Alright, here's a round up of 8 games I've played since February (basically since my son was born) ... outside of Heart of the Swarm, I doubt anyone would be playing the others right now. LOL. ... But JUST IN CASE you decided you wanted to go back and pick up one of these fine *cough cough* titles, here are my thoughts on them. I must say, my reviews are based on the amount of fun I had with them, not some issues that some reviewers will knock a score down a bit over.
On with it!.... WARNING! ... if you care, there might be !SPOILERS! ahead.
THE WALKING DEAD (by Telltale Games)
I bought this game on the cheap during the XBLA New Years sale for like 800 points total. The first episode was free and the rest were 200 points each. Quite a bargain! However, I'm glad that's all I paid for it. Yeah, I'm gonna be that guy who poo poos the game. Not too much mind you because I enjoyed it, but for all the praises this game received from game critics, I just wasn't wowed by it like they were.
Maybe because I'm a dad of two boys I didn't connect with Clementine the way everyone else seemed to. Sure she was endearing, but I never honestly found myself captivated by her in the way some people were.
Telltale went the route of following the art style of the comics (though on my TV the textures looked really muddy, maybe because I have a 720p TV), and following the flavor of the comics, which was a great decision. They adventure style game play served it well (though it feels a little light at times), and it was a well written narrative with lots of gut wrenching choices to be made.
However, I felt the game had way too much of a "crap on your day" feel. I understand that the comics, and the TV show (which I love) are gritty and deal with loss and hurt and the game follows that, but you have to moments of sunshine in there or you're just going to lose some people. It can't all take a piss on the daisies. Yes, it did have some moments of sunshine and rest, but not enough IMO. (SPOILER) And I'm rarely fan of the Pyrrhic victory, and after all the dumping this game took on you, it could have done without it. (SPOILER)The worst offense is the handling of one character's death in particular. It had such potential to be gut wrenching and really capture the parents out there who were playing the game (especially dads), but in the end, it just fell so limp. I can even remember the knots twisting in my stomach as I knew the moment was coming and I groaned out loud at the TV when it passed, it was that weak.
With that said, it's still a game worth checking out. Most of the praise it has received is appropriate.It's a game that will take you on an emotional roller coaster that somehow has more dips than ramps, but you'll probably be glad you went on the ride when it's all said and done. I was glad, but wound up a tad seasick for my choices.
My Rating: 7/10
Achievement Difficulty Rating: 1/10 (they're automatic)
GEARS OF WAR 3
If you've played either or both of the first two Gears of War games in the trilogy, then you pretty much know what you're getting into here. There's tight, well balanced gun play, an interesting story line (depending on how easily you're entertained, ... I'm pretty easily entertained btw), fun boss fights (mostly), and some gorgeous graphics to back it all up. Plus, some top notch multi-player if you're into multi-player.
The third entry in the franchise finds Dom and company basically surviving day to day against both the Locust and a new enemy called the Lambent. In fact, quite a bit of time has passed since the Lambent first started appearing at the end of GoW2 and the beginning of this game. So, instead of fighting Locust right off the bat, you're treated to a new enemy type in which your tactics mostly have to be different. You still take cover, but, in case you haven't played it, and your AI teammates will tell you, shoot the glowing bits. I'm not going to expound anymore on game play, because unless you've never played any of the games, you pretty much already know what's going on.
It's highly fun, but this time, it's quite a bit more of a challenge than GoW2. GoW 2 on Insane difficulty, for all intents and purposes was almost a cake walk. Not this time around, I beat it on Hardcore and had to restart quite a few times, but Insane really tested my patience. I hosted co-op games for some help on sections here and there and, I sure needed it (especially when you fight the armored Kantus for the first time in that stupid, tiny drainage ditch with practically useless cover. However, I did beat the Lambent Berserker all by myself (with much wailing and gnashing of teeth). Sometimes I feel the hardest difficulties are way too hard for their own good, and at times, this is one of those cases. You'll run into spots that there's just no good way to get past it other than to cross your fingers and hope you get past it on try #43.
The biggest joke, is the final boss Queen Myrrah and her Tempest (a giant bug). On Hardcore, you breeze past it. On Insane, it's one of the biggest tests of patience I've ever played. I played that boss for probably 3 hours total on two separate occasions, with and without co-op partners and we just kept getting slaughtered every time. You have to deplete her health three times with the hammer of dawn. The first two, are easy even on Insane. The last time, it's stupid, because the flame beam that comes out of the Tempest's mouth is insta-kill and you can't hide anywhere because too many Locust are roping up and there's no where to hide that you won't get shot to pieces in two seconds or burnt to a crisp. I tried a method that one guy used on YouTube, and even he was cussing that section up a storm (it was pretty amusing). Of course this was the type of boss that you really can't find a decent middle ground on. Either it's gonna be a pie contest and all the hardcore gamers will be pissed, or it's gonna be a middle finger fest and people like me will just say, enough and quit. Obviously, Epic went with the middle finger option.
With that said, my biggest disappointment came from the lack of story opportunities that Epic created themselves and never answered. And it's not a matter of, they could have done it to let the fan base run with it, it's more of they came up with some stuff that created a lot of questions that could have been answered with some really neat story ideas. (SPOILER) Most of this stuff came from the second game, like when you walk through the lab housing all those "proto-locust." Why was that never addressed? Why is Queen Myrrah human (or at least appears to be human) and how did she come to be Queen of the Locust? If Adam Fenix knew that E-Day was coming, why didn't they expound on that? And there could have been more exposition on that too. Instead we're given narrative on Cole's glory days as a Thrashball player (which is cool, but not what I wanted to see), and the narrative about Dom and his wife, which was also nice. Just a lot of missed story opportunities.
There was a nice way that Epic shoe-horned zombies into the game though. It fit, for sure, but felt a little, as I said, shoe-horned. I could take or leave some of the new weapons, as the Lancer (for me was always my weapon of choice), but the execution moves were all cool.
All in all, very fun. If you like shooters, you're hard pressed to find better out there.
My rating: 8.5/10
Achievement Difficulty Rating: 9/10 (Insane is tough and be prepared to log in TONS of hours for everything mutli-player related)
STARCRAFT II: HEART OF THE SWARM
This is probably the one game anyone who might read this would be playing right now as it came out in March. There's not much I can say about it, that if you're playing it, you don't already know. If you don't have it, but love Blizzard games, then go out and get. It's a great expansion to Wings of Liberty.I'm really only going to be talking about the campaign and a few other things, I won't be delving into mutli-player as I'm sure I'd hate it because I'd get trounced much too easily. I'm sure I'd find a few saps I could crush, but I'd probably be crushed twice as much. I like playing the turtle ... to me an RTS is all about having that massive army that you just go and crush the enemy with.
This one focuses on the Zerg (obviously) w/ Kerrigan at the center of the game's narrative. And I think it's a bit better written this time around than the first. As much as I'd love to see solid RTS game play throughout the entire campaign, Blizzard did a great job of mixing up the pacing w/ action segments and fun boss fights. Going to the Zerg home world was IMO one of the highlights of the game. There are also some neat mutation side missions that you get as you progress in the campaign which alter your base units with new abilities such as your Ultralisk being able to revive itself if it dies. Blizzard also tossed in a bit little bit of lite RPG leveling and powers with Kerrigan. She has some pretty cool abilities to check out and play around with, that you can swap out between missions to see what you like to play with.
A new thing with Heart of the Swarm, is that there's anarcade section in the main hub of Battle.net when you start up the game. There are scads of home brew games to play that use the StarCraft II assets and engine, and a lot of cool stuff is up there to play along with what Blizzard did themselves. One I found myself gravitating towards was StarJeweled. It's basically a Bejeweled or PuzzleQuest type clone, and as you build up energy you can spend that energy on units to send to your opponent's base (in the ultimate goal of blowing it up), or you can use abilities to help them.
The only thing closest to multi-player that I did was play vs. AI matches on very easy, and like I said, that's so I can turtle, built a massive base and army that I can use to obliterate the enemy with. For me it was just fun to just build those buildings and make a big base and have this army roving around.
One thing that Blizzard still does that has been largely abandoned in games is the full rendered cutscene. Most games now use in engine stuff, but there's just something about seeing smooth models and polished animation and film quality cinematics that I just really like. And as usual the ones here are top notch. I wish more games did fully rendered cutscenes. Of course with new game engines coming out, that's not really necessary any more.
My Rating: 9/10
Achievement Difficulty Rating: 10/10 (With PC games, I can honestly ignore the achievements most of the time. But Blizzard does a good job of not making them feel shoehorned. However, the 10/10 is for the fact that you've be spending a loooooong time going after those multi-player achievements. Some of the others a quite tough too).
GOLDEN AXE: BEAST RIDER
Sega tried to capitalize on nostalgia with a 3D action/brawler based on the old school Golden Axe game. In this game though, you only play the female character (which I can't remember what she's called in the original game... Valkyrie or something like that maybe ... I could be completely wrong.) However, this feels like a half baked attempt to capture the feel of the past. It's too hard and repetitious for its own good. They tried to go with an old school difficulty flavor, yet, I think developers and gamers both forget that old school difficulty had as much to do with the limitations of the system as well as what the developers put into the game. And oftentimes in today's games when you have "old school" difficulty, it ends up being an unfun slog, because you can neither be aggressive, defensive or in between because you just have too many people taking swipes at you at once.
That's how this game was. Too many times you'd find yourself surrounded and if you dared attack anyone, that would be the opportunity the AI took to stab you in the back while you're unguarded. You couldn't really lure enemies away from the herd all that well, because once they locked on you they were constantly circling you. On top of all that, the beast controls were unwieldy (though most of that was really my latest Razer Onza being broken) and hard to get what you wanted them to do. If you were on your feet when enemies were riding certain beasts, you're best bet was to wait until you died so you could be on a beast too and try again.
The game, unfortunately, felt unpolished and half-hearted, as if Sega just wanted to capitalize on the name and sex appeal of the main character with no care for any decent game play. I won't poo poo repetitive game play if it's fun, but this wasn't all that fun and it was way too repetitive. And for all your effort once you beat the game, you unlock a skimpy bikini (named Classic Costume since that was the garb for the female in the original) for your character so you can stare at her butt cheeks while you tackle the arena mode or replay the game again to get more loot so you can unlock more weapons. Which really isn't worth it.
My Rating: 5.5/10
Achievement Difficulty Rating: 9/10 (the game is way too hard for it's own good and just not fun enough to want to even try for half of these achievements)
You're probably in one of two vocal camps when it comes to the Halo franchise. You either love it or your hate it (that's how it is with almost anything popular). I'm in that third camp that enjoys the game for what it is. A great first person shooter with rock solid game play, gorgeous visuals and an interesting story. So, if you love Halo you've probably already played this. If you hate it, this review won't sway you and if you're like me who has a mountain of games and just added Portal 2 and Darksiders 2 via Amazon, I'd say move it further up in your queue (of course I'm playing games alphabetically, so don't listen to me).
This was Bungie's final Halo game and they really went all out with it before passing the series onto 343. This is a prequel (for those who have absolutely no Halo knowledge), and takes place on the planet Reach when the Covenant first start all out attacking humanity. You play as a member of Noble squad and you can either play as male or female, and the game follows your hero as he/she replaces a fallen member of Noble team through the events on Reach. It's definitely a Pyrrhic victory type of story, but one of the very few that's handled well.
As far as game play goes, if you've played a first person shooter, or you've played Halo at all, then you're going to be familiar with how to play the game. Bungie did away with dual wielding this time around, and I can't remember why (I know some didn't like it because Halo 2 and 3 had it). However, you really won't notice that it's gone, at least I didn't. I did notice that both the Battle Rifle and SMG were gone. Of course in place of the Battle Rifle is the DMR which I almost exclusively used along with the new Covenant Carbine. I like to be a mid-range sniper. I'm not a good long range sniper and I get to flustered when in close quarters, so I stick to the mid-range and go for head shots. There are a couple of other new weapons like a rapid fire Plasma Rifle that had some nice heft to it and a Beam Rifle that I didn't like at all.
One thing that was nice, was to fight the Elites again, and this time Bungie really upped the difficulty with them. You have several different classes and even on Normal they gave me a run for my money. When I finally got to Legendary difficulty, they just outright stole my money, and I decided I'd had enough. But it was a good difficulty. It wasn't absurd like some games *cough* Japanese *cough* can be, but I felt like my skill level wasn't up to it for Legendary, and so I decided to move on, because I'd already played through the campaign twice. I also played a custom Rockets game for the "horde" mode, and it was a blast.
One thing that was weird were the new enemy types. It's always kind of jarring to go into a prequel story and see new types of enemies and enemies that came at the end of Halo but weren't in the first game like the Brutes. The different Grunt types and the Skirmishers weren't so bad, but I always had hated the drones and hoped they weren't there, but were. Oh well, it didn't sour my experience. I know they have to keep the game fresh, and just deleting the Brutes and Drones and using the old characters wouldn't have worked either so they really did the right thing. And I have to admit, classing the bad guys into different difficulties was cool. Taking down steadily increasing classes of Elites was rewarding.
That said, if you're an FPS fan of any stripe (not just the military stripe), then go pick this up. It's a good solid game, with some people out there still playing multi-player. I played it for a couple of matches, but that was just to get the feel of it. With the different armor powers, it's a completely new ball game, but still has that Halo feel.
My Rating: 9/10
Achievement Difficulty Rating: 10/10... (It's tough, but in a good way. Yet, it's definitely stacked for the multi-player crowd and you'll be playing a while.)
HELLBOY: THE SCIENCE OF EVIL
This is another one of those games that had some good ideas, but it just wasn't polished and really given enough bake time. It seems like the developers wanted to do something cool, but who knows if it was time constraints or what that kept these game rooted firmly in mediocrity.
This is also one of those licensed games that tries to distinguish itself by not doing the "movie" story in game form. I don't remember how close this came out to Hellboy: The Golden Army. So the game really has nothing to do with the movie at all. Instead it's a time spanning action game that tries to stop a mad Nazi scientist (which really turned out odd in a way because they didn't use Swastikas ... I know countries like Germany will most likely ban a game with that symbol, so I guess they didn't take the time to create a separate texture). Hellboy bounces around from Japan to Egypt to Romania and so forth to stop this guy over the course of several decades. However, it just ends up feeling disjointed.
The largely linearand repetitive game play only serve further water down the experience. To it's credit, until the final boss it's a rather easy game. The final boss isn't hard either, it's just annoyingly unbalanced. The graphics also look outdated and the camera can be more of a hindrance than a help. As I said, thankfully it's short and easy, so if you've bought it, then you won't be with it for long.
The cast of the movie reprises their roles as the characters in the game. However, you'll only hear Ron Perlman's voice if you play by yourself. You'll have to play co-op if you want to hear Selma Blair or Doug Jones (is that right?) in their roles as Liz and Abe respectively. There are some neat extras such as cast and crew interviews and unlockable art, but I don't know if that's worth the effort. LOL.
This was one of those games that I bought a couple of years ago because I thought the achievements would be easy and you can't even unlock the full 1,000 because the developers decided to keep 150 points locked into DLC which they never released. That's a huge party foul. LOL. All in all, I'm only glad I paid $10 - $15 for this, and it would have been better if I'd paid even less. HA HA.
My Rating: 5.5/10
Achievement Rating: 4/10 (The achievements are pretty dang easy, it just sucks that some are locked up behind non-existant DLC)
THQ and Kaos Studios partnered with film writer John Millius (sp?) to basically bring you a video game version of Red Dawn, only without Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen and other actors and actresses of the 80's such as that chick from Dirty Dancing and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. It takes place in a Colorado town and there's even a point in the game where you find that the North Koreans have people housed in a labor camp smack dab in the middle of a high school football field with a giant banner stating, "Go Wolverines!" Seriously, I think that's exactly what it was, to see if a retelling of Red Dawn would float, because last year saw a Red Dawn remake (starring Thor) in the theaters, or was it earlier this year?
Side Note: I remember seeing a trailer for the Red Dawn remake when watching The Dark Knight Rises and I honestly thought they had adapted Homefront into a movie, until someone shouted "Wolverines!" and I laughed out loud.
Anyway, it's a solid first person shooter that's pretty fun, even if it's campaign is literally a blink and you'll miss it affair. It clocks in at around 5 hours and is probably shorter if you're good at shooters. It was intended to jump in the ring with Call of Duty and Battlefield and the like, but it really just kind of comes across as a Call of Duty clone with a more realistic story. Seriously, playing Homefront now, two years later actually kind of gave me the willies as to the political unrest in our nation and that loud mouthed little fatso making threats at South Korea and pointing missiles in its direction.
I don't think it competes generally because it didn't have the marketing machine behind it that EA and Activision have, though THQ tried. It's a fun game and it's solid, I just don't think the multiplayer could seriously hold water against the powerhouses that currently reign in the FPS multiplayer market right now.
It's fun and worth a play, and it's only like $8 bucks or something like that at GameStop right now (used). And since you can't play multiplayer on it anyway right now, it's a pretty well spent $8 bucks.
My Rating: 7.5/10
Achievement Rating: 4/10 (all the single player achievements are pretty easy to get, even playing it on Guerrilla difficulty. You just can't get any multiplayer achievements.)
HUNTED: THE DEMON'S FORGE
Hunted is a third person, dungeon crawling, hack n' slasher and for what it is, it's quite a bit of fun. It's built around co-op play, and you can either play as the Elf Rogue E'lara or the Warrior Caddoc. You can use bows, swords and shields and magic to pummel your enemies asyou try to work your way though a paper thin story (who's only voice of note is Lucy Lawless).
Sadly, the game's highly repetitive nature holds it back. You basically move from area to area, fighting waves of similar "Wargar" enemies who swarm you, open a door (seriously, you'll open more doors in this game than you will going in and out of your house for a year .. and the characters even make snarky remarks about it) and move on to the next area while some fun and not too terribly taxing puzzles are tossed your way for more powerful weapons and gold. Repetitive game play doesn't bother me, especially when the overall game is fun (because it can be a cathartic way to get the junk out of your day), but with little variation on enemies (basically your early boss fights signal that you'll have a new enemy to fight throughout the game), it just doesn't hold up against better games.
Probably the biggest thing that bugs me about it, is the leveling and loot system. I'll be honest, I'm ruined to Diablo's loot and level system, so any fantasy game that acts even the most remotely rogue-like or RPG-ish, then if it doesn't have a proper use for gold and a proper point allocating leveling system then I don't like it that much. In Hunted, enemies drop gold you find sacks and chests full of the stuff, but all it goes toward is unlocking content for the Crucible portion of the game (more on that in a moment). There is no leveling system, you just go along and find better shields and weapons on racks laid out for you, and you find rare weapons (which don't really turn out to be all that rare) in the secret areas that you discover. You find crystals to level up your magic skills, which both E'lara and Caddoc have the same magic options (the strategy lies in who uses what), and the magic is fun to use.
The areas are fun to explore and have a very suffocating and closed in feel to them. There's lots of darkness and it does set a fun mood. But when darkness is used in a game too much, it kind of annoys me because then all the artists did all this gorgeous work that you can't really appreciate it because it's too blasted dark, and I turn up the gamma or brightness past what the game recommends so I can appreciate it.
It was compared to Gears of War, and the only real reason they did is because there's a cover system that works kind of like Gear's cover system. Other than also using the Unreal engine, there's really no way to compare the two games.
After you complete the main game, you can then enter the crucible (which is just more of the main game but without story). There are basically a bunch of maps that you can play and you kill a bunch of enemies. You can even create and upload your own "dungeons" made up of multiple maps for others to play and you can make them as hard or as easy as you want. It's more of the same, so if you just like a cathartic run of stomping waves of enemies then this will hold some fun for you. If you're achievement hunting, look for titles with "golden" and "quick 25 room run," soyou won't waste time on too many dungeons that are too hard to mess with.
It's a fun game, with a typical thin fantasy plot about being heroes and freeing slaves and destroying a great evil. Skeletons and orcs ... er, I mean Wargar, Minotaurs, magic using enemies are in plenty of abundance for you to throttle. You can save people, listen to silly rantings from dead people to get back story or hints at a nearby puzzle. You can collect gold that doesn't do anything but make the characters spout a one liner and have fun doing it all. Just don't have too high of expectations.
My Rating: 7.5/10
Achievement Rating: 5/10 (a couple of achievements are best done with an actual human co-op partner as they are pretty hard to unlock playing by yourself, otherwise it just takes some time with some).
Well, that wraps up my game review round up. There won't be a "round-up" next time as I'll review games as I finish them.
Next game for review: Infinite Undiscovery