Archive for the Reviews Category

L.A. Noire Review

Posted in Reviews on May 31, 2011 by GameTacular

Hours Played: Roughly 40 hours

 No Choice of Difficulty

 Console Played On: Xbox 360

Very few things can be considered ground-breaking, truly innovative, and original. The gaming industry, just like any other, thrives on products that take old ideas and synthesize them to make something new. If you take a look at L.A. Noire by its individual components, it doesn’t seem to deserve all the hype that it’s been receiving. The combat is very simplistic, and it can have very clunky controls now and then. The world is huge and expansive, but there just isn’t much to do in it other than the main objectives. The story is serious and truly meant for a mature audience, but it isn’t the first game to have such a tale. The detective elements are compelling and very well presented, but it boils down to being just a combination of Phoenix Wright and old-school adventure games. However, these aren’t standalone elements. They are each an integral piece of a cohesive whole. So even though each individual component of L.A. Noire isn’t perfect, the game is absolutely spectacular when taken as a whole. If any game this year moves the gaming industry forward, it will be L.A. Noire.

 

Master sleuth, master detective.

 

L.A. Noire is a film noir styled game that puts you in the shoes of Cole Phelps, an L.A. police officer seeking to climb the ranks of the LAPD after returning home to America from fighting the Japanese in World War II. By solving cases, street crimes, and showing the department how a real detective does their job, Phelps quickly becomes one of the most renowned and valued detectives in L.A. But as Phelps progresses, it becomes clear that there is a larger and more devious plot surrounding many of his cases. As Phelps, it is your job to clean up the streets of a post WWII Los Angeles, no matter how bad it might get for your family, your friends, your coworkers, or even yourself during your investigations.
Like Fallout and Bioshock before it, L.A. Noire is a game that excels at creating an immersive atmosphere that transports you to the streets of L.A. in the late 1940’s. The city has been accurately recreated in the game, with roughly 90% of the city being an accurate recreation of the city. Everything from the cars and clothing styles to the smallest cigarette packet seems to have been taken right out of the 40’s. The speech and colloquialisms are recreated, the racial fears and racisms are accurately and maturely represented, and it truly feels like this is as close as anyone will get to experience this time period again. Team Bondi have really gone out of their way to give this game the best presentation and production values possible, and it definitely pays off. The visuals of the game are surprisingly crisp and detailed for a game of this size. The attention to detail, from the recreated city buildings to the contents of the garbage can in a random house, is breathtaking. The game always makes it seem like each part of the world is just as important as any other, no matter how small. The audio is also a real treat to behold. The voice acting (or just acting, but more on that later) is phenomenal in every single person. The team has really gone out of their way to get some really terrific performances from the actors, making each character feel like a living, breathing person. This atmosphere is the most incredible part of L.A. Noire, and it sucks you into the world like no other game before it.

The cases in L.A. Noire are the strongest and most powerful moments of the game, and thankfully, they take up the majority of the games content. Each case is usually an individual story that can be experienced on its own, but they occasionally have an overarching plot during a few cases, especially towards the games finale. The cases have Phelps coming to a crime scene, looking for clues, than interviewing suspicious individuals, often making you travel all over the city. Searching for clues behaves like an old-school adventure game, where you look around for objects of importance, and you think about ways that these objects or clues can be used to help you, at least in L.A. Noire’s case (sorry for the bad pun… I couldn’t resist). It adds to the already incredible atmosphere of being a detective, and it is also compelling to get all the clues in order to get a better understanding of the interesting cases and crimes. As finely crafted as the clue hunting aspects are, the interrogations are perhaps the most enjoyable aspects in the game. When interrogating, Cole asks questions, and you have to decide if the suspect is telling the truth, if he is being economical with the truth, or if he is outright lying. What makes this such a fun aspect of the game is that the faces you are trying to analyse are real faces; through new technology, an actor’s entire likeness has been converted into the game. You actually have to read a person’s face in order to find the right answer and, although challenging, the knowledge that you are analysing a person’s face makes it so much more satisfying when you successfully interrogate someone. After acquiring all the clues and interviewing the suspects, the game either automatically arrests the most suspicious individual or it gives you a choice between two suspects. Either way, the cases are closed in a satisfying manner, and the story continues on matter what the outcome is.

That is kind of the only problem with the detective aspects of this game. Team Bondi have a story they want to tell, yet their gameplay aspects are so intertwined with the story that a players decisions can greatly alter the outcome of any case. So no matter how you do on a case, bad or good, Phelps will still be praised for being a great cop. It sometimes offers explanations as to why this is happening, but they are usually very cheap and simplistic answers that do not help. It can feel really odd when you are failing each case miserably, and your captain is praising you in between each one. It’s a small gripe, but it weakens the effect that each case has on you.

I don't always fail, but when I do, nobody cares.

With that said, the cases still have the power to absolutely affect the player both mentally and emotionally. The more story based cases offer an emotional tale about the troubles of reintegrating one’s self in society after fighting a war, but the cases can really keep you up at night. When you screw up a case and put the wrong person behind bars, it feels like you`ve failed the police force, and you feel just as ashamed as Cole does. Even when you have all the evidence that points to a certain person, the gut feeling that someone else did it can gnaw at your mind, even after the case is completed. It’s as similar feeling to pondering whether you made the right choices in a game like Mass Effect, and it really shows video games progressing as an artisitic medium.

L.A. Noire is told in an episodic structure, with each case being its own individual entity within a grander story. This structure does wonders for the gameplay, since it heavily promotes sittings of one or two hours spent solving on case, allowing for more burst-like playing. If you want a game that you can play hours on end for, don’t fret, because L.A. Noire’s plot and atmosphere can easily suck you in if you so desire. It’s the kind of game where you can play at your own pace, and never feel punished or cheated by it. Each case offers a slight progression in Cole’s story for redemption and acceptance, whether through events in the story or through flashbacks of his time in the war. At first, the game appears to simply be individual story after individual story. But as the game progresses, each chapter offers more and more details in terms of the main plot, and it almost feels like a Shakespearean story where the most vital events happen in a brief few moments at the story’s conclusion. It is an interesting method of telling the story and it helps strengthen the game’s uneven ending, but it often feels like the player isn’t given enough of a reason to care about Cole early on. Events happen to him over the course of the game, many of them that should make the player feel for him, but there is no reason to. It is not until much later into the game that Cole is given a real personality, and all the things we were supposed to feel just come in a sudden rush near the end. The pacing and structure isn’t perfect, but it is a unique way of telling the story that isn’t done enough in gaming, which makes the few mistakes slightly more forgivable. Overall, it has more benefits that negatives, and it makes this one of the more accessible big budget titles in terms of time spent playing it.

Hmm... my detective intuition is telling me that this man is dead.

Sadly, I have to go over the many problems that are present throughout L.A. Noire. Most noticeably and importantly, the combat is sub-par. The combat is similar to that of previous Rockstar titles such as Red Dead Redemption or Grand Theft Auto 4, but with a few tweaks that, sadly, make it much less enjoyable. Getting into and out of cover is very clunky, and Cole often time simply steps away out of cover into the open instead of moving like a sane person. Aiming and shooting is exactly like RDR, with a more forgiving auto-aim mechanic. The major problem with the combat is that it feels way to simplified and easy. Enemies go down in two or three shots, Cole has a ton of health, ammo is unlimited, there is always cover to hide behind, and the game even lets you skip combat events if you die too much. The combat seems to be there simply to appeal to the shooter crowd, but it is too poorly implemented and too rarely used to actually make any of them want to play the game.
Outside the cases and optional street crimes, the world is rather empty. There just isn’t anything to do. There are many collectibles to find, but they don’t give you anything significant to warrant you scouring Los Angeles for them. Even if the world is full of live and breathtaking to behold, it would have been nice to have more side-quests and more incentive to explore the city and reasons to stay in it.
Another potential problem with this game is that it doesn’t really have a target audience. A detective game like this has never really been made before, and it is more of a niche title than the blockbuster that it sells itself as. Many people will not enjoy this game, simply because it is not their type of game. It is slow-paced, mature, intelligent, and very story centric. Many people will not be able to get past the fact that you aren’t doing something exciting every minute.

L.A. Noire succeeds where others fail. Not because its atmosphere is engrossing, not because the detective work is intricate and satisfying, not because the game is authentic and inspired, and not because it is a serious and mature crime-drama. It is because it masterfully blends each of these elements into a near perfect whole, while minimalizing its faults as much as possible. It’s a game that knows its strengths and weaknesses, and morphs itself around them to better its self. It is a game that everyone should at least try because of how different and unique it is; even if you think you might not enjoy it. It is a precursor of a future where the video game industry can successfully produce mature and sophisticated stories and products. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is one hell of a cup for those who enjoy it.

Pros

– Amazing character animations
– Engrossing atmosphere
– Great sophisticated and mature story
– Unique
– Detective gameplay is great

Cons

– Poor combat mechanics
– World is empty
– Not for everyone
– Too forgiving with case work

Overall: 9/10

A Modern Classic: Uncharted 2 Review

Posted in Reviews on May 14, 2011 by GameTacular

Uncharted 2 might have been released 2 years ago, but it’s such a genre defining game that I thought it would be nice to revisit why this game was so great, especially as it’s follow up garners more and more attention.

 Unarguably one of Playsation 3’s flagship series, the Uncharted games have cemented themselves as one of this generation’s greatest series. Drake’s Fortune, the first entry in the series, was released early in the PS3’s life, and it was one of the first killer apps for the system. It offered stellar combat, fun platforming, a beautiful landscape, a cinematic story, and interesting, lovable characters. However, the game was held back by several problems, such as a short campaign with no multiplayer, a repetitive setting, clunky melee combat, poorly designed vehicle sections, and occasionally clunky cover mechanics. There were a few things to be improved for the sequel and from the screenshots and trailers, hopes were high. So, did the developers, Naughty Dog, manage to deliver a worthy successor or a cheap cash-in on the original?

            Neither, actually. Uncharted 2 has been so much improved and refined that the original is barely worthy of having such a sequel.

Does it really deserve so much praise... ...Yes, yes it does.

            Uncharted 2 once again puts you in the shoes of wise cracking Nathan Drake, a treasure hunter and adventurer, who gets caught up in a race against foes to find the fabled land of Shambhala, for quite a variety of reasons. He is, of course, accompanied by his mentor Victor “Sully” Sullivan, and bumps into his hold flame, Elena Fisher. He also encounters several new characters, such as Chloe Fraser, that are sure to become just as beloved as the other characters. The game takes place in a variety of locals, from a Turkish museum, to a jungle island off the coast of Borneo, to the snowy mountains of Nepal.

            The story follows a character driven plot, which is one of the game’s greatest strengths. Since the story on its own is slightly disappointing, it is a benefit to the game that it focuses so much on its well written and often humorous characters. Each one has a unique personality that is fully showcased throughout the game, and it really gives the player a chance to get to know and like the characters. The only problem with character development was in the form of Karl Schaffer. Without spoiling anything, he is simply brought out to be an important and integral part to the story, yet he is only given a few minutes of screen time, and it feels awkward when the other characters speak of him. Other than that, Uncharted 2 brings some of the most enjoyable cut scenes in gaming through the characters interactions, and they could almost make a quality film in themselves. However, the cut scenes don’t have something that lesser games have.

            The scripted action events in Uncharted 2 are perhaps the most exhilarating, intense, and breathtaking moments in any game in recent memory, due to one key feature; they are fully playable. So, be it climbing through a train car that’s about to fall off a cliff, sliding down a ramp on a giant brick platform while fighting enemies, or killing enemies inside a crumbling building, every event allows the player to control Drake. This is one of Uncharted 2’s best qualities, along with its characters, since it truly adds another level of immersion and intensity that few games can ever hope to match.

            The graphics and audio are both high point for not only the game, put the console as well. These are hands down some of the best looking environments in the systems history, both technically and artistically. Each area feels like a real place, be it the streets of a war-torn Nepal or the lush jungles of Borneo. The graphics also reflect the game’s humorous overtones, in that even though there is war and killing going on, the environments remain colourful, lively, and beautiful. On top of this, the game’s frame rate never drops in the slightest, and adds to the smooth and fluid experience that Uncharted brings. The only hiccup in the graphics department is that the player will occasionally notice some texture pop-ins, but it’s hardly large or frequent enough to hamper the experience. The audio is fantastic, making each area, each action, and each nuance come to life. The voice acting is also terrific, adding to the depth and believability of the story and characters. However, the music can be underwhelming at times. The game is filled to the brim with top notch action events, yet the music often can’t match the intensity or epic quality of these moments.

Nathan Drake: half Indiana Jones, half Captain Reynolds, complete badass.

            The gameplay is, oddly enough, the games weakest point, but not by much. Uncharted 2 is a third-person shooter-adventure game, and it excels at most of its aspects. The first thing the player is introduced to is the platforming, which is some of the smoothest and easy platforming one can find, and makes the game feel more fluid and coherent. The hand to hand combat is introduced next, and it has been vastly improved upon. Gone are the awkward and often misread combos. Instead, all the melee attacks are done by a single button, and a counter is a separate button (square and triangle by default). Everything flows very smoothly, and what seems dumbed down at first is later realized to be something that makes combat smoother and more enjoyable as a whole. The stealth attacks, only mildly used in the original, are now another great element of the sequel. Stealth is a great way to take out a few enemies before any encounter, and can often eliminate an entire force altogether. The combat itself is also really well done. Each weapon, of which there are many, has a unique feel and is useful in many circumstances. Shooting is the standard aim-and-shoot template, and like the rest of the game, is extremely smooth and easy to control, and just a joy to play. The AI are also intelligent, and they’ll dodge and roll to avoid attacks, punch Drake when they can, and successfully use cover. However, Drake himself tends to have trouble with cover. Often times Drake will not do what the player told him to, and instead of going to cover, he’ll hang of a nearby ledge. However, it’s hard to blame the game for this, since it’s hard to coordinate one’s movement when the player can look in every direction. Still, it does detract from the fun factor of the game. The puzzles are the worst aspect of this game, as they simply require the player to look at a picture, and match that picture in the game world. They are unimaginative, simplistic, and boring. So, although they are easy to solve and add to the fluidity of the game, they are too boring and simple to truly benefit the game.

            The length of the game is similar to that of the original, and it will take the average gamer roughly ten hours to complete it. However, this time there is a multiplayer component to keep the player coming back for more, and it is fantastic. Unlike so many other games today that have multiplayer components that feel vastly different than the single player, sometimes even developed by different companies, Uncharted 2’s multiplayer is derived straight from the single player experience, and all the elements that make the campaign great are in the multiplayer component. The game gives it’s own take on death matches, elimination matches, and capture the flag, all which offer a fun and uniquely Uncharted experience. The game also boasts a cooperative component where three players fight through slightly altered campaign missions, with hordes of enemies and puzzles. It’s an interesting experience, and although fun for a while, gets boring relatively quickly. The multiplayer also has a reward based levelling system that actually feels like it’s rewarding you for accomplishments instead of random events. All in all, the multiplayer is a great addition to an already great game.

You aren't a real man until you fight a tank with an assault rifle.

            Overall, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is a phenomenal game. It just destroys everything competing with it. It boasts some very interesting and lovable characters, as well as an action packed story. The game takes breaths away with its beautiful art design and technical mastery. The combat is fast, fluid, and fun, and the multiplayer is a brilliant addition to the series. The playable action moments are some of the most memorable events in gaming, and really suck the player in. So although the game has a few hiccups here and there, it’s hard to deny that this game is truly one of the standout gaming experiences of this generation. A must buy for every PS3 owner.

Pros

–          Fun character driven plot, with top notch acting

–          Intense action events

–          Stellar combat

–          Good multiplayer addition

–          Beautiful visuals

Cons

–          Cover is still clunky

–          Some characters fall flat

–          The puzzles are pathetic

9/10

Pokémon Black and White Review

Posted in Reviews on April 21, 2011 by GameTacular

Nintendo DS Exclusive

No Choice of Difficulty

Hours Played: 50 hours

            Pokémon Black and White, the fifth generation in the Pokémon series, features the most improvements and changes that the series has ever had in a new instalment. But that isn’t saying much, now is it? Pokémon Black White fails to evolve (I apologize) the series in any significant way, and although they are still good games, the classic franchise is beginning to show its age.

           Although it isn’t very important, I should note that I played Black version for this review. So any discrepancies you find can most likely be attributed to that fact.

Zekrom (right) looks cooler. Hands Down.

             Any-who, Pokémon. Black and White. Surprising the entire gaming public, Pokémon Black/White puts you in the shoes of a teenager as he or she sets off on a journey to catch every Pokémon and to see the world, but he or she slowly gets caught up in a struggle to save the world from a terrorist group. It’s so unique isn’t it?           

             Well it actually is the most unique and serious plot the franchise has ever seen. However, it doesn’t necessarily benefit the game in any way. The terrorist group in this game is Team Plasma and the evil thing that they are trying to do is… trying to free all the Pokémon from humans. The game puts you in the shoes of what is the villain of the story (At first). It brings up an interesting argument both for and against the way people treat animals, but it is never explored enough to warrant it as significant. It’s overly serious themes and tone actually harm the game, since the world and characters are so vibrant and joyful, yet the story is much more serious and morally ambiguous. It creates and odd contrast that doesn’t fit within the game’s world and it becomes more laughable than serious at some points. But nobody plays Pokémon for its story (At least I hope not). 

           Pokémon’s accessible yet deep turn based combat makes a triumphant return, with all of its pros and cons. For the one or two people who don’t know what Pokémon’s combat is all about, this is the rundown: the player will either encounter Pokémon in the wild or through other trainers. A battle is fought with one, two, or three Pokémon on each team, depending on the type of battle. The player and enemy both pick one of four moves from their Pokémon’s arsenal, and whoever has the fastest Pokémon attacks first. You must conquer eight Gyms in order to fight the Pokémon league, and be crowned the best Pokémon trainer in the region. You will be able to catch a massive variety of Pokémon of your choice throughout the game, and level them up as you battle. It’s fun, accessible, and addicting. The game is very much the same as it was in previous instalments, with a few improvements and tweaks. A new type of battle is introduced, where three Pokémon fight at the same time. It’s a nice twist on the formula, but it doesn’t happen often enough in the game for it to matter. TM’s no longer break when you use them, and HM’s are no longer mandatory to beat the game. Instead, they allow the player to take shortcuts or find secret items. It makes the game more straightforward and simple, and it comes out as a more enjoyable experience, but not by any significant amount. The only bad addition is the new set of Pokémon. They’re terrible. You know that a developer is out of ideas when they have enemies based on ice-cream cones, lamps, and garbage bags. The worst one is a Pokémon who is called Gurdurr, and his only defining feature is that he is holding a girder. They’re not all bad, but most of them are. All in all, the game is still enjoyable and addicting, but some long-time fans may start to lose interest, and others who thought previous instalments didn’t have enough changes might be very disappointed with these games.   

Behold him in all his glory and might!

            As always, Pokémon’s graphics and audio are unique to say the least. Game Freak has never tried to make visual technical games, and instead they went try to keep alive the graphical limitations of the first games. The game is still a mix of 2D and 3D visuals, and Pokémon are still under pixelated. Although it may seem to be odd to newcomers, the visual are actually very well done. They are unique and harken back to classic 16 bit games. However, the newer generation of gamers may not appreciate this visual style as much as older players. The 3D element has been improved, with many more areas using a 3D perspective and quick changes between 2D and 3D. The audio has the same issues that the visuals have. The audio is comprised of unique pixelated soundtracks that are incredibly well-orchestrated, well implemented, and well played, especially the tracks that play while fighting stronger enemies. The Pokémon still feature the same indistinct sound effects, and they still sound terrible. Again, the audio harkens back to classic games, but it may alienate newer players.

            Pokémon has always been franchise that boasted extravagantly long adventures, and the newest versions are no exception. The main story is a bit shorter than previous 40 hour instalments, with the games clocking in around 30 to 35 hours. But don’t despair, because the endgame content is much larger than previous games. There is a whole section of the map that opens up after the game is completed, with many new trainers to fight and places to explore. There’s also a challenging version of the elite four that can be fought after the game concludes. Depending on how much you feel inclined to complete, the game can easily stretch out to become 40 to 50 hours long. And after that there’s always one more thing to fall back on.

            The online component in Pokémon is the best that it has ever been. It’s much, much simpler to use, and boasts many more options and game variants. Trading with other trainers has also been streamlined greatly, making trading so much easier and hassle-free. If you don’t want your game to end, then the multiplayer will keep you going for a long time.

            Pokémon Black and White are the best games in the franchise. It has been fine tuned to become the perfect game for fans, but that has its costs. Newer gamers may not enjoy the game as much as older gamers who can appreciate the games nuances or aged presentation. It’s still an enjoyable game no matter who you are, but if Pokémon wants to be the powerful influence that it used to be, it’s going to have to take a few risks with their next games.

Pros

–          Classic tried-and-true gameplay

–          Perfect for fans

–          Greatly improved online component

–          Lengthy adventure

Cons

–          Fails to improve the franchise in any significant way

–          Ugly and uninspired Pokémon designs

–          Story feels out of place

Overall: 7/10

Crysis 2 Review

Posted in Reviews on April 6, 2011 by GameTacular

Difficulty played on: Veteran (Hard) and Super Soldier (Very Hard)

Hours played: Roughly 20 hours in single-player and 15 hours in multi-player

Console played on: Xbox 360

            It’s pretty rare nowadays to find an FPS that focuses on the single player campaign more than the multiplayer component. Crysis 2 is just that, and it is one of the best FPS experiences out there because of it.

            As a heads-up, I did not play the original Crysis. I went into this game with very little knowledge about the series mechanics and story, so don’t expect any comparisons between the two or any discussion about what the game should be. I’m going in blind.

            Crysis puts you in the shoes of a mute soldier named Alcatraz, who is given a Nano-suit and is tasked with finding a certain Doctor Gould. As Alcatraz goes through the levels, he is given various tasks, from outrunning an organization called CELL who wants his suit, to fighting off hoards of aliens in an attempt to save New York City. As you progress, you learn more and more about the importance of your suit, and the imminent and lethal threat of the invading alien race known as the Ceph.

Theres a crumbling buliding in front of me, but Ill look back anyway.

Crysis 2 does a decent job of bringing new players up to speed with the game’s plot. It feels unfocused and convoluted at first, but if you make the effort to pay attention, you will get a hang of the game’s story rather quickly. However, it isn’t particularly a story that’s worth hearing. It isn’t bad. It does a good job of explaining why you are where you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing. The dialogue is fairly well written, and the acting is also top-notch. The things the hold the story back is the fact that Alcatraz is a mute protagonist with zero-personality, and the fact that the plot has a few blatant plot holes. It’s hard to care about a story when you don’t care about the lead character, and it’s hard to enjoy something that ignores logic for no reason. It isn’t a quality story like Half-Life 2 or Bioshock, but it does a decent job of putting the game into context, and it does it better than most FPS’s.

But it’s easy to forgive a sloppy story when a game looks as beautiful as Crysis 2. At first glance, the game doesn’t look that special; the textures can be blurry, small objects are significantly less detailed than bigger ones, and a few other minor annoyances. However, once you step outside for the first time, the game hits you square in the face with its visual prowess. Technically speaking, the game looks really good, and is good enough to stand alongside the likes of Uncharted 2 and God of War III (remember, this is for consoles), but definitely not above them. But artistically speaking, this game is just plain beautiful. The lighting is brilliant, taking effect every time you exit or enter a building and it breathes life into every object it touches. Although the game takes place entirely in the city (more on that later) the plant life you do see is truly a sight to behold. There was one moment where you are in a park, and of in the distance you can see an alien spire surrounded by trees. I stood there and just stared at the way the trees swayed realistically, and how the spire just towered ominously over everything, like Saruman’s tower from Lord of The Rings. Throughout the game there are things that can’t help but take your breath away. It isn’t perfect though. The game can drop in frame rate occasionally, and as mentioned earlier, some textures just look blurry and jagged. All in all though, the game is an absolutely beautiful piece of art, and even though it may have been dumbed down on consoles for technical reasons, it’s still among the best both technically and artistically.

If graphical awesomeness wasn’t enough, the game also boasts an awesome audio component. Each weapon has a unique sound, adding a bit of personality to each weapon. The sound of an explosion going off or a tank bursting through a concrete wall is fairly well done in the game, and is made so much better with a quality surround-sound system. But what really makes Crysis 2’s audio is the ambient noise. It’s so immersing to hear the rustling of leaves and sound of gunfire going off in the background as you prepare to assassinate an enemy. It’s also a special kind of fun to hear the human enemies talk about seeing or hearing something, or having them react hysterically to your actions. The music is also fantastic, as it always seems to have the perfect track for each moment. However, the music can be a bit out of place at times, and you’ll occasionally be walking through an empty battlefield with epic music playing throughout. It’s still great though, and it even seems to add a little to the game’s already stellar graphics by helping to create such a believable environment.

Its more than just eye candy.

Even if everything else about Crysis is great, the combat is the most important aspect of any shooter. And Crysis 2 absolutely delivers. The game has the familiar and standard control scheme that so many shooters have, the game has the standard weapons like assault rifles, shotguns, and snipers, your health is rechargeable, and a HUD shows you your ammo, weapon and other important information. The two things that make Crysis 2 stand above most other shooters are its use of the Nano-suit and its myriad of tactical options. The Nano-suit basically allows the player to choose between the powers of increased armour, increased speed, or increased stealth at the touch of a button. Each ability drains the same energy-bar, however, preventing the player from spamming abilities and missing out on any challenge. Each ability allows the player to play the game in many different ways, from a gun’s blazing shooter similar to Halo, or a stealth shooter more akin to Splinter Cell. Each combat zone has many tactical options that allow the player to take advantage of any situation they’re in with any power they want. These aspects are done so well that no matter how you decide to play; each option is both challenging and fun. There is so much freedom and balance throughout the game that you will find it hard to find yourself where you are bored of the combat. On top of that, the controls are very smooth and precise, the guns are both standard and unique, the levels are well paced, and the game boasts an 8 to 12 hour game, depending on the difficulty that is chosen. Crysis 2 does what so many other shooters are afraid to do: it offers something unique. Crysis 2’ campaign is one of the most enjoyable FPS campaigns in recent memory, and it should be one of the best shooters to come out in years.

            Notice the word should. Although the campaign is generally spectacular, there are a few flaws that bring the game down. In the campaign, the only real problem is the AI, and it is a definitely problematic. When it works, it works well; enemies react to your movements and actions realistically, they chase you and try to search for you when you fire at them, they hear footsteps and they can see your shimmer when stealthed. But when it doesn’t work, which is very often, the AI runs in circles endlessly, they run into each other, they’ll see you and attack you even if you’re in stealth mode, and sometimes they won’t react to you all. It really takes away from what would normally be a very immersive game. The environments also began to get repetitive near the end. It isn’t a big issue, but the game could have used a few more varied locals rather than the endless wave of cityscape. Another aspect where the game doesn’t fare very well is the multiplayer. Now don’t get me wrong, the multiplayer is good. It’s fun, deep and full of content. However, there are a few technical hiccups and problems that threaten to ruin Crysis 2’s multiplayer experience. Firstly, the hit detection is all over the place. I found myself often shooting an entire clip into an enemy player’s back, only for them to turn around and kill me in a few shots. I would check the replay, and it showed that my bullets were missing him completely, passing by his right shoulder, which is never what I saw on my screen. Due to the fact that the game has hosts, matches can be extremely laggy, worsening the already terrible hit detection. However, the online is still pretty fun to play, put it is nowhere near the level of quality present in the single player campaign.

All things considered, Crysis 2 is a phenomenal game that takes the risk of trying something different, and it definitely paid off. Although the multiplayer is merealy average and the AI can be idiotic at times, the single player is just so fun, engrossing, challenging and unique that it’s hard not to adamantly recommend.

Pros

–          Game looks beautiful

–          Dozens of ways to approach combat

–          Fantastic level pacing and design

–          Nano-suit is unique and fun

Cons

–          AI is stupid

–          Multiplayer isn’t as a good as the campaign

Overall: 9/10

Dragon Age II Review

Posted in Reviews on March 19, 2011 by GameTacular

Difficulty played on: All of them for at least 5 hours, mostly played on Normal.

Hours played: Roughly 65 hours

Console played on: Xbox 360

            Dragon Age II is one of the worst Bioware games I have ever played. It’s a real testament to the quality of their work, then, when their worst still manages to be so great.

            Bioware had a surprise hit with Dragon Age: Origins. It offered an old-school tactics based fantasy RPG clothed in the garments of a modern RPG, which appealed to a wide range of people. It featured an epic story covering the massive nation of Ferelden, a wide assortment of interesting and lovable characters, a deep and rewarding combat system, difficult decision making that changed the entire world, and one down-right hideous example of modern graphics. It was an instant classic, receiving both commercial success and critical acclaim. It was a given that a sequel would eventually be in the works. When Dragon Age II was finally announced, it had a lot live up to, and up to its release, it seemed as if it would succeed. The sequel takes a much different direction then the original. It isn’t an epic tale; it’s a personal one. The combat works just as well as a hack n’ slash as it does a tactics based game. The majority of the game is set in one city, and follows a structure that is completely different than all other Bioware RPGs. The dialogue system is taken right from Mass Effect, and you will finally have a voiced character. On paper, the concept for Dragon Age II is very ambitious, and could have allowed for many interesting gameplay and story elements that haven’t been seen before in gaming. However, the finished product just barely falls short in most regards, and ends up feeling rushed and incomplete. Yet it does enough right to still manage to be a great experience overall.

            Dragon Age II’s plot follows the character of Hawke and how he became the champion of Kirkwall, and his effect on the world. The story is told through narration by a sly dwarf named Varric, one of Hawke’s companions, as he is interrogated by a Chantry Seeker who needs to know the current location of the champion. It has very little to do with the Grey Warden and his battle with the Blight from the original, other than a few cameos, dialogue options, and the fact that the game starts with Hawke fleeing Lothering from the darkspawn during the original game. The story spans 10 years, but you only get to play through 3 of them, since the developers decided to skip over a lot of the minor details about his rise to power. This structure holds a lot of potential for seeing and living with the consequences of your actions in a decision based game such as Dragon Age, but Bioware really dropped the ball with decision making in the sequel. Many decisions can be very difficult to make at face value, but in the end, most decisions have the same outcome no matter what, making the game much more linear then it seems, and a lot of your seemingly life or death decisions become irrelevant. Another problem with the story is that it can feel very disconnected at times. Not until you enter the third and final act do the pieces start falling into place. Up until then, many story elements seem pointless and irrelevant, and you might have a hard time understanding why Hawke is so important.  On the other hand, Bioware decided to explore some very interesting and mature themes in their latest game. There is a very strong and neutral view on the idea of freedom versus security, as well as themes dealing with utilitarianism, morality, friendship, and guilt. The best aspect of these themes and ideas is that, unlike most RPG’s, Dragon Age II has a completely neutral stance on each theme instead of a good or bad, right and wrong stance. Each concept has multiple perspectives, and Bioware has acknowledged that there is no right or wrong one to side with, which added another level of depth to the game’s narrative. All in all, even with its faults, the story in Dragon Age II is well written, fairly well told, interesting and enjoyable.

Come at me bro.

             A definite improvement over the original is the personality of the protagonist. Hawke isn’t a nameless bi-polar mute hero. His personality is, at it’s a core, a person who just wants the best for his family, similarly how Commander Shepard from Mass Effect is a person who just wants what’s best for humanity. However, like Commander Shepherd, Hawkes methods and ideals are completely up to the player. All of this adds up to a developable character who has enough base characteristics to seem like a real person, but enough customization to make the player feel like they are defining Hawke. Hawkes friends and enemies share a similar quality.

            Just like Origins, II features a wide variety of characters, be them friend or foe. Most of the important ones are very well developed up until the very end of the game. Hawke’s companions are a unique and diverse group of people, and they all feel like real, relatable, and likeable people, if you’re inclined to their personality. Highlights are the wise-talking, sneaky yet charming dwarf Varric, the suave, serious, and mysterious elf Fenris, and the half-abomination healer and Awakening veteran Anders. It’s also a special delight to hear Hawke’s companions bickering while in the party, as it both adds a lot to the game and characters, but can also be incredibly fun and hilarious to listen to. An important aspect of the game is Hawke’s family, and they are integral to both the story and many of the decisions that happen to affect the story’s outcome. A lot happens to the Hawke family, a fair amount of it bad, and Bioware manages to pull off a few moments that are difficult to watch (in a sad way), and some decisions, one in particular, that are insanely hard to make. The villains are also fairly well developed, but are exposed as villains far too late into the game for them to really have an impact on the player. In the end, Dragon Age’s characters are a cool and lovable bunch that manages to liven up the stellar story.

            Origins looked terrible on consoles. It was almost comical how bad it looked, and it was one of the rare cases where bad visuals detracted from the whole experience. Dragon Age II does a much better job in the graphics department, but it still isn’t all that special. The city of Kirkwall looks fantastic. Each area has its own unique feel, and as long as you don’t look too closely, the city walls and buildings are well detailed and vibrant. Characters, on the other hand, are a mixed bag. People faces and facial animations are generally fantastic, and is a definite improvement over Origins. However, everything else is just a pain to look at. Textures are blurry and uneven, and some would be only passable last generation. Minor objects, such as crates or lanterns, look terrible up close. One area that II does excel in is its representation of blood, combat, and magic.Weapons look fantastic, blood is think and dark, and things such as fire and ice look absolutely phenomenal. It’s a nice treat to watch an enemy burn for the first time, as they turn orange and black as they fall to the ground. Overall, the graphics of Dragon Age II are decent and even fantastic in some areas, but too many people and objects look undetailed and blurry for it to be all that proud of.

            The audio here is just as good as it was in Origins. Like all Bioware games, the voice acting is top notch, often bringing out and strengthening some already great characters. The music is also very well done and is placed perfectly with each situation. It can be hard not to get the blood pumping after some of the battle songs. The sound effects are also a blast to listen to. From the sounds of opening a crate to the sound of raining fire balls, Dragon Age II hits the nail with its audio effects. However, I did experience a few hiccups here and there where a characters voice would just disappear for no reason, or a characters line of dialogue wouldn’t even appear. Still, these are just minor problems with an overall fantastic audio component. There are other parts to Dragon Age II, however, that were not as good as the original.

Mages always have more fun.

            The customization aspect of Dragon Age II is one of the few components of the game that is truly over-simplified, especially regarding inventory and items, but still manages to have great class customization. You still have the same options when equipping your main character that you had in Origins, but your party members do not. While Hawke can equip various combinations of gloves, helmets, suits, boots weapons, and trinkets, his companions only get to change their trinkets and weapons. It does help to focus the game more on Hawke, but it is a shame that you can’t make each party member look the way you desire. Inventory and equipment in general has been a large down grade from the original. Most items look the same and have similar qualities, and there is significantly less items in the world then there was in Origins. Rune crafting and poison making have also become pretty useless. Unless you are playing on Nightmare difficulty, you most likely will never have to use any poison or enchant and item with a rune during an entire play-through. Classes have been much improved over the original, with each class being very unique from each other, having many more viable specializations, and making sure that the rogue is no longer useless when no being controlled. There are three classes to choose from; rogue, mage, and warrior. The rogue is a quick melee or ranged attacker that can either focus on maximum damage output or debilitating enemies. Mages are the most all-around class, as they can play as damager, a buffer or de-buffer, or a healer, but are weak to direct attacks. Warriors are the easiest class to play. They focus on either doing damage or taking damage, and are always using melee attacks. Each class has six unique talent trees and three specialization trees the build off of two of the other six trees. Each tree is unique for each class, and finding the perfect combination for your Hawke is a blast. But a good class system is meaningless without a good combat system.

            Well, the meat of any game can always be found in the combat, and that is where Dragon Age II excels at the most. The combat has been bashed continuously since the demo was released, with people criticising the game for being over-simplified and for no longer being a tactics based game. Both these accusations are untrue. Although Dragon Age II’s combat is not as complex and deep as the original, the developers have a found a unique blend of hack n’ slash and tactics based gameplay that is unlike any RPG out there. The combat system looks very similar to Origins’, but it definitely has significant changes. There are still a maximum of four party members, there are still two abilities mapped to X, Y, and B (switch between each by holding R), L still pauses the game and lets you issue orders, companions can still be given pre-set tactics from a menu, and each party member still has a health bar and either a mana or stamina bar. However, there are a few differences that make Dragon Age II unique. You now have to press A for each attack instead of having an auto-attack feature (the horror!), combat is much more fast-paced and action oriented, and tactical thinking is no longer necessary for the game to be enjoyable. This description may put off many Origins fans, since it appears that Dragon Age II is simply an action game, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Dragon Age II’s method of playing all depends on which of the four difficulties the player chooses. The easiest difficulty, casual, allows for a straight forward hack n’ slash adventure that involves minimal to no tactical thinking. This is a really fun mode where the player can plough through enemies with ease and focus on the story rather than the action. Normal is still in the hack n’ slash vain, but unlike casual, it demands that the player pause the game and issue orders from time to time, especially during boss fights. This mode is perfect for players who haven’t played tactical RPG’s before, and want to get the basic downs before trying their hand at other ones. Hard is much more tactics based then the other two, and this is where the combat most resembles Dragon Age: Origins. You will still spend a lot of your time mashing A and using abilities in the middle of the action, but you will also spend a great deal more in the pause menu, making sure each party member is in the right spot, fighting the right enemies, and using the right abilities. Nightmare difficulty, the most difficult one, is almost completely comprised of tactical thinking. Almost each attack that your party delivers will have to go through you to make sure you survive, even in the more simple encounters. However, even at this difficulty, it doesn’t reach the same tactical heights that Origins did, but it is still very deep and enjoyable. Most developers wouldn’t be able to make each difficulty both unique and fun, but Bioware did just that. So if you want to play a tactics based game that’s similar to Origins, you can do that. If you want to play a more action oriented experience, you can do that as well.

            The most disappointing and worst part about Dragon Age II is the exploration and inhabited world of Kirkwall. It is also the part of the game that shows the most evidence for the game being rushed and incomplete. The player will spend the majority of the game in Kirkwall, only occasionally leaving to explore a few areas surrounding the city. Kirkwall is a vibrant, beautiful city, with unique districts, buildings, and inhabitants. That is, for the first five hours. You will go through almost every environment in Dragon Age II, a thirty plus our experience, in around five hours. That is just lazy and unacceptable. I can understand if Kirkwall was a large, expansive city that changed over the years, but it is anything but. The environments are small and feel disconnected, Hawkes decisions and actions have minimal effect on the city itself, and that city does not change at all over the course of the game, save for a few areas being closed off and Hawke changing his home once. Even the areas outside of Kirkwall are disappointing, as the game forces you to enter all of the environments numerous times, and there are not very many of them. Dragon Age II had a lot of potential to build up a city the felt like a character; a city that had depth, begged to be explored, and changed based on Hawkes actions over a decade of time. Instead, Kirkwall is a stagnant, small, repetitive, and underwhelming experience, especially when compared to Origins’ massive open world.

            Playing Dragon Age II is like eating a bowl of soup with a strand of hair in it. There is a lot to love; the story is well written and engaging, the characters are a unique and lovable bunch, the combat is fun, unique, and very accessible, the game sounds great and looks much better then Origins, and the classes feel much more balanced. However, there is also a decent amount of things to hate, like the repetitive and stagnant environments, the lack of focus in the story, the lack of character customization, and the overall feeling of being underwhelmed, especially when compared to the original. Sadly, all of these faults seem so easily fixed, especially considering the quality of the other aspects of the game. That is what I fear is the cause of Dragon Age II being a disappointment; the game feels like it was rushed to meet a deadline, and that many corners were cut. At its core, Dragon Age is a phenomenal game with many great ideas and concepts, enough of them that a year and a half is simply not enough time to develop them properly.

 

Pros

–          Great personal story

–          Improved and diverse combat

–          Great characters and classes

Cons 

–          Terrible environments

–          Story lacks focus

–          Customization is limited

–          Not as profound as Dragon Age: Origins

 

Score: 8/10