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Reviews

These are my game reviews.  Some are taken from Gamespot (don't bother looking, I took them down from my Gamespot account), others from my Raptr account.  All new reviews will be copied here and then Raptr shortly thereafter. 


They're presented in chronological order from the time I wrote them.  Unfortunately, I don't have the dates for many.


More will be posted as time goes on.  
To make it easier, I've presented a list of the reviews so that you can search by title.  I have allowed comments, so if you have any questions or want to comment on my biases, go crazy. 


Please do not use these opinions as an excuse to not play a game.  They're just opinions and I have my biases.


From Gamespot Account: Apathetic_Prick

  • The Elder Scrolls: Arena
  • Cybermage: Darklight Awakening
  • Unreal Championship
  • Warpath
  • Lego Star Wars
  • Serious Sam 2
  • Brute Force
  • Red Faction 2
  • The Punisher
  • Dragon View
  • Serious Sam
  • Scarface: The World is Yours
  • Half-Life 2
  • Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows
  • Syndicate
  • Grand Theft Auto: The Triology
  • Hitman 2: Silent Assassin
  • Black
  • Deus Ex: Invisible War
  • Doom 3
  • Jade Empire
  • The Elder Scrolls III: Game of the Year Edition
  • Unreal Championship 2: The Liandri Conflict
  • Dynasty Warriors 5
  • Fable: The Lost Chapters
  • Dungeons and Dragons: Heroes
  • Halo 2
  • Unreal 2: The Awakening
  • Samurai Warriors
  • X-Men Legends
From Raptr Account: Nate_On_Raptr
  • Fallout: New Vegas
  • Army of Two
  • Far Cry 2
  • Band Hero

The Elder Scrolls: Arena - DOS PC
 When we think of The Elder Scrolls, we think of unlimited possibilities. Which is what makes it so hard to go back to arena from the latter games. For a 1994 game, the visuals are fine. The 2D mazelike dungeons are acceptable. The sound is even okay, despite the fact that the engine only seems capable of playing one sample at a time. The combat is absolutely revolutionary, though, because you control your weapon swings with the mouse.
 
Cybermage: Darklight Awakening - DOS PC

However, the game's level of difficulty is absolutely punishing, the controls are glitchy and the game itself is prone to some very nasty bugs (including savefile corruption). Not to mention that the story was typical cookie cutter RPG fare - even for 1994. Furthermore, there are only three kinds of sidequests - and because of the lack of variety in dungeons, the dungeon crawls get old fast, all of which could very easily hamper replayability.
The story itself revolves around the Emperor being stashed in another dimension by an imposter named Jagar Tharn. Jagar usurps the Imperial throne, and it's up to you to stop him by gathering the eight pieces of the Staff of Chaos in order to confront him. The eight pieces are hidden away in uber-dungeons within the entire realm of Tamriel, and so you go from province to province to collect each piece. However, before you can go after each uber-dungeon, you have to fulfill a primer quest that's basically a retrieval dungeon crawl.
Dungeon-crawling in Arena would be more enjoyable if the dungeons were not mostly 2D maps; the engine seems to be quite limited, although seeing rooms with platforms floating above the ground did pose a small interest.
The other thing is, the game runs on a ruleset that Oblivion was recently criticised for (although if done right, is actually a very good system): MLvl = CLvl, or Monster level is roughly equal to character level. Give or take (usually give) about 20%. Now, in the first two Elder Scrolls game, character level affected spell potency; it was the multiplier for its damage values. So if you're a level 20 character, you're being hit by a spell that's potentially (based on damage multiplied by either every level, ever two levels, etc. etc.) 20 times stronger than normal. And Arena has a tendency to spawn multiple high level spell casting opponents behind you. This is where the difficulty manifests. And by level 15, much more often than one would like.
Where Arena is a similar game to its more modern counterparts is that it's a free-roamer. You can take part in the main quest, or not. You can prance across the realm rescuing maidens or killing civilians. The thing is, it really didn't have much consequence, although in 1994, I don't think that too many gamers would have been upset by this because there were very few games that would allow you this level of freedom.
Ultimately, Arena does suck you in; it has ambient noise, a moody soundtrack (which would be equally inherent in Daggerfall), and the first-person perspective combined with a combat system that helps make you feel like you 're actually swinging that sword all really help to pull you in and keep you in. Until you've just done yet another kill x monster in y dungeon.
Arena, ultimately, is hampered by its era and its technology; until the switch to the XNgine, the Elder Scrolls was really just an average RPG with excellent presentation and a favourable approach to how an RPG should and could be played. Is it revolutionary? From a perspective standpoint, no. From an interactivity standpoint, definitely not. Story? You've gotta be joking. Concept? possibly. Arena makes you think twice about grinding; it's definitely easier at lower levels, especially around level 10. But is it as great a free-roamer? Not really. The scope is larger, but the concept isn't much different from a Final Fantasy game (except Arena is single character, as opposed to party-based), except that the is combat action-based and in real time.
One thing Arena did have as a sort of "boss challenge" was to present you with a riddle (usually one that was quite challenging) before you could proceed toward your goal. This is a double-edged sword though; some of these riddles required abstract logic to solve; I'll be honest, I looked the answers up after running into one such riddle. If you don't have internet access, you might have a game that you can't complete because it stumped you with a very nasty riddle, although it does help to break up what is essentially a 1st-person grindfest dungeon crawl.
However, the gameplay is hampered by buggy controls. Poor responsiveness as well a buggy jump function (you have to go into the game's option screen and then exit if the jump key isn't working properly, which would usually re-activate it) which could have dire consequences later on in the game.
In 1994, Arena was a rock-solid game, albeit buggy and hard as hell. However, it was hardly revolutionary. Just immersive - but that's really about all you'll need. And a guide for the world's hardest riddles.


While CyberMage is not the first FPS on the planet, it is one of the most revolutionary for its time.
Aside from it's stellar graphics, it had a brilliant concept (that was very well executed), excellent level design and features that today we take for granted, but 12 years ago were considered absolutely unheard of.
What are these features?
-In-game scripted events - battles, quests/missions
-economy - you can buy and sell items at one point in the game
-deep inventory system
-floor-over-floor level design (months before Duke Nukem 3D)
-Vehicles - a tank and a hover car
Technical details aside, CyberMage is a first-person shooter in which your ultimate goal is to survive and then to eliminate the corporate warlord, Necrom. You will do this not only with a large arsenal of high-powered weapons, but also with powers that you acquire that are forms of magical attacks. Early on in the game, you'll purchase your weapons, ammunition, armour and health items. Powers, however, are acquired either by finding an artifact that grants them, or by being on the receiving end of them. The former is far more effective, but far less common.
Your powers are fuelled by a mana gauge which is recharged over time or by collecting the souls of your slain enemies; even better, these souls can sometimes increase either your mana or your life force permanently, as well as acting as a health pick-up, although it's definitely not to be depended on in that regard, especially later on in the game, and what you get is completely random. To add a twist to that, if you collect the soul of a fallen ally, it will damage your health or mana metres, possibly permanently. So don't kill the good guys!
Steeped in cyberpunk with a very dystopic feel and a nice fantasy blend as well, the game's atmosphere is nothing short of brilliant. The visuals are excellent, even by today's standards (if you were examining sprites at 640x480 resolution at least); the game has aged very well in that regard.
The game's story is excellent - and the game is also story driven. The story is told in comic book form in two ways; the game comes with a comic book that's an introduction to the events that lead up to the point where the game starts, as well as being told through comic cells in the game itself (complete with VO work!).
The game world itself is nicely varied, from labs to city centres, and even a battlefield. Nothing really feels out of place, even the final levels that are more of a fantasy setting than a science fiction one; the game melds science fiction and fantasy very nicely. The game's audio is mixed; the soundtrack is okay, although I haven't heard it in general midi, just FM which sounds like crap. However, the songs are not made for specific levels, they just loop in a specific order so you'll sometimes hear something that doesn't quite fit the environment (especially in the later levels of the game).
The sound effects themselves are for the mostpart, excellent, and while the VO was crap (especially by today's standards where Samuel L. Jackson's performance in GTA: San Andreas is pretty much the benchmark), they were pretty damned good back in 1995.
Aside from that, the game was mostly solid. Mostly. The final power you earn seems to crash the game frequently if you don't have at least 600KB free of the 640KB limit and you needed an absolute monster machine (even then, in 1995, a 486DX4/100 would not cut it at 640x480, my PMMX 233 is testament to that) to run the game in any resolution over 320 x 240. Which also means no DOSBox. Unless you're the really really patient type.
The latter point explains why the game has gotten so much mixed press; you pretty much needed a $3000 dollar machine that would be obsolete tomorrow to even play it at a framerate that wasn't going to make you gag.
Furthermore, the game's controls were pretty wonky, and even though you could configure them, the game actually played much more comfortably with a gamepad. And it didn't help that the game's level of difficulty was extremely punishing for the first half of the game.
Those issues aside, the game was quite excellent and is a gem that should not be missed not only for it's technical brilliance and excellent storytelling, but it's excellent gameplay as well.
Unreal Championship - XBox 

As many an XBoxer knows, if you really - and I mean REALLY - want to get your kill on, you play Unreal Championship.
 

Why? I'll give you three reasons:
1) Big, powerful weapons
2) Brutal kills
3) The best damned CTF, period.
Unreal Championship, as many have gathered, is basically a retooled version of Unreal Tournament 2003, although it lacks Assault mode and it has racial bonuses; what appears to be merely a skin is more than just that.
There are six races with their own stats, and each individual character has their own weapon preference and bonus associated with that. The catch: It really throws off gameplay, but thankfully that can be rectified in multiplayer setup via options called "Mutators", but more on that a bit later.
The game has 12 weapons, all of them quite powerful and, provided racial bonuses are deactivated, fairly well balanced (although the Minigun could be more damaging...). Furthermore, there are special jump techniques, such as double jumps and wall jumps that can be done, and special abilities fuelled by adrenaline that you collect throughout the levels.
Adrenaline abilities are things like damage increase, health and shield regen, speed boosts, stuff like that. Once you use them, your adrenaline drains until depleted, and then you'll need to collect it again.
The game does have its own single-player mode, which is basically an introduction to the game itself, its levels and its modes, and it's definitely worth it to invest some time in it instead of jumping right into Live and getting your ass handed to you on a silver platter (yes, this game is still played on Live despite the XBox's demise).
The game modes that it sports are Deathmatch (DM), Team Deathmatch (TDM), Capture the Flag (CTF), Double Domination (DD) and Bombing Run.
CTF is different in UC compared to the other FPS's on the XBox (other than the other games developed by Epic and Digital Extremes such as Pariah and Warpath) in that you grab the flag, score, and the match goes on; the match doesn't reset like in Halo. Also, the guy with the flag is still able to wield his or her gun of choice while running like hell from the opposing team, so they are quite capable of defending themselves if it comes down to that.
Double Domination is about controlling a pair of points for a set time period to score; king of the hill with two hills, if you will. Heh, that rhymes...
Anyway, it's about the closest thing that UC has to Assault Mode, and it works very well; it's quite frantic, as one can imagine.
Bombing Run is a sports-type game where two teams fight over possession of a Bomb-Ball. Unlike CTF, however, the guy with the ball can't use a weapon because the ball is launched with a special gun - he or she is, however, healed while they're in possession (and trust me, it won't save you from a couple well-placed flak cannon shells). When (and if) they get to the opposing team's goal, they can either launch the ball through, or try to actually run the ball through the goal for extra points. Of all of the game's modes, I would have to say that Bombing Run was my favourite, and in fact, I like it a lot more than Assault modes in other games; it's probably my favourite mode in any competitive FPS game, to be honest, it's that well done, and it's brilliantly simple.
The game's levels are excellent, period. They're sized for up to 16 players - and if you can't get that many in, you can compensate with bots of varying degrees (that you set yourself) of difficulty, although bots tend to annoy people. Furthermore, the themes vary from Tech, to Hell to Egyptian (and the Egyptian levels are really, really well done what with the sand dunes and pyramids)
However, with the addition of bots, that also means that you and a friend (or three; it'll support up to 4 players on a single XBox) could go against bots as well, and it's often quite a blast, especially in DD and BR.
Another set of options available - that lets you further mix up the multiplayer possibilities - are the previously mentioned mutators, which are options that can completely rebalance the game, such as eliminating racial modifiers, making one-hit kills (although the only allowable weapon is the Shock Rifle in that mode) and there are other wackier options available, as well, like floating corpses.
Moving on to visuals, the game is a mixed bag. Some character models don't look all that hot, and there seems to be a bit of screwiness in the death animations, although that may be attributed to online lag (which there actually isn't much of). Furthermore, there does seem to be minor framerate stuttering. The weapon animations, textures, levels and visual effects, however, actually look quite good.
The audio is also excellent. The weapons sound as powerful as the look and perform, the announcer sounds just as vicious as you are, although taunts don't sound all that great - I sometimes find it difficult to make out what's actually being said. Music is there, but it doesn't play a major role in setting the pace of the game; that's what the kills are for.
Despite it's flaws, Unreal Championship is an excellent competitive FPS, online or off. It has a very fast pace (about on-par with Warpath..maybe a little slower), great audio, top-notch level design and some of the best and most frenetic game modes available (did I mention Bombing Run absolutely owns?) and craploads of weapons, power-ups and special abilities. While it may not have vehicles, the game's pace is ironically much higher than most games that do. If you're looking to get some more out of the life of old-school XBox Live, or just want a cheap FPS to get your rocks off on, this game is definitely a worthwhile ticket.
 
Warpath - XBox


Note: The review is based on what the game has, not what it lacks. Warpath is game that anyone who's still an old-school Doom deathmatch fan can definitely appreciate.
 

Anyone who isn't: There's the door, geddafuggout. Now, how can I draw the distinction between Doom and Warpath? Quite easily. The gameplay is very fast (and fast play is fun play) and the weapons are - my god and heaven - well-balanced.
Now, why do I make a statement like that? Name me five FPS's in the previous generation on any system that have very well-balanced weapons in multiplayer. I certainly can't, and I've played a lot of 'em.
Now, the setup of the multiplayer game is that you choose your side, choose your weapons and then your game mode and map. You can have only two weapons, but each weapon is upgradable. The weapons are your standard FPS fare; machine gun, sniper rifle, grenade launcher, shotgun, energy weapon and of course, rocket launcher and a melee attack that kills instantly. Each weapon (excluding melee) can be upgraded three times, and the upgrades do different things, like adding lock-on to the rocket launcher or increased fire rate to the machinegun. Or, in the case of the energy weapon, it can turn it into something that requires a charged shot as opposed to automatic fire.
In the multiplayer mode, you earn these upgrades by killing opponents. If you upgrade a weapon and get killed, you lose the upgrades, although if you save them, you won't lose them if you die. However, they do help to add a very distinct advantage if used properly.
Note that you can change your weapon loadout in the middle of combat, although the change won't come into effect until you die.
When injured, you don't go seeking health packs or even health stations; you have the ability to heal on the spot with a special medical administration device. This can also be upgraded to augment your health as well as to make the healing process faster, as the device is quite slow initially as it has to charge up (about 2 - 3 seconds per healing), but it can be used on the fly and in movement.
Health charges are replenished with ammunition, so if you come across an ammo crate (which allows you to restock ad infinitum, but takes several seconds) or an ammo box (instant pickup worth one reload), your charges will get a reload, too. However, as cheap as that may sound, health is measured in bars as opposed to a percentage; each charge heals one bar, and if your health system is full upgraded, you have 6 bars to heal as opposed to four, and the device only holds four charges, and then needs to be reloaded (you carry 8), and while it may heal you faster as well, you can't do a complete healing without reloading which could put you in a bit of a pinch.
There are four modes of play in multiplayer - deathmatch (DM), team deathmatch (TDM), capture the flag (CTF) and Frontline Assault (FA). The first three are pretty self-explanatory, although anyone who's never played UT or a Battlefield game won't know what FA is. FA is about capturing and holding map points. Once a point becomes yours, you move on to the next one. After you've captured all the points (the most I've seen are two), you have to enter the enemy's base and destroy their generator. Once that's done, the round resets and it's played to best of three.
There's three things I don't like about the multiplayer - two are relatively major, the other's minor. I'll focus on the second major thing and the minor thing now, as they'll require less explanation.
The minor dislike I have is that the modes and their rules are set. DM is set to 30 kills with a 15 minute cap. TDM is set to 25 kills with a 15 minute timer. CTF is set to 5 captures and FA I've already gone over, the both also being timed at 15 minutes. You can't change any of that, and it would certainly be pretty desirable with TDM because of how fast the matches are going to be; the weapons aren't just ultra-balanced, they're bloody powerful.
The second major thing is that there's no split-screen multiplayer. None. Being that this game isn't exactly going like hotcakes - especially now - you've pretty much got a snowball's chance in hell of finding a game. This is not exactly small potatoes, because it limits the game from expanding its audience. If I want to play it with my buddy Jason, I have to play by link or XBC. Screw that.
In the larger maps, vehicles do play a role. Everybody gripes, and they're right to because the vehicles have a steep learning curve. At first, yeah, they suck. They're difficult to control, although they're by no means slow. Once you get the hang of them (and I'm still working out the kinks there), though, they're a viable option to use. All of them are armed, although some, like the recon jeep need two people, one using the main weapon and the other driving and using the machine guns (which only...fire...straight...argh). Vehicles are also destructible, and create a pretty big bang, so they are most definitely a strategic asset one way or the other.
That's pretty much the meat of the multiplayer. The single player aspect is a slightly different story. It is, if you will, an FPS take on the turn-based hexagonal grid-mapped strategy game.
There are three competing factions, humans cyborgs and some kind of humanoid alien. Each side takes a turn attacking the other, and when an attack takes place, you fight it out in a map with a ruleset (except for the centre, which randomly generates the map and rules). Each side has two weapons at first, although once you start taking enemy territories, you'll gain the opportunity to unlock their weapons as well.
Upgrades are not taken from slain opponents anymore, but instead are based on the territory you've so far acquired, so unlike the multiplayer game, the number of upgrades you can get is fixed; although when you die, you respawn with them if you've used them (and you should). Basically, the number you get is based on the number of your own territories that you control, the number of territories you have bordering your current opponent, if you have possession of the centre territory, and whether you're defending or attacking. You get a bonus if you're defending.
Once you've taken all territories, you have to return to the centre unit to kick some boss ass. Pretty simple stuff. And all this is doable in 4 hours at most.
Obviously, SP is played against bots - and these are the same bots you'll square off against if you want to practise the multiplayer modes offline (good luck finding anything online, though) and they're completely retarded -both opponent AI and friendly AI. Unless you absolutely suck ass, you will be doing most of the legwork because team mates and enemies alike will stand around almost completely aloof. Unless you set the game to its highest difficulty in which the enemies still stand around, but they have phenomenal accuracy, or when the charge they move faster than you turn.
Now, my gripe regarding lack of splitscreen multiplayer obviously transcends to the SP component; It would have been very cool if you could co-op it. Especially considering your AI buddies are useless as a brain in a starfish.
Graphically, the game is average in some areas, incredible in others. Models look good and move fluidly and death animations are good and fluid (although it's pretty standard fare for a T-rate game), but explosion animations and weapons look awesome and the textures look great.
The sound is great. Someone mentioned poor voice acting, but I don't recall hearing ANY, so I don't even know where that argument comes from. The music, however, was pretty meh. Techno beats are not my thing (and not the game's thing, either, to be honest), which is why I just shut the music off and make a playlist in my MP3 player.
Controls are meh...I find that you can't turn quite as fast as in most shooters, even at the highest setting, which could make it a bit of an issue when doing such basic manoeuvers as circle-strafing. Free-aim (the ability to look up and down) is fine, but turning is definitely too slow.
Otherwise, the gameplay is rock-solid. Unremarkable in that it doesn't try to re-invent the wheel, but you don't have to do such a thing to make a good game. The maps are also well done - and I'd expect no less from Digital Extremes. They're not too cramped, nor are they to big, although a match smaller than 4 players could make the matches longer than desired. Like all MP games, you'll want to get a feel for all of the maps to make sure that if you're going to do a one on one or a two on two, that you pick something small enough to accommodate that and you'll be fine. The game supports up to 16 players, and from what I have seen, with that many the game would be quite chaotic - which is always good.
However - and this where I bring up the major MP gripe - MP should have been structured like the SP component, which would have put a much more strategic spin on the FPS in general. I think that because this was not done, the game truly does suffer. I really enjoyed the game. It's cheap, it has a great play potential, lightning-fast pace, weapons that feel and sound as powerful as they are, and the game is very, very balanced which IS a rarity. Unfortunately, there's opportunity missed here because what is a very rich singleplayer component - regardless of how short it is - could have become a rich and very kickass multiplayer component. And to further ruin the game's potential, it was released far, far too late in the XBox's lifecycle. Had this come out in 2005, it would have done much better.
Regardless, it most definitely stands well on its own two feet and is definitely worth a playthrough for the experience alone. You just need to bear in mind that it actually does have a longer learning curve because of the upgrades and the vehicle controls, and as long as you're aware of that and curious as to what the game is like, then you're good to go. And at $10 CDN, how could you go wrong?
 
Lego Star Wars- XBox


Lego. Star Wars. Two of the most popular franchises on earth. Or at least in North America. Combining the two is only natural.
 

Lego Star Wars is a game that has a lot of charm, is easy play (you can pick up and play from any point, single player or co-op) and yet when you've finished it, it has nothing to offer. Does it suck? God no, but it could have had more replay.
Lego Star Wars takes place in the universe of the "first" trilogy. As in the awful prequels that George Lucas crapped out and force-fed us. Thankfully, the game is fun. And humorous; it doesn't hold any of the gravity
of the prequel trilogy (which was simulated anyway), so it's generally a light-hearted affair. A light-hearted affair that, by the time you've finished, will allow you to use General Grievous, Count Dooku and Darth Maul to play through the game (I've always had a thing for being the bad guy). In fact, there are an enormous amount of unlockables, however other than cheats and characters, they do nothing except act as virtual trophies. Items are unlocked by either buying them with Lego studs (more on that later), completing certain objectives or finding items (like Kit components for the vehicles), and this is what accounts for what replay the game has because you can't get everything on a single play-through.
Playing the game is a relatively easy affair. You traverse environments, and each character can jump, attack and use a special function. Jedi obviously use the force, gunner characters use grappling hooks, and droids have functions of their own - excluding General Grievous who's a special case; he's the only droid in the game that can not only fight, but jump as well. Interestingly enough, there are parts of the environment that Jedi can manipulate certain points of the environment with the force, either for building things or acquiring Lego studs.
However, not all of the missions are on foot; you will have at least one vehicle mission per episode, although they function like a rail shooter and the controls can be a bit annoying.
The visuals are good, but nothing stellar. It is kinda cool, though, that when characters die, the fall apart into individual Lego components. The environments are relatively medium in size, but it still maintains the Star Wars feel, due in no small part to the excellent John Williams score and the sounds of blasters and lightsabers.
The game is great for fans of Lego, Star Wars or both. It deftly captures the magic of both worlds and blends them together in a package that is not only enjoyable for an adult to play, but a child as well - which is probably the point. However, while it is a charming package - and about the only way to actually enjoy the Star Wars prequel trilogy if you're too anal for soap operas - the only replay it has to offer is acquiring all of the unlockables - and the game is already extremely short, easily being beatable in under six hours. But you can't complain when you can buy it new for $30. And you have to applaud a company that was able to put together a game that parent wouldn't be ashamed to play with their kids.
 
Serious Sam 2 - XBox


Anyone who's seen my glowing review of the first Serious Sam title knows that when this game came out, I was on it like pigs on...mud. However, there is a HUGE contrast in gameplay quality between the games.
 

Serious Sam 2 has got enormous environments, and lots of them; there's a lot of content, just like the first one. In fact, there's a lot more. Too bad the gameplay sucks.
Serious Sam, at it's core, is a simplistic shooter. This is not a bad thing; Amongst all the Half-Lifes, Halos and Deus Ex's, there needs to be a balance between games that rely more on story, looks and technology and those that rely on sheer fun. Serious Sam 1 gave us that. Serious Sam 2 is just a kick in the pills because simplistic shooters need one very important thing to keep themselves above water - awesome weapons. Serious Sam 2 does not deliver in that department.
While some of the weapons may LOOK cool, the uzis and - my god and heaven - the minigun (Sam's token weapon, no less) are boring to use. Most of the weapons sound mundane, and a lot of them work very similarly.
Not only that, but the AI is pretty bright for a game that's based on being rushed by hundreds of enemies. Luckily, you have a life system. Unfortunately, it's been hobbled. Serious Sam 1 had a brilliant system; you died, you resurrected and things continued without a hitch - bang, right back into the thick of the battle, right where you left off. In Serious Sam 2, you die, resurrect - and have to restart from a checkpoint. It actually takes a lot of fun out of the singleplayer experience of the game because the action is being broken up and your progression is being halted; the levels are huge and it isn't as though there's a checkpoint around every corner.
And it isn't as though all you fight are Kleer Skeletons; a lot of the enemies that have projectile weapons have, after easy difficulty, seemingly mad skillz with the gunz, so you do die quite frequently. And if you run out of lives, you lose your score (another aspect that Serious Sam is based around). In regards to visuals, Serious Sam 2 actually looks pretty good - and runs really well - for a game with the amount of on-screen carnage that it has. There were, however, a couple of points where the framerate did warble a bit, but nothing major, and the environments were not only huge, but generally nice and colourful.
The audio's a different story; not that it sucks - the sounds were recorded well...they just aren't that...great. The guns don't sound like they have much punch (which further removes joy from using them), and the soundtrack was also not as good.
The thing is...this game doesn't feel rushed; it's very polished. There's not much glitchiness at all, so it makes me wonder if the developers had listened much to what gamers wanted in terms of functionality vs. aesthetics. and it isn't like the game is broken. It's just not a lot of fun because the things that made the first one fun are no longer there, and the new material that's available doesn't add enough to the experience.
Am I expecting an insanely easy game? Nah, just a shallow blastfest, but when the guns aren't fun to blast off because they don't feel insanely powerful (when you played Serious Sam on harder difficulties, the guns weren't all that powerful, but they were still FUN to use), the sound isn't there, the functionality isn't there and when you have 3 machinegun weapons that work almost identically (except in terms of damage), it also takes away from everything as a whole, too. The homing parrot was at least amusing.
Other than what I disliked, the vehicles were generally a very nice addition - and in fact, necessary. The levels were insanely large as a whole, so it really helped to have something to help you get around a bit quicker when traversing them.
The game also has XBox Live functionality. If you like it, there's no reason not to look some people up for co-op. However, the allowable game sizes are also only half of what Serious Sam 1 had to offer (not 8 people want to be linking a bunch of XBox's; very few people have the space or time to do so, but XBox Connect is always a valuable resource...).
Will I ever play this game again? No. It's been out of my collection for 7 months, and it's going to stay that way. I was really put off by what Croteam had done with/to the Serious Sam series. I hope that a third one does come out, because this series started off really good and has hit a pretty big bump in the road - and anything that starts off well deserves a shot at redemption.
 
Brute Force - XBox


Brute Force, the game that everyone compared to Halo. Why? Halo's a single-character FPS, and is based around that. Brute Force is a multi-character squad-based TPS. And a really well done one at that.
 

When I first played it (which is where my original rating came from), I really liked it, but my XBox was on the fritz (I thought it was the game; damned Thomson drives), so I traded it in. I finally put it back in my collection because, frankly, I really missed having it.
Brute Force is, as previously stated, a squad-based shooter and you control four characters either as individuals or as a group. They are: Tex, Brutus, Hawk and Flint (which is the order you meet them in). Tex is your heavy weapons guy, and he can use and carry two heavy weapons. Brutus is basically an all-round soldier, and can carry a rifle and a single heavy weapon. Hawk is the sneaker, and she can carry a pistol and a rifle, but also has a devastating melee attack. Finally there's Flint, the sniper, who also carries only a rifle and a pistol. Arsenals aside, each character has health and armour values that differ, as well, Tex having the most health and armour (but being the least mobile as well as the largest target) down to Hawk who has the least amount of health and armour but also moves the fastest.
Each character ALSO has a special ability, and there really isn't one in particular that sucks. Tex can dual-wield a pair of weapons for a limited time, Brutus is able to regenerate health and see enemies that not everyone else might, Hawk has a cloaking field and Flint has an auto lock-on ability that she can use with any weapon (to extremely deadly effect).
Do you absolutely HAVE to use these? That'll depend on the level of difficulty, but they all help and definitely add more depth to this game.
Squad commands are also relatively easy; you can select a single character or multiple characters and issue an order to move, hold, follow or fire at will. The most valuable commands obviously will be "Move" and "Hold", because they'll be necessary for setting up offensive and defensive positions.
On the base difficulty, you don't need to get too tactical. You can pretty much run it and gun it and do a fairly decent job; it's on the higher levels of difficulty where you'll want to exercise more caution and actually approach the game and the levels with some kind of strategy. Especially if you want a 100% completion rating.
Level design is pretty much set up to take advantage of "meat grinders" and lure tactics, but this is definitely a game that allows some free-form tactics, and will become moreso if you add more humans into the equation, because the game supports up to four-player co-op or eight-player deathmatch modes, and is playable over system link and XBox Connect.
While it does also have XBox Live, it's only for downloadable content. While there are a couple deathmatch levels and an extra campaign map, XBox Live functionality with this game is pretty much non-existent, but at least there's something. As a sidenote, the campaign map is nothing special, just a survival level.
From a visual standpoint, it's all good. Even today, this game looks really damned good. The character models look good, the weapon models look good, the only damning aspect is that some enemy models were re-used and recoloured, but they still look good. And the environments are not only large, but the texture quality is excellent and some of the environmental effects, such as molten lava look extremely good due to excellent lighting, and the cutscenes themselves (that tell the game's story) are incredible. That said, while the cutscenes are very good, the story is only ho-hum. It serves a purpose as to give you a reason why things are going, but pretty much, your purpose is to take orders and complete objectives - which is about the summation of the game's story. It's hardly epic, but it does the job.
From the audio end, the voice acting is okay. The weapon sounds are awesome, though, and they make you feel like you're using some powerful hardware, although I found that the railgun sounded a bit too much like the sonic weapons. The soundtrack was there, it did it's job, but nothing spectacular.
The controls are also very good, it's pretty much set-up like a FPS, so the controls are actually very tight, I found. Not only that, but your squad AI is nothing short of excellent; while it doesn't do such a good job of dodging roller bombs per se, it knows how to avoid pitfalls and most other instant death traps and that on its own deserves merit. The one thing that stands out about this rather underappreciated gem is its production value; it looks good, sounds good and plays you good. You just can't pilot a Banshee or drive a Scorpion. But those are for the Halo franchise. Brute Force has it's own thing going for it, that being controlling a squad, and a very well-behaved one at that. And it isn't like the gameplay is shallow; each type of weapon has its pros and cons, the characters themselves that you play have their own strengths and weaknesses, and there strengths shine when you use them properly. And if you can't play with some strategy, you may just run into catastrophic failure on any level of difficulty beyond "standard".
Is this game for everyone? No. It's a game that has an unclear learning curve, which can turn some people off. What I mean by that is this: At first, it will appear to be a run and gun title - which it's not. It does a very good job of tricking you into believing that. However, when you start accumulating your team after Brutus, you'll find that that changes quite a bit, and you'll have to change gears with the game. If you have no problem with that, have at it because you'll be in for a very enjoyable ride.
 
Red Faction 2 - XBox


I think a lot of people are going to look at my score of this game, then examine what I though of Halo 2, and go WTF. However, I'm not here to shock, just to give you my opinion, and my opinion of Red Faction 2 is this: It's a really damned good game. Here's why:
 

Gameplay:
I don't understand why this game's gameplay is referred to as "been there, done that". I really don't. While it is a first-person shooter, it's also the first one that not only features dual-wielding, but your guns are also fired independently, which adds a more visceral appeal to the action.
Is this different than Red Faction 1? Yes, absolutely. Instead of you playing the role of "some guy" being pulled into a revolution, you play the role of a supersoldier that's made from the same technology that that "some guy" had thought was destroyed at the end of the first game. Vehicles are also no longer an important part of the gameplay, although they weren't all that important in the first one either aside from being a means of getting from point A to point B. That component never changed; the difference is that in Red Faction 2, most of the vehicles are being piloted and you're basically the side gunner - which isn't all that bad, as the game's vehicle sections are some of its best.
Regarding the geomod technology, which very few people touch on...it really is a gimmick, and obviously Volition knows that. A lot of people complain about Geomod feeling scripted in Red Faction 2, and there's a reason for it - Geomod IS scripted, but it always has been, which is pretty much all there is to say on the subject.
In terms of consistency, Red Faction 2, while a short game, rarely changes gears below "high" - if there's a pace change, the pace only gets higher, which is something I really liked about this game. Yes, it's beatable in about 5 hours on the easiest difficulty (my first time through was around 8, though), but it's pretty much 5 hours on a bullet train paced to Scandinavian power metal.
In terms of final build quality, Red Faction 2 is very well polished. The sounds, the visuals, the gameplay, it's actually all really well done. The framerate is very stable, the voice acting is a lot better than described in the review - and it sounds crisp and clean to boot.
However, is this a direct descendent of Red Faction 1? Thankfully, no. Disarming another atomic bomb with random codes is definitely something I'm not going to put up with ever again. And the locational damage system is also a bit different and while some weapons are similar, most are not.
Gone are the flamethrowers, riot shields and stun batons. And the insta-kill headshots. Instead, the arsenal is more aimed towards CQB and guerilla warfare, so you'll mostly come across assault rifles, machine pistols and shotguns. It isn't to say the arsenal is purely conventional. The rail driver is still there and it's still able to shoot through walls, and some of the secondary attacks - like the shotgun's - are pretty interesting. Hand grenades are now also part of the game, and you three different types - Frag, Incendiary and stun - and as long as you aren't dual-wielding, you can toss one, and you can also use satchel charges as well, like in the first one.
Red Faction 2 also has a pretty comprehensive multiplayer suite - as it should. There's well over 50 playable levels - including the opposing breakable fortresses like in the original on the PS2 and PC - and all weapon options are still available. The options available are your standard deathmatch and CTF options, as well as a mode called Bagman (hold onto an object for as long as possible), and a locked mode called "Regime", which is basically a "kill the VIP" mode, except that it's everyone for themselves and the VIP is armed.
While these are pretty standard options, it's the strong gameplay itself that keeps it all together.
The only real downsides are that there's no XBox Live functionality - this game would've absolutely owned on Live - and that there's no co-op. While these aren't necessary features, they would have done well to show off the strengths of the game.
Now, I've owned Red Faction 2 since its release, and I haven't regretted it for a second. It's one of my absolute favourite games on the system; I've beaten it probably about 5 times. It's great for if you just want to take a load off but at the same time don't want to get caught up in anything too long-winded.
The only people who are going to be put off by this title are Red Faction purists, Halo fanatics, or anyone who thinks that game is only good if it has a convoluted story and wicked CG animations. At the least, give it rent, you'll probably be very pleasantly surprised.
 
The Punisher - XBox


I'm not a sadist, really. But I do enjoy games with an absolutely horrendous level of violence and gore, great for burning away stress. Which is where The Punisher comes in.
 

The Punisher is probably not going to wow you with its story; it's pretty common comic book fare sans the unnecessary soap opera melodrama - which I liked even better.
The gameplay mechanics themselves are actually pretty simple. Point, shoot, repeat. Oh, and interrogate. And interrogate and interrogate; there are no health packs in this game; the only way you can regain health is by interrogating foes (which, if it's a special interrogation - a poor bastard with a skull above his head - gets pretty interesting) or by going into Slaughter Mode, which is basically where you go off your rock, pull out a pair of combat knives and just go apeshit.
Aside from gunning down the scum of the earth, there are also - aside from interrogations - other ways of dealing with the criminal underworld, such as using parts of the environment - such as suspended engines - to do your dirty work. In terms of what you can actually do to your opponents, the variety's definitely there; I mean, you've got assault rifles, SMG's, handguns, machine pistols, a sniper rifle and a flamethrower. Sometimes there are also special kill zones denoted with an orange skull (the snake was pretty cool). Then you've also got "quick kills" (which are actually anything but), which are brutal close-up kills that garner you more points. Then there's also environmental stuff, like bottles, wrenches, baseball bats and even a katana, which are single quick kills, but are pretty nasty.
Not only that, but Volition (the developers) gave this game the Red Faction 2 treatment for gunplay; you can wield two of the same kind for doubled firepower (excluding the LAAW and the Flamethrower, iirc), and of course both are independently fired. It's always nice to tear up a room with a pair of M60's. The only catch is that all of the rifles and large SMG's can only be dual-wielded until the magazines run dry, then you're down to one gun again. However, it's always fun to waste a bunch of mobsters with a pair of .50 calibre handguns. The sound effects are pretty standard, but they're done well and the voicework is also pretty good, too. Thomas Jane - who played the Punisher in the last movie - ironically does a better job of the voicework in the game. The soundtrack, though, is almost non-existent, obviously it's there for ambience only, and does a decent job of it, but it really doesn't stand out - then again, ambient soundtracks tend not to.
The Punisher also has a sense of humour. A somewhat subtle and dark one, at that. Any fan of dark humour will definitely get a kick out of The Punisher's humour.
The visuals are okay; aside from the model of The Punisher, nothing really actually stands out, but then again this is also a pretty dark and dingy game. Max Payne is considered to be a visual treat, and yet...same difference, if you will. One thing I thought was really cool, though was when you ended a special interrogation with a kill, was that the screen would go all monochrome, gave a pretty cool graphic novel effect. Maybe it was for censoring purposes - maybe it's not - but it gives the game an extra sense of style that really does add to the experience.
Where The Punisher does have some differences over most other action games is that between levels, you can use upgrade points (that you accumulate in-mission) to upgrade a few aspects of your character, such better accuracy, resiliency, or to purchase weapon add-ons like scopes, silencers and an underslung grenade launcher (for only one weapon, and it was kind of useless). These upgrades are minor, but they do affect things overall from when you transition from one level of difficulty to the next, and how you play affect how many points you can accumulate in a level. If you make your kills using the same weapons, you'll get fewer points, but the more kills you make in a row (before taking a hit), the higher a multiplier you'll earn. Higher multiplier = more points.
Will I recommend this game for everyone? No. It's pretty simplistic and the graphics whores will whine and moan about bleeding eyes; dark and dingy is definitely out. While the sound effects are done and well polished, they're fairly standard. And anyone looking for wholesome family gaming will find nothing of value within - this game is in excess of everything except for sex; gratuitous violence, brutality, swearing and gore.
However, the shooting is rock solid, the game is rock solid. If you're looking for something dark and nasty with lots of guns, a vicious sense of humour and an even more vicious main character, this is definitely your ticket.
 
Dragon View (Drakkhen 2) - SNES


For me, Dragon View was one of those cool games that a) I could never beat - lack of time, and b) could never find available to buy so I WOULD have the time to beat it instead of renting it for a couple months. Anyway, a reasonable EBay sale and $25 later, I got it.
 

For those that don't know, Dragon View is the damned good sequel to the god-awful Drakkhen - a game I could barely stand to play for 5 minutes because I walked into a body of water and my whole party died instantly. Dragon View is tricksy, but not like that.
In Dragon View, you play Alex, a young warrior who sets out to rescue his woman, Katarina, from the evil wizard Giza. Giza has kidnapped Katarina for his own evil ends, which you won't find out until about a third of the way through the game.
The game consists of two worlds, if you will. The overworld, which is traversed in first-person (and doesn't look too bad), and the dungeons/towns/random encounters world that's played in a side-scrolling view.
The side-scrolling view has a bit of a three-dimensional feel though, because you can move up and down on your field like in Double Dragon.
Combat is relatively simple. All physical attacks are handled by the X button, Y is for specials (that use a little health but add a nice chunk of damage on), and A for items like bombs, the bow, spell rings, or whatever else might be selected, like healing potions or mana orbs.
Physical combat is constituted by one of two weapons - your sword, a reliable and fast melee weapon, or your Hauza, which is basically an axe being mixed with a boomerang. It flies across the screen, comes back, and you get to do it all again. The sword, on other hand, is intuitive with where your enemy is positioned. If they are above you, you will slash upward. If you're jumping on an enemy, it will point downward.
Your equipment is also never really changed out; this is more of an action adventure game with RPG elements - you do level up, for instance, but you don't gain health. Levelling up raises attack and defence only, which means you also don't gain mana.
Mana and health are acquired by actually hunting down mana and health upgrades - which is also how you improve your sword, armour, Hauza and magical attack rings.
The overworld is also an interesting place; when you enter certain places, the music changes, such as the desert or the burned wasteland. The music and sound effects are really well done, and for an SNES game, the visuals are very good as well. The story, on the other hand, is pretty clinched and the dialogue ain't so hot. However, this is more an action game.
I think the people that I would most certainly recommend this game to would be fans of Zelda 2: The Adventures of Link. In terms of gameplay, there's a lot of similarities although, in my opinion, Alex is a lot more hardcore than Link.
 
Serious Sam - XBox


Serious Sam is actually not a generic shooter. A lot of reviewers compare it to Doom, but I'd have to strongly disagree. This is more like Smash TV. In Serious Sam, you play the role of a guy named...well, Sam. And he's umm...serious. Yeah, there's not much background or story here, but being that the point is to slaughter spawning wave after spawning wave of monsters, story is pointless.
 The game takes place across 4 time periods (you're travelling through time while killing monsters with modern weapons): Ancient Egypt, Meso-America, Babylon, and Medieval Eastern Europe for the purpose of preventing Mental (the villain) from doing something very, very bad.
The game is long, as it spans over 30 levels, some taking well over half an hour to finish. There are 14 weapons, and they range from the mundane (revolver) to the sadistic (chainsaw) to the insane (cannon). The weapon selection's great because there's something for everyone, and most of the weapons are fun to use. My personal favourite is the minigun.
In terms of level (and game) structure, you move from one area to the next clearing out badguys. There are no puzzles (well...no complicated ones), everything is quite linear - but there are traps and a couple secret levels. I think this is where the Doom comparison comes in. However, where this is more like an FPS version of Smash TV is that if you want to get to the next area, you have to kill everything in the room you're sealed in. Now, while that sounds pretty boring, the level design is pretty good. The soundtrack that accompanies it is also really well done. It's also dynamic, so when you get into combat, the music intensifies.
Where Serious Sam differs from most console FPS's, though, is that there really isn't much of a save feature beyond beating a level. And being that you're fighting dozens - and occasionally scores - of enemies at once, that could be a real bugger. Re-enter the Lives system. Pretty much, you die, you respawn where you got dropped and continue on. There's no lull in the action unless you've killed all the creatures.
And, because of the number of creatures on screen, the visuals aren't...quite that sharp, at least by today's standards. The enemies are made up of pretty simple polygons, but the texture quality is excellent, and the weapons also generally look pretty good too. It also supports co-op. Not the usual two-player co-op either. We're talking up to 8 players at once via system link (on 4 systems). Unfortunately, no Live support. But, where you've got link support, you can generally (and you can, it's on the list) play on XBox Connect so long as others want to, as well.
The deathmatch is interesting, mostly because of the levels. I really like the snowy village. However, I personally found it to be kind of slow. To each one's own on this one.
Serious Sam is kind of unique. It's taken a lot of hella-oldschool and mixed it with the semi-oldschool to create a pretty unique experience: An arcade game on a home console that really feels like an arcade game with a more immersive format. It's raw action, and it's generally uninterrupted (unless you absolutely have to eat...). And it's over 10 hours long.
While there isn't much of a story to string you along, that really doesn't matter because the levels and gameplay stand up on their own. And the weapons are awesome. I highly recommend this title to any gaming enthusiast who has yet to play this gem.
 
Scarface: The World Is Yours


When Scarface: The World is Yours came out, I thought "Mmkay, this is a movie license game. Licensed titles generally suck. Let's wait for reviews". I saw that the professional reviewers lambasted it for not being GTA and that the gamers are loving it, so I bought it, new, for $68.99 CDN taxes in.
 

It was worth every penny, and here's why:
Scarface: The World is Yours is not a Grand Theft Auto clone. It does not pay much lip service at all, actually, to the series that was inspired by Oliver Stone and Brian de Palma's masterpiece.
Scarface: The World is Yours is pure Scarface with no GTA aftertaste.
The gameplay for the mostpart - the mostpart - is very well polished. There's no weird minigames like the remote-control helicopter stuff (which was actually really cool) from GTA. This game sticks to the one thing that makes Tony Montana what he is - raw aggression and violence. And a whole lotta yeyo. The combat is rock-solid; the manual aim and the auto-aim both work extremely well. Something that Rockstar was too goddamned lazy to make amends with gamers over. The driving mechanics are awesome - fast cars move fast and feel fast. And you really feel like you're Tony Montana; He will not kill civilians (his henchmen do, though), but he loves to kill his enemies. And after you kill 'em, you taunt 'em.
The really cool thing about this game is that just about everything has a purpose that isn't superficial; buying exotics jumps your reputation - you need to rise in levels to buy better cars, boats and guns as well as giving access to bigger drug deals. And, the most expensive (and usually useless) vehicles provide wicked boosts to reputation.
Investments, while quite pricey, allow you special bonuses, like not paying interest on laundered money. Ever. And more on laundered money shortly...
Reputation also allows you to buy henchmen at certain plateaus; such as an arms dealer, a driver and even an assassin. Some of these, such as the assassin and enforcer can also do missions to reduce your police or gang heat (more on THAT later as well) as well as turn a bit of a profit instead of burning away money on paying it off.
However, aside from the enforcer missions, I found the driver missions to be frustrating (not really much reward) and the assassin missions to be tedious. While the combat is excellent, sniping opponents from afar isn't my thing, especially since I've yet to have the opportunity to do it from a height above ground level.
Another well done aspect of the gameplay is the "balls" system - think of Dynasty Warriors musou in a third-person shooter - that goes into first person. Well, kind of. When Tony goes off the deep end, he's invulnerable, autoaims at whatever's near the centre of the screen and hostile, and gains health from whatever he kills. Plus the screen goes red. Just adds to the effect. Oh, and he swears a lot while you're wasting your enemies.
Building up your Balls is done by: killing, maiming and injuring enemies without using auto-lock, doing driving stunts, wasting enemy gangs, and completing distribution runs. Interestingly enough, if you can find a sperm bank, you can sell off your built-up testosterone for money, build it back up and start again. Not really worth it though because a full Balls metre is invaluable in combat.
Another way that this game is not GTA is that Tony Montana is not somebody else's bitch. Other than buying fronts (which are necessary not only to progress in the game but also for doing distribution runs), you're the one calling the shots. You're the one ordering your lackey's to bring you your Lamborghini Diablo; you're the one calling the arms dealer and buying whatcha need. Also, you don't actually make all that much profit from missions. You make your money by doing distribution runs, which you do on your own time. And when I say you make your money, I'm not talking about a few thousand here and there; I'm talking millions of dollars, so the game at least rewards you very, very well for sticking out your neck (on distribution runs when you own all of Miami, you are) on the job.
Now, all of this is affected by heat - especially the distribution runs. You have to kinds: Police and Gang. Police heat determines whether or not the police will be gunning for you; if it's really high, it's very, very difficult to get away (I'll explain this in the "good, bad, ugly section of the review). It also affects your interest at banks when you launder money. High police heat means the bank is going to take you right to the cleaners when you launder money. Not cool.
Police heat I find generally needs to be paid off because the assassin missions I find don't help much.
Gang heat determines how often gangs will attack your fronts when you're doing missions as well as their general hostility towards you (duh). It also affects the amount of drugs you can buy at a given dollar amount as well as what price you can get for it. When it's maxed, they'll attack your fronts at random - regardless of whether you're distributing or not. There are other things it affects, but that's a spoiler. Won't go there.
Gang heat doesn't have to be paid down; there are many ways (and they alternatives are profitable at least) to deal with that one.
The story is pretty decent as well; not quite as convoluted as GTA - in fact it's much more cohesive. A very decent revenge tale. The voice work is great, especially Cheech Marin's and Andre Sogliuzzo (Al Pacino's stand-in for Tony's voice). Of course, lots of swearing abound and some of the conversations that Tony can have are quite funny.
In terms of audio, what really shines is the soundtrack. Even though there's modern stuff on there (Señor Pelegro by Ministry, for example, was released just this year), there's some great stuff - and a lot of songs that should have been on the GTA soundtracks, like Judas Priest's Breaking the Law.
The sound effects were also very well done, no complaints there.
Graphically, the game's not quite so hot. It's no dog, that's for sure, but there have been a couple of instances where I've seen textures flicker. The framerate is rock solid, so I have no complaints there. Enemy death animations aren't bad, and are made quite satisfying given the fact that you can pretty much mutilate your opponents given the right hardware.
The world itself is relatively large, although unlike GTA, it's not like the 4 areas are connected by a billion different bridges so you can cross between at X or Y points. This can certainly make some of the distribution missions pretty hectic, but considering how much money ya make from distribution runs...well, they gotta make you earn it somehow.
Another cool thing is that when entering buildings, there's no warping between zones; it's one cohesive world. I believe Godfather had this as well, although in Scarface it's for specific buildings so there's not really much that's generic.
So...the good:
Big world, boats, cars, guns, money, women, mansions. The weapons are satisfying to use (try the chainsaw just once), the vehicles are fun to drive and the money is fun to spend. And you can't forget a manual aim system that WORKS. Voice acting and soundtrack are very awesome and the fact that I can buy weapons and ammo and then load up from the trunk of my car is another big plus. And road raging is very fun, especially on pedestrians you've just run over.
The bad:
A few minor texture bugs, assassin missions are pointless; henchmen missions in general can get pretty tedious. And Pimp My Mansion is for people that like the Sims. Scarface isn't The Sims, and most people that love The Sims would find this game highly offensive and vice versa.
The WTF:
Modern songs on a soundtrack for a game set in 1981 or 1982 (not bad, just feels out of place), cops drive on rails when police heat maxes out, but when you steal their cars, they don't go near as fast nor handle near as well and how come you can't win back Elvira?
Overall, Scarface is a rock-solid action game. The combat is tight, the world is very immersive and regardless of the "shortcomings" of Tony's character (I wouldn't necessarily say that not willing to kill civilians is a shortcoming), you may very well find yourself sucked in. The game took me just under 30 hours to finish and I'm getting ready for another play-through, so I'd definitely say it's worth buying.
Just remember, it's not GTA, it isn't trying to be GTA. If you'd rather be the underdog, stick to GTA. I, on the other hand, would rather be the boss. Thus, I'll stick with Scarface.
 
Half-Life 2 - XBox


First off, before I start this review: I have played through half of the original Half-Life. I did not like the game. A friend gave it to me, so I thought I'd try it. What I disliked was the extremely repetitive level setup, weapons that felt extremely weak, mediocre sound effects, good graphics (they were hyped to be the best, but weren't), and both a story and a character I didn't care about. No, I didn't not just care; I didn't give a rat's ass. As you can gather, I really dislike hype (check my abrasive reviews of Halo and the GTA Trilogy for further insight).
Anyway, I decided to give Half-Life 2 a chance. After all, it couldn't be as much a screw-over as Halo 2. I was wrong, and here's why:
The major things that are hyped in Half-Life 2 are "life-like physics", "amazing graphics", "awesome story". First off: Gravity guns don't exist. None of us can draw that conclusion, the developers included. It's a gameworld, they created it. But, because it's a virtual world, reality doesn't come into the equation. Period.
Secondly, while the graphics may be mint on the PC, the character models have colouring issues; the world around looks vibrant and living, the character models, regardless of how high their polycount may be, look kinda dull. Colour depth is generally more important than polycount; that's why, IMO, Halo is still one of the best looking games for its age.
In terms of story, regardless of how good it is, it leaves you too much in the dark. I personally ignored it and just played the game, but that's just me. While I know the story of Half-Life, because 2 cliff-hangs as unforgivably as Halo 2 (Valve and Bungie must be bosom buddies or something), they may as well be similar games. Gameplay:
What I do like about the game is that it's fast-paced, from start to finish. Unlike the original, where there's a rather lengthy intermission before you actually see any action (which really pissed me off). I also liked the weapons better, as I found HL1's weapon selection to be...weak. I also liked most of the puzzles involving the gravity gun. Simple, but keeping things very interactive. Physics is not the gimmick it's played down to be by the haters, as I'd learned. But it does feel old hat, being that I'd rampaged through Deus Ex: Invisible War almost half a dozen times before playing Half-Life 2. I also disliked the vehicle sequences; they were far too long and tedious, and the vehicles felt very sluggish. While Valve tried to mix things up by having you solve puzzles on foot, I found that it only added to the tedium and frustration of those components, and that's what I think has killed a replay for me.
Also, one thing I will note: The levels in HL2 definitely were not as repetitive as those in HL1, but still needs work. It always feels like you're crawling through either a tunnel or an alleyway until about the end of the game were things change entirely.
Sound:
One thing I will definitely complement: The audio is superb. The sound effects, the explosions, everything, it just sounds great. The weapons generally sound as powerful as they are, but the sounds are not too flat (unlike Half-Life 1). The music (the only strong point, IMO, that the original also had) is also very well done. If only the rest of the game was as polished.
I'm not going to criticise the load times; I've beaten Morrowind 5 times; criticising load times would be gross hypocrisy for me. I'm not going to criticise frame rates - especially since they weren't as unstable as Deus Ex 2's. I will, however, criticise multiplayer. Or lack thereof. This game should have had co-op, and I'm not only speaking for the PC. Right out of the box, this game should have had it, it screams for it. And yet it doesn't because Valve would rather code fantastical physics to be an ounce more precise that the previous immeasurable amount. Which brings me to the final point. This game is, like Half-Life 1, a showcase of most things done before in many other games. It is a technical masterpiece, but that's far from being a gaming masterpiece. In order for it to be that, it has to be replayable. With repetitive level design, sizeable parts that I don't ever want to play again, and the fact that it's a failure at what it tries to do - blend technical with practical. Physics are cool, but Valve has taken things overboard, right down to limiting you to the gravity gun at the end of the game. Totally takes the fun out of doing it your own way with your gun of choice. And while the campaign may span 10 and half, maybe 11 hours, you have to ask yourself if this all appeals to you. I personally played the game to see what the hype was all about. Plus I got it really cheap pre-owned. No skin off my nose. But those paying full-tilt, beware the hype machine.
 
Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows - XBox


Gauntlet is a very simple game. Let's get that right out there on the table. The thing about simple games is that...if it ain't broke, ya don't fix it. Upgrade it, maybe.
Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows does just that; enough minor changes and a very nice new coat of paint to bring it into the next generation without turning it into what might have been viewed as a Dungeons and Dragons heroes ripoff - which would just be harsh irony.
The game has a little bit of a story, but nothing that you have to - let alone will - get lost in. Just enough to keep things a bit more interesting, although the core of gauntlet is slaughtering hordes of enemies while getting from point A to point B.
The levels themselves, while significantly fewer (thankfully) than the last few Gauntlet iterations, look absolutely fantastic. The models look okay.
Combat is kept pretty simple, although it's now a bit more nitty-gritty being that the focus has changed from ranged combat to melee. Not to say that ranged combat has been pulled; it is indeed still there. You have four standard modes of attacks - 3 melee and one ranged. You also have magical attacks that are mapped to the D-Pad, and you can perform melee combos. The magic burst attack is also available.
You also level up, and can use your level-up points to increase attributes such as strength and health. Furthermore, the gold that you pick up can be used to purchase new combat moves.
Weapons and armour can also be upgraded when you find weapon and armour upgrade chests.
The four original characters - Warrior, Wizard, Valkyrie and Elf also return - keeps things familiar - and each has their own style of combat.
The only things I really didn't like about the game were that the bosses are super-cheap. Especially that troll bastard. You'll understand when you encounter them.
Other that, there really Isn't that much else to say; it's a simple game and is really only about 4 or 5 hours long if you're using a suped-up character. the multiplayer is a lot of fun, but at the end of the day, it's Gauntlet through and through. If you don't like the original, you won't like the newer versions.
Syndicate - SNES

Syndicate is a very, very unique game. With this title, Bullfrog managed to make damned near perfect game. It mixed up a lot of elements already bouncing around in the RPG, Strategy and top-down Action genres (that's right, the game is an Action/RPG/Strategy hybrid), plus added a few new aesthetics (like a dynamic - but simple soundtrack). Among other things.
The premise: The game takes place very far in the future - and it's a pretty dystopic one. Combine Brave New World with Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? and you've pretty much got the gist of it. Oh, and the world is controlled by corporations.
Your role: You're a new corporate exec making your way up in the world. That's right, you're the villain. Well...no, anti-hero might be more accurate. Your goal is to secure your company's interests in the world, starting with Europe. The goal is to eventually nudge out all of your competition in the world.
How you do this is not by controlling markets, but actually physically seizing them. With a crew of cyborgs armed to the teeth with the latest high-tech weaponry and modifications, and that's where the action portion of the game comes in.
However, you don't come by all of that gear just by chance; you have to research it. And you get money for weapons, modifications and research (what, you think because you researched it you can spawn them for free? Heh, yeah right) by taxing the crap out of the nations whose markets you happened to...break into. Ah, but don't tax the populace too hard; they'll revolt, and you'll have to seize the market again.
When you're actually in the meat of the game (the small city areas in which your missions occur), that's where things get pretty interesting - obviously. Combat, while simple, is governed by a lot of factors: Your cybernetic mods, your weapons, and your API levels.
API refers to narcotic injections that increase your accuracy speed, and the AI of your team (although one of the 4 cyborgs is controlled directly by you; the rest follow).
Aiming is automatic, which really actually helps things because your enemies could literally come at any angle, and the SNES controller can really only account for 8-way firing. All you need is a lock, and then press and hold the attack button, and that's all she wrote.
Also, regarding API - it is a drug, and thus when it wears off, you'll be subject to either putting your cyborgs into withdrawal to ensure maximum effect or the next time they're used, the effect will be less than before.
The equipment your cyborgs carry also effects their movement; if they have no cyborg modifications, carrying one or even more miniguns, for example, is more than just a chore; it slows movement to a crawl, so you're always trying to make sure everything remains relatively balanced between equipment and modifications
Mission variety is also really cool due in no small part to one significant piece of equipment: The Persuadertron. Its effectiveness is determined by the quality of brain you have (human, cyborg 1, 2 or 3); the better you have, the more people you can control for the purpose of abduction, or just mob violence (note that the people you"persuade need to grab a weapon before they can attack). And, you can even use it to get new agents if enough people are persuaded.
Sometimes it's as simple as running assassinations, maybe stealing a vehicle, while in others it may be acquiring equipment or documents, or any combination of the above. Mission variety is definitely the high point of the game, as well as the things you can do while on-mission, given the platform it's running on.
The only niggling aspect of the game is that the controls are very complex because there's a lot of them; switching between weapons, agents, dropping equipment, grabbing equipment while on the run, adjusting API levels; there's a lot more controls than there are buttons, so multiple controls used in conjunction with the D-pad are mapped to the controller. It isn't entirely unintuitive, but it does take time to get used to - however, it's a necessary evil, and it's still handled very, very well.
Also, the sound effects from the menu that were in the PC version are not present in the SNES version, although the soundtrack has been greatly improved in terms of quality. Syndicate, interestingly enough, has a soundtrack with 5 songs; the intro, mission success, mission failure, and 2 that are specifically for in-mission - one which plays while everything's unfolding, and another track for when enemy agents are nearby; while the soundtrack is limited, it reflects the dark, moody nature of the game - the intro music is one of the best intro songs to a game that I've ever heard.
What I really like about this game is that it has actually aged very well in terms of gameplay; there's still not really anything like it, as much as series like Grand Theft Auto try to at least reach that level of "everything but the kitchen sink" in terms of gameplay depth. Not only that, it's still one of the better-looking SNES games, which helps quite a bit.
 
Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy - XBox


Being that I'm not actually a fan of Grand Theft Auto (1st one was ok, London 69 was a drag, GTA 2 outright sucked - in my opinion, of course - and 3 on the PS2 was worse), I'm a bit of an outsider looking in.
Obviously I'm coming into this with a bias, but I shall be fair.
The good: Lots of things to do, lots of area to cover; three whole games. GTA 3 and VC are improved over the PS2 version, VC and San Andreas allow you to purchase businesses and draw revenue from them. San Andreas introduces a manual aim system, that while clunky, is at least something.
The bad: GTA 3 has horrible combat and some really nasty collision-based bugs. San Andreas has awful controls that can't be changed and some major framerate issues at times. Not to mention half-assed concept thefts from The Elder Scrolls (RPG-like skill system - very basic, and not really all that special) and Syndicate (which, IMO, GTA has taken a lot of its inspiration from - taking a closed-concept game about unleashing malice on an unsuspecting population and turning it into a sandbox action adventure). Also, San Andreas' manual aim is far too little too late because of how the controls work out on the XBox.
Note that the good outweighs the bad. You really can't complain over roughly 100 hours of gameplay that isn't excessively agonising to get through. Well...actually, you can, but you'd be an ingrate. The games don't look too bad, and each takes on a unique visual style. However, the audio is a mixed bag; voice acting is great, the soundtracks are great (and custom soundtracks are better), but up until San Andreas, the weapons sounded pretty craptastic for the mostpart. Even in San Andreas, they're nothing to write home about, although the vehicles sound believable.
Combat on foot gets progressively better through each iteration; it starts off atrociously bad because of a really clunky lock-on system in GTA3, the bugs are noticeably ironed out in VC for said aiming system, and a manual one is added in San Andreas.
My gripe: There should have been a manual aiming system from day one with controls like an FPS; Mercenaries - a GTA clone - managed to pull it off, why not the series that started it all? Very poor pioneering, Rockstar.
Vehicle controls, ironically, have always been pretty tight (although I found the handling to be a lot looser in San Andreas), and vehicle combat was as well - up until San Andreas, where Rockstar completely changed the control configuration for something that might be friendlier with, say, a PS2. That's an insult to anyone that buys your product for a different system. Namely, the XBox.
In terms of gameplay, there's lots to do, although GTA 3 is extremely limited in comparison to the rest of the series; the variety of the missions is very standard; steal this, go here, kill so and so, repeat. VC and SA mix that formula up by adding things like remote controlled vehicles (the RC helicopter mission in VC was a blast...no pun intended).
San Andreas also introduces a requirement that you have to eat once in awhile (it's not really all that annoying, because it's the easiest way to heal on-mission), as well as a stats system that affects combat, etc. For instance, you can go to a gym to work out, which will build your strength for melee combat and your endurance for sprinting.
"New" gameplay concepts introduced in San Andreas are gang warfare, which is just like Syndicate's concept where the more territory you own and control, the more revenue you pull in via taxes (or I'd suppose in this case, protection money).
One thing I really didn't like in San Andreas were the flight missions. I mean, the controls for everything else are so...gamey. However, SA decided to make flight controls complicated and frustrating. It was easier to fly in Vice City! And you HAVE to do these missions, or you can't progress through the game. While I understand that games aren't necessarily easy, when you couple this with the current control issues with the XBox version, it makes for a very uncool experience.
While GTA seems to be considered a pioneer in the gaming industry, it really isn't; it's a brilliant example of marketing concepts - take a bunch of individual ideas that worked very well for the people that originally conceived them, and drop them all in a pot and mix.
Aside from 3, Vice City and San Andreas have compelling storylines (I really didn't care less about 3), something every extremely successful adventure and RPG game had.
It's taken the idea that bad is (or can be) good, which Bullfrog was the original pioneers of (from Populous right up to Black and White 2 - oh, for those that don't know, that was the original name of Lionhead Studios).
It has added a dynamic skill system that improves the skills you use - the core of the Elder Scrolls games and the GURPS RPG system
And of course a territory/profit system, which had been around since the dawn of strategy games (Syndicate's just the first game I've played that uses it in an action game medium).
These are not new gameplay elements, and in fact they've been used in non-RPG and non strategy games before. But they haven't been implemented in such a half-assed way in recent memory.
While the GTA games are fun to play, they're hardly revolutionary. They're fun to play, the world is large and immersive, but when it's all said and done, what's left to do that hasn't been done before - and done with more polish?
 
Hitman 2: Silent Assassin - XBox


The Hitman series is very unique. It's one of the few non-RPG series that has very open-ended gameplay.
It works like this: You've got a target, and they're situated in an area. Sometimes they move around from place to place, sometimes they don't. It's a combination of how you approach and then eliminate the target that keeps things quite interesting - although there are some missions where there is a requirement to eliminate a target with a specific piece of equipment.
The game has several environments, from a Sicilian church to the streets of Moscow, the Punjabi desert, a hospital for the rich and shameless in India and even the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur.
Gameplay is not only very deep, but solid as well. The level of difficulty will determine how realistic the damage is, the weapons also have a pretty realistic feel (more powerful weapons WILL jump around when fired in quick succession or automatic fire), and managing a sniper rifle will require you to stead your aim.
You have a choice between stealthy or...not so stealthy, although in the wrong situation the latter will reap dire consequences. Then again, so will the former if you don't know what you're doing. How you act in the world determines how well your ploy works - a major core gameplay aspect is the ability to change into your enemy's clothing to assume their identity. But, if you do things that they may not do - running around like an idiot, brandishing weapons - or if they use a rifle and you've slung the wrong one over your shoulder - they will become suspicious of you.
And you're made aware of this by a metre in the top-left corner of the screen that give you an idea of when someone may turn on you and try to drop you.
Not that if you're discovered in one type of costume, you cannot use that one again. And if you're sloppy with hiding corpses, you could find your cover blown very quickly as well.
And, the game isn't just all about blowing someone's brains out; the most important tool in your arsenal is a garotte - aka "fibre wire", which you use to strangle your opponents, instead of leaving a long trail of blood. Learning the stealth aspect of this game does take time, which is why there's a "normal" difficulty - in which you can take one hell of a beating before going down. Once you've gotten the grasp of it, then you can try the harder difficulties.
Also, as you complete missions, you will acquire new hardware. Whatever you bring back, you will add to your toolshed armoury, although a couple weapons need to be unlocked.
Each level, of course, is its own gameplay aspect. The lay of land as well as what items are available to you will determine what options you have available to dispatch your target(s), and thus how you will complete the mission, and of course whatever equipment you bring along can also affect the outcome. If you need a silent ranged weapon and don't bring one, you may need to restart the level.
Take note that you can save in-game as well as in between stages, and there are no checkpoints. In some stages "cough" Japan "cough", this is necessity, but it's also nice in the case that you need to break up the action for a meal or - heaven forbid - sleep.
Ragdoll physics apply in this game as well, and in spades. The can play a very interesting role in stealth if you happen to blast someone with the silenced version of Agent 47's personal weapon; you may shoot them into someone else's plain view, and you know where that's going to lead...
My only gripe with the gameplay is Japan. Anyone who's beaten this game knows what I'm talking about. Any level in which you have to navigate around one-shot-one-kill snipers, and in which failure isn't an option, isn't necessarily much fun.
Visually, the game looks good. Very good, in fact. The levels look excellent, although I think the character models could have looked a bit better, even for the time of the game's release. Interestingly enough, the weapon pick-up models look extremely realistic - especially considering the age of this game. I noticed no graphics issues, though; no split textures, etc.
The audio is very good. The weapon sounds are nice and visceral, the soundtrack is brilliant - it matches the environments perfectly. However, it could have been a bit more varied, as there's only one track per environment, but each environment has multiple stages.
Also, phrases from civilians and opponents - while pretty repetitive - are in the native tongue of whichever region you happen to be terrorising. A very nice touch, regardless of the lack of variety.
The controls are also very responsive. There are definitely no issues here.
The only other issue that I've encountered is that the game has locked up on me a couple times in a playthrough (so once every 5 hours, on average), other than that, it's rock-solid stable.
Hitman 2 is an amazing package. It's pretty stable, looks good, sounds great and plays slick. Aside from some minor bugs and a really difficult mission mid-game, Hitman 2 is rock solid. The open-play design of the missions adds great replay incentive, and weapon shed will add further replay for the completists out there. If you have the patience and the willingness to experiment, this is one of the best gaming choices you will ever make.
 
Black - XBox


After seeing the review of Black posted here, I was pretty apprehensive until I got a giftcard to blow at Future Shop. To be honest, I wouldn't have touched the game if I were paying out of pocket for it considering that it is indeed very short.
 

Well, I can't exactly say that I have the best sense of judgement here. While the game is short, it's wicked fun. Not to say it isn't flawed, though.
Visually, the game borders between fantastic and "what the fuck?". The guns, environments, and effects to the environment when your guns interact with it for the mostpart look really damned good. And yet there are things like bullet-hole decals extending past corridors, and the enemy models didn't really seem that great. I think it was because of the colour palette, to be honest. Death animations, while mostly fluid, were occasionally jerky, too. Otherwise, it was really well done.
The audio was frickin' incredible. The roars of gunfire, explosions and the environment getting torn up is absolute music to the ears.
But. Oh yes, there's a but. There's one little bugger to every aspect to this game, sadly. The "but" of the audio is that after you die, sometimes the enemy's weapons - all of them, regardless of it being an assault rifle, machine gun, or RPG - emit no firing sound. Good thing bullets make a lot of noise when they hit ANYTHING. And I don't think I need to mention the rockets.
The soundtrack is okay, but the XBox version supports custom soundtracks, so I have no real complaints in that respect.
In terms of gameplay, there's some nice touches and some pretty unforgivable omissions. The weapons all have their own nifty balances, and they all sound great, etc. I like that you can shoot grenades to detonate them, and the level design is open enough that there's some room to strategise, which adds a nifty little touch to replay value.
However - aka "But". On enemies wearing body armour, it can take over 10 body shots to drop them. With an assault rifle. Obviously, this is easy to get around when you understand the weapon mechanics, but to a starting player this can be a real pain in the ass.
Also, while assault rifles, etc., have different ranges and accuracy levels - and magazine sizes, they all have the same rate of fire. An AK-47 and an M16 don't have the same rate of fire. Neither does an Uzi and a MAC10.
Also, another glaring issue was the inability to jump. There's a lot of uneven terrain in the game, and it definitely could have helped, was well as using as a diversionary tactic against RPG units. Not only that, there were still two buttons left unused - black and white, which could have been used for other functions, like changing fire rate, applying a silencer, etc. The latter would have freed up the Y button for jumping, too.
The controls are also excellent. They're very tight. Aaaand yet...you can't change the turn sensitivity one way or the other (I found it to be a little too stiff, but still very functional nonetheless)
Black is also very short; it can probably be beaten in around 4 hours (that's what my last round was at), but it does at least have some replay elements. As I've stated earlier, the level structure is open enough that it leaves some room for a little strategy, so you can play each level a little differently each time you go through it. As you go through each level of difficulty (up to Black Ops), you unlock cheat weapons, which may add some level of replayability for completists.
But, like Goldeneye and Perfect Dark for the N64, what I really liked about this game was that on each level of difficulty, there are objective pre-reqs that you have to meet in order to finish the game, so the higher the difficulty, the more you need to do. While the secondary objectives are relatively mundane (collect this, destroy that), it does at least add some length to the game, as some of the secondary objectives are hidden.
Aside from a few issues - one glaring - Black is a very solid albeit short FPS with a fair amount of replay to back up its lack of length. If you're an action or modern shooter buff, you really can't go wrong - especially with the XBox version.
 
Deus Ex: Invisible War - XBox


It's very amusing to see how many people were pissed off by this game. Apparently, because it didn't have a broken skill system that negatively impacted combat, it's an inferior game. Right.
 

Deus Ex: Invisible War is a very strong game in its own right, and coming in at around 9 - 10 hours and still being able to squeeze in an extremely deep conspiracy theory tale makes it all the more better. And the replay value is huge.
Anyone who has ever played the original Deus Ex on PC or PS2 knows that this game isn't just about a really deep story of twists and turns; it's also about character builds. There's dozens of ways to play either game based on whether you're aiming for stealth, combat, or something in-between.
Deus Ex: Invisible War takes place 20 years after the original. The world is yet again steeped in a political maelstrom because three factions are covertly at war with one another. And you happen to be caught in the middle because you're the latest version of bio-modified human beings. Oh, right, you don't play as JC. The main character is JC's younger brother, Alex.
After blasting, sneaking or blasting AND sneaking your way through Seattle, Cairo, Trier, the Shackleton Ice Shelf on Antarctica and then back to Liberty Island where it all started, everything will eventually fall into place. You'll know who is who and how they intend to meet their own agenda.
The core gameplay, IMO, has been vastly improved because of the elimination of the skill system from the original Deus Ex. While some skills weren't so bad, the combat ones were totally irrelevant; you were a trained secret agent, for chrissakes!
However, the game world is highly interactive and, for the mostpart, you can do what you want. If you want to kill someone, you can. If you want to KO them, you can. If you want to leave them alone, as long as they aren't hostile to you, you can. You can pick up objects (crates, barrels, radioactive and biologic waste) and move them around or throw them wherever you please.
The biomod aspect, however, has still been retained, which is how you build your character. There are also now some passive skills, like Strength and Silent Run. There are also two classes of biomods; standard and Black Market. Black Market biomods have some interesting effects, such as the ability to regain health by absorbing the biomass from corpses. Interesting stealth ability, actually.
The weapons are also now much better balanced; the machinegun no longer sucks, for one. Each firearm also has a secondary attack mode; for instance, the shotgun fires a smokebomb as its secondary. And of course, all of the firearms can be upgraded; each weapon will support up to two upgrades.
Grenades also play a role in the game, and they can either be primed on a wall like a mine or thrown.
Ammunition has pretty much all but been done away with; all of the weapons use a universal ammunition - nanoclips, which build the ammunition for the weapon based on what it fires; of course, depending on the weapon, each shot will use different amounts ammunition. This only affects firearms, though; hand grenades are still acquired normally.
Visually, for the time the game came out, the visuals were absolutely STUNNING. However, there is one flaw: At certain moments, the framerate can momentarily drop, which has the possibility of getting you killed, and the load times, while not long, aren't very short, either.
The shadow and light systems looked absolutely fantastic; in fact, they still do.
Even by today's standards, Deus Ex: Invisible War is a very good-looking game.
The audio is quite good; the atmospheric soundtrack is excellent, and the voice work is, like the original, top notch, and the sound effects are no slouch, either.
The controls are good for the mostpart, although aiming seems to be a little difficult. It probably has more to do with the reticule than anything else.
All told, Deus Ex is a rock-solid game with a few minor issues. It has amazing replay potential, and aside from the random (and quite infrequent) framerate drops, the gameplay is absolutely stellar. It should be found in your local bargain bin, too, which should add further incentive to pick this gem up as soon as possible.
Don't ignore the black sheep; sometimes you'll find something unbelievably worth your while.
 
Doom 3 - XBox


First things first: Doom 3 is not Doom. And this is not exactly condemnable. For a complete turn-around, this is a really damned good job.
 

For those that don't know, Doom 3 is a remake of Doom 1. A little bit of background is probably necessary:
In the not-so-far-away future, a conglomerate called Union Aerospace Corporation is running a research operation on Mars.
There are a lot of problems going on at the research base, and an audit team arrives with you in-tow to replace some poor schlub that, I guess, bit the dust. Anyway, all hell breaks loose - literally - and you're pretty much thrown in head-first. It's now your job to stay alive and eliminate the threat.
So, pretty much, the story is relatively simple, but there is much of a backstory that's told via e-mails and audio logs that you receive through your PDA. Like the System Shock games that were the first to use this kind of storytelling, it works just as effectively with Doom 3; While it's not exactly unique, it is, again, a very effective and visceral way to tell a story.
These logs also sometimes contain valuable information, like codes to weapons and armour lockers, and the way that these are unlocked is similar to Deus Ex. The actual level of interactivity in this game is actually significantly higher than it's given credit for.
Gameplay otherwise is pretty simple; run, jump, shoot, etc. None of the weapons have alternative fire-modes, nor is there weapon melee. And like the original Doom, you can carry all the weapons at once. A lot of reviewers have treated this is being very backward, but I personally don't see the issue; Doom isn't Halo and iD software isn't Bungie, and that's obvious given the very, very high quality of the final product.
On one final note regarding gameplay, the controls are by far the tightest I've ever had the pleasure of using; it responds better than any other FPS on this system.
Visually, this is one of the most stunning games I've ever seen on the XBox; the texture and model quality is extremely high, and there are no graphics errors that I've noticed. The lighting is also incredible (better than Rainbow 6 by far).
The audio is very good; the soundtrack is, for the mostpart, ambient. And it does a very, very good job for setting the extremely creepy mood for this game. The sound effects, I found were also excellent; I don't understand what Greg's gripe was with them; were they not REALISTIC enough? Please, spare us.
The creature sound effects were, like the original Doom, the real treat, though. Extremely well done, especially that of the Cherub (you'll know when you meet it).
The level design for the mostpart was pretty competent, although admittedly, some areas felt a little generic; there isn't anything that really grabbed my attention like some of the levels in the original Dooms (Map 13 in Doom 2, anyone?).
The multiplayer for the mostpart was also okay; the 4-player deathmatching wasn't bad - although somewhat laggy - but what really shines is the 2-player co-op. After playing that for a couple of hours, I was extremely impressed with what Vicarious Visions had done; the approach is fresh, because although the levels were chopped up to accommodate the co-op, they were also changed so it felt like a newer experience. And unlike the deathmatch, the lag was practically non-existent.
The most important factor regarding this game, though, has to be atmosphere. It really sucks you in, and sometimes really creeps you out because of the soundtrack and some of the creature effects as well (like the first time you meet the Cherub). The game, of course, is exceptionally dark and gloomy for the mostpart, and it all really helps to pull you in and really immerse yourself in the experience.
So far, I've finished the game twice and I'm going through it a third time. Although it's not exactly groundbreaking, it's not just a simple and boring little shooter, either. The production values really show with this title, and the multiplayer is quite good despite its alleged limitations (four players isn't a drag if its fast-paced).
And, in the case of the Collector's Edition (which I have), while the G4 features are useless the original Dooms are the farthest thing from that.
 
Jade Empire - XBox


When I first played this game, I thought "whoa". The second time through, however, wasn't so hot. It just didn't have enough to make me care.
 

It's not to say that Jade Empire is a poor game; far from it. But if you expect a deep gameplay experience, you'll be a bit disappointed.
The story, however, is an excellent one. On the surface, it's a tale of vengeance, but it, like all of the previous titles that Bioware has worked on save the Fallout series it's more a story of self-discovery.
Needless to say, by the end of the game, much will have unravelled. However, there is much dialogue - some would say too much, but it's worth it to pay attention more for the great amount of tongue-in-cheek humour than the quests and story. The game is, despite it's Asian theme, is actually also what seems to be an enormous Monty Python tribute.
The gameplay is very simplistic, even for an action RPG; Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance has significantly deeper combat.
Combat is about "styles", which are either martial (unarmed), weapon, magic, support (effect magic, if you will), and transformation. You can have up to 4 selected for ready use at any one time, but you can change out any one of your 4 chosen abilities at any time with ease.
Weapon, martial and support styles have 3 or more hit combos, a power strike (for breaking blocks; otherwise it doesn't have much use at all) and area attacks that do little damage but send nearby foes flying. You can also use chi (mana) to increase the damage of your attacks.
However, you can't even mix the combos up in a manner, like, say Dynasty Warriors (which would allow you to mix up quick and power attacks), so it pretty much comes down to mashing the A button to get the job done. Also, support styles do no direct damage; you have to use chi to make them actually damage opponents, and the damage they do is pathetic.
Magic and Transformation styles are pretty self-explanatory; magic styles are spells, Transformation styles turn you into a creature; some of the transformations, such as Jade Golem break the gameplay balance because they're too powerful.
Visually, some effects are really good - like the spell effects - but the world itself is kind of a mixed bag; some of the models look really good, some don't and there seems to be an inconsistency with the quality of some of the world textures.
The sound effects are also kind of a mixed bag; the soundtrack is incredible and the voice work the best I've heard from this generation, but a lot of the combat sound effects are kind of lacking.
In terms of replay, what will probably have you coming back is the same thing that had you coming back for another round of Knights of the Old Republic: Alignment. Going through the game on one side of the moral spectrum, and then again on the other. And then, like Knights of the Old Republic, that's pretty much it.
Which brings me to the one issue this game has, and it's major. This game is a been there done that; aside from the combat and simplified stats, it's really not much different than Knights of the Old Republic. Would I say this is a better game? No; it's far inferior because of how streamlined it is; Bioware did the one thing I never thought they would; they took the Roleplaying out of the Roleplaying Game - something I would have thought would be deeply beneath them.
Apparently I was wrong.
 
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind Game of the Year Edition


Anyone who has seen me on the forums commenting in yet another "Best RPG this gen", etc. topic will probably have seen me ranting on and on and ON about this game. Maybe it's about time I justified myself....
 

The Elder Scrolls series are not just games; they're their own microcosms, and Morrowind is nothing less than that. And the whole game is about you, what you will do to make yourself powerful and how you will go about doing that.
Do you want to be a living armoured war machine? An unstoppable spell-caster? A prosperous merchant? A murderous (or, more ironically, principled) assassin? A benevolent healer?
These roles and more are possible. Bethesda really does put the "R" in RPG, which really helps to deepen the experience.
Character generation is, of course, where it all starts. Unlike the previous Elder Scrolls games where you selected your race, class and then roll for stats, your stats are pre-generated based on your chosen race and skill sets.
Each race not only has its own set of stats, but also special abilities. Nords, for instance, are natural tanks but pathetic spellcasters, whereas High Elves are incredibly potent spellcasters but are quite vulnerable in direct combat.
After you've decided your race, it's time to define who you are, and it can be done by either answering questions regarding your personality, selecting from a list of 21 classes, or creating your own.
Us advanced players obviously go with creating your own, and when you do that, you must decide what your two master governing attributes are from Strength, Agility, Intelligence, Willpower, Endurance, Personality, Speed and Luck. Note that Luck, while an attribute, governs no particular skill, but instead governs chance of success across your skills and attributes.
After that, you have to decide what your specialisation is (Combat, Stealth, or Magic), and then what your skills are. And this is really the most important step, because this will define your role. And, you can even name your class. Not bad, eh?
From there, you speak with a few people who will tell you go to a city to talk to a certain character, and from there the game pretty much kicks off.
Now, what you can do pretty much runs the gamut; picking pockets, robbing merchants, hunting demons, running all sorts of side quests, exploring caves, dungeons and grottos, even diving for pearls. You can create your own potions, and to a lesser extent, even your own magic items.
There are guilds to join, secondary main quests (Great House quests, Vampire Quests, Tribunal and Bloodmoon), and of course, a whole world to get lost in.
And a really nice touch carried over from Daggerfall is that there are books scattered throughout this microcosm about its history; both of the province you are in (Morrowind) and the Tamrielic Empire, which gives the game world a very rich sense of history.
However, this game is not for the impatient. This is not a game of instant gratification. Levelling up can take several hours (I'm at about a level-up ever 2 hours with a level 30-ish character) if you don't know what you're doing, and the world is massive, even though it's only 3 miles across.
Morrowind does not hold the player's hand; it will guide you as necessary, but it will not baby you.
And for this, I truly love the game.
By today's visual standards, the only thing that stands out is the water effects; they still look absolutely incredible. The models, however, do not. Although, at the time of release, this game was about on par with Halo. Spell effects are kind of mundane, but the weather system is still the best I have ever seen in a game.
Combat can be gruelling if you're stubborn and don't realise what you're up against, because hitting is based on chance as opposed to physics. Combat is also very simple, as well; you have a sidewards slash, a downward chop, and forward thrust; that's it. However, once mastered, it's the most powerful form of attack. Also, ranged combat is made all the more cool because the arrows have a parabolic trajectory.
Magic is okay; the spells don't look that great for the mostpart I find, but it can be more effective than armed combat because although there is a chance to fail a cast, the only thing that will protect your enemy from your spell once cast is their own resistances. However, the types of spells available are very cool.
You have 5 attack elements; Fire, Lightning, Poison, Frost and Magic that can be cast as projectiles or on touch, as well as define an area of effect radius
There are spells to breathe water, swim faster, become invisible or blend in with surroundings as well as numerous other effector spells.
You can summon creatures, weapons and armour, you can damage attributes other than health, as well as deteriorate weapons and armour.
You can slow an enemy by using magic to weigh them down. You can fly. You can even cast spells to steal souls from animals, demons and undead (for enchantment purposes).
The audio is excellent, from creature sound effects to weapon and spell effects, as well as a beautiful orchestral score.
And of course, because this is a game that is based solely on the "You are what you do" philosophy coupled with an enormous world, the level of replay is unfathomable. I've dumped around 800 hours into the game, and I still come across things I'd never found before.
Now, with the good, Morrowind is a game that is plagued by (mostly minor) bugs, although the Game of the Year edition fixes a lot of them, plus it has an autosave feature to assist in the case of a crash - which is much rarer than the original version. There are lock-ups and a lot of minor glitches, as well as one major one - that being characters falling through floors.
It also takes over a minute to load a save game.
Despite these flaws, the gameplay more than makes up for it; you will be pulled in and so engrossed that you'll simply dismiss them; especially since the load times will allow you to think of how you'll survive an encounter that you foolishly got yourself into.
Love it or hate it, it's a world within a world with its own religions, politics, people and history. And you can even become a Vampire!
It takes a special kind of gamer to appreciate a game of this depth and scope, and if you are not of that calibre, then you may not like this game. It's a game to be savoured, as opposed to being blazed through like Knights of the Old Republic, Fable or Sudeki. And it has a story deeper than any other RPG out there. Yours.
 
Unreal Championship 2: The Liandri Conflict


I'm one of the many people that like Unreal a lot. What I liked about the Unreal games is their excellent balance, variation, fast gameplay and very satisfying kills.
 

The only thing that Unreal Championship 2 has delivered, excluding the aesthetics, is the fast gameplay.
There are a lot of things I really don't like about this game. The maps all have one theme. The weapons are unsatisfying. The melee combat is pathetically simple; deep melee in shooters has been around since the days of Jedi Knight, so what is found here in Unreal Championship 2 is a very pathetic attempt to put melee into a shooter. Not only that, but a lot of the maps are too big for their player caps. And the single-player is more of a throw-away than in the original Unreal Championship.
Not only that, but the Double Domination and Bombing Run modes were canned for Nali Slaughter - where you run around meleeing Nali's to death, and whoever kills more wins; you know why I don't like that one already - and Overdose, which is sort of like a free-for-all CTF, but with a ball that charges up a supercharge metre that gives you Unreal Damage, etc., and scores you points, as well.
Overdose, at least, is competent but it's not a worthy replacement for Bombing Run.
The weapons lack the visceral punch they had in the original Unreal Championship. The replacement for the minigun - the Stinger - is a joke and the sniper rifle is less satisfying than Unreal Championship's lightning gun, and that's pretty bad. The only weapons that DO feel the same are the Flak Cannon and Rocket Launcher, which is only 1/4 of the weapons, and yet they also lack that oomph that the previous games have.
Melee is a joke; you have 3 attacks - when you're on the ground, you spin with your weapon, and there are two aerial attacks. And you can block and deflect, and if you stun an opponent you can do a coup de grace, which is an instant kill. To do it, you have to quickly input a combination of buttons, but it changes every time. This is something that only works for twitch gamers.
Character balance is worse in UC 2 than it is in UC 1; in UC 1, you can at least COMPLETELY balance the characters out with a mutator. In UC2, you can eliminate the Melee, but that does nothing for speed and health. Also, character locking is a travesty; you can lock on to enemies at any time with any weapon for auto-aim purposes. Or, in the case of the stinger, instant target lock for homing shots. Not good.
Not only that, but aside from melee, each "race" has their own sidearm, and like the melee aspect, some are better than others. So even if you're down to your last resort weapon, you can still get the shaft because the human pistol is more powerful than the Nakhti one? Unacceptable.
The maps are also another major issue. Aside from them ALL being Egyptian-themed, some are, as I said earlier, far too big for their player caps, especially the deathmatch and CTF maps; the Overdose maps, interestingly enough, are perfectly-sized.
But, it doesn't mean that the game sucks. It stands on its own two feet; the visuals are excellent, the framerate is rock-solid. The sound effects are kind of lacking, though, especially for the guns, although the melee effects aren't bad. The soundtrack is nothing special, either; this game really would have done well if it supported custom soundtracks. However, there is much to unlock - maps, characters and a whole lot of mutators as well as challenges.
Other gripes:
-Death animations - UC 1 was a lot more brutal; you'd see dismembered corpses flying all over the place, blood and gore galore. in UC 2, they just disappear into a bunch of pretty blue squares and bubbles. There's the visceral combat gone right there.
-The Mortal Kombat tie-in; how low can you go?
On its own, if it were an original series, I could rate this game more...fairly. But as an Unreal game, this is a joke. The combat is not limp; it's castrated and unbalanced. The levels have very little thematic variation and the modes are not varied enough. The characters are unbalanced and cannot be properly balanced - even if they could, the combat is not...fun enough to back it up.
In point, everything about this game in terms of gameplay is, from a series standpoint, totally half-assed. At least there's no obvious bugs.
 
Dynasty Warriors 5


Dynasty Warriors has now come into its fifth incarnation with many changes. A few things added, a few things removed, and A LOT of tweaks.
 

In terms of game stuff that has been added, there's 6 new characters, several new items, and the ability to take enemy fortresses.
Strongholds (aka checkpoints) also now can provide you with troops as well as a pathetic guard unit to ensure that no enemies get through.
The orbs have also been changed as well. They have to be earned like higher-end weapons. Some use Musou, some don't, and all of them are actually useful; not just the Fire Orb.
What items have been removed, but not really to my chagrin, are the Vs. and Custom Officer/Bodyguard edit modes. The Vs. mode was kind of pointless, because it basically came down to who could mash the buttons the fastest. Officer edit is ruled redundant because all of the weapons are now covered right down to the greatsword.
The first thing I noticed was that the characters are significantly better; for instance, Guan Yu didn't suck in the later levels like he did in 4 - and the same goes for the other characters that didn't develop so well in the latter stages; in short, there's been a complete rebalancing of the characters. Oh, sure, Lu Bu's nigh-invulnerable (as usual, but the AI does whatever it wants), but for the mostpart, I haven't found characters that genuinely suck - which is always a plus.
I also like a lot of the new attacks that have been given to characters that used to have throws, as well as the replacement attacks for the air launches. The new jump attacks have also helped to greatly diversify the characters, such as some having an air combo and others doing the ground explosion like in DW4, as well as other unique attacks, as well. So, a lot of characters actually feel different, and they all kind of play differently from each other - even though the end result is pretty much the same.
The levels have also been redesigned, and there's more of them. There's more variable terrain than DW4 (significantly more, actually), so the levels feel a lot more natural, as well - and, again, a lot more diverse.
The weapon experience system has also, thankfully, been canned. It's been replaced by a random pick-up system (well, the pick-ups aren't quite as random was what you actually get), and the quality of the weapon is determined by the weight and stat modifiers attached to it.
The weapon weight system itself adds an interesting dynamic to the game, as light weapons do less damage whereas heavy weapons are punishing but quite slow, and medium weapons are just that.
The controls have also been overhauled. You're now able to steer your character's attack to a quite a decent degree - and thrown projectiles that boomerang like Dian Wei's axe and Yue Ying's staff. Cool stuff. The controls are also a bit more responsive in general and because of it, horse combat is also a lot more feasible, even with characters that are mediocre at it.
Graphically, the game's graphics engine has indeed been overhauled. A lot more characters can be on screen at once, the models look better, the levels look better, and any slowdown in framerate is momentary and the drop is not earth-shatteringly low, so the improvement here has been huge.
In terms of AI, a lot of people have been whining about the AI of grunts. Big whoop, they're supposed to be rock-stupid. Even the grunts in Kingdom Under Fire aren't exactly too bright. I have neither any complaints nor compliments.
The audio is pretty much typical Dynasty Warriors, but you can't deny that the soundtrack is very, very good, even if it isn't your type of music. It's well done, and like DW4, fits the game perfectly. My only complaint is that regardless of what language the game is in, the dialogue is pure cheese, and the VO's sound worse in Japanese than in English.
The bad, though, is that sometimes the game locks up, and I notice that there are some flickering objects (but thankfully no flickering textures) - specifically smoke from taken fortresses. It's a little thing, and yet it's not; considering how well the gameplay has actually FINALLY been nailed down, the visuals - and core stability, aren't quite up to par.
However, those two issues are indeed minor ones. The times when the game does lock up is quite infrequent, and I've found that it's never during gameplay, but during the demos. Which is quite odd, actually. But not exactly show-stopping, and neither is the flickering smoke in a fortress.
Overall, this game is a shining example of the possibility of what can be done with several concepts and a smattering of interesting history; the gameplay is addictive and the gameplay styles change with the characters - and there's 48 of them - wielding everything from swords to staves to cards. So, pick one, and have at it!
 
Fable: The Lost Chapters - XBox


I'm a Fable veteran. I've beaten the game 3 times, I've used all the spells, found all the uniques, handled all the sidequests...the game has nothing new to offer me until AFTER I've beaten it a fourth time, right?
 

Wrong.
Although you have to start from scratch (which I really don't mind; Fable in its own right is an excellent game), there are new sidequests interspersed within the original content right from the get-go, some with some rather interesting plots, like the Blue Mushroom quest.
And some have hilarious results...like the Blue Mushroom quest, as well as the school library quest. You'll know what I'm talking about when you hand the teacher in Bowerstone "The Windbreaker's Rulebook".
There's also now a purpose for kicking chickens around (other than sadistic glee). and so there's now a minigame that puts your mad bird-booting skillz to the test.
Other new gems are a brothel (the Bordello) and new cash-cow sidequests care of the Heroes' Guild - aside from new content at the end.
There are also a few new demon doors, unique weapons and items, two new (and seemingly very expensive yet powerful) spells and several new cutscenes to boot. There's even new expressions, which as superficial as they may be are still fun to screw around with
Aside from content, there also seems to be several bug fixes - most of them graphics-related - and the game itself seems a bit more stable.
Graphically, it's still the same with its nice shiny-plasticky world; if you like it, you like it, if you don't you don't. And of course the unique art style to go with that. The spell effects still look incredible, of course. However, what really sticks out is the high level of detail on models, weapons, etc. Which, ultimately, is what the whole graphics engine is all about in this game.
The audio's mint; even with the added voicework, it's still great and what's new is as good as what's already there. The soundtrack, of course, is excellent, and the combat and spell mechanics are, while simple, rock solid, effective and most importantly, fun.
The gameplay is rock solid; although the spells may ultimately unbalance things, I think that's the point; you're supposed to be omnipotent. And the ability to be a bastard when I feel like it is always good.
So, if you loved the game, obviously this is at least worth a rental. And if you hated it...well, your loss. And if you make your judgement based on the official review here that unfortunately carries a very deceptive stance from it's opening paragraph...well, ignorance is bliss.
Dungeons and Dragons: Heroes - XBox

I was looking forward to DnD Heroes as soon as I heard it announced. However, after playing the OXM demo, I wasn't just looking forward to it; as far as I was concerned, this was a must-have game. Here's why:
Audio: The sound effects are well done, and the atmospheric music suits the game perfectly, so I really didn't find any faults here. No audio bugs, and no sound effects that are inappropriate, and the voice acting wasn't half-bad, either.
Video: Graphically, this game is pretty nasty if you zoom in too close, but the colour depth is excellent and the visual effects of spells, for the most part, are incredible, and I have played the Dark Alliance Games.
Gameplay: Obviously, if a game gets a high rating from me at all, there's something I obviously really like here. In the case of this game, it's that each character has a specialised role, and fulfills that role perfectly.
The Rogue is a ranged combatant with relatively weak physical ability, but is very fast; the Fighter is the master of melee combat; the Sorceress excelling in magic based close and ranged combat - which, of course, has its price; and the Cleric which handles excellently in a party, but not very well by himself until he reaches high levels.
Being that the game is more or less a Gauntlet clone, each character also as their own equipment specialisations and abilities. The Fighter uses swords, the Sorceress uses polearms, The Rogue uses dual short-bladed weapons, and the Cleric uses 2-handed blunt weapons and axes. Although this sounds quite shallow, it really isn't; in Dungeons and Dragons, most players specialise in one weapon - at least if they want to survive combat, so it's very true to the PnP game in that respect.
Also, there are magic weapons, armours, and rings available for purchase or to find in treasure chests or dropped by dead enemies, and each character has an "Ancestral Weapon" that can be powered up by picking up items called soul shards (for every five, your weapon gains a level, if you will).
Also, because the game features 4-player co-operative multiplayer with opportunity to join in any time during play, and also allows you to import previously pumped-up characters, it certainly allows for a great amount of replay if you and your buddies want a quick co-operative gaming fix.
Furthermore, if you're like me, and you're into Gauntlet clones, this game is definitely the best of them thus far, so to you, I'd strongly recommend it, as well as anyone looking for a fun action game that's got some depth, but not too much.
To the hardcore RPGer's, because the game clocks in at around 10 hours, you may not like it too much if you're expecting a "deep RPG" experience, but as a gaming experience it is by no means shallow.
 
Halo 2 - XBox


Halo 2. Today, those two words mean many different things to many different people. To the Halo lovers, it means another chapter. To the FPS hardcores, it means something to check out. To the actual gamer, it means disappointment. Does it mean the game sucks? God no. It does, however mean, that the game could have been better with a few more weeks of bug-testing and trouble-shooting.
Gameplay: The gameplay is, online and off, rock-solid. Multi-player and single-player, from a gameplay perspective are incredible. The dual-wielding system works well, the new weapons, save the Brute Shot, don't create any issues with balance, and the subtle weapon changes make things for the better.
It's the Brute Shot's patheticness that actually makes me feel like denting the gameplay aspect. It's a grenade launcher, not a pea-shooter. It's like the Klobb in Goldeneye, if you will - something that should definitely hit harder than it actually does, which kind of spoils the fun, considering how much of a pain it is to yank that from the cold, dead paws of a Brute.
The controls are also very tight and responsive, and the vehicles, of course, handle exceptionally well, and the new ones introduced to single-player are pretty cool.
Sound: The sound effects are excellent. Even with "just" stereo, you know what's coming from where, and the effects are very clean and crisp. The soundtrack is excellent, fitting the game very, very well. And the fact that Steve Vai lends his talent to a couple songs on the game's soundtrack obviously doesn't hurt, either, and the voice acting is very decent, too.
Graphics: This is an area where I definitely have to dock marks. There are glitches all over the place when anything blows up - specifically the explosion graphics. Mind you, the models, level design, textures, vehicles, environmental decorations - you name it, look excellent with great levels of detail, it's because of the lack of polish in this area that I give this nasty hit.
Multiplayer: Co-operative is great, because the gameplay is great, and competitive modes are always good, but it's on XBox Live where the game really shines. There's next to no lag, and it's just an overall great experience, although I have a few gripes here. The Matchmaking options suck. Not that they're difficult to use or anything, but it's not like just about every other game where you go to matchmaking, tell it what you want, and it gives you a list of games going on that you can join. Instead, it throws you into a rated game with a bunch of random people. If you don't want to do this, you have to host your own game, and the only people who can join are the people you invite, no one else. While this may add some privacy, it takes away from the actual enjoyment experience because you have to actually find people to play with you, as opposed to them finding you.
General: Halo 2's controls, gameplay, and audio are tight. But the graphics glitches, the way the game cuts off at the end at a climax - and a very short coming to that end, despite the hype that the game would be epic - the "little things" like the multiplayer setup and the improperly powered weapon (Brute Shot), coupled with the fact that the game was hyped as being synonymous with the second coming of christ, is really what killed it.
It's an excellent game, but if a certain owner had the integrity to allow Bungie to polish the game, it could have been much, much better.

Unreal 2: The Awakening - XBox

When Unreal 2 came out on the XBox, it was pretty lambasted. Scared the crap out of me, actually, so I didn't bother checking it out. But I got kinda curious, considering how much I liked the original that I decided to finally give it the chance.
Unreal 2 takes place in the same universe as Unreal and Return to Na'Pali, but the stories aren't directly connected. In fact, the only connection with Unreal and Unreal 2 is the Skaarj, an alien race that looks similar to an unmasked Predator - right down to wristblades.
The main character in Unreal 2 is John Dalton, a former marine that became a space-cop, and his adventure starts with what seems like a simple distress call but winds up being something else entirely.
The game is stretched over 11 or 12 components (I didn't really count, as I'd just finished it), each being, for the mostpart on a different planet. So, level design is really not an issue; it's generally quite varied, from your main base on Avalon, to an acidic marsh on another planet who's name I've kind of forgotten. Admittedly, the planet names are pretty forgettable, but really, most level names are.
The levels themselves generally look very, very good, but that's about it for presentation. The models look pretty bad themselves, and there seems to be no dynamic lighting effects from muzzle flashes, explosions, and energy weapon projectiles. Animations can also be somewhat jerky - especially death animations. But, the Flamethrower's fire (and the other fire effects in the game, for the mostpart) look excellent.
The soundtrack is excellent, but there seems to be audio skips. They're sometimes noticeable, but obviously, if you didn't hear it, you didn't notice it, but they're definitely there. Will it break gameplay? No. But it's a little annoying. Other than that, the creature effects are fine, and the weapon sounds for the mostpart are awesome.
The controls are definitely pretty tight, and each weapon is very satisfying to use in its own way, although some are more satisfying than others. In short, the gameplay - aside from some relatively superficial glitches is great. The only real hamper that isn't superficial is the long load times. And if you die, you will deal them again and again and again, so they do indeed become a major pain.
The game is also very short, probably no more than 7 hours. However, considering it's pretty much bargain-bin material at this point, I don't know if that's such an issue. Multiplayer is interesting in that it's about domination of x amount of control points. However, the maps, I find, are indeed too big for even an 8 player match. And respawning is a pain. You either have to wait for a medic, or screw around with spawn points. So, XMP is interesting, but seemingly flawed. Co-op is always good, though, you really can't go wrong there if you like the game, which I obviously do.
In short, it looks ugly and is somewhat flawed, but if you approach it with an open mind, I think you'll find the experience a rewarding one.

Samurai Warriors - XBox

Samurai Warriors came out for PS2 earlier this year, and then for the XBox around summertime, and frankly, I couldn't wait for it to come out, because I love Dynasty Warriors 4. So, how does it stack up? Well, show you I will.
Graphics: Being the type of game that this is, you have to have a pretty open mind in regards to graphics because of the amount of on-screen opponents you may deal with at a time. The detail isn't super-high, but it's higher than DW4, and handles better (I don't recall encountering any framerate drops - unlike DW4), and it looks very clean - for the mostpart. One or two close-ups, however, did look a tad fugly, but again, considering the nature of the game, it's pretty forgiveable However, graphics-nuts, this game is not going to be for you ;)
Level design: Each level, or map if you will, in Samurai Warriors is a lot more diverse in terms of terrain, because it's simply not as flat as most of DW4, and there's secret areas only attainably by some characters because of their ability to double jump (who I won't say, but the manual will when you buy or rent it). The castles, however, leave something to be desired for the mostpart - because one, they're not randomly generated except for the survival mode castles, and two, they're generally very reminiscent of Wolfenstein 3D in that it's all about traversing through rectangular halls and square rooms. The only thing really diverse (and noteworthy) there in terms of architecture was Nobunaga's castle, because of its massive staircase.
Gameplay: The gameplay is pretty simple, just like Dynasty Warriors - kill everyone ;) The combo system has been changed somewhat, in that there's added attacks, and horse combat is actually feasible! Ranged combat is also no longer totally redundant, as some characters actually excel in it, and ammunition is unlimited. There have also been some new elements added, like the victory combo you get when you win a deadlock, and the ability to do normal combos in Musou mode.
Multiplayer is pretty cool because you can use any character with any campaign, more or less like free mode. There's also other options that I haven't messed around with (I've been more concerned about unlocking all of the characters), that seem very interesting, but because I haven't had the opportunity to put them to the test, I won't bother to make mention of them.
Officer creation is also different from DW4. No longer is it as simple as "choose your model, colours and weapon". Now you actually have to train them, as well. And they must pass trial tests to be accepted into an army. If you fail, you have to start from scratch. However, it's definitely worth it. My only complaint is the limited number of weapons available (three), but it's pretty minor.
Sound: The sound is excellent, the soundtrack, however, is not the power metal of DW4, but is instead bouncy techno. I hate techno, but it fits the game well, so no marks docked there. The voice acting, however, is absolutely abysmal, regardless of the language, but Japanese is harder to understand, so I leave that option selected. Does that really matter? No, not really. The game's about kicking ass with pointy-feudal era hardware, not the condition of some feudal lord's ego. But it's still an issue because of how bad it is.
What's new: The main thing is character development. You level up much like an action RPG (based on officer kills, not grunts), and of course, your stats raise accordingly. You also get points to put towards special abilities, such as the ability to gain extra health from health items, certain damage boni, etc. As well, the officer system, which I've already mentioned, and the slightly broadened options regarding Musou attack. The only major gripe I have (aside from the few weapon choices for custom officers - which is minor, really) is that in multiplayer, both players must max their Musou bar to use the Musou mode, which wouldn't be so bad if it didn't drain the bar for BOTH players. In short, the Musou bar, aka your survival lifeline, has been severed in 2-player multiplayer. On any difficulty other than normal with new players, this may be very difficult to work with.
The challenges are also different, as they're a reflection of the officer trials. Survival mode, of course, is also different, as it's a race down multiple levels of one of two trap-infested dungeons on a time limit, as opposed to Dynasty Warriors 4, where you square off against all of the officers in a large square-shaped arena.
In short, Samurai Warriors is a very competent combination of some of the old and some of the new, and thus for any fan of the genre - let alone series - should be dead-set to add it to their collections.
 
X-Men Legends


X-Men Legends is kind of an enigma, as the last good Marvel-related title that was actually incredibly good was probably War of the Gems on the SNES. However, as good as it is, it's not without its flaws, which I'll get to shortly.
 

However, a little background:
X-Men Legends starts you off on what's basically a rescue mission because Magneto's organisation, the Brotherhood of Mutants wants to abduct this girl named Alison who can control molten rock. From there, things go up-and-downhill, from a story perspective (the story is basically your typical mainstream modern comic book story - half soap-opera, half action movie).
The characters at your disposal are pretty much the most popular among the X-Men, from Wolverine to Psylocke. And some not-necessarily popular ones, as well, so everyone should be fairly satisfied in that area. However, a lot of special abilities are generic, like Ice Man's Ice Shards compared to Gambit's card throw - Multiple projectiles that do a different type of damage, but do the same amount of damage. So the only thing that differs is whether or not the damage is electrical, heat, etc.
The multiplayer option is interesting, but kind of makes things a pain when you have 4 buddies over, but the area of the game your in only supports 2, or worse, one player. It gives the buds an opportunity to quaff back some snackage, but it's better to game and snack at the same time - as we all know. So, the multiplayer is good, but kind of flawed. Thankfully there's very few areas that are like that. There's also a versus component, and a few other competitive multiplayer options as well, but they're kind of...ho-hum. The versus component at least allows to people to import characters and then pound the snot out of each other, but realistically, good consistent co-op is probably a lot more important with a top-down action-RPG than versus mode.
The combat system is excellent, allowing you to do multiple combinations of moves, as well as throw your enemies - and foreign objects - about. My only gripe was the lack of weaponry. Although the X-Men don't necessarily go out armed to the teeth, it would have been interesting to pick up some gear from fallen enemies. It also would've added an actual reason to use the game's economy system for items other than health and mana potions.
So, now I come to the economy system: Yes this game has an economy system, and I generally found it pretty pointless except to sell crap I didn't need. Sure, at adds a minor layer of depth - but a very redundant one, as all the items I ever needed I found on my own - and rarely found any necessity to equip until later on in the game. The only really unique part about that was that it was a way to buy Danger Room discs, and the only necessity was potions for health and mana, which I previously mentioned in the above paragraph.
In regards to "the little things", there's a lot of little items you can pick up that are basically extra quests accessed via the danger room. I'm not, however going to mention what they are so as not to turn this into a spoiler. Needless to say, they were quite interesting, and that did add some extra depth to the game. Other things that could be picked up were comic books, which enhanced the abilities of whichever character was the cover feature, and of course, Danger Room discs, as well.
The Danger Room is also something that should be mentioned, simply because it's quite useful to level up characters with. Anyone familiar with the X-Men already knows what it is, but those that aren't don't. The Danger Room is basically a VR training room. This is also a place where you can earn special items for individual X-Men, provided you found the necessary disc, so it adds further to replay.
On an aside, and an important one, the Danger Room can be accessed via save points or in the in-between interactive X-Mansion component, which you'll visit in between each mission. It's here where a lot of the story (and melodrama) come to fruition, but it's also where you access all of the comic book covers (you need to access these to gain the benefits from them), and you can check out character bios, cutscenes and concept art as well.
The controls, aside from the combat system are tight. The camera, however, sucks. It usually zooms in too much, I find, and this is where you can see that, despite the game's cel-shaded goodness, things aren't quite as pretty as they seem. Is this major? Not really. They aren't fugly, and graphics are secondary to gameplay.
Replay is pretty much in they eye of the beholder, simply because all the characters are relatively close in terms of level because of shared experience, so you just have to manage the stats after you organise a team. Furthermore, you can't import characters and start a new game on a higher difficulty a la Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance 1 or 2 or DnD Heroes. And for those like myself who don't really enjoy soap-opera stories, that's kind of a replay killer, too. Especially considering the game is probably somewhere in the 17 - 20 hour finish time category (I finished it in just over 19 hrs.).
Is it a bad game? No. In fact, it's quite excellent. It's just that, unfortunately, when it comes to replay value, it's weighed, measured, and found wanting because of its multiplayer system. Yes, there is a sort of deathmatch system, but really, we all know that co-op's where it's at ;) I'd recommend you rent it first, and if you love it, then buy it, as it's still $69.99 CDN.
Fallout: New Vegas - XBox 360
I got Fallout: New Vegas because, for some reason, I just had to. I heard about the bugs and the skewed reviews. Well, after finishing it for the first time, this is really all I have to say: I like it more than Fallout 3. Much more.

I think most of the reasons as to why I like it better are probably superficial, but one of the things I really liked about it is that it felt like more of a genuine sequel than Fallout 3.

The first thing I've like to get out of the way is the bugs. There are a lot of them. I was lucky to encounter nothing worse than a couple stuck squadmates and three lock-ups within the 58 hours or so that I put in. That said, it's most likely because I have an internet connection going to my XBox 360, and thus the game got patched. Bear in mind, however, that this doesn't fix all of the problems.

Buyer beware, if you do not have an internet connection to your XBox, you will have to deal with far worse than what I have, including but not limited to corrupted save files.

So, what's the skinny?

Fallout: NV begins differently than the other games in the series; your character has no affiliations with any of the vaults. The tutorial is vastly different from Fallout 3, and you really do get into the action a lot faster.

The controls are no better or worse than Fallout 3 and combat has been rebalanced. Iron sights are now used for aiming, which has improved ranged combat some (and the tritium sights are downright cool) and you can be hurt something pretty fierce in VATS if you're not careful.

The skills have been simplified some, as well; Big Guns has been removed and the weapons found therein have fallen under the governance of other skills; for the mostpart, this is common sense. Oddly enough, the flame weapons fall under Energy Weapons. Personally, I think they should have fallen under Explosives, but that's just me.

A skill has also been added: Survival. Survival is a revamping of another skill from Fallout 2, Outdoorsman. Survival factors into two things: The amount of health returns you get from consuming food, and it also factors into the much expanded crafting system - yes, it's back. With a a vengeance. You are now able to craft custom ammunition, potions and other items with Science, Survival and Repair at the appropriate fixture (workbench, campfire or reloading bench). This adds a new depth to tactics as well as how to approach the game.

Another change is the return of the Traits. Most are kind of useless, but classic Fallout fans will need to pick Wild Wasteland. I didn't, and I'm regretting it. You'll understand what it's all about when you pick it.

A new mode is introduced: Hardcore. Hardcore mode requires that you eat, drink and sleep while balancing radiation absorbed from radiated food items. If you don't do this things, you'll suffer adverse affects including death. You must also either visit a doctor or use a doctor's bag to heal crippled limbs; sleeping and stimpaks won't fix this anymore.

I have yet to play with this mode activated, so I'm not sure to what extent you need to eat, drink or sleep. However, this adds a whole new dimension to the game, and I look forward to giving it a go on my next playthrough.

There are also several new creatures as well as some re-creations from Fallout 2, such as the different species of gecko.

Old factions spanning the first two games return, too; the Khans and the NCR being the two most prominent that I can remember. However, President Tandi is long deceased.

There are also some new minigames that have been added - Roulette, Blackjack and slot machines have returned from Fallout 2, and there's a new card game called Caravan as well. Caravan is normally played by merchants, and never in casinos. Probably because you build your own decks. It's actually a pretty deep game in itself. Not quite as complex as Poker, but much moreso than Blackjack.

However, the inclusion of old factions really adds to the history and nostalgia of the title, and it really makes it feel like a "true" sequel.

Visually, Fallout: NV doesn't really look better or worse. Like Fallout 3, you do a lot of on-foot travelling through drab wasteland. Unlike Fallout 3, there's a lot of geographical variation to supplement this. There are snow-covered mountainous regions, caves littered with luminescent fungi, and of course, The Strip, which has more colour than a pride parade on acid.

But there's also a lot of little things that add an air of visual authenticity: The rock and cave paintings by the Khans, the big neon signs and, of course, the Elvis impersonators (which is a lot more than a visual addition).

A lot of the environmental variations that you found in the Fallout 3 expansions you will find here, and I think that Obsidian did a fantastic job by acknowledging that fact.

Audio is kind of a mixed bag, I think this needs to be patched because there are times when it just sounds like the 360's audio processor can't handle it (you get a kind of wierd echo). I only noticed this when firing automatic weapons, but it's obvious and annoting when it happens. Voice work is fantastic, though, and Ron Perlman's return is much welcomed.

That said, I don't know if I can say that the game is pure fun. Then again, I didn't pick Wild Wasteland, so I won't know until I do. But it's enjoyable and just as addictive as Fallout 3. While the combat is not without its faults, the iron sights added to the guns really helps and gives a much more authentic feel to the gunplay.

The game's story, like just about every other Fallout game has multiple endings. However, New Vegas is, again, more inline with Fallout and Fallout 2 in that the endings are based on your interactions not only with your companions, but in the communities that you interact with - and how you interact with them. This adds a lot more replay to the game, especially if you're a completist - never mind the potential character builds.

However, like Fallout 3, the game's main quest is clearly very short, definitely under the 20 hour mark. Good thing there are a lot of sidequests; this has been a trend for ARPGs since probably either just before or just after Morrowind's release, so that really doesn't bother me so much. Besides, you need something to do when the main quest is over, right? New Vegas has that in spades, no pun intended.

I also got a greater sense of there being more to do, and more that I wanted to do in New Vegas, but that might just be me. As far as I can tell, both game worlds are about the same size.

I think that this is a good title if you're a fan of shooters and Fallout 3. It's a great title if you've played Fallout. But more importantly, it's an awesome title if you're a fan of the series because this brings you a lot closer to where Fallout 2 left off.
Army of Two - XBox 360

I have to admit, I really liked Army of TWO. It has a great pace, a good campaign and great co-op.

The premise of the game is that you're one of the members of a two-man mercenary team, and there are bad guys that need taking out. With lots of big guns that you can modify to high heaven. The available modifications include barrel change-outs, extended magazines and offensive front-mounts like an under-slung shotgun.

There are three classes of weapons - Primary, Secondary and Special.

Primary weapons consist of assault rifles, shotguns and Light Machine Guns. Secondary weapons are side-arms and sub-machineguns. Special weapons are sniper or explosive weapons.

You earn money to purchase and upgrade these weapons by completing mission objectives, and there are hidden bonus objectives as well that can net you even more money.

While the weapon models look great and the stat modifications are tangible, many of the weapons either seem the same or are merely upgrades. This is especially true for the assault rifles. And it doesn't help that they sound similar. Most of the weapon sounds aren't that great either, they just lack a certain...meatiness.

On the plus side, the visuals are great. The game has actually aged quite well even when compared to its contemporaries. Weapon models look great, characters look great, environments look great and even feel fairly authentic.

However, the gameplay is mostly excellent, due by and large to the effectiveness of the "aggro" system and the game's cover system. The "aggro" system is based on misdirection - one person gets the enemies' attention while the other flanks and slaughters them, although it isn't quite as simple as that. Aggro is affected by a lot of different factors, including the type of gun you're using and the modifications on it, so it's actually a lot deeper than it sounds.

Melee combat, however, is an inconvenience; to execute a melee attack, you have to press the same button as you would to fire your gun, and the melee combat is already clumsy enough on its own. Melee animations are pretty cool when the attack connects, but you have to connect first.

The cover system is simple, intuitive and generally non-intrusive, which makes it a joy to use. You can fire behind cover, and the game will automatically determine how you do that. I've yet to run into a problem with this, so it's execution is, at the least, near-flawless.

The co-op gameplay is also a lot of fun. Excluding the superficial junk like the shoulder punches and high fives, things like Co-Op sniping, weapon swapping and the previously mentioned aggro system go a long way to keeping the gameplay fresh, dynamic and tactical.

The AI is also pretty good. It will harass and flank with the best of them, and it can really keep you on your toes if you're not careful. Your friendly AI is no slouch either, but it definitely does not take as many risks as a human player would (this can be either very good or disastrously bad). The combat AI of your partner is a little better on the harder difficulties. The AI partner can also be an unfair advantage as it has unlimited ammo.

The game itself is only around four or five hours long if playing co-op, about seven or eight if playing solo. It'll really depend on how good you and/or your co-op partner are.

Usually, I find a game shorter than 8 to 10 hours to be offensive, but the game offers up enough replay that it wouldn't be considered outlandish to invest 20 or so hours into the the game.

Unfortunately, no one is playing it online anymore, so I didn't have an opportunity to try the competitive multiplayer modes. Needless to say, they're based around two-man teams competing against each other for money.

The Good:

-Guns. Lots of guns.
-Most of the weapons are upgradable
-Weapons and characters look very good
-Awesome Co-op
-Co-op design does not greatly impact single-player experience
-Good AI
-Aggro system works great

The Bad:

-Weapon sounds are mediocre
-Melee is a pain to execute
-AI partner is a little too conservative

Army of TWO is a great co-op shooter, no matter how you cut it. It looks great, but the audio design could have used more thought. The gameplay is mostly excellent, but there is an item that needs more work; melee combat. That's actually an important aspect in shooters, and has been since Halo. However, the rest of the gameplay and customisability will more than make up for the few shortcomings that this title has to offer.
Far Cry 2 - XBox 360
When I first got Far Cry 2, I really didn't have any expectations, haaving neverplayed the original Far Cry and only having played Far Cry Instincts and FCI: Evolution. When I first started it up, I was kind of put off with how it started; the game takes a long time to actually get into because it flows fairly slowly at first.

The premise of the game is that you're an expatriate mercenary sent into an unknown African country to assassinate an arms dealer who's helping two factions go to war with each other. You're also not the only one, as you'll find throughout the game.

Unfortunately, you don't get much further than your hotel when you almost succumb to Malaria, and sickness will be a constant theme throughout the game as you balance your illness against the rest of the world around you.

After you've recovered, the world explodes into conflict around you and then the game really picks up. The game's story is pretty much nothing new if you've ever paid attention to the BS going on in the more despotic nations in Africa, but it keeps the game going, and its progression is based on the order in which you perform the faction missions. The characters are kind of interesting, and you can learn what they're about by eavesdropping on their conversations before getting a mission.

As far as people go, the characters do a great job of immersing you further into the game world. You rarely encounter non-indigenous accents; most of the white characters speak with a thick Afrikaans accent, which is sort of like a Dutch english accent. The only characters with alien accents are the expats and some foreign officers in the African factions.

Expat mercenaries offer you missions, and some of them need to be rescued, first. One of them will become a rescuer if you get gunned down, and the other will offer you an alternative spin on most of the story missions that you're given by each faction. The rescuer's kind of a nifty idea, but I found that I had to rescue them later on in the game either because they got stuck in an area and enemies kept spawning or the enemies were better equipped than they were.

While the game is a first-person shooter, it flows more like a sandbox shooter (it is a sandbox-style game). You have an open world that you can explore with different environments. The game's structure is mission-based, although there are also things that you can do outside of these missions. You can explore on foot or in a vehicle, and there is frequent combat. If you're not stealthy, you'll find yourself in a gunfight at each road checkpoint.

The game's missions are fairly simplistic. Due to the size of the game world, they rarely take less than thirty minutes to complete, even with fast travel. The missions mostly boil down to "assassinate that guy" and "destroy this", but nothing is ever the same twice due to the game's chaotic nature. You perform missions for four factions in the game: The two opposing factions that are gearing up for war, some do-gooders trying to smuggle people out of the country for a chance at a better life, and the expatriate mercenaries.

There is also a standing mission for a reporter to recover some lost recordings that involve the arms dealer that you're after, which is purely extra-curricular. There are also expatriates to rescue that you will need to find on your own, as well as a treasure hunt for briefcases containing blood diamonds.

There are also some free missions available for download, although you will need to find codes. These are available in many FAQs for the game.

Different missions have different kinds of rewards. The main story missions reward you with blood diamonds, the game's currency, as well as increase your reputation level. If you accept the alternative mission offered by one of your expat comrades, you will also get upgrades to your safehouses - which is the game's means of saving as well as a place to heal.

The do-gooder missions award you with drugs for your malaria. This is pretty important because if you experience symptoms in the middle of battle and you're out of pills, you may not be able to fight back.

Expat missions award you with a reputation increase as well as an increase in rapport with that mercenary.

I've mentioned reputation twice now. Reputation is measurement of how much you intimidate your enemies. As it increases, they're more likely to hesitate, so a higher rating makes the game a little easier.

I also mentioned that the game's save system is based on Safe Houses, which is partially true. The game relies on a check-point based saving system, which means that you can't save any time, any where. This is a little archaic, especially for a first-person shooter. However, there are so many ways to save a game on-mission that it really did not create any problems for me, and the game auto-saves every time you complete an important stage of one of the missions.

However, safe houses are a little bit more important than just a save point. They're exist for healing and waiting. You can use a safe point to accelerate time so that you can operate at your preferred time of day. Later on in the game, they also serve as resupply points as well.

Combat is a fairly by-the-numbers affair; You can carry up to three weapons - a primary weapon, a sidearm and a special weapon. You can also carry grenades and molotov cocktails. Both have their uses as grenades are grenades and molotov cocktails can light things on fire. And let me tell you, fire is its own entity in this game; it's worth playing just to see what you can do with a well placed incendiary device.

Weapons suffer from wear and tear and can jam. If they start jamming to frequently, they can break; this can be potentially catastrophic as guns can eventiall explode.

Primary weapons consist of most rifles and shotguns. Secondary weapons consist of handguns and machine pistols. Special weapons generally consist of heavy weapons such as rocket launchers and machine guns.

The great thing about the arsenal is that there's something for every kind of situation. However, a lot of weapons are derivitive, such as the varying assault rifles.

Guns in this game are not particularly accurate, although you can fire from an aiming view behind the weapon's sights. This helps a great deal and is all but essential for landing headshots.

Being that weapons wear down, you can easily obtain one from a fallen opponent or you can buy one if you have enough currency. An interesting point is that everything in the game is purchased with blood diamonds. However, you'll only need to purchase each weapon once, and then you can grab it again and again from an armory.

You can also purchase equipment and weapon skillbooks. Most of these items will be unlocked as you progress through the game. Equipment can increase the carrying capacity of ammo or healing items or even improve your stealthiness. Skill books can increase weapon handling abilities with specific weapons or even improve repair skills.

Vehicles are scattered all over the place and are something you never need to purchase. However, there is little variety as to what'a available. There are a few civilian vehicles, about the same number of boats. The only aerial transportation is a hang glider. There are also two licensed vehicles in the game, a pair of Jeep brand SUVs. Neither of these are armed. Vehicles wear down after awhile, either from being bumped around or turned into swiss cheese due to automatic gunfire. At this point, you need to get out and perform a quick repair. I have yet to actually play a game where you can repair your own vehicle, so I thought that this was actually very cool and despite the very simplistic way it was handled.

As you engage in gun battles, you get injured. Health is displayed as a bar divided into five segments, each coloured from green to red. When it's in the red, you need to find cover to do some emergency poor-man's surgery. This grants you only an extra bar, so you need to use a healing item to get back up to full health. Healing items come in the form of syrettes, which instantly refill health. However, if a bar is not completely depleted, it will refill on its own, but only that one bar.

There's a common theme in all of this; interaction. Much of the world can be directly interacted with, and even has to be. If you want the ammo from that ammo box, you have to walk over and pick it up. If you want health items, you have to use the medicine cabinet or pick up the box of styrettes. And it doesn't end there. With fire-based weapons, you can set fires. When your weapon jams, you have to manually unjam it. While a lot of it is fairly simple, it really makes the game feel a little more real, just because not everything is automatically done; it has to be prompted by you.

Visually, the game looks great, and the day-night cycle really adds to it, with everything from the sway of the grass in the wind, the look and details of the weapons and vehicles, the environments, the shimmer of the sun off the desert sand, and even the light acclimatisation when you enter a darker space; it looks great and really adds to immersing you into the world.

The audio's pretty decent, too, although the soundtrack is a little too subdued. I think the fact that they try to make it sound as regionally authentic as possible is pretty awesome, but it takes a backseat to everything else. The guns also sound pretty good, despite having more "realistic" sounds. The sounds of the vehicles are incredible; engine sounds, the sounds of the treads on sand, it's really something to be experienced.

The multiplayer component is composed of four modes: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Diamond and Uprising and you have the option of playing in ranked or unranked matches. Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch are both self explanatory. However, Team Deathmatch has a nifty twist: You can revive fallen teammates, provided that it's within the time limit after they've hit the dirt. Capture the Diamond is a Capture The Flag mode where you have to steal an object from an opposing team and return it to your base. You can only score if they haven't stolen your object. Uprising is an Assault mode with a twist. To back up, Assault is another team-based game where the objective is to occupy zones called Control Points. If you can get all of them, you win. Far Cry 2 adds a twist to this, where after getting all of the control points, you have to kill the opposing team's leader. If they can capture a control point before their leader is killed, then match will continue on, which can make for a pretty intense match.

Vehicles are also present in multiplayer matches, and can be a major aid in larger levels.

As you play the multiplayer modes, you level up and your weapon proficiencies increase as you use each weapon. The weapons you use are based on the "role" that you choose, and each role has predefined equipment. The equipment selection can be expanded on, but you will need diamonds to do this. As you progress, you will earn more diamonds to spend on equipment.

The multiplayer itself is generally quite intense, especially given how easy it is to die, but the modes are pretty derivitive of everything that's on the market. Even the weapon progression is nothing new. What Far Cry 2 does have in its favour, though, is that it gives the player the ability to create custom maps. Having played a great deal of these, I can say that as long as the map-makers know what they're doing, the experience is kept fresh and fun.

The good:
-Great graphics engine
-Great audio
-Single player game is huge and offers a lot to do
-Dynamic story dictated by when you work with each faction
-Intense multiplayer that gives a sense of progression
-Highly interactive world
-Custom multiplayer maps when the mapper knows what they're doing
-Safe houses are a lot more than save points

The bad:
-The soundtrack is pretty meh
-The story has no real depth
-Multiplayer components are derivitive of every other FPS on the market
-Custom multiplayer maps when the mapper has no skill whatsoever
-Cannot save whenever, wherever

That said, Far Cry is a heck of package. The main game itself takes place in a rich and immersive world, and should take you about 20 to 40 hours to complete. This is far too long for some, but I tend to appreciate longer titles considering the cost of a new game and it doesn't hurt that the game is fun. The addition to multiplayer is welcome, and it's fast and intense, regardless of the available modes. Here's hoping for a sequel!
Band Hero - XBox 360

I'm not really sure to review this game, and I'll tell you why. I enjoy Guitar Hero, and Guitar Hero 5's engine is pretty good. But I really don't like pop music very much. That said, I think it's really important to lay on the line just what Band Hero is really aimed at.

I'll be blunt. Guitar hero is aimed at people who like good guitar music; if it's too loud, you're too old, yadda yadda yadda. Band Hero on the other hand, is more for people who like more...vocal music. I mean, that's really it; Band Hero is more aimed at the "Singing Badly" crowd (Karaoke translates to "Singing Badly" in English). It's pretty evident when most of the songs have higher difficulty ratings for vocals than anything else, plus four people being able to sing at once, etc., etc. Not that that's anything different from Guitar Hero 5, where you could have four vocalists, or 4 drummers or four guitarists or four bassists, I think you get the idea.

One of the great things about the engine though, whether you're playing Band Hero or Guitar Hero 5, is that you can use your XBox Avatar instead of selecting one of the pre-created rockers (Axel is reminiscent of James Hetfield after Metallica "jumped the shark"), which kind of simplifies things, but also personalises them. Being able to add a personal touch to a game creates a draw, regardless of how superficial it might be.

The track list includes music from Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Evanescance, Marvin Gaye, and even Katrina and the Waves. It's actually fairly eclectic (although not so much as Guitar Hero World Tour or Guitar Hero 5), and there are over 60 songs, so it's not something to turn your nose up at. They're also master tracks and not covers, at elast from what I can tell. Band Hero also supports all of the songs you may have downloaded for Guitar Hero 5 and World Tour, as well as the World Tour and Smash Hits imports. While my girlfriend wasn't too impressed having Motorhead mixed in with The Jackson 5 and The Spice Girls, I was more than content to have my DLC available on hand to preserve some of my manhood. I mean, I never played this game at all. Only watched. I swear.

And that's really what it boils down to. It's got most of the perks of Guitar Hero 5, but the soundtrack of radio station aimed at people with...gentler musical tastes. I'm not saying it sucks, far from it. But Karaoke's what the Lips franchise is for. Pop music isn't all that cool when it's played on the other instruments because there's no real difficulty, especially for the guitar and bass players. And if you want it, you have to pony up for the DLC or Guitar Hero imports.

Thankfully, the majority of this (59 songs) can be imported into Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock, which extends its value some, and also means I have to pull it out of my collection less.

The good:
-Good setlist for people who like pop music
-Great engine for multiplay
-You can use your own avatar
-Music selection is varied

The bad:
-No challenge for guitar
-Music is geared toward a completely different demographic
-Nothing new over Guitar Hero 5

If you already have a mic for your XBox and you're a fan of pop music, go crazy. If you're hoping for a challenge worthy of a Guitar Hero, I'd skip it. The challenge isn't there.

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