Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light : Go get it!

Tomb Raider is a beloved series in my family. Since the first polygon of the British archaeologist landed on the PS1, I was hooked. Every game kept me up for hours, days, and multiple playthroughs. My wife and I have shared stories of our adventures in the games over dinner. We wait for every installment. So Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light has been the most anticipated game in our house this year.

For anyone familiar with Lara Croft and her games, you expect certain things. But Crystal Dynamics departed from the typical 3rd person over the shoulder look, for a isometric viewpoint, fixed camera. This is also the first game that introduces a co-op play. Your partner is a Mayan warrior named Totec who can speak perfect english. Amazing for a Mayan who had never heard spoken english prior to what Lara says to him. But let me tell you the story of the game first …

“Two-thousand years ago in ancient Central America, a battle began between Totec, the Guardian of the Light, and Xototl, the keeper of darkness. Totec’s army was defeated when Xolotl used the mirror of smoke to unleash hordes of ghastly creatures. Totec survived said battle, and found a way to defeat Xolotl, imprisoning him in the mirror of smoke and watching over the mirror as an immortal stone statue. In present day, Lara Croft reads of the legend and attempts to find the mirror. After a long and dangerous hike she is successful. She stops to observe the mirror, only to find that a band of mercenaries led by the local warlord followed her into the temple and took the mirror from her. Unknowing, or unbelieving of the curse upon the mirror, the leader of the mercenaries handles the mirror and recklessly releases Xolotl. The stone statue of Totec comes to life and warns Lara that Xolotl must be stopped before the light of dawn. Depending on whether playing single player or not, Lara and Totec either join forces or go separate ways to try and stop Xolotl.”

This game is a lot of fun! Gameplay is fast paced, controls are tight, and it offers a lot of replay value. There are some downfalls but nothing too serious. The controls take a little bit of time to get used to. Once learned though, actions will become second nature.

During the Co-op play, if your partner is slower than you, it will cause problems. There is not a split screen option and it forces you to truly work with the other gamer. Which is always  good thing. Why play co-op if you are not going to “play nice”?

The graphics are fresh and stay constant. You never feel as though something doesn’t belong. In typical Tomb Raider fashion you will be asking, “Why did this ancient culture build this?” And of course as the game progresses enemies become larger and more hellish. Nothing becomes too frustrating. Some areas might make your blood boil, but that is just because the game knows how to challenge the player.

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is at the perfect price point of $15 or 1500 MS Points. Two thumbs WAY up on this game!

 

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Shank : Bloody retribution in waves of bloody repetition

This little summer bloodfest made a small blip on the radar and then disappeared. Other sites gave it decent reviews so where did this fantastically stylized side scroller go wrong? Let’s look at it, shall we.

Shank is a hell bent dude, avenging the murder of his girlfriend, well you assume a murder. Along the way you meet the Kill Bill rejects in typical boss fashion, all the way up to the final boss. You have the muscle testosterone guys, the chick with a sword, wanna be crime lords, etc., none of them stand out as a true nemesis. Each boss has a pattern. Once learned it is fairly easy to beat. Hit detection gets a little woppy but doesn’t deter from the gameplay.

The entire time I played, I thought that there were chunks of the story missing. Little flashbacks for cut scenes made me think that there was a deeper history between the characters. None of it is really developed. But you really are not playing this game for the story line anyway. You are playing because it looks cool. REALLY COOL!

The animation is fresh and up to speed with all movements, weapons, and kills. So smooth it feels like silk. The controls, on the other hand, are more like flannel. You will experience “I was aiming that way!” moments and frustration will build. Frustration in ways that will have you remembering classic Double Dragon or Bad Dudes games. You will play through the frustration, just like you did with those games. It turns into a “I have beaten this before and it will never get the best of me” attitude.

The great thing is that you can play with a frustrated friend in Shank’s co-op. Same idea of the game, just a little off story.

Keep in mind that the level design and basic gameplay screams NES/SNES. Move a little bit, fight a swarm of people, move a little bit more, more waves of baddies, now enter bigger dudes with battering rams, move a little bit, more waves of the same characters, cutscene, and boss fight. It is this repetition that killed the game for me. I got bored way too fast for such a visually awesome game. I guess that is why I wasn’t upset when I realized that 4 hours later it was over.

I chalked it up to eating an awesome $14 burger with a beer. The first initial bite is wonderful, but by the last bite you are so full of that burger you just want it to be over.

Lego my rehashed 3D adventure

Summer is ending. I am emerging from my fan filled rooms and opening up the windows, letting the autumn air in, and removing the odor of the games I have played. This time around, I am reviewing for two : Indiana Jones 2 – The Adventure Continues and 3D Dot Game Heroes.

Let’s get Indiana out of the way .

Lucasarts owns a whip that beats dead horses. Whips them hard. This Lego adventure was not needed. When Lego games first started, I thought they were cute and fun. Now . . . it is just sad. The controls and camera were both frustrating and sloppy. The majority of the time there was so much happening on the screen that you could not see where you were going. You know the story lines if you know the movies. Bottom line, don’t bother. If you want to have fun in Legoland, stick with the first two Lego Star Wars games and enjoy.

I do believe that the Lego games can stop now. I understand that they have a couple more in the works. Ugggh. Not everything has to become part of the beloved block toy line.

————– Now to another beloved block icon —————–

The year 1986 was a great time for the adventure in all gamers. Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda, a pinnacle of adventure games. You loved the gold cartridge, you hummed the songs all day, and you dreamed of killing octorocks. Life was good.

Over the past 20 years, especially since Sony and Microsoft have entered the picture, gamers have wanted Nintendo to cross platform. The idea of downloading Zelda through PSN makes drool.

Atlas games jumped into the pool and said, “Screw you Nintendo, we will make a game that pays homage and shows off some innovative gaming ideas.”  There was one problem with that.

In 1986 gamers did not need as much game interaction, explosions, and constant on the edge gameplay, as they do now. 86’ers had no problem of running back and forth looking for this and that. I couldn’t help but feel like I had already played the game and got bored quickly. There was not much that made me want to continue toward the end. There are plenty of jokes and plugs referring back to Zelda games. Nothing stands out though. The maps and enemies resemble the original NES Zelda. The environments and weapons resemble SNES Link to the Past.

Overall the game is fun but for a short time. Rent it to play for a few hours. It will at least bring back memories.

Final Fantasy XIII : Where has the past week gone?

First off, I am not going to go into the story line of the game. Just know two things : 1. Good vs. Evil and 2. Big monsters.

I knew that Final Fantasy XIII was going to be different but I didn’t realize how much.

The very first thing that I noticed was the linear, tunnel like, “exploring” that your character/party did. Almost like the Tomb Raider series, running through buildings, caves, and the what not. There is very little expansive territory to search through. Of course there is an area where you go through side quests and massive beasts are all around.

Second thing is the battle system. In past games I would make two teams, making each person with certain strengths knowing that if my team leader died that I would have to use the next in line. Nope, not this time. If your team leader dies during battle, you have to start the fight over. This is frustrating when you have been hacking away at something for 10 minutes. There were several times where I would just stare at the screen in dismay,going, “I almost had it! WHAT THE CRAP!” But overall, the battle system is easy to learn and upgrade.

The cutscenes are gorgeous. This is where you spending big money for that TV and sound system comes into play. The playing graphics, for that matter, are gorgeous as well. Often I could not tell the difference. The one thing that I did find funny is that each character had to have their “We can do this speech!” cutscene. Some of it is quite high school drama and some can get to the point where you want to turn the volume down.

The main problem, it is very petty, with the game is the map. You are able to view a map of the area and some of it is difficult to see. There are no markers saying where each spot leads to and you do not have the ability to mark it. I can’t remember if other FF games did the same. I just find it odd and annoying. Some of the caves start looking the same and running down a path for 20 minutes before realizing that you are going the wrong way is a time waster.

I also find it funny that every and I mean every Final Fantasy follows the same character stereotypes.

  1. There is always a bad ass lead character that is driven and will throw themselves in harms way no matter the cost. You will play them the most.
  2. Always a macho, testosterone, “dude”.
  3. A cute, flirty, giggle giggle girl that can do major damage.
  4. A random, easy going black guy that feels like he has nothing to live for. You always want to use him but in the end he is a so-so character.
  5. Someone with a staff who is rough, tumble, and secretive.
  6. The useless guy. Sometimes is a animal.

Overall Final Fantasy XIII is wonderful. Even with little flaws and occasional bad acting, it is still worthy of your attention. If you are the type that does not enjoy long epic adventures, you might want to look somewhere else. I am currently clocking in 60+ hours, still have all the side quests to complete, and have not beaten the final chapter.

This is a buy for those who know what they are getting into.

Medal of Honor : DICE Multiplayer Beta = not Battlefield : Bad Company 2

I was able to pre-order Medal of Honor through Gamestop the other day. With a pre-order I was given a key code to try the multiplayer beta. The Beta is going on from June 21st-July 18th. I am also a part of the EA Gun Club so I got to get in before June 21st. Sometimes it pays to be part of every side group with a game.

Anyway . . .

DICE is trying some different things with MOH’s multiplayer. Some of it is concerning. They did such a wonderful job with Battlefield : Bad Company 2. I almost want to shake them and tell them to stop changing the wheel!

The first thing that is different is the controls. Now, I know this is a BETA and that nothing is final, but why have different controls for something that the bulk of your players are still on another game (BFBC2) and use to that scheme? If it offered something different, I would say sure. But not in this case.

I did not see any actual team play. Mainly just people running around and shooting. Very COD if you ask me. I like the team work aspect that they did in BFBC2. I hate to keep bringing up Bad Company, but it is a great multiplayer system!

The graphics are sharp. The ragdoll animations are a little stiff. The weapons , though few offered, looked great. There is some learning curve to the use of them. The strength of a light machine gun feels almost the same as a AK. That does not make sense and needs to be fixed. Grenades need more power. I also, want to say this about all FPS – IF YOU GET HIT BY A .50, IT SHOULD BE A ONE HIT DEAL. I am so tired of shooting guys with tank guns/heavy machine guns and them running away.

Bottom line is that DICE really needs to use these next few months to implement ideas from their successful Battlefield Bad Company and make this the game that would make any Call of Duty fan weep. They have a lot of work in front of them.

Also, if you are running a PS3, it crashes and freezes a lot. DICE knows that and are working on it.

Mini Ninjas : Its like Calgone and Japanese feudal warfare wrapped up in one.

Charming, relaxing, and simply fun. Mini Ninjas is a great game from start to finish. The game offers a surprisingly long gameplay adventure, I logged in around 12+ hours.

I was not thinking that this game was going to be too difficult or frustrating. Knowing by the cover that it would appeal toward younger ages, I figured that if I wanted it to be more difficult I would have to make it that way. The replay value is fairly low and for the perfectionist player it offers several trophies/awards to obtain with multiple runs at different difficulty levels or replays of different stages.

The story is wrapped around a little ninja named Hiro. His master has sent him, along with Futo, on a journey to destroy the Evil Samurai Warlord. Along the way they rescue other ninjas that had been captured. The rescued ninjas are playable characters and have certain strengths. Hiro, for the most part, is the most used and is the only one that can use the powerful Kuji magic.

The graphics are quite stylized and the music is very relaxing. Some of the levels are fairly large and offer a lot of exploring. Parents watching their kids play will want to join in because it is very inviting. My wife and I shared gameplay duties. It was just fun!

The game has been out since September 09. I would figure that you could find it for fairly cheap or easily available to rent.

M.A.G. : EXPLOSIONS! EXPLOSIONS! *yawn*

MAG: Massive Action Game? Well they got the massive and game part right. I was hoping that this game was going to blow my socks off. I imagined rooms filled with 256 players being in total chaos. Well, they were in a sense. In the sense that people were just running around and there was no real direction.

The game starts off with you having to decide which faction you are going to fight in the “Shadow War”; VALOR, RAVEN, or SVER. Each group has its pros and cons and neither out powers the other. It really boils down to how you want to look. Careful though, once you choose the group, that’s it, you fight for them forever. That can be a pro or a con. Pro because it can really develop some online loyalty. Con because you might get tired of that group and just want to freshen up a game.

There is a leadership and command structure that I really do not want to get into. It basically allows there to be leaders of squads that call the shots.

Let’s just cut to the bottom line : The game has decent controls but the switching of weapons can get annoying. Huge maps that will have you running a lot. It looks good but the sound is so bland. Mines explode and sound like balloons popping. Guns sound like BB guns and are about as powerful. I kept wishing that I was playing Battlefield : Bad Company 2. And that is what I am going to do.

Rent M.A.G. if you have some time to kill. Just keep in mind that there are better FPS Multiplayer games out there.

Heavy Rain : It will get in your head!

I knew that Heavy Rain had already received good reviews. Mainly due to the unique gameplay and mature story line. Everything you read about the game is true. It is that good!

Mind you, if you are a person that has a hard time making split second choices, you might have a very short game. Your characters will die and the killer gets free, simple as that.

The story revolves around a city with an unique serial killer known as The Origami Killer. The killer only strikes during the rainy season and only targets 10 year old boys. The main character that you play is Ethan. His son was kidnapped and he is desperately trying to save him. His own past is haunting him, which only makes things tougher. Along the way he meets Madison who helps him in her own way. The two other characters are Shelby (Private Eye with torrid past) and Jayson (FBI Agent trying to do good).

If you are expecting running around like Laura Croft or Modern Warfare, forget it. You are playing the lives of these four characters. If you choose a wrong move or do not press the right buttons, they die . . . forever. You will not know how their story plays out. At least not until you decide to play through the game again and again. I played through 4 times and received 4 different endings ranging from very sad to moderately happy.

The beginning is slow, but needed to understand parts later in the game. It introduces the controls and basic gameplay. Getting you use to the button configurations and timing aspects that are needed through out the game.

I give Heavy Rain 10 Stars of Awesomeness. It broke the basic routine of playing a video game, introduces fresh ideas of story telling and gameplay. I would rent it and see if it is your thing and then buy after it sucks you in.

Dante’s Inferno : B to the A, my friends.

If I were to be taking a vacation to Hell, I would want Dante as my tour guide. The man stitched a cross into his chest and kills Death! That is . . . insane.

Okay, here is the deal. I am going to mention the bad first. Get it out of the way, sweep it under and get on with our lives.

1. There are about a dozen camera snafu’s that block or hinder jumps, movements, and attacks.

2. Every once in a while you will get a “AWW Come on man, I hit that button!” moment and you really did hit that button.

3. You would think that the lower levels of hell were as freakish as the first 4-5 levels. Just sayin’.

Other than those things, I could not find anything wrong with Dante’s Inferno.  The controls were fairly smooth. Combat was clean and feverish. It keeps your attention all the way to the end. Some people have complained that they thought there would be more variety of bad guys the farther into Hell you went, I didn’t mind. The Devil can only employee so many.

It is obvious that Visceral Games wanted to freak you out with the first 4 stages of Hell. The screams of the damned and the cries of unbaptized babies that chase you will stick in your ear. All the stages are done very nicely, but Lust makes you go “What are these guys drinking?”.  The pure shock and awe of Lust will make you giggle at first. It turns into a game of counting how many penises and vaginas you can see. Not to mention the main demons of the stage. They beat you down with . . . wait for it . . . their vagina tonuges.

Another, image that made me laugh was when I fought Lucifer. He is quite fearsome and well endowed. At first I thought that he had three legs. Nope.

So, yeah, this is not for the kiddies.

Sure you can compare Dante’s Inferno to God of War, but you can compare those games to hundreds before them. One great thing is that there is plenty of downloadable content out now and in the near future, including a multi-player mode. I will pick this game up when it goes on sale. It was an enjoyable 14 hours.

Rent, then buy if you want the DLC packs that are offered. Either way, it is worth your time.

Fairy Tale Fights : I just saved you $$

Once upon a time there was a man that loved video games with all his heart. He played from morning till night. Until one day  a giant Gamefly brought a game to his mailbox.

This game had potential to be funny, creative, and enjoyable. It almost seemed as though the developers, Playlogic Entertainment, went half way with their idea and said, “Screw it! Let’s go get some doughnuts. The games got blood and cartoon characters, what more does it need?” Well, for starters, better camera work. If you are playing on anything less than a 37″ screen, you might have difficulty with playing a couple levels.

Other problems : controls “sometimes” work, perspective with certain jumps or areas can be sketchy, you will die . . . a lot, very repetitive to the point of drooling.

I really wanted to enjoy this game. I really did! Being a man of simple gaming love, it should have fulfilled my thirst. Most of the time I was thinking back to some of the impossible Mega Man jumps. So then years of repressed video game frustration boiled up. I laid it down, had a drink, and shipped it back.

Don’t rent it, don’t buy it, just be happy that reading this didn’t take 5 hours from your life, unlike Fairy Tale Fights.