Humans, but failed to do so. So, there are a number of rather cliche and trite things about the way this movie unfolds. While you haven't seen a movie that looks like this one visually, you have seen this film before. Effectively, Cameron has taken stories that are old and tired (and somewhat politically correct) and wrapped them in a shiny new huggable CG ribbon.


Unfortunately, the characters in this film were all basically cartoons of real humans. From the unfeeling G.I. Joe to the Smoking Doctor. There's nothing very realistic about any of the characters. Even the attempt at sympathy for the handicapped marine really falls quite flat. Because his human role in the movie basically consists of entering and exiting the Avatar control pod, you get very little real emotional time with the human part of this character. The only emotional time you get with Jack Sully (the handicapped marine) is him as the Avatar which, with as well as it was done, just doesn't cut it. So, Jack Sully's character is flat and underdeveloped.

Human vs Avatar

Unfortunately, as well, there was very little struggle for any of the characters learning to control the avatars. For example, there have to be long term exposure effects of some kind. Whether that's nosebleeds or convulsions, there needs to be some negative consequences to using the avatar chamber. Something that tells the human body that it's not a good thing. That never happens. Without this element, it leaves the human world flat and emotionless. It makes the story feel all too perfect. Without this element, this leaves the story without a human antagonist that prevents the avatar from working perfectly. And, throughout this film, the avatars perform flawlessly.

Without something that ties the the audience to the cause of the humans, it leaves the audience emotionless towards any of it. It's hard to feel for the Navi fully because you realize they are simply CG characters. Worse, they are CG characters which are caricatures of real tribal cultures. You want to feel for the humans trying to do good for the Navi, but you can't because there's not enough screen time given to these elements. You can't feel for the bad-guy soldiers, so the whole affair ends up mostly unemotional.

Contradictory points

The characters tend to contradict themselves during parts of the film. For example, the tribe leader's daughter who first meets up with Jack Sully (as an Avatar), gets a sign from Eywa (aka Gaia) for her invite him in to her tribe. She doesn't understand why, but she does it. She chastises Sully for killing these dog creatures as 'unnecessary' and him being a child. Yet, later he kills an animal without remorse and it's all ok. There are other times as well where the film steps on itself with the tribal culture. So, this makes the tribal aspects not very well conceived.

High points

There are high points, but they are all there to manipulate the audience into feeling good about the situation. Like when Sully is able to pull off getting his flying creature or when he swoops from the sky and takes control of the much bigger and more revered flying creature. Hello, if it were as easy as he made it out to be, then the entire tribe would have done it.

Manipulating these feel-good points to make the audience feel happy almost seems a bit contrived. It works for the moment, but when you reflect on it you really understand how Cameron manipulated the situation for the audience rather than for the story.


The music score is fairly intense, but typical for this kind of blockbuster. There's lots of swelling orchestral movements throughout. Too many, in fact. The score is loud, but that may be partly because of the theater. In most parts the score works, but it's also quite cliche. There's nothing new here. Even though the graphics excel, the music score is standard.


The movie was good, but not perfect. If the movie had grounded the human parts in a more solid reality with more human character development, the Navi parts would have been much more believable. The struggles between the G.I. Joes and the Navi were really there to provide a battle environment... an Ewok vs Stormtrooper moment, if you will. This is the Star Wars for a new millennium, but even Star Wars kept the humanistic aspects to keep the audience grounded (at least for the first 3 movies). The later three movies felt much more like Avatar.

I'm at a loss why CG and human drama can't work. Avatar definitely shows that it is possible to do it with film (even though Avatar itself didn't succeed), but it doesn't have to be feel-good fluff. Unfortunately, Cameron took us on this journey, but primarily as a cartoon than as a real human drama. Perhaps he felt that the CG would play better if it felt more cartoony than as human drama. I don't know, but this film opens doors to the next evolution of film making. I would say that District 9 was probably closer to human drama vs CG than any film to date including Avatar.

Unfortunately, Cameron has already set the tone with Avatar. So, Avatar 2 is off the table for moving back towards real human drama. I don't fully understand the cartoonistic approach to Avatar. Cameron would have done Avatar far better and more satisfying by making all of the characters more real (from character development side) from the beginning... and also truly studying tribal cultures to ensure the approach was consistent throughout.

Oh well, there's always next time.

  • Graphics: 10/10
  • Audio: 9/10 (in parts, too loud and abrasive)
  • Story: 4/10
  • Overall: 7/10 (too cartoonistic and simplistic)