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.

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: Pullblox in the U.K.

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The 3DS has had a rough story so far. Just before the end of 2011, it got some great titles, like Mario, Zelda and Star Fox, but what many people didn’t see is its online store. Here is where the 3DS shows its true strength. The eShop is where we saw fun little titles that captured our hearts, like Pushmo and Mighty Switch Force (check out our review). I know what your thinking, “3D is just a gimmick used to sell movie tickets at higher prices.” I totally agree with you, but can 3D enhance the experience sometimes?

Pushmo is from Intelligent Systems, the people that brought us Advance WarsFire Emblem, and Paper MarioPushmo has very simple gameplay; it’s just pulling and pushing blocks along with jumping to reach the end marker. The story is very basic. You are a Pushmo and there are Pushmo kids lost in Pushmo Park. Pushmo Park is filled with puzzles and you are trying to save the Pushmo kids that are stuck on top of these puzzles. It doesn’t explain how they got stuck but who cares. It’s for gameplay’s sake.

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In later levels, there are special tools to make reaching the goal easier. Matching manholes for teleporting, arrow switches to force all blocks of a certain color out, and larger sized levels are unlocked as you continue the story. These tools also allow for more unique level design. There is even a Level Editor that has given birth to many awesome levels. The special tools can be unlocked in the Level Editor after you find them in the story. Sadly, there is no online catalog of these custom levels in game. You can find plenty of threads for custom levels on this fancy thing called the “Internet.” In fact, if you are reading this review then you are already using “Internet.”

There are over two hundred levels to explore without even touching the Level Editor. The beginning is mostly a tutorial mode. An old Pushmo shows you all the basics from jumping to pulling blocks. He is too old to complete the puzzles and that is why you, being younger and sexier, have to save the kids. After you prove yourself worthy, the old man sends you by yourself to the harder levels. Some levels are shaped like characters or animals. It is fun to push and pull on Mario’s face to save a kid Pushmo. Every level has a difficulty rating, one star being the easiest going all the way to five stars. Trust me, the four and five star levels are some of the biggest head scratchers in all of my gaming life.

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The art is really unique. The blocks are very colorful but the backgrounds are made up of flat pictures. The character design is very round, which makes them stand out against the blocky levels. The visuals are more impressive in 3D, making colors pop and giving everything depth. The 3D also really helps with gameplay, seeing how far the blocks are pulled out. It truly is the first game that I have seen to benefit from 3D.

The 3DS doesn’t have very many good games but there are some on the horizon. Pushmo came out early December and deserves a chance. It may not seem like much, but it is a fun little experience. All the custom levels to download will have you coming back for more. This game feels like it never ends. Please post your levels in the comment section below. http://pushmo.3dsfans.com/ will help with sharing your levels on the “Internet.”

Review: Metal gets Twisted

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Remember a time when Twisted Metal was synonymous with awesome? Remember a time when Twisted Metal was accepted as the most badass game out there? Remember a time when everyone played Twisted Metal and those who didn’t were just lame and picked on and beat up behind the neighborhood back alley after school in front of the hottest girl? (Hang on a second) Me either. But it’s a good thing we have the creator of Twisted Metal to remind us of such neat times! In comes the latest installment of Twisted Metal: Twisted Metal (simply that), exclusively for the PS3.

Twisted Metal is a destruction derby set on a grand scale all around the world, and the latest installment is no stranger. Places like: Forgettable Sunny Hills, Califonia, Flatland, Idaho, and Rage and Burn, Nowhere! (Kidding… half) In past installments places like New York or London or Paris where visited and had no shortage of memorabilia. The latest installment suffers from what all new-gen games suffer: arena maps. Every location plays the same, is forgettable, and lacks depth- hard to do in such a hectic game.

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Power-ups work much the same as in past installments; pick up a power, aim, and shoot hoping to destroy an opponent. A Special is introduced where each car has a unique weapon and/or move. Sweetooth can become a mech, fly, and ground-pound, Mr. Grimm can throw flaming chainsaws- that sort of dig. Handheld weapons are also an option, replacing the mounted weapons if desired, like submachine guns, revolvers, and rocket launchers. In all, I found no noticeable difference in handheld to mounted weapons.

Only a few vehicles from the past survived including Sweetooth’s van, Mr. Grimm’s bike, and Axel’s… big wheels (insert pun). A semi and heli are new additions to otherwise obvious choices for rides (maybe that tank/car thing too), each with its unique special weapon- as stated. I’ve found that the stats for each individual car mean squat (my compatriots agree as well) because I was taking less damage as an apparent “weaker” car, and was outmaneuvering fast cars in “slower” vehicles. Oh, well. [(Did you know 80% of all statistics are made up?) Think about this one.]

The single player story of Twisted Metal is as such: Sweetooth has an amazing barber for getting those flames like that, Mr. Grimm’s make-up is all-weather proof, and Dollface sure is. Moral of the story: Calypso is one lying son-of-a-bitch. And just like that… Multiplayer!

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Unless buying this game new, forget trying to play Multiplayer… needs a code to access. A few modes are available and players choose one of four factions to take up: Clowns, Skulls, Dolls, or Preachers. Nuke mode is the jewel of Multiplayer. It plays like Capture the flag, mixed with Assault (from Halo) where players fight to take a human back to base and sacrifice onto a missile where upon the end of a countdown launches onto the enemy’s idol (statue thing at their base). Addictive at first, with lots of customization and interchangeable parts for cars, after a few hours the game quickly wears.

The single player lacks concrete. Cut scenes are live-action, old school, and downright cheese. For some odd reason the Preacher is present and feels out of place like if his agent forgot to tell him he was cut from production. Completely hit and miss. Multiplayer can only last so long. Everything was done right… for a game that should have been left in the 90’s, but it seems like Twisted Metal could not stand the test of time. Nothing notable was introduced in this installment, just polished up a bit. Perhaps if this was a downloadable title it might have been worth a nostalgia trip, but as a $60 retail title, the amount of content is not appropriate. C+.

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.

Review: Playing it Safe by Fastening Seat Belts

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3, 2, 1, Go!!! The Mario Kart for the new handheld is here. Supports no glasses 3D, 8-player online races, 16 new tracks, and 3 brand new items. Coin collecting from the SNES title is back and better than ever. The number of racers are back to eight, but customizable karts are in. Eight cups with three difficulties are still here. New features using the 3DS Street Pass and Spot Pass functions are here as well. Nice package for such a new system.

Like most Mario Karts, there are eight cups. Four support nothing but new tracks with air and water sections. Some of the new tracks aren’t your classic 3 lap races. Instead, they are marathon races. Check points in the track signify how close you are to the finish. The other four cups are nothing but old tracks from the rich history of Mario Kart games, with added elements. The old water hazards are gone because you can race underwater, offering new ways to race on classic maps.

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Coins play a big part in Mario Kart 7. Some veterans of the Mario Kart series might remember how, in the original, you could collect coins to go faster. It doesn’t work like that anymore. Now the coins you collect help unlock new parts for your customizable karts. You don’t get to buy them or even know how much you need to save up in order to unlock them, but it happens. On the easier difficulties, it was easy to finish every race with max coins. On 150cc, I’m having trouble holding onto even five coins.

The difficulty has really gone up. The AI is more aggressive and I don’t remember that many blue shells being in a single race before. The items are relentless, get hit by one and end up in the back of the pack. Lucky Number 7 is the biggest addition to the items. Basically, it gives you a mix of 7 different items to use. If racing AI isn’t what you are into, then try out the online side. In Mario Kart DS, you had to do four races with four people to raise your rank. In Mario Kart 7, your rank is affected after every race and races can be up to eight players. It helps for when you don’t have much time and just want a quick race.

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Mario Kart 7 is fun. Mixes the best of all past Mario Karts to make this the best experience so far. That being said, it doesn’t change the game. There are new and old tracks within eight different cups just like all other Mario Kart games. Still supports 50cc, 100cc, 150cc, and Mirror for difficulties. Only 3 new items add very little to the gameplay. The air and underwater elements are fun but aren’t enough to make it feel new. It is just a more perfected version of Mario Kart DS. With the slim picking of 3DS content, Mario Kart 7 will keep you busy until Kid Icarus or Luigi’s Mansion 2 comes out.

Review: Kick some Ass. Explore the World. Play Trine 2.

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Get ready to kick some goblins in the NUTS. After you’re finished trashing the Republican Presidential Debates, you should sit down and play some Trine 2Trine was released a couple years ago on the PC with stellar graphics and satisfying combat. The game was pretty well received and offered a new look to the classic genre of 2D action titles. With the promise of online multiplayer (a feature only available offline in the first), Trine 2 went into production looking better than ever. The time has come to throw down 15 dollars and once again enjoy 2D action at a quality that is second to none.

The adventure begins reiterating the function of an artifact called the Trine. It has the ability to link the souls of 3 people, allowing each one to live as long as the others are still kickin’. In this case (same as the first), a thief, a knight, and a wizard are joined by the mysterious relic to save their kingdom from… darkness or whatever. Each person can only exist physically one at a time, allowing the player to switch between each character and their abilities. If you’re playing co-op, all three can exist at once. The story doesn’t really explain this, but I don’t question how the hell two Master Chiefs are possible either.

The story is light and no one should care. This game is about leveling up, solving puzzles, and exploring beautiful environments. Thankfully for all of us, Trine 2 nails most of these.

In this shit kicking fiesta, dead enemies reward you with XP, but the game doesn’t hand it out like candy. XP is present in the form of collectable bottles that can be found on evil corpses, but not every baddy will drop one. However, XP bottles can also be found in random nooks and crannies around the environment that might require a little creative exploring or puzzle solving to obtain. This is quite ingenious because it encourages you to explore the gorgeous scenery knowing there could be a gem towards leveling up behind any alcove. Every 50 XP bottles earns you a skill point to be spent on one of the character’s skill trees.

Each character plays differently: The wizard can conjure up boxes to help get across gaps, The thief can shoot arrows and use a grappling hook, and the knight can really murder the hell out of some minions with a good old fashioned sword and shield. There is a separate skill tree for each, but they’re all relatively small and haven’t changed much since the last game. The wizard can be upgraded to conjure more boxes, the knight can get a more powerful sword and shield, and the thief can unlock icy, fiery, and explosive arrows. Each one can unlock these traits (and more) to help complete the challenge at hand. It’s kind of a shame there isn’t much for people who already saw it all in the first trine, but the small skill trees fit the shorter length of the game (about 8 hours) and are still fun to unlock and unleash on some nincompoops.

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Every new skill you unlock also helps you with the many puzzles peppered (more like peppered and then the cap fell off) in the environment. Unfortunately, this is the weakest part of the game by far. Each puzzle I completed made me feel like I was doing it “the wrong way.” I don’t know if there is a sure fire way to complete every brainteaser, but each one lacked the “ah-ha” moment present in every quality puzzle title. I felt like every challenge was barely solved with a lot of luck and a little craziness.

I was also surprised all the solutions involved skills you unlock via XP. I often wondered what would’ve happened if I had decided to choose something else on my skill tree. However, I found hints of other ways to solve each puzzle using different abilities. I appreciate the talent required to design every puzzle in a way where anyone can solve it no matter what skills they chose, but the puzzles themselves lacked intrigue and satisfaction to the point where they were nearly pointless. It wouldn’t be a problem if the puzzles were few and far between, but as I said earlier, the game lays them on thick, sometimes rewarding you for solving a puzzle with another puzzle.

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The graphics in this game are phenomenal! Trine was a beautiful game and if there’s one thing they topped themselves on, it’s visuals. Not only is every detail perfect, but almost every type of weather and topographical feature you can think of is represented in the game. You’ll be fighting enemies in icy mountains, lavish jungles, and dark claustrophobic dungeons. Each location is breathtaking, and before you can breathe again, the game throws you another gorgeous set piece to knock the wind out of you again. One of my favorite levels includes swimming under water in order to dodge the storm of thunder and rain above. The water illuminates ever so slightly on every strike, revealing flashes of the ocean life you’re swimming with. It’s jizz in my pants material. It’s been a long time since I can remember graphics this good in a 2D adventure and very well might be because it’s the best.

Trine 2 offers an experience every gamer should enjoy. The puzzles are a bit shoddy and the skill trees leave something to be desired, but its combat is satisfying, the exploration is wondrous, and the graphics are damn sexy. The game also includes a few extra features like online co-op, which is essentially the same experience with a couple other friends playing the other characters. It makes puzzles a little easier to solve and you can tell the developers made this game with co-op in mind. You can even plug in an extra keyboard (or 360 controller) and kick some ass offline. It may be on the low end of an A, but this game deserves to be played. Get the republican nuts off your foot and enjoy Trine 2!

Review: Dust off your Wii. It’s Zelda Time.

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The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword is here. It has been a long wait. Twilight Princess came out as a Wii launch title. People wanted to swing Link’s sword with the Wii Remote but Twilight Princess didn’t deliver. It was basically a port of the GameCube version, and they only added some features that used the Motion. The sword was just a waggle to swing and you would occasionally point at the screen to aim your Bow, Slingshot, and Hook Shot. That was about it. The Wii Motion Plus was our next hope for complete control over the Master Sword. Finally, Skyward Sword is here making all my, and maybe your, dreams come true.

Showing off the unique controls at E3 2010 and 2011 made a lot of people worried it would be to childish and destroy what made Zeldaspecial. Don’t worry, these controls work. The controls bring all the different items and tools to life. The sword uses the motion controls more than anything else. With the 1:1 motion, it’s like your holding the sword in your hand. The added weight of the Wii Motion Plus attachment on older Wii remotes might help with the illusion. With using precise swings of your sword, you can tear through enemies. Not correctly matching your moves with your enemies’ weaknesses will cause you to lose health.

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Flying your Loftwing, swimming underwater, and free falling in the sky are all controlled by the Wii Remote. While flying your Loftwing, you can tilt the Wii Remote left and right to turn, tilt forward to dive and gain speed, and fling the Wii Remote up to climb. A is used for a speed boost like older Zelda games while riding Epona. Swimming underwater controls similar to flying your Loftwing. Tilting forward causes you to dive and pointing left or right moves you in those directions. Free falling is controlled slightly different. Simply tilt in the direction you want to fall.

The motion controls are also used for the items you collect. First there is the Slingshot. Not much new. Just aim on screen where you want to shoot. The Beetle has you using the Wii Remote like you are directing it where to go. Be careful, fly it too far away or too high up and it will stop and return to you. The Bug Net is back. This item hasn’t been seen in a console Zelda since A Link to the Past and plays a big part in upgrading your weapons, potions, and shields. Different upgrades will require different bugs or relics.

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Almost every item can be upgraded. Shields can be made stronger so they don’t break as easy. They also look cooler the higher they are upgraded. The Beetle, after a free upgrade later in the story, can be upgraded to move faster. The Slingshot’s upgrade can make the seeds scatter, almost like a shotgun, to do more damage. Health potions can be given an extra boost to replenish more hearts. You don’t get to upgrade your sword, except through the story. Might be a missed opportunity, but I don’t know what they could have upgraded with it. All these upgrades might change how often you use the item, but it doesn’t change overall gameplay.

Skyward Sword’s core is like most Zelda games with a focus on exploration and combat. Finding little tricks to destroy enemies faster is key. In Skyward Sword, it’s about using items to your advantage. You use the Beetle to cut the stems on the Deku Baba plants to kill them instantly and the Whip to pull enemies closer or take items from them. Using all your items efficiently will make this adventure easier. The exploration elements are enhanced with sprint and the energy meter. Doing to much in a short amount of time will cause Link to slow down or let go of a ledge. There are also beacons you can set on the map to find those beautiful areas easier.

The graphic style is something I have never seen before. It’s the perfect mix of the serious graphics of Twilight Princess and the cartoon graphics of Wind Waker. Faces and characters work very well with the visuals. Characters are more dynamic than any Zelda before. In the beginning, the relationship between Link and Zelda tugs at your heartstrings and makes you really care about her. The story is immersive and keeps you on the edge of your seat until the very end.

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Ghirahim is a very intense villain. He toys with you. He beats you. He does a weird tongue thing. I want to stop him. There are villains you hate because you have to. There are villains hate because they are evil. Ghirahim is the latter. He is always going after Zelda, trying to capture her to free the Dark Lord. Ghirahim is smart but cocky. Your first battle with him doesn’t really work out in your favor but you get your point across, Link is not to be messed with.

As a Zelda game, Skyward Sword is the best. As just a game, Skyward Sword is amazing. It properly uses motion controls and tells a story so unique and amazing it can only be told like this. Everything in this game is mixed together so well I was blown away. Nothing felt unnecessary. I want to thank everyone at Nintendo and everyone that has ever worked on aZelda game. In all my years of gaming I have never imagined a game could be this close to perfection (Nothing is Ever Perfect).

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.

Review: Days of Ruin (for the body)

Nothing sucks more than having a broken console with a heap of games growing mold, and waiting to be played- especially one that costs a few more dollars than an average plug-and-play emulator (which in my book is awesome!).  That's what's happening to me. While I collect enough dough from selling dough (cookie dough that is) to purchase a replacement part for said console I bring to you Advance Wars: Days of Ruin for the DS.

Set on a post-apocalyptic world where a meager fraction of humans have survived a shower of meteors, and have formed factions to survive, a boy named Will emerges to become a badass, and make living in Hell a whole lot cooler (pun). The good guys- Rubinelle- are trying to help everyone get by while the baddies- Lazuria- are trying to take everything over. Somewhere in between, a creepy Quack and his IDS- Intelligent Defense Systems- perform biological tests on the remaining humans hoping to see how much humans can endure suffering.

Advance Wars is a turn-based tactics game where the object of the game is to either: destroy all enemy units, capture the enemy headquarters, or complete the objective. Units can be built with enough in-game money that generates each turn depending on how many buildings the player has captured. Units are limited to ground, water, and air (i.e. tanks, artillery, battleships, jets). CO's- or Commanding Officers- offer unique bonuses with each battle such as: generating more money each turn, less cost for units, attack/defense boost for units, who are chosen before each battle (but are set in Campaign), and may be assigned to a specific unit to deliver more oomph.

Unlike previous installments of the game, Days of Ruin's CO's powers have been downgraded to have more balance. No longer is a CO's special attack a day ruiner, but more of a toe stubber. New units have also emerged, and old ones reworked. Multiplayer is more definitive and has included on-line play (which I fucking rocked all day, every day). Other than small changes, the core game play is the same formula.

The Campaign was such a bitch to try and complete! Oh my goodness, it took every ounce of knowledge of the game to beat all 26 missions! And then there were the side-missions! I have spent a good 30 hours+ on the game on Campaign alone (include the multiplayer and shazam! a whole month worth!). But I muffed that Quack's ass, and I spanked his daughter's (in a good way), and I saved the day, and I got the girl, and I elevated to Kinghood, and I slayed the mythical beast of the unknown, and I rode the white stallion across the beach with flowing locks of manhood, and I passed through the Ring of Fire to join Tankhood, and I beat Super Mario Bros. 3 with top score, and I captured Mewtwo with a pokeball, and I took all 25 routes, unlocked Expert mode and beat Andross!!!.... Uh, you get the point.

If you like chess, this is your game (and Fire Emblem). It is a sure-fire way to get the 'ol brain juices flowing. Make custom maps and play with friends, taking turns on one DS. This title is an A- in my book. Check it out, and maybe one day you can be a man like Will the boy!

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.

Modern Rehash 3: This Time it's Impersonal!

The time is now. The war is in full swing and it’s time to choose your side. Battlefield or Call of Duty. Choose damn you! Oh. You might want to know a little something about Call of Duty first. Valid desire. Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 are very different games. It’s important to remember this. Someone might lean naturally towards one or the other because of their gameplay differences. Call of Duty has always been quick and fast (giggity) and Battlefield embodies a slower, more strategic theater of war. Of course, the style of game isn’t the only deciding factor. If the quality of one is leaps and bounds above the other, you might want to think about switching. Is Modern Warfare 3 good enough to make Battlefield players give it a shot? Find out now! OMG the suspense rager!

The single player campaign picks up right where the last Modern Warfare ended. If you haven’t played the last game, spoiler alert (and wtf man? Are you alive?).  Vladimir Makarov is still the bad guy and you’re forced to immediately deal with the knife wound Soap earned himself at the end of the last campaign. After tending to soaps wounds, you’re immediately thrown into the action. Russia is still at war with the U.S. (a popular choice for the modern war game) and New York is under attack. The beginning of the game reminds you of the climax of a lot of war games. A big city and lots of explosions. I can understand why they’d want to open this game in a big way, considering the success of MW2. Seeing this immediately got me thinking about what they might do to top this throughout the campaign.

Unfortunately, they don’t do much. The campaign has you hopping to every major city in the world to fight off Russian attacks without a whole lot of explanation. After a while, the game starts to feel like a collection of encounters rather than a game. Each city looks impressive, but your mission is always the same. Kill some Russians and enjoy some explosions. This is fun for the first hour or so, but it really starts to wear on you by the end of the game. There was no sense of pacing. There weren’t enough emotional peaks and valleys to keep it interesting. Whoever made this game seemed to think the more explosions, the better the game.

The first couple Modern Warfares took pride in having plenty of missions with a calmer tone. It really gave them that “it” factor that allowed them to transcend above “just a war game.” I expected I would be able to shoot a hundred guys in the middle of a major intersection, but I never expected I would get to control the cannons of an AC-130, or wear a ghillie suit and hunt for targets in a ghost town. These were all some of my favorite sequences from MW1 & 2, but moments like these are few and far between in this new installment. The game still has one or two memorable moments, but a hundred that fall flat. Most of them were complete copies of what you got in the previous games and didn’t create any emotions you haven’t felt before.

The developer of this game (Infinity Ward) went through a bit of drama a couple years ago with its publisher, Activision. A couple of the founding members of Infinity Ward (Jason West & Vince Zampella) were fired for mysterious reasons shortly after Modern Warfare 2 came out. Some of the details are still undisclosed, but the rumor is Jason and Vince held meetings with EA that breached their contract. The two developers were also suing Activision, claiming the publisher didn’t pay Infinity Ward the royalties they deserved for MW2. Since their firing, our unemployed entrepreneurs created a new company called Respawn Entertainment with the funding and support of EA. Since then, the majority of the people at Infinity Ward have left to join Jason & Vince at Respawn. It would be easy for me to blame the loss of campaign quality in MW3 on the lost talent, and That’s exactly what I’m going to do. In all seriousness, whoever made the campaigns so memorable in the last two Modern Warfares, clearly left.

Fortunately for Activision, a large population of shooter fans won’t even touch the campaign. The multiplayer is back with everything you expect, and nothing you don’t. The gameplay hasn’t been shaken up at all, and for some long-time fans, that’s a good thing. You can shoot the crap out of your friends across 10 modes (even more if you consider the alternates) on 16 maps. This may sound like a strong selling point when you consider Battlefield 3 only has 2 modes with around 10 maps. However, a lot of MW3’s maps are ripped right out of the campaign and aren’t nearly as big as battlefield’s.

PvP is still just an infantry affair with no vehicles, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Call of Duty has always taken pride in having really fast paced infantry combat. Shooting your friends in a hectic environment with no respawn times can be fun, but it’s the exact same fun you can still get with Modern Warfare 2. A few things have been added (kill streaks work a little differently and you can now attach two scopes on one weapon), but this does very little to create a new sense of enjoyment. It’ll feel like you’ve already been playing this multiplayer for the past two years. This conservative approach might please some who just want the same game with more unlocks, but frustrate others who waited this long for something different.

Spec Ops also returns with a new mode. You can play the mission mode which will allow you and a buddy to complete objectives together against the A.I. (identical to MW2). The new mode is called survival. This is essentially the Modern Warfare 3 version of a horde or zombie mode. You take on wave after wave of enemies earning cash to build turrets and other defenses. It’s pretty generic and seems to only exist because it’s the law if you are a shooter right now. Both modes are challenging and fun, but it suffers from the same déjà vu as the rest of the package. You’ll feel like you’ve already played it over and over again.

Modern Warfare 3 is a good game, not a great game. It’s missing the surprise and quality that made the previous titles must-haves. I’m giving it the same grade as I gave Battlefield 3, but for different reasons. Battlefield’s glitches held it back, MW3’s gameplay is its hang-up. Which one should you buy? It just depends on the type of fighter you are. Are you slow and strategic (Battlefield 3) or quick and ruthless (Modern Warfare 3)? I tend to be slow and strategic. Battlefield is my choice. I would have even given Battlefield a higher grade were it not for the technical problems (glitches and server outages). They both weren’t as good as I was hoping, but Battlefield won my purchase this year. If you’re still addicted and need your fix, go for MW3. If you don’t want to play the same game for 60 more dollars, give battlefield a try. If you haven’t played either… Good lord man.