Review | Call of Duty: Black Ops 2

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In the future we will all live in dome-shaped homes, and ride in fuel efficient hovercrafts. Eat pill-sized meals, and watch programming through retinal displays. Yes, the future is bright- thanks to the destruction of the ozone and artificial sunlight built into every new home! Oh, and the world will run on rare earth metals mined in China, and networking security will be total ass. The latter is the more probable option for the future, at least according to Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.

Set in the near future, 2025, a man seeking retribution for past events unleashes a plot to destroy the world powers. Armed with an arsenal of soldiers with high tech weaponry, and an information network that makes the CIA shrink, Raul Menendez is hell bent on accomplishing something he refers to as “Cordis Die”, first by conquering the Facebook and Twitter, then the Youtube, finally the world!

David Mason takes charge to thwart Raul’s plans only to be played a puppet by the very man who kidnapped him years ago and uncovers the plot to who really killed his father, in turn making his father’s killer reminisce about how he, Alex Mason, and Batman, fucked shit up and thus why things are so ugly! Suspense, drama!

The story seemed to be a jumbled mess switching from Present to Past; one played as David, the son, the other played by Alex, pappy. Overall the story was lackluster. The only depth that arose came from the antagonist where his terrorist actions were a subjugation of torment from apparent inequality between the rich and the poor- first world and third world relations- and how citizens were caught into the mix of things. The story between father and son took a backseat to Raul’s tragic roots.

Gameplay was very tried and true: pick up a gun and shoot it, throw a grenade and watch it explode, follow the objective and complete the game. There was no real substance worth noting in the campaign altogether, which is expected of a franchise released every year. Treyarch attempted to switch things up by implementing moral choices- much like in Mass Effect- only to a smaller scale allowing gamers to choose whether to save a life or take it. It was a refreshing experience to a worn and torn franchise and offered a few different endings; not a real bad experiment.

Real-time-strategy missions were implemented to break up the action, but were utterly disappointing. The system was broken and either the player had to go into a first-person perspective to complete the objective, or give up altogether. Luckily only one mission had to be carried out to progress, the others could be ignored.

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The newly reworked Zombies 2.0 is a love-it-or-hate-it type of mode. Survival has the player doing more of the same: shooting zombies ‘til you can’t no more. A classic staple of Treyarch’s Zombies. Aside the few new weapons and perks, nothing was changed to the popular game type. For any person who just wants to shoot zombies for the hell of it, not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

Grief is essentially a team deathmatch with the inclusion of zombies. Two teams of four are placed on a map and they can either choose to destroy the opposing team or fight together, though only one team can be left standing. Matches were over too quick as one team would immediately pick off the other. Zombies served as little as a distraction and the maps offered were simply too small for a survival-deathmatch hybrid. Weapons could be obtained in the same manner: kill zombies, repair shit. Not too keen on this one.

Tranzit mode is the cornerstone of Zombies 2.0. A group of survivors go around on a bus, beef it up, and uncover a great mystery! Survivors travel on bus, or on two feet if left behind, to gather utensils to upgrade the bus or make new items to use- like a makeshift riot shield or generator for power. The premise is that a supernatural voice commands the player to perform tasks to discover some plot or ploy, and when done is rewarded with something sinister (not giving spoilers now are we?).

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The mode is puzzling the first few tries, but once the parameter is established and everyone knows what to do, all the upgrades/perks/items can be gathered in a single run. Generally the mode was not too hard while playing with others, but alone- like previous installments- is near impossible.

Multiplayer is the saving grace for this installment of CoD as it tweaks with loadouts and the number of items one can have. Only ten items in the loadout can be used at any time and can be customized in any fashion fit. The money system is out the window and is replaced with a point system. Weapons, attachments, perks, and the newly added wildcards (an extension of perks) are bought using the points generated from being promoted a level.

One point can buy anything unlockable and one point is generated from gaining a level. Wildcards are unique “perks” added into the mix that act much like a risk/reward system (kinda). One wildcard costs one point, and thus should be selected cautiously, but can be the oomph in a player’s loadout. One wildcard can add an extra kill streak from either tier, an extra attachment to a weapon, or an extra primary gun.

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The game types from previous installments are as they were, but a few are notable like: Kill Confirmed, Hard Point, and Multi Team. Kill Confirmed has been seen on Modern Warfare 3, but has not received the spotlight it deserves. Every kill comes with a dropped dog tag, and in order to get points those tags have to be collected, but if the opposing team retrieves a comrade’s tags the point is denied. Hard point is essentially king of the hill where a team must be within the “hill” to gather points. Multi team pits three teams of three against each other in a variety of game types. Black Ops 2 also includes the first big team battle in the franchise’s history.

Overall, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is the best work from developer Treyarch. It is transcendent from their other works and goes beyond another installment. That being said, it still suffers from franchise fatigue. The story was lackluster, gameplay was not diverse enough, and graphical improvements are generally not seen. The RTS missions bit the dust, and Zombies was unappealing. Multiplayer will stick around as it always has, but other than that, Black Ops 2 is still just another Treyarch Call of Duty. B+.

Review: Max Payne 3 Brings the Max Payne Too!

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Ready to bring the Payne? The Max Payne? The Max Payne 3? Yeah, that was a bit of a stretch but Max Payne 3 is finally out and ready for gamers to salivate over! It’s been almost ten years since the last installment in the series. A development company by the name of Remedy made the previous Max Payne titles and eventually left the brand to work on Alan Wake. Now, Rockstar Vancouver, makers of the 2006 sleeper hit Bully, has just released the latest installment in the franchise with a brand new multiplayer feature and the same great cheesy writing fans know and love.

Most of the story takes place in Brazil where Mr. Payne, a former New Jersey cop dealing with a heavy pain killer and alcohol addiction, works as a private security guard for a rich family in Sao Paulo. The question of why he’s there is answered via playable flashback sequences throughout the game explaining the motivation behind the drastic move. Like any modern shooter, cut scenes surround the gameplay to further the story and break up the action. Previous installments told story through the use of motion comics but Max Payne 3 goes for more of a hybrid between cut scene and graphic novel. You won’t find any Ken Burns effects here, but words show up on the screen sometimes as characters say important lines and the video will often split into two or three screens much like comic panels.

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This keeps the storytelling modern while still respecting the game’s heritage and breathing new life into the unique way Max Payne 1 &2 did cut scenes. The flashback sequences are interesting and do their job to break up the locales throughout the story. This allows the player to explore a handful of contrasting locations without flying all over the world like James Bond. It keeps the story real and the visuals interesting. Every flashback sequence provides insight into Max’s current situation and the intrigue doesn’t let up until the very end. It’s the perfect way to tell this story and it’s wrapped up in dialogue that is cheesy, but some of the best you’ll hear in a videogame all year.

If you’ve played a Max Payne before, the gameplay should be something you’re already familiar with. It’s a shooter. Plain and simple. Environments are full of walls to take cover behind and guns to kill the crap out of whoever is trying to kill you. The only unique feature in the gameplay is bullet time. This allows you to put the world in slow motion making it easier to dive in and out of cover or take extra long to aim for that perfect head shot.

It sounds bland, but, like any shooter, it’s extremely fun to pick off goons level after level. There are numerous enemies all with different fighting styles, health, and armor. They flank, cover each other, and do whatever they can to put you in a body bag. Normally, artificial intelligence like this would be too difficult for one player to handle. That’s why bullet time is the perfect slow motion rock to their intelligent paper. This gives you the edge over groups of extremely impressive killers and defines itself with gameplay that can’t be found in any other shooter. It sounds rinse and repeat, but it’s so much fun to pop enemies in slow mo, it’s hard to get sick of it.

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For the first time ever, Max Payne 3 features a multiplayer mode. Like any standard multiplayer shooter, you’ll gain XP, unlock weapons, customize load outs, and do whatever you can to kill newbpwnge72 before he/she kills you. You’ll find the usual team death match mixed with a couple of unique modes to keep you busy after the campaign. A few notable modes are Payne Killer and Gang wars. Payne killer pits everyone on the map against one poor online player who looks like Max Payne. Whoever is playing Max eventually gets overrun, but then his killer will immediately become the new Max Payne of the match (think VIP in Halo).

Gang Wars is a collection of five matches played across multiple game types leading up to a final showdown to determine the overall winner. The better you do in each match, the better chance your team has for victory in the end.

Surprisingly, a lot of luxuries from the single player campaign make their way into the multiplayer including the bullet time. “How does that work” you ask? “Quiet! I’m talking!” I might say. After that, I might tell you that the developers have found a clever way of making slow motion work online without it becoming a nuisance. Every time someone activates bullet time, only the people within that immediate area, or in line of site of the person who activated it, is affected. This way, someone’s slow motion won’t affect a couple of guys trying to punch each other to death across the map. It’s a unique feature for online gameplay that will scarcely be found anywhere else.

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Unfortunately, the shooting mechanics aren’t the smoothest you’ll find in gaming. Controls that are slightly clunky are okay when fighting computer controlled enemies, but other human beings are a different story. You’ll often fight with the cover system or sluggish aiming to get a good shot on your evil online counterpart causing you to miss your mark a little more often than acceptable. Shooting mechanics must be smooth and flawless for online battles. This is just a touch under acceptable.

A couple of the multiplayer playlists are unique but really nothing that sets it apart so dramatically that you need to drop Call of Duty immediately. It’s intriguing enough to give it a shot and have some fun for an hour or two, but it doesn’t do much to make you want to hop into multiplayer any longer than that. There simply isn’t enough there to persuade you to play Max Payne 3 online over any other shooter on the market today.

The game suffers from a lack of replayabilty due to its lackluster online and linear Story mode. So, “Why such a high grade for a game with such little replay value?” you ask?  “This is one of the best gaming experiences to be had all year” I say. And stop interrupting me! The action sequences are spectacular and over the top, the bullet time makes anyone feel like an instant badass, and there’s no competition for the deliciously cheesy (and hilarious) one-liners. It might be hard justifying a purchase for a game that will essentially sit on your shelf until some downloadable content is released (or you get a hankering to play it again), but there is no substitute for a story crafted this good with gameplay that is ridiculously satisfying. It doesn’t matter if you rent, buy, or steal, every gamer needs to play Max Payne 3.

Halo 4 Getting Call-of-Duty-ed

It’s been reported on NeoGAF that the latest issue of Game Informer has some juicy details on the newest Halo. Every change sounds very “Call of Duty” and I’m worried they’re attempting to stay cool by copying the popular kid on campus. You will be able to earn Spartan Points every match allowing you to purchase new pieces of armor, abilities, and even new co-op missions. There hasn’t been any mention of Firefight, but the new Spartan Ops mode (sounds familiar) will allow players to join up and fight against A.I. across numerous objectives and maps.

The article also mentions that sprint will no longer be an armor ability. It will come standard with every multiplayer class like some other game I’m forgetting the name of. The jetpack, hologram, and active camo are expected to make a return with a new ability called Forerunner Vision, allowing you to see through walls.

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For whatever reason, Elites will not be playable in multiplayer anymore. So far, they’ve said they are focusing on Spartans vs. Spartans and that’s that. Not too much of a shame on this one. I never thought it added much.

Matches will now be joinable in mid game and hopefully destroys the days of one poor sap, who doesn’t want the penalty of quitting, stuck fighting eight enemies who spawn camp him/her for twenty minutes. You can also forget about waiting to get back into the fight after a death. Halo 4 allows you to spawn immediately after getting killed with a button press. I SWEAR I’ve seen that before…

Finally, what I think is the worst thing to happen to Halo since its inception, weapon spawns are now random. Players will no longer be able to rush to certain locations to hog power weapons and turn the tide of the battle. This was apparently done to even the playing field with newbs. This way, the expert player won’t be able to pwn his worthless enemy as hard as he could if he knew where all the weapons spawned. God forbid the better player wins.

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This destroys Halo. I already found it to be a shame when Halo Reach allowed you to bring a custom gun to the fight. People didn’t hunt for the weapons on the map anymore. Now, with random drops, no one’s going to be searching for guns unless they accidentally trip on one. The map weapons always made Halo what it was. It created choke points. It temped players to dangerous locations. It kept the fights interesting. Those power weapons were important for victory. It added a deep new level of strategy besides just everyone shooting each other.

I was cautiously optimistic about the first non-Bungie Halo, but now I’m getting scared. This information contains gameplay found in a million other games. Nothing popped out as anything unique or interesting. Halo has always lead the genre in new places every shooter dreams of emulating. It pains me to think 343 might turn it into a copycat.

Review: Slightly Less Mass Effect

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Mass Effect was one of my favorite video games of the past ten years. BioWare has never struggled to make a compelling universe I would love to spend 40 hours in and they’ve been at this for almost twenty years. Mass Effect 3 marks the 3rd chapter (surprise!) in an original Sci-Fi trilogy they started on the Xbox 360 back in 2007. With the promise of importing saves, streamlined combat, and online multiplayer, it was hard to see how it could disappoint. Now I can see it very clearly.

Mass Effect’s story starts where the last game left off. You dealt with the collectors and the council is finally ready to accept your warnings about the Reapers now that they’re already on earth making humanity their bitch. The Reapers are a race of machines who show up to harvest all life in the galaxy every 50,000 years for some mysterious reason. After reiterating what a thick skull the government has for not heading your warnings about this impending doom earlier, you decide to help anyway for the sake of mankind and you’re off to save the galaxy once again.

It becomes obvious quick that you’re not going to kill an army of machines the size of skyscrapers by shooting at them, so you and your crew set off to find an alternative method. You find plans for a device called the Crucible left in some ruins by the last civilization destroyed by the synthetic jack asses. They didn’t have time to finish building it before the pwnge, but evidence shows it could be a weapon used to destroy the Reapers and break the cycle for good. It’s the only chance you have and there’s no way you’re winning this war conventionally.

While a thousand overworked and underpaid contractors are building your deus ex machina, it’s your job to travel as an ambassador to every planet in the galaxy and unite everyone’s army against our mechanical foes. This is the most interesting part of the game and really shows off the decisions from the last two titles. Every mission has something to do with collecting resources for the Crucible or recruiting armies for the war effort and there’s a past decision behind every one of them. Old friends (the ones you didn’t get killed) show up to help, entire armies respect and listen to you depending on your reputation, and you’ll find yourself enjoying hours of gameplay that wouldn’t be there if you made one wrong move in the last game.

It’s a surprisingly simple plot for such a complex universe. Build the device to kill the machines. The simplicity of the plot is a bit of a disappointment if you were hoping for something a little more complex than what all the commercials are showing. This narrative also lends itself to a lot more action which might be sad news to players who were more interested in the RPG aspect of the game. Fortunately, the simple story also leaves a lot of wiggle room for side missions allowing you to tie up a lot of loose ends with past characters. Even though it’s a much lighter serving this time around, you’ll still get your RPG fix.

As previously stated, shooting takes a much bigger role in Mass Effect 3 than in past installments but it’s also the best shooting mechanics the series has ever seen. The cover system is taken straight out of Gears of War but is a definite improvement over ME1 and 2, allowing you to dive into and out of cover from other pieces of cover around it. This makes fighting much smoother and allows you to concentrate on the battle instead of the controls.

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Unfortunately, Bioware managed to turn this strength into a weakness with a little too much confidence. Every battle is easier and more interesting than before, but also way too long and repetitive. It’s okay to pull more focus on combat after the mechanics have been improved, but every battle seemed to have ten too many enemies in it and last twenty minutes too long. It’s especially saddening since it feels like every extra battle is replacing an interesting conversations or some clever role playing that could have been.

In an added attempt to make the combat more streamlined, the game now includes Kinect support, allowing you to shout commands at your squad members and respond in conversations by just saying the words. I imagine it’s supposed to bring you closer into the experience to be able to shout at your army like you would during a real battle, but like most hardcore games with the inclusion of Kinect, it feels like a gimmick. There are very few times you’ll want to “say the words” instead of just clicking a button. In fact, yelling at my T.V. numerous times to try to get my squad to listen to one command takes me out of the experience more than any button press ever has. At the most, it seems to serve as another bullet point to be slapped on the back of the box as a marketing tool. Speaking of marketing tools, Mass Effect 3 also comes with multiplayer for the first time in the series.

The online battles play exactly like horde (fitting, since that’s where the game took its cover system). You and a few friends get the chance to fight against numerous waves of different enemies and level up your powers to make subsequent battles a little easier. It’s disappointing they didn’t do more with this feature. The game is an RPG at heart and the multiplayer pretends to be a shooter. There are some elements of leveling up still present, but it would have been nice to go on missions or have conversations with friends to extend my single player experience.

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As it stands, the multiplayer doesn’t affect my opinion towards the game because I was just fine playing the first two with zero multiplayer. I’m just sad they wasted time on it when more resources could have been applied towards the campaign. If they had done something more interesting than be Gears of War (with less maps and a rougher cover system), than maybe I would have paid more attention to it.

For a long time fan of the trilogy, Mass Effect 3 is full of let downs. It’s very easy to point to every aspect of the game and say ‘they did that better in ME1 or ME2.’ However, this is still a great game that deserves to be bought, especially if you’re importing your save file. It will be extremely satisfying to see your decisions finally pay off and the story is still better than 90% of all RPGs out there. Bioware set the bar high and fell a little short on this one, not to mention the lackluster ending, but it’s still Mass Effect. It’s Still quality. It’s still a must buy.

Review: Multiplayer Mayhem in Gotham

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Do you like First Person Shooters? Do you want a Batman game without Batman? Do you want to an inexpensive online experience because you’re out of money from the holiday? Then I have a game for you. Gotham City Impostors has come out and is showing off its unique weaponry. From Bear Traps to Roller Skates to Bows and Arrows, you can’t get more unique than this. These unique weapons are equitable to your Custom Classes. There are three game-types and five maps to prove your Class is the best. Every game-type is team based so you are put on either the Batz or Jokers team.

The three game-types are Team Death Match, Fumigation, and Psych Warfare. Team Death Match is just killing enemies, getting a point per kill, until a team reaches fifty points. Fumigation and Psych Warfare are the objective game-types. Fumigation is about capturing three machines called Gasblasters, pumping the gas of whoever owns it into the air. If the Batz own a Gasblaster, it sprays out a gas that attracts bats to attack the Jokers. If the Jokers own a Gasblaster, laughing gas is ejected into the air. Owning multiple Gasblasters will fill the air with your gas faster. Once the air is one hundred percent your gas, you win. Psych Warfare, my personal favorite, is all about grabbing a battery and hooking it up to stereos. These stereos play propaganda that will demoralize the other team. While demoralized, they can only slap, and not use their guns, but they can attack the stereos to shorten the time they are demoralized. All of these game-types play the same on all the maps. The maps just help with seeing new scenery after awhile.

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Creating your own Custom Class is the main focus of Gotham City Impostors. The unlock keys, how you unlock things to customize your class, keep the game from becoming a grid to complete challenges and more about playing the game how you want in order to grow levels. Every feature of your character can be customized such as weapons, clothing, and calling cards. Calling cards pop up on enemy screens when you kill them. It is a quick way to show your personality and for players to remember you. Clothing is bought using costume coins that you get depending on how well you did in a match. The clothing can also be bought with real money if you don’t want to wait. There are even some things that can only be bought with real money. There are a lot of weapons to choose from for your custom classes. You can have two guns per class with mods on each gun. Depending on which gun you have equipped, there will be different mods. My favorite mod, which is on most guns, is the Body Oder Sniffer. It “sniffs” out enemies and will show you when they are hiding around corners or behind walls. There are also different ammo and scope types or you can expand your magazine size.

The Support Items and Gadgets are some other customizable pieces that play a big part in game-play. Support Items are more offensive tools giving you advantages in combat. Some Support Items you have to plan for and set up in advance, like Bear Traps, but there are others that are more instant, like Impact Grenades. Gadgets help with movement mostly. A Glider Rig, Spring Boots, Inflatable Shoes, and a Grapple Gun help get you into high places while Rollers Skates and Ninja Smoke Bombs let you get places fast or undetected. Targeting Goggles are a Gadget that would be more for Support Classes or Healers. Targeting Goggles let you spot enemies through walls. Spotting enemies will cause them to glow brightly for everyone on your team and if someone kills the person you spotted then you get kill assist points. Support Items and Gadgets are fun but the Body Types play a bigger part in the balance of Gotham City Impostors.

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The heavier the weapon, the more it slows down your character. If you have a bigger character the less of a movement penalty you receive from your heavy weapons. The different character sizes change how fast your character moves and how much health you have. The bigger characters are slower and have more health while smaller characters are faster with less health. The Body Type you start with is the Tough class, which has balanced health and speed. It lets you get used to the game before getting too crazy on you. Other fun customizables are the voices. There are different voice types to pick from and each has different sayings along with the ability to change the pitch of your voice. Sometimes the voices can get annoying but overall it is funny.

With Body Types giving you health or speed, Fun Facts can give you other perks. Some are still just more health or speed but others give you buffs against certain weapons and items. The Fun Facts are passive bonuses you can give yourself. Rampage is a special ability you can activate for completing kill streaks or death streaks. You can choose to do more damage or absorb more damage. Your character even has a Psych Profile, which effects how you gain experience. Some actions will give you more experience but other actions will be penalized. All of these different features add into one amazingly unique game.

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The gameplay is fast paced with lots of explosions. The weird weapons that you use in new ways help make this stand out from other games like Call of Duty. There are plenty of close calls and “Did you see that!” moments. The unlock system lets you unlock items when you want to, so, making your dream class is just a few levels away.  There have been some network issues, but in today’s industry, every game is released with issues they patch up later. Not saying I agree with this thought process, but it is what it is. March is going to bring some free DLC and some fixes to these problems. While fast paced shooters aren’t new to the industry, Gotham City Impostors keeps things fresh with its comedy and extreme customizing.

Review: Soul Calibur V...for Vendetta

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Soul Calibur Five. Yes, I said FIVE just to clarify; because I know someone somewhere out there is pronouncing it as a "v" (sigh). So before going on a tangent, and totally exploding on THAT type of people... Soul Calibur FIVE!

The fighting genre has experienced a boom in the number of games spit out (some good, others... not so) almost like the neighborhood gumball machine. (What were you thinking!?) Titles like Mortal Kombat 9, Street Fighter 4 (drop it), and Marvel v. Capcom 3 have brought forth a new chapter in fighting games, and reignited the flame. Now, another staple of fighters has emerged from seemingly nowhere, Soul Calibur.

Initial thoughts when loading up the disk were relatively high due in part to having a new Soul Calibur in a few years. The opening cinematic where Siegfried and Nightmare were clashing was definitely awesome and flashy; I couldn't wait to actually start playing. Once I selected my first character (Pyrrha) and began that first battle (COM), excitement turned into confusion, then further into frustration. What did they do!?

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Fighters are judged entirely on gameplay, and immediately, I had none from controller to character. Actions were clunky, slow, and generally dumbed down. Even against a mediocre COM, I had to dig deep to finish the fight. I switched characters to a faster type (Natsu) hoping to quell my fear only to reinforce it. The mechanics were tinkered with from the previous installment, and it did not bode well.

Actions have a greater lag transitioning from controller to character, and timing with each character is special. Timing combos has always been fine in previous installments, but the more I played with it, the more I noticed that this installment was not in tune. Parrying and breakers were effective, and special moves were still key at least.

The Story Mode was set, and had as much depth as any generic fighter of the ‘90s… well with a slight incest twist. Not every character was seen in the story, and involvement was transparent in the ones that were introduced. Questions were brought up, but never answered. Characters were thrown into the mix, and disappeared just as quick. Oh well, it’s a fighter and nothing to be ashamed about… right?

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Online playability has improved dramatically, and is as solid as any other current fighter on the market. Not once did I experience lag, and generally people stayed for a full match (but it’s more courtesy and less doucheness than anything). Both Ranked and Player matches are available, and custom characters may be used (I personalized the hell out of my characters!).

Speaking of custom characters… son of a bitch! If only moves could be altered, and less clothing presentable then I would be satisfied. I’ve seen more customability in WWE 12! Although I bitch about it, it was still satisfying enough creating custom characters who look like players from other franchises (I so made Lara Croft). It’s a neat mode that differs from other fighters, so that’s always a plus.

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Unlockable characters were half and half. Some came from the story, others from a mode called Legendary Souls. That being said, only six unlockable characters were present, and I did not enjoy trying to unlock the ones from Legendary Souls. Legendary Souls is a higher-level arcade mode where all you do is get your ass kicked from left to right, from Sunday to next month! I curl up in a ball under my sheets and cry for a while every time I remember getting Kilik’s pole shoved so far up my ass it tickles my insides… *shiver*.

Well, all in all. Not too bad. It’s not great. It’s not bad. It just is. Hey, they have Ezio! And not just any Ezio! End of Assassin’s Creed 2, beginning of Assassin’s Creed 2: Brotherhood Ezio! That’s great. Super. Well, hopefully next time they can get someone as badass as Yoda and Darth Vader in on the action. Oh, and console exclusives please. B-.

Review: More than meets the License

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Transformers: Fall of Cybertron has been announced and is looking awesome. Fall of Cybertron is the follow up to 2010’s War of Cybertron. They say it’s not a direct sequel but it takes place in the same universe. War of Cybertron was a smash hit and ties in with 1st generation Transformers show. You get to play as all the greats: Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Ironhide, Starscream, Soundwave, and Megatron. The campaign has you play as both the Autobots and Decepticons, giving you a rich, full experience. Multiplayer is fast and balanced even with custom classes. There is even a Horde mode game type called Escalation.

The story mode has ten chapters. You can start at Chapter One in the Decepticon Story or Chapter Five as Autobots. They do this so you can jump right into playing as Optimus, but trust me, start with the Decepticon side for the complete story. You will see classic Characters, Weapons, and Locations from old school Transformers. There are plenty of new things brought into the Transformers universe as well. There are some boss battles, but most aren’t memorable. My personal favorite Transformer, Starscream, gets an origin story and I love all the history that ties into the series.

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The three-player co-op is a nice but doesn’t add much to the game. You can select what character you want to play before every level and each one has different abilities and weapons. What really adds to the experience is the Co-op Versus mode. It plays like Left 4 Dead versus; three people play in a campaign level and three people try to stop them. Correctly using characters, weapons, and abilities will bring success against your enemy.

Escalation mode is yet another Co-op mode where you fight wave after wave of demented avengers (Pink Floyd Reference). It is like Horde mode with a twist. For each kill, you get points and you use these points for weapons, ammo, shields, and opening doors. The best part about these are multiple people can pay for one thing, so if you don’t have enough points, ask your teammates for help. Some of the best weapons are locked behind the more expensive doors. The DLC available for War for Cybertron adds Multiplayer maps and Escalation Maps. There is enough content to keep you busy for awhile but when you get bored, the DLC will help.

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The Multiplayer was the most addictive part of War for Cybertron. Being able to transform anytime brings a very unique aspect to online shooters. With four different character classes and different weapons, abilities, and perks for each class, there are many choices to make. Each class can be leveled up to 25, unlocking things along the way. After getting every class to 25 you can do Prime Mode where all ranks are reset and you get a nice icon next to your name. Even with all that content in the mix of Multiplayer, it is all well balanced. At a low level without all the fancy unlocks I didn’t feel weak against the higher-level players.

One shall Stand. One shall Fall. War for Cybertron does not fall and, along with Batman: Arkham Asylum, shows just how licensed games can be good. Fall of Cybertron is bringing Dinobots and Constructicons to the battle. Such iconic characters with a rich history and amazing gameplay make this a must have for any fan. Also, if you aren’t a fan, there has never been a better time to jump in. Go out, buy War for Cybertron, and get ready to experience one of my most anticipated games of 2012. Fall of Cybertron doesn’t have a release date yet but expect it close to the holiday season.

Review: Sonic Generations Offers Some of the Old With Too Much of the New

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Everyone loves Sonic!... Ten years ago. Lately it’s been pretty rough if you’re a Sonic fan (if there’s any of you left out there). Back in the day, plenty of ten year olds fought over the superiority of Mario and Sonic the same way 50’s kids used to argue if Superman or The Flash was faster. Mario has ruled the past ten years with no contest considering the huge slump Sonic’s been in. Sonic Generations is attempting to win back old fans with an emphasis on 2D gameplay and classic stages with a graphical upgrade.

Early in the game, Capt. Smoke Monster (or whatever he’s called) flies into our world via a space vacuum and trolls Sonic’s life. He grabs the slightly pudgier Sonic from the 90’s and throws him into present day with 3D Sonic and his entourage of backward characters. I understand the narrative in a Platformer isn’t exactly key to its quality, but Sonic always had a few cool characters you wish someone would take advantage of. Unfortunately, it’s not happening in this outing.

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Every level has two acts. The first act is played exclusively in 2D with Classic Sonic on stages remade from past titles. The graphics are prettier and add some depth to the former 16-bit environments, but sometimes the new visuals can be distracting. Visual pizazz confused me for a workable platform a few times, causing me to fall to my death. Still, it’s a great way to revisit some of your favorite stages from 15 years ago.

The second act claims it’s in 3 dimensions, but it’s really kind of a hybrid.  The playing field switches back and forth between dimensions to give you a bit of the old and a bit of the new. They are meant to be a reimagining of the old 2D levels if they were done today. Unfortunately, today’s Sonic developers don’t quite have the skills they used to. This causes every second act to be a little bit of a disappointment.

The mechanics are everything in this genre. If it doesn’t feel good to hop around on a ton of enemies while feeling like a total badass, you might as well hang it up. Not everything feels as good as it did in the past. There seems to be a slight lag in every jump and controlling Sonic with the joystick isn’t as tight as it could be. When playing a game about speed and timing, these are a few small inconveniences that turn into huge problems during gameplay. It just aint what it used to be.

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All the original content in the game is very underwhelming. Every recycled boss requires the completion of a few drab challenges, and every spruced up classic stage is followed by a modern uninteresting one.

The game only has nine levels and makes for quite a missed opportunity. A couple of the levels are even pulled from some of this generation’s Sonic library, and trust me, no one wants to revisit those. All development could have been geared towards more classic levels and it would have made for a better game. Too much time was wasted on the uninteresting story, boring challenges, and 3D stages. With downloadable stages, this might turn out to be a pretty way to enjoy sonic in 2D again, but as is, it’s not a whole lot of content and it’s not all peaches.

Review: Bastion's Traditional Gameplay Never Sounded So Good!

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Top down RPG’s have been around since role playing made its way into video games. They all have quite a few similarities, but every so often one comes along with a few unique twists that will make even long time role players turn their heads. Enter Bastion, a game with traditional mechanics, but a unique art style and some amazing audio you won’t get anywhere else.

The first thing you’ll notice when playing, is the eye candy (not like that sicko). Everything looks like it’s part of a painting. The ground builds itself piece by piece as you step closer to the edge of the environment and every detail looks like it was carefully drawn by a talented artist. The character models are less abstract than the worlds you traverse, but the mix of styles works well and creates some pretty sweet vistas when you’re slicing baddies apart.

If you’ve played any RPG at a bird’s eye view, nothing should surprise you here. Every level comes baring gifts of new weapons, enemies, XP, and currency that can be spent at the local shop. All weapons are upgradeable and leveling up gives you a bigger health bar and bonuses towards critical hits, currency collection, weapon power, etc. These mechanics are essential to any RPG, but you can’t help but feel like you’ve seen it all before.

Bastion was made by Supergiant games (I hadn’t heard of them either) and if there’s one thing this company can do, it’s audio. The music is mellow and perfect for the beautifully coated landscapes. Build That Wall, one of the game’s repeating tracks, was honored at the VGA’s for Best Song over Portal 2’s Vilify by The National and hilarious closing tune by Jonathan Coulton. Not an easy task.

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The narration is also top notch. Every action you perform in the game is dictated by a powerful voice. No more out of place hints that remind you you’re playing a video game. If you seem lost, the narrator will always have a piece of dialogue up his sleeve leading you in the right direction. This lets you learn everything in the game without once being taken out of the experience.

Like any game in its category, there is a hub world. This area is called the Bastion (fancy that). The Bastion is a place to switch up your arsenal, upgrade weapons, and build a better tomorrow. You heard me. Bastion allows you to build multiple structures in the hub world that will help you along your journey. The order in which you build them affects the gameplay since you can only build one structure in between levels. Build an arsenal first, and you’ll be able to switch your weapons, but you can’t upgrade them. Build a forge first and you’ll be able to upgrade them, but you can’t take advantage some level up bonuses.

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The game also takes quite a unique approach to difficulty. The main screen only gives you two options: super easy and normal. If you want a challenge above that, you’ll have to build a shrine on the Bastion. This allows you to make the game harder in different ways (enemies that are faster, stronger, etc.) and lets you collect currency and XP bonuses for the extra effort. Think Halo Skulls. It’s a unique approach to difficulty and certainly allows the player quite a bit more control than just asking for a harder experience.

Bastion deserves praise for its sophisticated story line, gorgeous levels, strong narration, and fantastic music. This makes the traditional gameplay all the more perplexing. It’s a fun ten hour experience but you’ll wish Supergiant took as many chances with its gameplay as it did with everything else. I recommend everyone plays this game. Everything it did wrong is easily forgiven, but everything it did right is something I guarantee you haven’t seen in years. 

Review: Raam Living in the Shadow of Gears

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The Kryll Storm is only hours away. You are a part of Zeta Squad and have to evacuate Lima City. Did you know what the Kryll Storm was? Neither did we. Raam’s Shadow is out and brings about three hours of story for 1200 points, if you didn’t get the Season Pass. The Season Pass is still available for only 2400 and there are two more pieces of DLC on their way. Not only do you get to play as some old gears, Minh Young Kim and Tai Kaliso, but new ones as well, Michael Barrick and Alicia Valera. You also get in the shoes of some cool Locust characters, General Raam, Elite Maulers, and an Elite Theron.

This DLC takes place before Gears of War 1, so there are no Lambent. Minh Young Kim is the leader of Zeta Squad, too bad he dies in the beginning of Gears 1. Zeta Squad is ready for action in Raam’s Shadow. The beginning is just holding at a single point from waves and waves of Locust. During that fight, the game shows the new Hammer of Dawn Command Center. Make sure to look around, there were guns and ammo crates that I didn’t find until my third or fourth time playing it. Jace makes an appearance in this DLC. It shows how Jace got into the war and decided he wanted to be a Gear. I would have rather seen someone else’s origin story, but whatever, it is still a fun story.

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Playing as the Locusts has never been cooler. This is the only way to play as the Locusts other than Beast Mode. Beast Mode was a big deal before Gears 3 came out, but has taken the back seat ever since. The story uses the Locusts very well. Playing through an area killing COG, planting Seeders, and busting down walls is cool. What is even better is playing that same area as Zeta Squad after all the destruction. Four-Player Co-op is where this DLC shines. Depending on what player you are, you get to control a special Locust. First player is Raam. Second is the Elite Theron. Third and Fourth are Elite Maulers.

Raam has his Kryll Shield and his sword from the first game. He can use his Kryll Shield as a weapon by having them attack COG. The Elite Theron has a Sawed-off Shotgun with a bayonet attachment with a sick charge attack. He is also is equipped with Kryll Grenades, allowing him to call Kryll of his own to the field. The two Elite Maulers are much like normal Maulers with a twist. What make them “Elite” are the Shields. They can reflect bullets back at the COG. There is even an achievement to do that ten times. Sadly, these new Locusts are not in Beast Mode. Maybe next DLC.

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Overall, it is an enjoyable three-hour experience, unlike what happened to Gilligan and his friends. The characters are very unique, each offering their back stories very easily. It was fun to play the Locust side of things and I hope to experience that some more. It is also interesting to kill the Locusts, which you have played as, later. For 1200 points, Raam’s Shadow doesn’t have enough content. No additions to Multiplayer, Horde, or Beast. As part of the Season Pass, it is totally worth it. Hurry up and buy the Season Pass before it is gone and you are forced to pay full price.

Review: Go Back to Karkand, and Never Look Forward.

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Battlefield 3’s launch has been everything but smooth. Servers didn’t work properly for a solid week or two, the multiplayer was riddled with glitches, and the maps didn’t seem nearly as destructible as past installments. With such big tech issues and graphical disappointments, I found it hard to believe that Battlefield 3 would ever have legs as long as its predecessors. Almost two months after the game’s launch, DICE released a new map pack, called Back to Karkand, including classic arenas from previous titles. New content for a broken game isn’t usually news, however, this return to form might be just what Battlefield 3 needs to win back its fans and recover from its rocky start.

There are four maps in the new update: Strike at Karkand, Wake Island, Sharqi Peninsula, and Gulf of Oman. Each one is a remake of past Battlefield maps. They look slightly different and some of the structures have changed, but they’re all a fairly accurate representation of the original version. This should please longtime fans of the series because there’s a reason why they’re called classics.

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Every map embodies everything that’s great about Battlefield. Everybody chooses a class, defining their role in each match. A great map gives everyone a chance to play the role they want and have fun doing it. All four maps provide this variety of gameplay and nail that Battlefield experience. There are wide open areas for snipers, plenty of vehicles for engineers, and close quarters combat for assault and support classes. This makes every player feel welcome on this visit back to the most loved maps of the series.

Also, every map is more destructible than any other Battlefield 3 map to date. Rubble piles into the street and buildings collapse if too many walls are blown out. This was standard on past Battlefields, but was strangely absent in a lot of the on disk maps. It was possible to destroy almost anything in Bad Company 2, but Battlefield 3 launched with stagnant environments that had only a few destructible walls. It’s still curious why this happened, but at least the new maps are a huge step in the right direction. They’re still not 100% destructible like BC2, but it’s enough to give you that great feeling of leaving a huge crater where you just had a firefight.

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Back to Karkand also introduces Assignments. Pulled directly from Call of Duty’s Challenges, Assignments are little goals for you to accomplish in multiplayer that will earn you new weapons for every class. There are only about 8 assignments, which is quite low considering what Call of Duty has, but it’s a nice addition and gives you a few more goals to strive for when pining for those addicting unlocks.

I was weary to hop back into a game with so many issues, but this DLC made me a believer again. Every map is infinitely playable and the technical updates have turned a frustrating online shooter into a solid multiplayer experience. I can’t wait to get back in and start unlocking more weapons. Of course, it’s not quite perfect yet. Squads still don’t work properly and it’s not completely free of glitches, but it’s definitely enough to give this game another go before you decide to drop it for another shooter. Oh, and did I mention, if you have the limited edition, this map pack comes at no extra charge! Download and enjoy.

Son of a B 360! Delays. Delays. Delays.

By: David "DR. G" Galanter

Pissed about the delays in "today's" 360 dashboard update? Even more pissed you have no idea why your 360 isn't updating? Well, it seems like the update itself is having some problems getting its ass server side for download. There isn't much info on what's going on, but you can follow Larry Hryb's (Major Nelson's) Twitter to stay up to date.

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The latest update, as of now, states that they're still working to get the new dashboard live and there will be more news about it in the afternoon. It's afternoon now and still no news. There is no mention of the big update getting pushed back to tomorrow (or even later), so hopefully it's still coming today.

Keep an eye on Major Nelson's Twitter for more info. We'll post an update on this story when (or if) the download goes live today.

Some Features Pushed Back in Tomorrow's 360 Dashboard Update

By: David "DR. G" Galanter

Waiting for that sweet 360 Dashboard update tomorrow? Well this might piss you off slightly. Earlier in the year, Microsoft claimed they were releasing an update for their console that would enable YouTube, HBO GO, and a few other apps. When the big M announced a big update for 360 on Dec. 6th, most of us assumed this would be the one to carry all of the fancy new apps. Unfortunately, that's not happening.

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It appears that quite a few apps won’t make it into tomorrow's update. YouTube will launch "later in December" and HBO GO is looking at a release date in "early 2012." About a week ago, we ran a news story about Verizon FioS coming to 360. Unfortunately, this functionality is getting pushed back as well.

Of course, Microsoft never really promised these apps would come on the 6th. We all simply hoped. Seemed like a safe bet considering a lot of these functions were discussed months ago. Guess it's gonna take longer to work out the kinks.

The list below details when each app should be coming (approximately):

Dec. 6:

EPIX. United States

ESPN on Xbox LIVE (ESPN). United States

Hulu. Japan

Hulu Plus. United States

LOVEFiLM. United Kingdom

Netflix. Canada, United States

Premium Play by (MediaSet). Italy

Sky Go (SkyDE). Germany

Telefónica España – Movistar Imagenio. Spain

TODAY (MSNBC). United States

 

Later in December:

4 on Demand (C4). United Kingdom

ABC iView (Australian Broadcasting Corp.). Australia

AlloCiné. France (AlloCiné), Germany (Filmstarts), Spain (Sensacine), United Kingdom (Screenrush)

Astral Media’s Disney XD (Astral Media). Canada

blinkbox (Blinkbox). United Kingdom

Crackle (Sony Pictures). Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, United States

Dailymotion. Available in 32 countries globally

Demand 5 (Five). United Kingdom

DIGI+ (CANAL+). Spain

GolTV (Mediapro). Spain

iHeartRadio (Clear Channel). United States

Mediathek/ZDF (ZDF). Germany

MSN. Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, United Kingdom

MSNBC.com. United States

MUZU.TV. Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom

ninemsn. Australia

Real Sports (Maple Leaf Sports). Canada

Rogers On Demand Online (Rogers Media). Canada

SBS ON DEMAND.Australia

Sky Go (SkyDE). Austria

TMZ (Warner Bros.). Canada, United States

TVE (RTVE.es). Spain

UFC on Xbox LIVE (UFC). Canada, United States

Verizon FiOS TV. United States

VEVO. Canada, Ireland, United Kingdom, United States

Vudu (Wal-Mart). United States

YouTube. Available in 24 countries globally

 

Early 2012:

Antena 3 (Antena 3 de Televisión). Spain

BBC (BBC). United Kingdom

CinemaNow (Best Buy). United States

HBO GO (HBO). United States

MLB.TV (MLB Advanced Media). Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Columbia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, United Kingdom, United States

Telenovelas/Sports (Televisa). Brazil, Chile, Colombia, France, Italy, Mexico, Spain, United Kingdom

Xfinity On Demand (Comcast). United States

Review: Revelations Offers Few New Additions, But Plenty of Entertainment

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I’ve never been a huge fan of yearly releases for video games. Sequels are feeling less and less like sequels nowadays and I miss seeing major changes/improvements in new franchise installments. Not every game needs a whole lot of development time and I do like a few yearly titles, but most of them lack the innovation of a 2-3 year development cycle. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is another title in an annual franchise. Most games with a yearly cycle are much simpler and don’t require loads of story or level development. This is an open world game with a brand new city, new missions, and an online component. Is it possible for a game to tackle so much in one year without it falling flat?

In every Assassin’s Creed, you play as Desmond Miles, a present day drifter who straps into a matrix machine called the Animus that allows him to relive the memories of his ancestors. The majority of every game is spent in the Animus, exploring cities from hundreds of years ago. After a slight hiccup at the end of the last game, Desmond seems to be stuck in the world of the animus and must continue the adventures of one of his ancestors, Ezio Auditore.

The game takes place in Constantinople during the rise of the Ottoman Empire in the 1500s. Ezio travels here after he learns of a powerful weapon that Altair (another ancestor of Desmond’s) hid somewhere in the city. The Templars (the baddies of every AC game) have arrived in Constantinople and are looking for the weapon as well. Ezio and his group of assassins are determined to find the weapon before the Templars do, fearing whoever finds it will win the war permanently. Besides the initial introduction, the story isn’t laid on too thick for the rest of the game.  There are plenty of quests and a handful of side missions that will keep you busy and entertained without worrying about the overall plot.

Out of all the Assassin’s Creeds, this is my favorite city. Getting around in the open world environments have always been about the free running mechanics for me. Other titles in the series required some horse riding to get around to more populated areas, but these were always the more boring parts of the game. It wasn’t nearly as satisfying as jumping from rooftop to rooftop to get to your destination. The city is much denser this time around and features no barren cornfields that can only be crossed on horseback. This allows you to constantly use your skills as a city free runner with one more trick up your sleeve.

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Revelations introduces a new mechanic called the hook blade. It slides out of your sleeve like the hidden blade and provides a few more options while traversing the city. You can use it to slide down zip lines, reach higher ledges, and screw with guards in combat. It’s a small addition, and probably could have been a later upgrade, but I was happy to get around the city faster than I ever could before using its abilities.

The biggest change in Revelations is the notoriety system. In past Assassin’s Creeds, killing guards made your notoriety meter rise and the authorities more likely to recognize you as you passed by them. Now, performing illegal tasks will still fill the meter, but never make the fuzz any more likely to chase you on sight. In fact, nothing happens until the meter is all the way full. At this point, one of your assassin’s dens can get attacked by Templars at any time and you’ll have to go help. The only way to prevent this is by paying Heralds or killing public officials (lowering the meter), or just making sure the meter never fills to the top. Unfortunately, It’s much easier to “perform illegal actions” in this game because every purchase around town fills the meter a bit (buying up large amounts of weaponry naturally makes the authorities suspicious). Worrying about the meter after every purchase can be frustrating, but at least you can neglect it until its 90% full.

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The game does sport a few questionable sequences. There are levels that can be played as Desmond in first-person were you hop around in the animus dream world, full of walls that look like computer code and a few other random pieces of geometry. I would call these levels “not fun”. The first person controls were a mess and the levels themselves didn’t add anything interesting to the game’s story. It felt like they wanted to give you something to do if you wanted to take a break from controlling Ezio. Playing one of these levels once made me never want to take a break from Ezio again.

The game also has a few RTS sections that have you commanding troops to stop waves of enemies from getting through your defenses. These sequences are short and not as clunky as you might think in a game like this. I wasn’t eager to play these battles over and over, but they were interesting and kept me entertained. It didn’t hurt the game in my eyes, but probably wasn’t needed.

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The online component in this game is clearly an afterthought, but does provide some entertainment for people who are looking to have a bit more fun after the campaign. There are a handful of maps and modes but the one that really stands out allows you to stalk one player while another is stalking you. It’s a simple concept that provides nerve racking matches where you’re constantly looking over your shoulder as you’re trying your best to hunt down your target. I didn’t get to play the multiplayer as long as I would have liked because of the game’s online code requirement that’s becoming so popular with publishers recently. This title, at least, had a three day trial, but the overall principle is the same. If you want to play online, buy it new, or don’t touch it at all.

Assassins Creed: Revelations isn’t very different from its predecessors, but is still fun and has a few extra goodies to merit its existence. I have no idea how Ubisoft was able to build this much in one year, but they did it. The credits show that it was clearly “all-hands-on-deck” to get it done. It seems like every Ubisoft developer under the sun touched this title. Regardless of a few questionable additions and a game that hasn’t evolved much in a few years, I still had a really good time with it. I wouldn’t call it a “must have” but I think it was as good a game can be without transcending into the world of great. Buy it if you’re already done with every Triple-A title that came out this year, but no matter what, rent it. It’s an enjoyable piece of entertainment. Purpose achieved.

Review: Halo: CE is Back, But Not Much Else Came With It

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It’s been ten years since Halo: Combat Evolved blew our minds on the original Xbox. The graphics were “bonus” (that’s what the cool kids said), and the gameplay was unprecedented on a console. With a streamlined control system and a myriad of clever weapons and grenades, Halo went on to spawn half a dozen sequels and even more copy cats. After a decade of supporting the franchise it created, Bungie broke free of Microsoft’s grip and went on to go make something non-Halo. However, Microsoft created a new company internally to manage the future of Halo called 343 Industries (named after a bitch character in the series). 343 has created a map or two for previous Halos, but the new studio just released its biggest project yet. Using modern hardware and clever programming, 343 Industries just brought the original Halo into the new generation.

343 wanted to do everything in their power to keep all the gameplay intact while making it look like a current gen shooter. Part of how they were able to do this is because some of the original code from ten years ago is still being used. This ensured the physics, vehicles, and shooting would behave exactly like it did ten years ago. Two graphics engines are running simultaneously at all times. One runs the old game exactly how it was last generation and the other is essentially the same under the hood, but boasts “next gen” graphics. Major benefit? The player can choose to switch back and forth between the old and new graphics any time they want. Pretty fancy.

I played through the game with just the new graphics the first time through. I played Halo to DEATH years ago and was down to look at something new. The outdoor vistas have seen the most improvement. What used to be a flat green floor is now a beautiful collection of foliage and trees that really pop. The indoor levels still bear a slight improvement, but it’s not as noticeable. Sometimes a flat wall can only ever be a flat wall. The new graphics are sharp but still don’t look as good as Halo: Reach or any other modern shooter for that matter. I also ran into some frame rate issues while playing in the Anniversary graphics. If I had to guess, I’d say running two engines at the same time is taxing on the hardware and could be the reason why they couldn’t push the newer visuals to today’s standards.

The new graphics also feature a few new character animations and subtle differences that go a little beyond just a new coat of paint. Unfortunately, some of the new animations still look dated, even though 343 clearly had complete control over them. Also, a few automatic doors don’t blink or light up like they used to when they open, and the HUD didn’t seem to get much of a visual upgrade at all. These complaints are nitpicky, but I expected a little more polish on Microsoft’s biggest franchise.

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Besides the aesthetics, Anniversary also has upgraded 5.1 audio with some re-recorded sound effects. All the voice acting has been kept intact, but some of the guns carry a brand new bang. This was actually my favorite part about the remake. The sniper rifle fires with a heavy bass now and the Needler sounds more alien than ever. Casual observers won’t notice the difference, but it’s a guaranteed rager for anyone who’s heard the old sounds a million times. Plenty of sound effects were untouched (and a few were questionably removed) but the audio director definitely did his job on this one.

The only other addition to the single player mode is Terminals. This is a feature that was present in the past few Halo titles. They’re little easter eggs that can be found around the campaign that give you a deeper understanding of the Halo universe. In Anniversary, any time you are in the updated graphics mode, you’re liable to find these terminals and get more stories that elude to what Halo 4 might be about. It’s a small addition, but the dedicated Halo fan will love it.

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary also includes 6 competitive multiplayer maps and one map specifically for Firefight (Halo’s Horde mode). All these maps are redesigned versions of arenas from classic Halos, but they don’t keep the old rule set. They were all built with theHalo: Reach graphics engine and rules. You can either play these maps using the Anniversary disc or the Halo: Reach disc (if you choose to install them to your hard drive). The only nostalgia in the multiplayer’s gameplay is that some game modes tweak the weapon damage, jump height, etc. to make everything behave like it did in Halo: CE. It’s not really the same, but it’s something. Besides that, there’s no way to relive those hectic split screen sessions from ten years ago in this package. Kind of a shame.

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Each map is a beautiful remake and a lot of fun to fight on. There are two versions of every map: Classic and Anniversary. The classic versions mimic the old geometry as best it can to please purists, and the Anniversary versions add tunnels, walkways, structures, etc. to make the map play better with Halo: Reach’s gameplay. These maps offer a new dynamic to online battles (as do all new maps) and keep the online battles for Reach fresh and fun.

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is a great package, and well worth it at only 40 bucks. However, out of all the Halo games, this is the lightest package. Halo has been synonymous with content over the years and Anniversary doesn’t quite offer the long legs the other Halo’s have. I understand this game was probably a short development cycle, but even Halo: ODST featured a brand new campaign and the invention of firefight with only a year in development. I recommend this title to anyone who likes shooters. If you haven’t played Halo, there’s never been a better time to enjoy it. If you’re a long time fan, you’re going to love the modern touch, just remember, it’s a $40 Halo in price and content.

Verizon FioS on your 360

Kotaku reported this morning that customers of the Verizon FioS service will be able to watch a limited number of channels on their Xbox 360. Unfortunately, you have to be subscribed to both Verizon's internet and TV package (and Xbox Live) in order to take advantage of the feature. The Xbox 360 functionality will support Kinect to surf around the menus, but there will only be 26 channels available when the feature launches next month.

Verizon will have an app on the dashboard in a month
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Verizon is also offering a deal to anyone who wants to jump ship from their current non-Verizon service. For $89.99 a month, they will provide you with FioS TV, FioS internet (35mbps up and down), Verizon voice service, a year of Xbox Live, and a copy of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary.

The deal doesn't sound too shabby but the 360 benefit seems to be pretty low at only 26 channels. Verizon said they will be adding more over time, so it could become a sweeter deal in the months to come. The offer is only available through Jan. 21st. Make sure to check the Verizon website to see if FioS is available in your area. I've lived in a few locations around L.A. Not one had FioS as an option. Good luck to you my fellow entertainment whores!

G-Cast Ep. 14: It's What's for Dinner! (Don't Over Think It. Makes No Sense).

Welcome to G-Cast Episode 14! Waiting for that Assassin’s Creed: Revelations G-Cast? Well, unfortunately that comes next week, but I BET you’ve been waiting for the Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary discussion! Unfortunately, that comes next week too. Because of the volume of games coming out this month, we’ve had to push back a few games. This week, Landon, Ivan, and David sit down and review The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Listen and find out what we thought of the most popular fantasy RPG on the market today as we debate every aspect of the game and grade the title overall. Click “Email Us” to tell us what you think! Subscribe to us on iTunes here! Tune in next week when we discuss two games: Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary and Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. Thanks for listening!

Skyrim: Fight Dragons… and other things

The game you have been asking about for years is finally here. Oblivion came out over five years ago and its last piece of DLC came out just a year after that. Many gamers have been eagerly waiting for the next installment in the Elder Scrolls series. The wait is over. It’s in stores now. RPGs have evolved a lot over the past 5 years. With the Dragon Age and Final Fantasy ruling the RPG market is there any room for Elder Scrolls? Have the enhancements in Skyrim stayed up to date with the industry standards? Are you going to be mad because I’m not giving this game a perfect score?

Skyrim is a beautiful game. It has amazing textures and is very detailed. Not to mention a draw distance that surpasses all others. The sights found in this game leave me speechless. Whether you are on the highest peak or in the lowest valley, you will remember your time here forever. Detail is a big part of these visuals. From how the snowfalls onto the ground or how a wolf’s howl warns you not to get closer, never before have I felt like a real citizen of a virtual land.

The AI is something else. It interacts with you and each other more than real people do (if you don’t get out much). Animals will watch as you pass, giving warnings to not step on their turf. Trust me you won’t be able to take down all the beasts you encounter. The AI have their own lives inside this virtual world. You can even ask the Inn Keeper if anyone needs help nearby. He/she will tell you someone was complaining about the bears around the city. Quest time, speak to them and get a quest to kill the bears. Battles can get really intense with the intelligent AI. They switch up combat strategies on the fly and don’t mind chasing you for as long as it takes.

The combat has changed from Oblivion. The triggers act as your right and left hands. You can equip just about anything to each hand: spells, swords, and shields. I stuck with spells for my left hand and a one handed sword for my right. Bow and arrows were a nice back up if I needed space. Remember to save often. I can’t remember how many times I would be hiking up a hill for hours to complete a quest and run into a Frost Troll. Those things are tough and when you die you go back to your last save. The enemies are strong but let’s face it, there’s only one type of enemy you want to hear about. The Dragons!

The Era of Dragons is upon us and it’s up to you to save the day. You fight your first dragon early in the main quest. It is an experience that I won’t soon forget. The dragon flying through the sky, landing only to kill the soldiers as you run for cover. I stuck with my Bow and Arrows for that fight. It was so intense I was yelling at my TV for the soldiers to get into cover. Why do they never listen? After finally killing the beast, somehow, you absorb its soul. The survivors say it’s because you are Dragon Born (I don’t know how a Dark Elf was born from a Dragon but hey, it works). Your adventure will continue but I don’t want to spoil anything, as you need to experience it yourself.

Skyrim has many things it did right and a few it did wrong but they are still there. Facial expressions aren’t up to par with other games. Menus can be trouble to navigate. Roads can be hard to find, and essential, when the nav point will say “go there” but a mountain blocks your path. Dungeons are better than ever with the new AI and graphics. Many games are grabbing for your money this holiday season. Skyrim should be near the top of your list. A- and that might be a little harsh, but the facial expressions bugged me a lot.

New 360 Dashboard Update December 6th

If you've been in the preview program, this might not be that exciting to you (it might not even be that exciting to you anyway). The new 360 dashboard update is being released officially on the 6th of December and will carry a few changes.

Bing will be added to the console allowing people to use Kinect to simply say the title of a game or movie and have the Xbox find it. The dashboard will also have some aesthetic changes. It will embody Microsoft's new "Metro" design and the Kinect Hub and standard dashboard are one and the same now. There are a few other random changes (like being able to post achievements to facebook) but this update doesn't sound as content heavy as some of the dashboard updates in the past.

I was also under the impression this update would let you save your profile to the cloud, allowing you to avoid recovering your account at a friend's house. However, I'm not sure if Microsoft will follow up on that. We'll find out on December 6th!

XIII

This is the podcast you’ve all been waiting for! It’s the episode where we finally act professional! Intrigued? Good, cause I lied, but now that you’re already halfway through this paragraph, you’ll be happy to know this is the episode where we talk about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and debate if it deserves your dollars over Battlefield 3. Landon, Ivan, and David are fully prepared to choose their sides and explain in detail which game they would choose and why. Click “Email Us” to tell us what you think! Subscribe to us on iTunes here! Tune in next Friday for another episode of G-Cast when we talk about The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim!