Not content with his lacklustre 2009 predictions, analyst Michael Pachter has claimed that 2010’s projected software sales strength will see talk of the current console cycle ’stifled’.
Pachter, co-writing this article with Edward Woo and Chris White, believes the start of the year will see big sales:
‘We think that it is likely that sales will begin to grow in February, hit high single digits in March, and hit double-digit growth from April through October.’
‘Once sales begin to grow sustainably, chatter of an end to the current console cycle will likely be stifled, and we expect investors to again grow interested in the video game publisher stocks.’
Pachter had already talked of how the next generation of consoles were as far away as 2013, but it’s probable that he’s not so sure now after 2009 fell way below his predictions if you note his usage of ‘likely’.
While I enjoyed the first Assassin’s Creed (I gave it a 9/10 in my review of the game), I, along with many other fans and critics, agreed that there was quite a lot that Ubisoft needed to improve on for the expected sequel and thus, the original game was greeted with mixed reviews. Well, Ubisoft decided not just to make a few improvements here and there for the sequel; they decided to change almost everything about the series. Assassin’s Creed II has a new protagonist, new gameplay features and structure, and even a new setting and time period of Renaissance-era Italy, which, as a history nerd, is rather fitting if you ask me. You see, the Renaissance was this big explosion of cultural advancement and achievement all throughout Europe in art, economics, politics, science, and almost everything else, and not many locations were more affected by it than Italy, which is where the Renaissance started in the first place. Thus, while it certainly had its downsides, the Renaissance basically cast away the Feudalistic and religion-dominated society of the Middle Ages (which is when the first Assassin’s Creed took place) and set humanity back on track and without it, we probably wouldn’t be where we are today artistically, technologically, or otherwise. So I find it fitting that Assassin’s Creed II’s role in the series as a means of pushing the series forward is similar to the effects of the Renaissance. The question is though, can Assassin’s Creed II accomplish its goal as well as its time period did or will the series remain in the Dark Ages?
As I said before, the story in Assassin’s Creed II takes place in 1476, right in the middle of the Renaissance in Italy…sort of. If you remember from the first game (or not), the series has a sort of split perspective, as the historical portion of Assassin’s Creed is only a simulated recollection of the memories of an ancestor of Desmond Miles (Altäir). Desmond himself lives in the year 2012, a strange world full of mediocre plotlines, corny dialogue, and awesome special effects…wait that’s the movie. In actuality, 2012 has Desmond trapped in a lab owned by Abstergo Industries, an evil corporation that kidnapped Desmond and forces him to enter a machine called the Animus, which allows the person in it to not only recall, but simulate the memories of an ancestor because those memories are in that person’s DNA. If you don’t remember any of this, a short recap at the beginning of the game should help.
This is where Assassin’s Creed II’s story really begins, with Desmond escaping the Abstergo lab with the help of undercover assassin Lucy from the first game. Lucy takes Desmond to meet more modern assassins, who decide to train him as an assassin through the memories on another ancestor. So they strap him into their own Animus and you’re whisked off to the Italian Renaissance, where you relive the memories of Ezio Auditore. Ezio was the normal son of a powerful aristocrat who has his life thrust into turmoil when his father and brothers are killed. Ezio then discovers that his father was an assassin and decides to train as one as well. Thus, over the course of the historical and main portion of the game (which takes place over the course of 30 years), Ezio avenges his family while learning the bigger picture of the situation at hand through the assassination of a new group of Templars.
While the overlying concept may seem similar to that of the first game or just plain unappealing, it’s the way in which Assassin’s Creed II orchestrates its tale that makes it original, exciting, well crafted, and superior to its predecessor’s plot in several ways. One, you don’t exit the Animus as much in between memories, so there’s a lot less “dull Desmond gameplay”. However, when you are Desmond, you can rest assured that you won’t just be walking back and forth between two rooms. Two, the story is a lot more personal. Ezio isn’t just assassinating targets because he’s asked to, like Altäir; he’s assassinating targets because he wants to. This story of revenge definitely adds a much deeper level to the plot and thus, you’ll feel more connected to Ezio than Altäir. The voice acting is still fantastic this time too, but the accents are actually Italian, with some Italian words thrown in to add to the flavor. Speaking of which, not only are there now subtitles that you should turn on so that you can understand the Italian dialogue, but Ubisoft also translated the entire game into several languages. Now that’s going the extra mile. Unfortunately though, the cut scenes where this is displayed still can’t be skipped, even though this time they are actual cut scenes.
There is one complaint I have with the story though, which is that the beginning is rather slow. While the tutorial is now part of the story and thus, more interesting, it still drags on for quite a while and even after it’s “done”, you’ll still feel some tutorialistic parts pop up here and there to explain the gamut of things in the game (which I’ll get to later). So it’ll be a bit before things pick up but when they do, the game’s fantastic plot shines brightly. Also, for those of you who are wondering how you logically go from Altäir to Ezio, fear not, as this, and many other questions from the first game will be answered. So overall, while it starts slow, Assassin’s Creed II’s plot is fantastic.
As far as the graphics go, the Renaissance-era Italian cities look absolutely fantastic, even better than the cities in the first game, and each are entirely unique. Ubisoft’s attention to detail really shines through even more this time between the cities and the inclusion of more famous landmarks and people (as in, I think more people know who Leonardo da Vinci is than Robert de Sable). Seriously though, each city is a work of art. When Florence, the first city you visit, was “constructed” (it’s how the Animus loads things) before me for the first time, I think my jaw dropped and I mouthed the word “Damn”, and just about every other area was like that. The game is much bigger too, featuring a total of seven or so cities and open areas (as in The Kingdom from the first game) and six Assassin’s Tombs, which are Prince of Persia-esque platforming segments that are rather lengthy. So as with the first game, history geeks and video gamers alike will be amazed at how detailed Assassin’s Creed II looks, and how big it is as well.
However, it is the gameplay where most of the praise and criticism with the first game was found. Well, Ubisoft listened to the criticism and did not only keep everything that made the first game exciting, but also ripped to shreds and rebuilt everything that critics leveled at the first game and added even more. First though, all the parkour running and scaling structures is back and as awesome as ever and the controls are as easy to use yet still remain complex. You can’t assassinate random people anymore though, but you can assassinate guards in several new ways. Besides being able to kill two guards at once, you can kill guards from hay, from a ledge, and from the water (you can swim now), so it sort of makes up for it. As far as swimming goes though, you’re the only one who can swim…for some reason. That said, let’s get into responding to the criticism.
The major criticisms other critics and I found with the first game was that the combat, while fun, was way too easy and the overall structure of the game was overly repetitive. Ubisoft has definitely tried to fix these criticisms and I feel that they have…mostly. As far as repetitiveness goes, you won’t feel like your doing the same thing over and over again. There aren’t too many boring missions either anymore and story missions are clearly differentiated from other missions. The story missions themselves though, are a series of hundreds of missions types that are altered and put into different combinations for each mission, so you definitely won’t feel like your doing the same thing twice, that’s a definite improvement. The combat is another story. Ubisoft removed the regenerating health (synchronization) bar, so you’ll have to pay doctors now to heal you or buy medical supplies to heal yourself whenever you want (I’ll get to that later). I’m assuming this was an attempt to make the combat harder, however, it doesn’t because one thing is still included: counter kills. Once you get the timing down, killing loads of soldiers is a breeze. That’s not to say that the combat hasn’t been improved in other ways: new enemy types and new combat moves help add to the variety of the combat. Like I said though, it’s still easy because of counter killing and everything else just barely balances that out. But overall, the two complaints from the first game have been addressed and improved on greatly.
In addition to all these refinements, Ubisoft also added two new features: the economy system and the notoriety system. Unlike the first game, you’ll acquire money for every mission you complete, as well as from looting dead guards, finding treasure chests scattered throughout the cities, and pick pocketing. This money can be used for a variety of things, such as hiring courtesans, thieves, or mercenaries to help you out, buying new weapons (of which there are many more this time around), buying medical supplies, dying your robe different colors, and buying paintings to improve your villa. Yeah, you own an entire villa this time around, which you can invest money into in order to buy goods for cheaper prices from your merchants and to make a lot of money off the villa in return. The economy system definitely changes up the game quite a bit as you now can’t simply acquire new items (well you still can somewhat). While it adds to the complexity of the game, it never impedes your progress in it, so it’s a good new feature.
The notoriety system is another good new feature as it amends a problem with the first game, which was that you could assassinate hundreds of guards and no one would ever catch on. Now, if you assassinate guards in high profile or right in front of other guards, or just kill a lot of guards in general, you’ll gain notoriety in that city. Once your notoriety meter fills up, you can’t walk down a street without guards becoming suspicious of you, which will lead to them attacking you if you don’t hide. You can lower your notoriety by tearing down wanted posters, bribing heralds, and killing corrupted officials, so it’s relatively balanced. Thus, it’ll make you think twice before going on killing sprees, which although taking away some of the fun of the first game, makes things more realistic, so it’s definitely a positive improvement and a good new feature.
Of course, the first Assassin’s Creed is rather notorious for its flag collecting and Assassin’s Creed II, while still having collectibles, does improve on the ludicrousness of collecting. You can collect feathers, which don’t really do anything until a certain point, but at least they have relevance to the story (they’re not ridiculously small by the way), but the much more improved collectibles are the pieces of the Codex and glyphs. The Codex pieces can be deciphered by da Vinci and are basically pages of Altäir’s diary that will explain what happened to him. The glyphs, however, are much more interesting. These are cryptic messages left by Subject 16, who you learn about in the first game and, upon finding one and solving the incredibly clever puzzles attached to them, you’ll unlock a short video clip. While at first these clips look like pieces of a trailer from James Cameron’s Avatar (play the game and tell me that’s not true), they are actually part of something called “The Truth”, which while I won’t get into for spoiler purposes, is very interesting and fun to discover. Therefore, even the collectibles are improved from the first game.
So is Assassin’s Creed II an improvement over its predecessor? Yeah, pretty much. Just about everything that was wrong with the first game has been fixed for the sequel, and much has been added to improve it even further. That’s not to say that Assassin’s Creed II is perfect: the game is still easy and begins rather slow, but between the great new areas, the awesome story, and all the improvements and expansions to a now solid formula of gameplay, Assassin’s Creed II manages to blow away all its criticisms. Fans waited two years for this game and, if you’re like me, you couldn’t be happier with the result. Although Assassin’s Creed II is now structured more like your standard sandbox game, its unique concept keeps it from being another GTA clone, and certainly one of the best and most original games of the year.
+ A great new story, breathtaking new environments, solid controls, and a slew of expansions and improvements to the gameplay, plus several new additions, leave Assassin’s Creed II as an overall awesome experience that’s as fresh as ever
– Unfortunately, the game is still rather easy, at least in terms of combat, and the story starts rather slowly
Moderators over at the Xbox Forums seem to be unable to cope with Microsoft’s recent banning spree as users complain about console bans.
Numerous posts regarding the console ban on the Account Suspensions and Player Feedback forum remain unanswered by mods. Those that have got replies are full of identikit responses from mods, with the most common one being:
“Our investigations are very thorough.
However if you PM Tatsu24 with your consoleID and serial number we will re-verify our investigation. Your console ID is located in System Settings>Console Settings>System Info
Before replying, please be sure that you:
1. Purchased your console brand new and unopened from a reputable retailer
2. No individual has ever handled the Xbox outside your direct physical supervision.
3. You have thoroughly reviewed the information and FAQ located at http://www.xbox.com/en-US/consoleban/
Please be aware that if our re-verification is correct, this could result in a permanent suspension of the Xbox LIVE accounts on this console, along with all associated licenses and gamerscore.”
Yet how can “very thorough investigations” lead to the need for re-verification and so many threads pleading innocence on the Xbox forums?
There are those out there who play innocent, but here are a few topics lifted from the forum where we think they genuinely are:
Chandlermccool’s topic sees him claim to be a father of four Xbox hungry kids. One of his kids’ consoles was initially banned before he reveals further into the topic that a second one was banned and that his kids “are going CRAZY”. He claims to have spent “A LOT of money with Microsoft” and he also claims to have called Xbox Support 15 times without answer. The response? Check the paragraph in italics above…
Verdict: His sincerity and insistence makes us think he’s not guilty. This is some mighty fine bullshiting if otherwise.
LQNupe718 claims his console was banned without explanation, as was a second console he bought. The user questions Microsoft’s “lengthy investigation” after his second Xbox was banned within days of purchasing. He is also adamant that he is not a cheat or a modder. The answer? The same spiel as the previous case. Except Nupe then makes a good point. A re-verification would require his console to be connected to Xbox Live, but he can’t because his console is banned.
“It seems to me from what you are saying is that they will just go over information they already have which is pointless in my opinion,” he contends.
Verdict: Again, this guy’s insistance suggests he’s fighting for a cause; an innocent one at that.
Finally, the most (presumably) innocent award goes to…CornabllDragoon. He’s a silver member who plays games with his four year old son. Cornball has 19 games on his profile which includes the likes of Big Bumpin, Sneak King, PocketBike Racer, Disney’s Bolt, Transformers 2, Cars…ok, Gears of War may be there, but who are we to judge his parenting? He has 1105 achievement points. He’s hardly screaming of modder. But his plight was met with the firm hand of a mod’s banal copy+paste technique.
Verdict: Common sense would suggest he’s innocent.
Personally, Microsoft’s inability to tell 100% if a console has been modified and used in a fraudulent way is absolutely ridiculous. But the message is clear: do not buy a console from ebay and do not even touch, let alone look, at the innards of your Xbox 360. Ever.
Please comment and let us know what you think of the recent bans MS has issues. Do you think a lot of these folks are innocent? Registration is not required to comment.
Je ne sais quoi: Definition – that certain indefinable something. For a reviewer, finding yourself thinking of this phrase is like admitting you can’t do your job. Yet when it comes to Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, the phrase is very apt. While everyone knew the game would be of high quality, it definitely has a ‘je ne seis quoi’ that both holds it back and drags you in.
Modern Warfare 2 takes place five years after the original Modern Warfare, and focuses on the consequences of the victory achieved. From the ashes of the previous war comes hatred and bitterness from those once deemed allies. “Soap” MacTavish returns, but this time in the third person. He is your veteran captain that will direct your unthinking ass around skirmishes and battles ranging from the awesome to the downright ridiculous. A couple of privates in the American army also play a part in the story, but they are more for perspective than furthering of the plot.
This single-player campaign feels nothing like the down to earth struggle found in COD4. In the original game players attached themselves to Soap and the rest of the squad as they pulled off the nigh impossible task of saving the world where the American Army had failed. An epic tale that will stay in the minds of gamers for years to come, and rightfully so. Modern Warfare 2’s plot however feels more akin to a Tom Clancy novel, plot twists wait at every corner. For the most part, they are more than predictable.
Some new mechanics spice things up a bit, like the slow motion after breaching a room, but again it detracts from the realism you felt in the first game. Grenades now roll when thrown (great for mixing up the multiplayer grenade spam), so uphill or stair throws are out. Being shot now throws red stains all over your screen obscuring you vision, forcing you to reconsider actions you would have been able to handle in the original game. In terms of actual gameplay, these mechanics do so little to change up the everyday scenario, but are welcome additions to the series.
Speaking of gameplay, some obvious niggles stand out. A couple of missions really push your patience as a gamer. One mission has you and your squad moving up with an armoured escort, where you must mark targets for the escort using a laser attached to your gun. Another has you dodging civilians as you fight through the slums of Rio De Janeiro. Both these levels have something in common, which was the worst mechanic in the original Modern Warfare: Infinitely spawning enemy soldiers. Unless you keep moving, the enemy will keep coming, each as well armed as the last. In practice this is frustrating, and on veteran difficulty it is downright infuriating, with significant progress coming less from skill and more from blind luck. Not only is this a dated system, but it sets back the fun level of the game, when strategically taking down specific soldiers to make way for your advance only to find that they are back seconds later when you’re in the open makes turning off the machine a consideration. The first game suffered from it (the TV station is a prime example) and there is no reason why it should return. The son makes the sins the father once made.
The real problem I have is that the single player is not bad! I can point out the flaws, but past this you find the same game you once fell in love with in the first game. With the change in story style and a couple of dud levels however Modern Warfare 2 is just missing that “Je ne sais quoi” that made COD4’s campaign so memorable.
Let’s face it though, if you go online for the first time you will find your rank at around the 2 million mark and that’s just on Xbox live, so you can tell what people came here to play. Once again you will find more of the same with tweaks. The maps are bigger and more varied, the explosions are louder. Underage kids singing down their headsets are now unavoidable. A familiar layout awaits you, with rankings, perks and weapon unlocks appearing depending upon your accomplishments in game. A larger selection of weapons now await you with an expanded range of customisation, noticeably shotguns, launchers and machine pistols, which are now secondary weapons that may replace the pistol. While not as fast to draw, they all now serve a purpose depending on how you build your class.
Now I’m no sniper, but the all the maps apart from the COD2 rehash are full of twists and turns that seems impossible for a sniper to take advantage of effectively. Perhaps in time, dedicated prone-addicts will find the spots required, but playing soon after release, these long range warriors seemed absent from the battle. At the moment the balance seems to favour the submachine gun wielders. Whether this is due to surprise on behalf of the inexperienced players with the new maps or due to the new seemingly close range maps has yet to be determined, but for the moment, balance seems to be in question.The kill streaks are now customizable, but unlocking the options to do so again rely upon your rank. They can be made available in any order, so pick wisely. Obviously the better kill streaks require a higher amount of kills, however the automatically unlocked supply drop comes with a random support power-up. If you’re not careful, your enemies can claim these supplies from you. Death streaks also now exist but surprisingly they customization of these also is locked to rank, with only the better players getting to martyrdom and final stand which are no longer perks due to their strength. This begs the question – “Why do better players get them?”
It might again seem like I’m complaining about the game, but Modern Warfare 2 is built off COD4 and comparisons are more than due. The multiplayer is still one of the best experiences out there, but lacks the ‘WOW’ factor of its predecessor. Once upon a time, the game would have been considered an expansion for a PC game, when expansions were full of content (I’m not looking at you Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts – well done). Modern Warfare 2 is a great game but COD4 was something special that the latest instalment hasn’t quite emulated. Once again I have to mention the ‘Je ne sais quoi’ factor.
While getting a 26 kills streak in my first night online after only achieving 19 in 2 years of playing the previous is extremely satisfying, I have to question a balance issue as a reviewer. I enjoyed the game, but something seemed lacking. By all means I suggest picking up the game. You will no doubt enjoy it, but the mysticism of watching the E3 presentation of COD4 is no longer present and Infinity Ward can no longer rely on the shock factor of change. It took many a year for Infinity Ward to produce COD4 after COD2, and they created something that shook the gaming world. After only 2 years it seems like they could not produce that same ’step up’. They set the standard of gaming for 2 years and everyone tried to copy this example. Some even achieved it. Without making huge leaps again, Modern Warfare 2 scrapes ahead on reputation and a system that is already implemented. Marking it down for the server problems at launch is unfair, as handling such a huge amount of players perfectly at launch is impossible.
Modern Warfare 2 will not compete for single player game of the year, which comes down to: Uncharted 2, Arkham Asylum and Infamous among others; however it is a contender for multiplayer. Left 4 Dead 2 and Borderlands are recent possible contenders for this award, but building on an already existing structure is a sure fire way to success, saying nothing of the special ops mode (literally). If you haven’t bought Modern Warfare 2, you should. It’s a great game, but lacks that special something of the previous entry. Perhaps this reviewer is feeling older by the day, but this latest installment is not what it could have been. Many will disagree and enjoy it, but I didn’t as much as I thought I would.
8 Ninja Heads Out of 10
Second Opinion: Dylan
For some reason, I never saw Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare as this amazing game. Was it entertaining as hell? Sure. So was the recent Star Trek movie. But just because it was a fun ride, do we start grouping Star Trek with The Godfather and Citizen Kane as some of the greatest flicks of all time? Nope. Same thing applies to CoD 4. While the story was an action-packed thrill ride, and the multiplayer endless fun, it never really struck me as this engaging, deep experience. I don’t mean to sell the game short. Believe me, “All Ghillied Up” remains one of my favorite FPS levels of all time. I just want to take it for what it is.
For the second go around, I was expecting more of the same (Which I repeat, isn’t a bad thing). What I got showed flashes of the originals ingenuity, but never really executed to the fullest possible extent. Are there more weapons in multiplayer? Hell yes, but that ends up being a bit cumbersome, since it is now tougher to gauge which guns truly are the best. I also must convey my distaste at the newly added exclamations that highlight every kill. Back in the day, one could get a headshot and be notified by a little red crosshairs next to their kill on the log in the bottom left. Now, every kill is littered with “Buzzkill!” and “Heavy Caliber!”. At first, there were so many of these little blips that I became so distracted, I died. The additions to multiplayer don’t really make me like it more – they just make the whole experience feel clustered.
As for the single player, I’m severely disappointed. The campaign will take most decently skilled players about 5-6 hours to complete on anything higher than easy. That would be ok, if it maintained the brilliant pace and cool characters of the first. While a couple of characters return (One who will make long-time fans very happy), the story itself has shifted from real world conflict to “24″ plot twist. As Yousif touched on, that sense of realism and weight that the original carried is jarringly absent here. This is more surprising considering that the first took place in an imaginary Middle-Eastern setting, and the sequel follows real world locales.
To wrap up what may seem like a rant to some, I also don’t appreciate the Kool-Aid spray that litters my screen when I get shot. Sure, it was cool to watch in the E3 demo, but the novelty quickly wears off. I want to clarify that Modern Warfare 2 is by no means a bad game. Far from it. But neither was Splinter Cell: Double Agent. In both these games cases, each title simply cannot live up to the standard created for the series, and therefore fall a bit short overall. It’s still worth buying, but don’t expect that same level of amazement and curiosity that followed Modern Warfare 1. You won’t find it here.
8 Ninja Heads Out of 10
Third Opinion: Admir J
Modern Warfare 2 comes at us with a bang. A whole new single player experience, more epic, intense and action packed than any Call of Duty to date. The game drops you in action right from the start, while explaining some of the story from the previous game. This time around the game throws even more locale variety at you than the previous games with Brazil, the United States, Afghanistan and Russia, each packing a different type of fight. One thing I can say with confidence is that each region gives a different style of approach when it comes to completing the mission. Brazil’s first few levels can be a bit frustrating, especially on harder difficulties. There are a few knocks to the singleplayer, unfortunately. The A.I. is not as sharp as the previous Call of Duty games, and the story shorter by an hour or so from the previous campaign length. Overall, the story told here is fresh enough to be worth a ride, and towards the end of the game you will be shocked about who you run into. Let’s just say you’ll be very thrilled.
We all know that Call of Duty is known for it’s multiplayer – that is a game in and of itself. Apart from Halo 3, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 has one of the most advanced multiplayer modes around the industry. This time it’s packed with more perks than before. You can even customize your kill streaks, which can be a bit confusing if you’re new to the game. In fact, compared to the previous Modern Warfare game, you may find your self a bit overwhelmed from all the options you’re given in multiplayer. The game does a great job to balance out the perks so that no one feels left behind. I find that Infinity Ward went a bit over board with some of the perks they added, but it’s nothing that’ll dampen the multiplayer experience. The addition of the predator mission and the AC 130 Gunship in multiplayer is definitely a welcome one, and can result in some spectacular Domination matches. Infinity Ward knew it had to get some new modes and bring back some of our favorites, such as Capture the Flag. You have those gamers that prefer the third person view over the first person perspective, and they are catered to as well. Infinity Ward has included third person modes such as Third Person Team Death Match, which are great to those who prefer the view, but not much animation work has been done to make it look natural – it rather looks like an after thought.
The addition of Spec Ops is another great feature in Modern Warfare 2, and probably the most satisfying. There are over all 22 missions and each offer a different playing style and difficulty. The higher the difficulty, the more stars you will be awarded. Veteran can definitely give you a run for your money and test your patience, but with good team work it eases the challenge, so playing solo I think is worth a go if you’re into a extreme challenge. The variety in SpecOps is great, and if you want to play with your favorite buddy across the globe you can, as the game does offer a online co-op for you to try out different SpecOp levels. In my opinion this is one of the greatest things that the Call of Duty games ever received.
Overall Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 is fresh enough and has enough content to give it a go, and test out all the modes and have some fun with friends. The campaign may be short, but the epic story is good enough to give it a play through. The multiplayer has more guns, perks and kills streaks awards and the SpecOps gives the franchise new blood. This is a must buy title this holiday season.
8.5 Ninja Heads Out of 10
I want you to think hard, and seriously ask yourself this question. How long has it been since you’ve totally lost yourself in a game so much, that you lost all perception of the real world around you? How long has it been since you last played a game with such a rich, deep and enthralling story, that as soon as you put the controller down and the credits rolled up, you crawled to your bed, and cried yourself to sleep because the virginity of your untainted eyes was unfairly stolen from you, by forcing yourself to inevitably witness the end of what was such a beautifully constructed work of art? Well, I have some good, and bad news for you. The good news, is that Dragon Age: Origins is a fairly lengthily game, so you wont have to worry about shedding tears anytime soon. The bad news, is that once the game’s credits roll up – and trust me on this, no matter how much you try to stall them, they eventually will – you better have a closet full of tissues at your disposal…you cry-baby!
Let’s go ahead and clarify something while we’re on the subject of being a cry-baby. Dragon Age: Origins is NOT a game for the squeamish. Those who could barely handle Mass Effect should probably just scratch this off your “games to play” list. However, those serious RPG gamers who have patiently been waiting to get their hands on BioWare’s latest take on the fantasy RPG genre will not be disappointed, as the game is by far one of the most (if not the most), amazing Western RPG you’ll ever play. Yes, the game is that good. Dragon Age: Origins is the epiphany of what “High fantasy role-playing” is, at its finest. The game is so rich and deep, that it will nail you to your seat, and keep you there for hours on end. There is so much to say about this truly aspiring masterpiece, that the only problem with this review, is not knowing where to begin.
I’ll try by stating that, at its very core, Dragon Age: Origins is basically your traditional party-based tactical RPG. Players are given the option to command a party of up to four characters, each with a ranging variety of abilities, upgradable weapons and the like, as they progress through the game. Certain actions and spells can be very easily assigned to individual party members by simply pausing the game during battle and issuing the orders, and while the game does come with a tactical AI editor which allows players to set some basic scenarios, you’ll probably more than likely spend a fairly good portion of time in “pause mode”, manually issuing commands to your entire party. Especially if, like me, you’re one of those players that go to unimaginably great lengths to assure the survival of each and every character in your party.
Like I said, the battle system in Dragon Age offers a variety of combinations in which to tailor the experience to ones own personal liking. For example, a casual gamer can set most of the settings to auto, with the exception of combat, which will allow the player to concentrate on fighting a certain battle without having to worry about party members pointlessly taking hits without fighting back. More advanced players, however, can create a unique AI system for each individual party member, and play in a real-time combat system – or move it more toward a turn-based system if that is what they prefer. However, what I think will truly impress players about Dragon Age, is its living, breathing world. Incredible cut scenes, combined with the VO work, all melded very well together into one amazingly good and detailed interactive animated feature.
The more I immersed myself in the game, the more I felt the Dragon Age universe take on a life of its own. Very quickly, I felt as if the interface was no longer there. Annihilating Darkspawn suddenly felt more like my duty than an ordinary task. Interacting with the locals, thinking hard on what to reply to certain questions, figuring out what choices to make, and trying to win over a few ladies were all things that made me feel more like I was an actual citizen within the community, rather than a player controlling a certain character.
While the console versions of the game do present a few noticeable problems (such as not having the top-down view option, minor color and texture problems on the Xbox 360, and sometimes jumpy frame-rates on the PlayStation 3) it really doesn’t matter what console you play the game on. The experience is almost guaranteed to be a uniquely defined and memorable one. So if you have a PC that can handle this game, that’s the recommended way to play. Otherwise, grab a copy for whichever system you prefer.
Visually, the differences between the console version of the game and its PC counterpart are very limited, to say the least. However, when speaking in terms of control, the differences are worlds apart, with the PC version proving by far to be the superior one. That said, it would be wise to note that Dragon Age doesn’t really look amazing, regardless of the console the game is played at. This doesn’t mean the game isn’t pretty – Dragon Age: Origins still has an attractive aesthetic nonetheless. Switching from an isometric view to the, (Mass Effect over the shoulder style) one, works well, and while environments aren’t quite what you’d expect when viewed up close, they’re still very visually appealing when viewed from above.
There were really only two major problems I had with Dragon Age. The first, lies in its combat. As pleasing as it is to hear the painful screams of both innocents and enemies alike as you launch devastating fireballs at them, you never quite get the feeling of being that “super bad-ass” the game makes you out to be. And while slaughtering hundreds of darkspawns may seem like fun at first, it’ll hardly ever test your skills, making it both very dull and repetetive after a while. The second problem I had with the game, was with the inventory. You will loot A LOT in Dragon Age, and you inventory will become very cramped rather quickly, and it seems the only way to combat this never-ending problem, is to spend seven bucks on the Warden’s Keep DLC, (which is basically nothing more than a storage chest for your excess items) – something that clearly should have been originally included in the game, but is obviously meant to rip off players.
There are really only a handful of games out there that can match the storyline and dialogue presented in Dragon Age: Origins, and an even fewer amount that can take all of these innovating and entertaining elements and execute something of this caliber. Unless you’re a speed demon, you’ll probably spend well over 40 hours on your first play-through alone. However, there so many things to do in Origins, so many different paths to follow, so many different choices to make, and so many different ways to define your experience in the game, that I’m sure that as soon as you see those credits roll up, you’ll be heading back to the title screen to experience the adventure all over again. All-in-all, Dragon Age is a game like no other, and I assure you your time spent in Ferelden will be one to remember for years to come. So do yourself a favor, and go snatch yourself a copy of this wonderful masterpiece if you haven’t already done so.
Yes, you read correctly, developer Zonik Games has created a stuffed animal, person, thing to control their upcoming game Wiiwaa. Clearly aimed for the kiddos this game will have you insert your wiimote into the thing’s mouth. (Less mature people may giggle at this, but just be happy they don’t have you insert it in another place…) After you have inserted you wiimote you will be able to control your character by having it imitate what you do to the plushie.
Giving that there aren’t any conventional controls for this game it seems like it will be a rail game where you can control what you do on that rail but not much else. Knowing that this is Zoink Games’ first game and it is going to be a leap of faith that this will sell, I can’t help but wonder if they will last. I guess they will have to hope many little kids and plushophiles will pick it up. If you’re just as curious as I was then check out the official promo YouTube video and tell us what you think about it in the comments.
I don’t know what it is about Rebellion’s new AVP game that has me so anxiously inpatient over its release. Recently there has been a lot of coverage for the game and I’ve been digging up as much dirt on it as I could. And with all the info now available, I’m able to finally give you guys a more in-depth look at most anticipated alien invasion Earth has had in a long time. So sit back, grab some popcorn, and enjoy the show.
I’m not entirely sure what is it about pitting face-ripping aliens against space bounty hunters that seems to work so well. But the latest installment in the long-running Aliens vs. Predator series from the creators of the 1999 PC classic of the same name seems to have discovered the secret, and nailed it to the bone. A recent multiplayer demo at SEGA gave players an inside look at the new Aliens vs. Predator’s fast-paced combat, and man does it look amazing.
SEGA has released some info on the plot of the game, and the story is as follows: “On planet BG-386 a colonist mining group discovers an ancient pyramid containing a dark and horrible secret. Across the stars a race of warriors is alerted to the discovery of their pyramid and a hunting party is dispatched to ensure that it remains sealed at all costs, whilst deep inside the ruined pyramid a malevolent intelligence awakes from centuries of dormancy.”
Also, SEGA has stated that while each species will not only play very differently from the other and have their own story-driven single-player campaign, each character’s story will eventually intertwine with that of the other two species at some point in the game.
In AVP players take the role of either the Alien, Predator, or a Marine in a world where everything seems to only being interested in your head (detached from your body that is). As the fan favorite Predator, you’ll have access the classic “disc-blade” projectile weapon that after locked onto an opponent, can destroy them in just one single hit. However, your weapons won’t have an unlimited amount of energy; players will have to find and use charge stations scattered throughout each level to stay powered up. Fortunately for you however, invisibility mode doesn’t drain any power, so once you’re cloaked, you can stay hidden for as long as you like. And as we’re all already aware of, with Predators being far stronger than humans, they can easily leap heights that would be impossible for the average human to reach, and use their helmet’s different visors to see their enemies through walls.
Playing as an Alien will give players incredible agility to move in only the way a creature such as the Alien could throughout the level. Players will also be able to walk along walls and ceilings to catch their opponents by surprise. Plus, your vision allows you to sense enemies through walls and see Predators even when they’re cloaked. However, I have to warn you that taking on the role of an Alien restricts from all long-range attacks, which may not necessarily be a bad thing for those looking for a more stealthy approach to the game. Playing as the Alien basically means sticking to the shadows, striking fast, and getting out even faster. However, the Aliens do have one ability the other races don’t: Intimidation. With the press of a button, players can let out that oh-so-iconic rasping hiss. Can you imagine the panic you’ll cause?
Your last and final choice is the helpless and defenseless human Marines. Marines will pretty much feel a lot like other regular humans in any FPS. While you won’t have any awesome jumping abilities or be able to wall-climb, as a Marine you will have access to an arsenal of easy-to-use long-range weapons, and you can also pick up grenades and a shotgun somewhere on each multiplayer map. Also, the Marine’s mini-map uses sonar, letting you keep tabs on moving Aliens and Predators no matter how well they’re hidden. So there, the little sonar makes up for all the other species advantages.
AVP offers a variety of multiplayer modes, ranging from the standard deathmatch mode, to more unique ones, such as Infestation and Predator Hunt. In “Infestation,” everyone is forced to start off as a human, then the game chooses one person randomly to become the Alien. It’s the Alien’s job to “infect” the remaining Marines by killing them, and each time a human falls, they are than forced to join the Alien ranks. The player who scores the most kills gets the most points, thus giving the advantage to the humans, so long as they can hold off the unending Alien assault.
The second multiplayer mode, “Predator Hunt,” takes a similar approach, however this time only one person at a time is the Predator. If that player doesn’t kill anyone within a set amount of time or if they get killed, the Predator role goes to someone else, but if the Predator is able to keep killing Marines, they rack up points and get to remain in Predator form. While It’s not as fast-paced as Infestation, it does creates a fun balance between working as a group (and surviving), and going out solo to earn more points for yourself.
Finally, I have to say this one thing. The game looks like it still has some tweaking and balancing to go through: the player was obviously having major issues controlling the Alien and it didn’t seem to automatically climb walls, –he had to keep jumping on them first, giving the appearance that getting around at his faster pace was a little frustrating. Another thing I noticed was that the game allowed Predators and Aliens to sneak up on their opponents from behind for one-hit Stealth Kills, which then starts a needlessly long animation that actually leaves you completely vulnerable (similar to the knife kills in the recent Turok). In hectic mulitplayer matches, that almost always meant a chain of killing one enemy, only to be killed by another player as soon as the player started his attack. AVP isn’t slated to come out till early next year, so Rebellion Studios still has enough time to polish up AVP. Despite the age of this series, it’s already looking like an exciting over-the-top, original shooter. I sure as heck can’t wait to finally creep up on some unsuspecting Marines.
While Grand Theft Auto IV wasn’t my choice for game of the year for 2008, it was definitely number 2 in my book. With its fantastic story, exceptional open world, tight gameplay, loads of features, and endless replayability, it was definitely one of the best games of 2008, perhaps even all time. Rockstar, however, continued the GTA IV experience exclusively on the Xbox 360 with the announcement of two downloadable episodes. The first of which, The Lost and Damned, was released back in February. Nobody knew what to expect from these episodes, but once the first of these was released it became clear that Rockstar had raised the bar in DLC. The Lost and Damned was well worth its hefty $20 (1600 points) price tag (around twice as much as your average piece of DLC) because it was more feature-rich than many retail games. Hell, it was pretty much a full game experience in the form of a GTA IV add-on. Now, eight months later, Rockstar is releasing the second and final of these DLC episodes, The Ballad of Gay Tony, which aims to send GTA IV out with a bang. But now, around a year and a half later, do we still have room for more Grand Theft Auto?
The story of TBOGT places you in the role of Luis Lopez, the bodyguard and business partner for nightclub tycoon Gay Tony. Gay Tony has certainly enjoyed a life of luxury over the last 20 years, but now his nightclubs aren’t making as much as they used to and he’s, well…a crack addict to say the least. Thus, it’s up to Luis to help Tony rebuild his crumbling empire through a series of jobs for various employers. While it is a rather basic premise, the fact that it is rather similar to that of both the plot of main game and The Lost and Damned, means that the overall idea is a bit more fleshed out once you get into it. TBOGT’s plot is as replete with great writing, fleshed-out characters, and stabs at everything pop-culture as ever, which crafts both a unique and interesting tale that you’ll want to see to the end.
However, while the premise of TBOGT may be similar to that of the main game and The Lost and Damned, the story itself is not. Unlike Niko or Johnny (the other two protagonists in the main game and the other DLC respectively), Luis is not some immigrant with a dark past or an all-American biker gang member in pursuit of the American dream, for Luis has already found it. Luis lives a life of luxury and throughout the entire story, you get to see Liberty City from a new perspective; that of the upper class followed by downfall, instead of slowly moving up the social ladder. It ends up being just as interesting and because of this difference, TBOGT’s plot keeps itself unique. That’s not to say that Luis’s story isn’t intertwined with those of Niko or Johnny. If you paid any attention to the other stories, you’d notice that Luis pops up quite a bit. In fact, you pick up Luis’s story with him being held hostage during the bank robbery mission from the main game. And shortly after, in the opening cinematic, Luis is almost hit by Niko driving the getaway car and sees Johnny rolling down the street on his bike. This theme of intertwinement continues throughout Luis’s story and therefore, you’ll see a lot of cameos from characters from both of the other stories as well as taking part in missions from a third perspective that is very different from what you saw as Niko or Johnny (mostly because Luis isn’t exactly allied with either of those two). For instance, one of the new characters that gives you jobs to do is Mori, the older brother of Brucie Kibbutz, a character from the main game who makes appearances whenever you see Mori, who completely owns Brucie at life (for better or for worse). But anyway, the already strong story, combined with the linkage to the other stories in the world of GTA IV, makes TBOGT’s plot as exceptional as ever.
The missions, on the other hand, are a bit more mixed. Overall, the theme of TBOGT is extremeness, or rather, the less serious style of San Andreas when compared to the serious and dark tones of GTA IV. Thus, the missions in TBOGT are at their best when they involved ludicrous feats. For instance, while Niko and Johnny are involved in the infamous museum shootout, Luis is having a helicopter dogfight in the sky. Speaking of shootouts, how about skydiving onto a building before exchanging in an epic firefight and then parachuting out a window to escape? And if you thought Bruice’s races were insane, just wait until you have a parachuting, boating, and driving with nitro race with Mori. But while there are these and many more extreme missions, there are certainly quite a few dull ones littered about, including blogging (woah, totally epic!) and following a car in a helicopter (as if pursuing vehicles wasn’t done to death already in GTA IV). These missions aren’t that bad, they’re just rather dull, and even some of the more interesting missions aren’t as fun as you’d think. To be fair, the main game had its share of dull missions too, but the thing was the main game also had a plethora of missions, so the large amount of good ones almost completely outweighed the bad. With TBOGT, that’s not the case and thus, fewer missions means that the bad ones are much more noticeable, even if the good ones are a lot of fun. One thing that helps is that after you complete the DLC, you can replay any mission and try to get the highest score possible (you get scored from the onset but still, it’s a good feature regardless).
Besides the missions, TBOGT has quite a lot of new things to do. Probably the most fun of these are Drug Wars and Base-Jumping. Drug Wars casts Luis with his buddies, Armando and Henrique, as they try and build up a drug-dealing empire by taking out other drug dealers and stealing their stuff; it’s traditional GTA IV shootouts at their finest and they are still fun. Base-Jumping, on the other hand, utilizes the new parachute (I’ll get to that in a bit) and lets you either jump off a building and land on a moving truck or jump from a helicopter, parachute through some rings, and land on a designated location. Both are very exhilarating and very fun. Besides those two activities though, Luis can also participate in cage fighting or go to a club and participate in a dancing minigame, a drinking minigame, or club management. Except for club management, all these are pretty fun. Club management though, is pretty boring; it involves you standing there and searching for trouble, kicking out troublemakers (which is done through a cutscene unfortunately) until you have to do some request for some celebrity after a while, which is only mildly fun. But overall, all the new activities are fun and add a lot of value and time you can spend with the game. Multiplayer has also had a tune up too; base-jumping is fully available in racing form, races now have nitro involved, and deathmatch, while now confined to small arenas, is still pretty fun, mostly because of the new weapons and vehicles so these, among other options, keep GTA IV’s already fun multiplayer fresh and more entertaining.
This, of course, leads into a key component of any GTA game, the weapons and vehicles. Just like the rest of the DLC, the new weapons and vehicles in TBOGT are of the more chaotic San Andreas side of the GTA series. The new weapons include more powerful machine guns, submachine guns, and pistols, an advanced sniper rifle, sticky bombs (as in sticking to vehicles, not people as far as I know), a golden Uzi, and an automatic shotgun with explosive rounds. As far as the new vehicles go, there’s a couple of new cars and bikes in addition to the aforementioned parachute, but the most interesting additions are the new helicopter and a tank. The new helicopter, the Buzzard, has a super-powerful machine gun and shoots missiles, pretty much making the Annihilator police helicopter obsolete. And the tank is something that every GTA fan has wanted in GTA IV since its release and while they now have it and it packs quite the punch, it’s not the tank that GTA fans have been wanting. However, as TBOGT says when it pokes fun at this issue during the story, “It’s still a f***ing tank!” so the fact that there is simply a tank in the game is good enough. And overall, between all the powerful new weapons and vehicles, TBOGT provides more than enough new tools to cause many more hours of entertainingly mindless destruction.
Finally, I’d like to talk about the city itself. When GTA IV was released, Liberty City looked fantastic and was a great open world. Even with The Lost and Damned’s ugly gritty filter, the city was still pretty great. Now, around a year and a half later, Liberty City is starting to show its age. Don’t get me wrong, it still looks pretty good in TBOGT (especially since the gritty filter was removed), it still loads nicely (aside from some texture pop in here and there), and the radio stations (with new songs and commercials), TV shows, and just about anything else make Liberty City feel real, but the graphics haven’t been updated and thus, Liberty City isn’t as impressive as it once was. It’s not too bad but it’s noticeable. However, Liberty City remains a fun sandbox that, with the new content, will offer you many more hours of fun.
For those of you considered yourselves done with GTA IV, you may want to rethink that. The Ballad of Gay Tony, like The Lost and Damned before it, has more content stuffed into it than many retail games, but the content in TBOGT makes it wholly better than The Lost and Damned and, in some areas, better than the main game of GTA IV itself. Rockstar’s story and characters are as sharp, clever, and well fleshed out as ever, and the new activities, weapons, vehicles, and multiplayer options only add to the fun. Unfortunately, the aging graphics of Liberty City, coupled with some very boring missions and the rather dull club management activity, detract from the overall experience. However, TBOGT’s positives far outweigh its negatives and fully justify its $20 price tag. This second and final DLC episode aimed to send GTA IV out with a bang and that’s just what it does. And while the book on this epic game may be closing, we can rest assured that these final chapters of it, laid out in TBOGT, are as exhilarating and spectacular as everything else.
+ A great new story with equally great new characters, awesome new weapons and vehicles, some enjoyable new multiplayer options, and fun new activates and missions makes TBOGT a great experience throughout
– Unfortunately, the smaller amount of total missions makes the less-than-stellar ones stand out, of which there are quite a few, the club management activity is boring, and Liberty City’s once wonderful graphics are starting to age.
Activision is wasting no time cracking down on pirates whom illegally distribute their upcoming FPS baby, Modern Warfare 2. As recently demonstrated by the apprehended Craigslist seller, Activision has shown that it will literally hunt down anyone that tries to get in between them and any profit their game might bring to the company.
Following the discovery of someone offering a Modern Warfare 2 Xbox 360 bundle on Craigslist, the publisher wasted no time in hiring a private investigator to track down and apprehend the suspect.
After IPCyberCrime tracked down the person responsible for the sell, the investigator also discovered that he was an employee at a local retailer, who had originally stolen the bundles with some friends, and planned to put them up for sell on Craigslist. The sellers were later turned over to the store’s loss prevention department.
A word of advice for all you Modern Warfare 2 pirate would-be’s, Activision is a VERY rich company. They have more than enough money to hire more than a thousand of these so called “private eyes”, and as shown by this little incident, they are not afraid to show you, or anyone else for that matter, how serious they are about not sharing profit with non-investors.
Do you guys think this is fair on Activision’s side, or should we have the right to do whatever we like online?
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We all like a good game, but what exactly makes a game “good?”
Games are designed to suite all tastes for every kind of gamer. Whether you like rich developed story lines or going down corridors shooting the heads off of the bad guys, there’s something for you. Of course, a one sided game doesn’t sit well with most gamers. A game needs to have aspects of every good thing the developers can possibly fit into it.
So what elements do make a game good? Whether you’ve realized it or not, your favorite game probably has each of the following: Organized plot, developed characters, unique atmosphere and replayability.
From when we were in middle school or earlier, we all know that a narrative has a beginning, middle and end. In terms of video games, “beginning” is often a word used to describe “first middle” and “end” often means “cliffhanger.” After all, how many times have you been thrown into combat on the first level of a game? And of course many games don’t work as a standalone story because the developer and publisher hope to continue the franchise. This is one of the good aspects that the medium of gaming has introduced. Games often aren’t held to the same linear forms of story telling that many other forms of media are. They don’t have to work as a stand-alone to be successful and the player can be thrown into action with any introduction.
A great example of this is BioShock. Although there are many other games that portray this, I will use BioShock as my prime example. At the beginning of the game you are given a very brief and vague introduction to your history. It’s certainly not enough info to know anything conclusive about yourself and before you know it, you’re tossed into the middle of the ocean. From that point on you gradually find out where you came from, what your purpose is, etc. and even so, your knowledge is constantly being shifted by new information.
Relationships are a driving force in reality for many people whether that be your friends, your spouse, your kids or even your business associates. These relationships keep us thinking and allow us to form opinions about each other and about relating situations. Character development is something we see more of as games are continuously being put on the shelves and it’s just another way to make the game more interesting and more realistic.
Having a one-man army may be fun for a while. After all, Master Chief and Duke Nukem are pretty cool people and get the job done but it’s hard to relate to them. It’s easier for most people to relate to the average, co-dependant and curious person who constantly wants to find out more. I will use Half-Life 2 as a prime example.
Gordon Freeman is like a blank slate. He shows no emotions, he doesn’t speak, he has no uniqueness about him. All we know in his past. Many people believe this is because Gordon Freeman is supposed to be us. That’s right, Gordon is the man or woman sitting in front of the screen. Our thoughts are his thoughts, our actions are his actions. This allows us to control his relationship with others and take them anyway we want. As we meet and get to know the main cast, we learn to love them as friends. Barney is the guy who makes us smile, Dr. Kliener is the man who fascinates us, Alyx is the woman who gives us friendship, Eli is the older, wiser and fatherly one. We don’t just see this as we play the game, we can actually feel it with our emotions.
Atmosphere is like glue to the plot line. It puts together every aspect of the story in a way that makes sense. After all, it would be quite odd to see a knight in shining armor chasing an orc down the corridor of an intergalactic space station while children’s music is playing in the background. The knight and orc often are exclusive to fantasy while a space station could be considered to relate to science fiction. Of course this isn’t always the case but it’s what’s seen most often.
In the world of Mass Effect exists a structure called the Citadel that is often used as a commons area for the gamer. The Citadel is a home to nearly every known species in the universe. That includes the Salarians, Asari, Krogan, Human, etc. It is clearly a vital place in the plot and therefore needs to instantly represent the style of the game.
The developers chose to make the game have a technologically advanced appeal yet have it be sleek, clean and simple. The Citadel reflects all those qualities and gives the gamer and idea of what places they will be experiencing throughout the duration of the game. In addition to this, the music crafts a coinciding atmosphere.
Paying $50, $60 or even more for a game is a good amount of money, so it better be worth it. This is called cost versus value. You must realize how much value the game has to you in ratio of its cost. Some games I have been playing almost consistently for years such as Morrowind, Pikmin 2 and Guild Wars. These games always have more to explore in them and the experience never seems to get old. Some games survive through the years on user-generated content, allow a degree of open ended gameplay or content is updated by the developers. No matter how it’s done, gamers will always want a long lasting game.
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