Category: Game Reviews


By MAX NEOPIKHANOV

For years, the first person shooter genre has been a sort of elusive and exotic beast in the metaphorical jungle of handheld gaming.  There have been a few attempts on Sony’s PSP but, unless you were a southpaw, controlling the camera with the face buttons was simply too imprecise and clunky to be considered fun.

The Nintendo DS and the 3DS fare somewhat better with its basic implementation of touch controls with a stylus, that while precise enough, requires some serious feats of dexterity and hand contortion to avoid  developing carpel tunnel syndrome after a few play sessions.

Mobile smart phones streamline the touch screen controls but completely leave out any physical buttons, rendering shooters even less appealing to gamers looking for a first person shooter on the go with the same sort of gameplay they’re used to at home. The state of portable shooters has thus far been a despairing story of going one step forward and then two steps back.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified for the Playstation Vita almost breaks that tradition but falls short of its pedigree, though not in the way you would expect.  For a portable shooter, the controls are good –excellent even — and the online multiplayer is very much in the spirit of Call of Duty on home consoles; the problem is that everything else has been scaled back and it becomes difficult to appreciate the good when considering the ludicrous $50 price tag.

The story in Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified takes place somewhere between of the first Black Ops and Black Ops II on  consoles. There isn’t any of the futuristic weaponry or motifs here; the classified operations missions span several years from 1075 to 1981 and feature classic weapons and enemies.  The plot, in a very loose sense of the word, follows Black Ops soldiers Frank Woods and Alex Mason.

I say loose, of course, because there isn’t a campaign with a traditional plot and cut scenes but rather short operations missions, explained by short vignettes providing some background, where the player receives a few objectives over the radio and then proceeds to engage ‘all the usual suspects’ in the way as quickly as possible while moving through a small level.  Much like Stalone’s Rambo, these guys don’t need back up from rookie soldiers, instead running and gunning down Vietcong and Spetsnaz solo while detonating plastic explosives and dropping f-bombs at each opportunity.

The Call of Duty franchise has never been one for having subtlety in its characters or any gripping psychological drama in its plots, but Black Ops Declassified somehow manages to one up its bigger-and-betters at having a heavy handed and, frankly, dim-witted approach to story-telling.  But depending on how much time you have while playing the game on the go, the minimal plot and dialogue may not necessarily be a bad thing.

In fact, the missions included are meant to be played in short bursts and last an average of five minutes: the caveat being that there but ten of them.  With all things being equal, this is at its core a one hour affair on the easiest difficulty.  Playing it on the medium difficulty may require double or triple that, and the hardest difficulty will probably require many, many more replays to complete since the levels feature no check points, instead restarting you from the beginning of the mission should you meet your untimely demise.

To extend the solo experience a bit, Nihilistic included a Hostiles survival mode, similar to the one found in Modern Warfare 3, where you face off against waves and waves of soldiers in an effort to achieve the best score possible.  While not as interesting as the incredibly popular Zombies mode in the original Black Ops and in Black Ops II, it’s an enjoyable time-waster but one that eventually grows repetitive and dull due to the lack of variety in enemies.  There’s also a small collection of time-trial missions that, at under a minute, end almost as quickly as they begin.

For fans of shooters looking to get in a couple of quick frags between bus or train stops, Black Ops: Declassified’s rapid fire gameplay that skips on the story and jumps right into the action seems like a good fit.  But in practice, the anemic selection of single player content at an almost shockingly high price makes for a fun but incredibly short ride filled with some, mirrors, and cookie cutter game-play rather than a meaty solo experience Call of Duty fans are used to.

Thankfully, Call of Duty is about more than just the single player campaign and the multiplayer is where Black Ops: Declassified redeems some of its merit as a decent addition to the Vita’s library.

Though it is not the first competitive multiplayer shooter on the Vita — Nihilistic’s Resistance: Burning Skies was released just five months ago — Black Ops: Declassified is the best example of multiplayer on the Vita done right, and I would go as far as to say it is one of the few competent online shooter experiences on a portable thus far.

Resistance Burning Skies, while utilizing Vita’s dual analog sticks, was plagued with unintuitive touch screen controls and a near intolerable frame rate that rendered the game unplayable for all but the most hardcore gamers.  Black Ops: Declassified is largely free of any such problems; the frame rate is steady enough most of the time and the game controls very similarly to its console siblings, only utilizing the touch screen minimally for melee attacks and grenade throws due to the Vita’s lacking a second set of triggers.

Tenets of the Call of Duty franchise, the experience levels, prestige, perks, and kill streaks are all here, though perhaps not as extensively as in the console games, along with about two dozen weapons, game-play modes like kill confirmed, drop zone (think king of the hill) and team deathmatch played across a mix of six new and re-designed maps.  Most of the maps are well designed and a good fit for the 4 vs. 4 matches, with nukehouse, a smaller version of the already small, fan favorite map nuketown, being the sole exception, where it is difficult to spend ten seconds without getting a kill or being killed.

As with the single-player modes, there is still a want for more multiplayer content like maps and perks.  But the most important requisite of being a decent Call of Duty game is that matches are fast, frantic, and are dynamic enough to keep gamers coming back for more, and all that is certainly here in Black Ops Declassified, even if it has been scaled back to fit the portable envelope.  The facsimile online multiplayer may be somewhat uninspired and dated when placed side by side with Black Ops II, but given that it’s on a handheld console, Black Ops: Declassified is definitely taking portable online multiplayer in the right direction.  I wish the same could be said of the single player.

Ostensibly, there is some good gameplay here, especially for those Vita owners looking for a console-like online first person shooter experience.  But with that said, it is hard to recommend Black Ops: Declassified at the full retail price: there simply isn’t enough content here to justify spending $50.

Overall Score: 6.0

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By MAX NEOPIKHANOV

While the first person shooters were popular and firmly in the main stream when Sony’s PSP first launched in 2005, the genre is far and away the most dominant force within the industry in 2012, and shooters like Resistance, Killzone and the yearly installments of Call of Duty have become system sellers for Sony.   Three months after the hardware’s launch in February, Playstation Vita owners are finally treated to the system’s first dual analog stick first person shooter with Resistance: Burning Skies.

Though it may at times be a fun handheld romp and a good glimpse of what the next generation of portable shooters could bring to portable gaming on the vita, fans of the series and of the genre will likely be disappointed by the game’s lack of polish and creativity.   Numerous technical issues and a general lack of ambition keep Burning Skies from being a must own title for all but the most hardcore shooter fans looking to get their fix on the go.

As the fifth title in Sony’s Resistance franchise, Burning Skies tells the story of American firefighter Tom Reilly’s fight against the Chimeran invasion of Staten Island, New York.  Set in an alternate universe 1951, the Chimera, a species of ferocious, ill tempered aliens have been pressing their assault on Europe and have begun their invasion of the United States.  While Reilly is investigating a routine fire, all hell breaks loose on Staten Island and the stoic firefighter is separated from his wife and daughter and thrust into a warzone filled with soldiers, resistance fighters and all manner of Chimeran aliens.

It’s an interesting and potentially moving story at its core, but Reilly’s character is never fleshed out past the concerned father trying to get back to his family during a crisis.  Most of the game’s limited dialogue comes from Ellie, your tenacious combat partner who boldly leads you through several stretches of the game.  At best it’s a nice diversion from just listening to repetitive grunts and weak gun sounds, but the dialogue does little to develop a cohesive narrative or even help understand what’s going on.

Unlike Halo or Gears of War, Resistance has always been about being thrust into a large scale war with numerous soldiers on both sides of the conflict fighting and being blown to smithereens in large battles.  Burning skies rarely comes close to the large scale of conflict the franchise is known for.  During the game’s most exciting moments, firefights against six or so grunts and a large and ugly brute will be as extensive as Burning Skies has to offer.  For most of the game, Ellie will be your only support for duration of the linear adventure, aside from the occasional and almost completely useless army grunts stationed at certain locations.

The story begins with the invasion of Staten Island unfolding before Reilly’s eyes, but by the second level it feels like the heavy fighting is long over with and all that remains are small skirmishes broken up by dull treks through underground corridors.  The level design isn’t entirely bad, but the immersive and large scale atmosphere found in the console Resistance games is unfortunately nowhere in sight and is instead replaced by something more akin to later playstation 2 shooters than a current gen AAA title.

Though the enemies and the firefights offered are tepid at best, the shooting itself can be pretty fun , thanks to the dual analog stick set up that, aside from missing two trigger buttons, replicates console controls quite nicely.  As you progress through the single player campaign you’ll find a large cadre of both human and Chimeran weaponry at your disposal.  New to the series is the Mule, a hybrid double barrel shotgun and crossbow that shoots an explosive crossbow bolt with its secondary fire.  It’s certainly a novel weapon, but nothing that shooter fans haven’t seen before.

Thankfully, controlling the guns is comfortable and intuitive.  Pressing L1 lets you aim down your sights, R1 shoots the primary ammo and the touch screen is used to fire secondary ammo like the Bullseye’s targeting beacon and the Carbine’s grenade.

At times the touch screen controls allowed for easier targeting – just clicking on an enemy will target the Bullseye’s homing beacon without needing to aim to hit an enemy.  At other times moving your thumb across the screen when being fired upon will block your view and result in a quick death when under a barrage of heavy gunfire.  For the most part, the touch screen adequately makes up for the Vita’s lack of R1 and R2 triggers.

Also new to the series is the ability to upgrade weapons with mysterious blue cubes scattered throughout the levels.  Want bigger ammo clips or more accurate fire?  What about a scope for the Carbine rifle? Those are just a few of upgrades available.  It’s a neat innovation but it’s too bad these energy cubes are so easy to find due to the linear level design.  What’s not as welcome is the awkward use of the touch screen to unlock and equip the upgrades.  If I can use the buttons to navigate the menus, why can’t I use them to upgrade my weapons?

Those looking to work out their thumbs and to find a challenge beyond the fairly easy campaign mode might be glad to know that Burning Skies offers an eight player competitive multiplayer mode over the internet, complete with a ranking and experience point systems similar to those in modern console shooters.  The multiplayer mode features a handful of maps and across three gameplay modes: the standard deathmatch, team deathmatch and survival, where the humans must survive for several minutes against an ever increasing number of Chimera.

Unfortunately good controls and a decent multiplayer mode mean little if the graphics engine starts to chug and everything becomes unresponsive.  The visuals themselves range from amazing to quite unimpressive, depending on the level, but whenever the action gets hectic and there are multiple enemies on the screen, the game’s framerate dips and everything starts to slow down.  The singleplayer has only a few areas of poor performance but the multiplayer is where the poor performance really takes its toll, often to the point of frustration – especially when there are seven or eight players in a match.

Nearly as bad as the game’s visual performance throughout the multiplayer is the dreadful sound design – or should I say there lack of.  Curiously, there aren’t any enemy foot steps to help find other players by; no environmental sound effects; almost complete and sterile quiet.  Guns firing sound extremely compressed and worse yet, you hear gunfire at nearly the same volume no matter your distance from the shooter, making it difficult to gage how close or far enemies are.

Clearly the code has not been optimized to run well on the Vita’s hardware, which comes at somewhat of a surprise considering how well the system handled Sony’s flagship title, Uncharted: Golden Abyss.

Despite Burning Skies unfinished visual and sound design and uninspired gameplay, the game does offer some fun for those willing to stick it out to the last – and most impressive – two levels of the six hour campaign and for those who can endure the framerate issues found in the multiplayer.  But those looking for a more complete and polished shooter experience should probably look towards Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Unit 13 or just wait for Activision’s Call of Duty Black Ops: Declassified this winter.

6/10

+ The graphics can be quite good at times

+ The dual analog controls work well

+ The vita’s first Multiplayer FPS

– Visual glitches and large framerate drops sour the experience

– Short, lukewarm campaign is uncharacteristic of the Resistance franchise

– Woeful sound design

BY MAX NEOPIKHANOV

Capcom was at the forefront of last year’s Nintendo 3DS launch with the excellent Super Street Fighter IV 3D.  They’re trying to capture lightning in a bottle twice with the release of a portable version of Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 for the Playstation Vita and I can safely say that Capcom succeeded: UMVC3 is every portable fighting game fan’s dream come true, albeit sans the tacked on touch screen controls.

Having spent countless quarters and hours with the classic Marvel Vs. Capcom 2, the series holds a special place in my heart as one of the funnest 2d fighters to ever grace arcade cabinets.   MVC2 is revered by many as the quintessential Capcom fighting game that has transcended the 10 or so years that it’s been out.  Other, more cynical Capcom fans, dismissed the game as a broken button masher.  The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.  Luckily for fans, Capcom finally decided to update the series on the current generation consoles, and now Sony’s spanking new portable, the Playstation Vita.

The premise is extremely simple:  somehow the two universes of Marvel and Capcom have crossed over and both the heroes and villains must prevent the nearly unstoppable Galactus from destroying both worlds.  Like its predecessor, UMVC3 has no story mode, instead featuring a straight forward 3v3 arcade mode featuring six fights culminating with a big final battle against the gigantic Galactus.  Multiplayer is available both through local ad-hoc and over the internet through the Playstation Network.  both a training mode and a mission mode allow players to master all of the various nuances in the game including air combos, hyper specials, assist attacks, and a plethora of other abilities.

Replacing the previous four attack buttons layout, Capcom has simplified the controls with three buttons controlling weak, medium, and heavy attacks, along with a new special attack button that launches enemies into the air for some spectacular air combos.  Special attacks and hyper combos may be easier to pull of, yet the complexity of tag assisted combos and air juggles dictate that button mashing won’t be enough to defeat an experienced player.  The PS Vita’s buttons feel great when pulling off intricate combos with either the d-pad or the analog stick – about as well as a standard PS3 controller.

Blending the best of both Marvel and Capcom universes, the character roster is broken up into 24 marvel super-heroes and villains and 24 Capcom characters. Though MVC2 purists will more than likely be disappointed at the exclusion of many fan favorites, Capcom and Marvel have done a good job at keeping the roster fresh and varied for the latest iteration.  Old favorites like Ryu, Magneto, Strider, Akuma, sentinel, are joined by Arthur and Red Arremer (from Ghosts n’ Goblins), Ghost Rider, Thor, Chris Redfield, Viewtiful Joe, Dante, and many others. It’s probably no coincidence that much of Marvel’s roster is made up of superheroes from recently released or upcoming movies, though obscure villains like Taskmaster and M.O.D.O.K make a welcome appearance.

MVC2 was often criticized for its character balance that favored powerful Marvel Characters like Cable, Sentinel, and Magneto over the weaker Capcom ones.  UMVC3 is definitely more balanced, though some Marvel characters like Sentinel, Hulk, and Deadpool are somewhat more powerful and easier to use than their Capcom adversaries. That being said, there are a ton of characters to master and even more team combinations to try. There is more variety here than pretty much any other fighting game released in the past few years.  Considering this is a portable game, it’s that much more palpable and impressive for it.

Super Street Fighter 3D was very well received showing for Nintendo’s 3D handheld that closely resembled its console siblings.  Capcom ups the ante with the presentation on the PS vita: aside from a few very minor details this looks exactly like the Ps3 and Xbox 360 versions.  Sure there is less background animation in some of the stages, but when the fur flies and the screen is filled with different colored beams and fireballs, the game is truly a sight to behold.  All at 60 frames per second.

The music and sound effects have been carried over 100% intact from the console versions.  Each character has several lines of dialogue that can be heard in either English or Japanese.  The soundtrack is decent enough, though your appreciation of the mainly electronic tunes can vary based on taste.  Several classic BGM tracks from previous Capcom fighting games are back and have been remixed – for better or for worse.  As a bonus feature, all character theme songs and sound effects have ‘movie’ versions that convert the high tempo songs to something more akin to a film score for those who don’t care for the standard tracks.  It’s a nice feature that’s seldom seen in video games and goes well with the game’s theme of two styles clashing together.

In an effort to take advantage of the large touch screen, Capcom has added a touch based method of input for players who simply want to see some of the flashy combos and hyper moves without mastering any of the button controls. Unfortunately, swiping the screen to execute combos and specials moves removes any real need for skill and improvement and should only be used by the most casual of players.

Considering that that the standard controls are fairly accessible, the touch screen implementation comes of as rather gimmicky and simply there to show shoehorn touch controls on Sony’s new console.  Gamers may try out these controls for their novelty, but even that wears off rather quickly, and in the end, it’s best to just avoid them.

If you are a fighting game enthusiast or just a fan of Marvel and/or Capcom universes, you can’t go wrong with UMVC3 at Vita’s launch.  Like with most fighting games, the single player experience may be devoid of much story exposition or character development, but the stellar online play and sheer variety of content makes Capcom’s latest portable brawler worth the price of admission; lets just pretend that the touch screen controls never happened.

+ Outstanding graphics

+ lots of variety and gameplay

+ Online Play

– Not much story outside of a short comic

– Gimmicky touch screen controls

A japanese copy of the game was used for this review.

9/10

Super Mario 3D Land Review

Super Mario 3D Land Review

Mario’s status in gaming has long surpassed legendary and iconic.  In essence – despite what some Call of Duty faithful might attest to – Mario and friends have become synonymous with video games as a whole; which is why nearly every major Mario game raises the bar for interactive entertainment and enthralls more and more new comers and die-hard fans alike with each passing year.

Despite arriving on a handheld platform, the new Super Mario 3D Land shares many trappings of its predecessors that have endeared fans to the venerable series.  That said, the generally excellent game lacks some of the finer touches to detail and refreshing innovation found in its older console brethren, reminding us that this is still a mobile game: and in that respect, it’s the one of the best the 3DS currently has to offer.

Nintendo is not one for nuanced story lines – and gamers are generally alright with that.  Princess Peach gets kidnapped by Bower and Mario must once again be the stoic and unrelenting hero, rushing headlong (or feet first!) into countless dangers.  3D Land sheds the little exposition which could be found in Super Mario Galaxy in exchange for quick and linear gameplay that many will probably feel is suited for a handheld.  You progress along a series of levels that are broken up into 8 different worlds, each of which tries to keep some semblance of a theme – however loose and abstract as it may be.  Certain worlds have forest-like levels with grass and flowers, others take Mario to a desert oasis, some take him to islands and underwater caverns. Some of the levels within these worlds stick to the overlapping theme while others are simply a series of rotating platforms or gears that wouldn’t be out of place in some abstract dream.

Many of Mario’s familiar adversaries return, goombas, koopa troopas, boo’s, bumble bees, and a plethora of others are thrown at Mario at every possible opportunity.  Luckily for Mario, he’s got a new set of tools, or should I say suits, to help him beat the baddies.

The tanooki raccoon suit, first introduced in Super Mario Brothers 3, is back as one of the central power ups in 3D Land.  Donning the furry tailed costume – which animal rights group PETA recently slammed as being pro animal abuse – Mario can float mid air and spin his fluffy tail to knock out baddies.  Less substantial, and often less useful, are the fire flower and koopa boomerang power ups.  The former lets the chubby plumber shoot bouncing fireballs, while the latter drapes him in a turtle shell complete with a returning boomerang.

Instead of collecting three different stars in each level, Mario must hunt for star medallions to unlock certain levels, and eventually complete the game and defeat Bowser.  Each level has three medallions which can be collected as Mario runs through –some are conspicuous and can be grabbed easily while others lay in subterfuge, waiting to be discovered.

Jumping around the levels is incredibly fun and intuitive – like it should in a Mario game.  There are only three buttons used to control Mario: jump, run, and crouch.  The camera can be slightly rotated with the touch screen but never really needs to be due to the tight, fixed perspective camera.  .  Though simple, the controls still need to be mastered to pass some of the game’s more difficult later levels.

3D Land, of course, wouldn’t have its name were not it taking advantage of the Nintendo 3DS’ 3D capabilities, which it does quite well.  The depth may not be as prominent as what’s used in the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, but it certainly aids in gauging distances between platforms, allowing jumps to be more precise.

3D depth alone isn’t enough to impress if the actual 3D graphics disappoint.  Fortunately 3D Land does a great job of imitating the stunning Super Mario Galaxy in visuals. While it’s certainly not as impressive, with a much smaller scale and less visual dazzle, it stands out as one of the 3DS’ better visual outings.

The first time through the game can take players a truly disheartening 4 to 5 hours depending on skill and mastery of the controls.  Upon completion, the game unlocks an additional 8 special worlds that ramp up the difficulty and give the game’s console bigger and betters a run for their money, as well as letting players tackle all of the levels with Mario’s brother, Luigi.

Unfortunately, the majority of the special stages aren’t entirely new, but rather are remixed versions with alternate level design and enemy placement.  Some are exactly the same, albeit with a stricter time limit or a deadly doppelganger chasing Mario.

As Mario’s first 3DS adventure, 3D Land pieces together the best that Mario has had to offer in a sort of greatest hits compilation. Most of the levels feature some great platforming segments though a few are over just as you hit your stride. Additionally, with the exception of the seminal boss battles against Bowser, the rest of the big honchos, including an angry spinning turtle and his boomerang slinging sister, unfortunately leave something to be desired.

While being exceptionally well crafted and designed, the somewhat anemic 3D Land doesn’t offer enough content to all but the most ardent completionists – who will likely search every nook and cranny for each of the star medallions – to justify the $40 price tag.  It’s a lot of fun while it lasts, especially as a handheld game, but I just can’t help but wish that there was more original content in the otherwise excellent package.

8.5/10

Capcom’s “war on horror” has eradicated nearly everything to do with survival horror in Resident Evil the Mercenaries 3D: The only horrifying thing about Resident Evil on the 3DS is how bare and shallow the package is.

From the get go Capcom announced that RE:TM3D would be a stand-alone entry of the Mercenaries mini-game first introduced in RE:3 and popularized and refined in RE:5.  The premise of the original and 3ds versions is the same: take out as many creatures as possible in the time provided.  I say ‘creatures’ because unless you are familiar with RE:4 or RE:5, it’s pretty difficult to figure out what the heck they all are: zombies, parasitic aliens, psychotic lunatics amped up on painkillers, all of the above!?

Even Street Fighter IV included a little exposition through cut-scenes for each of the characters.

Resident Evil has always been like a big, juicy, rare steak; frightening to look at yet satisfying if you make it all the way through to appreciate the subtle nuances of the game’s ‘meat’.  The caveat with the Mercenaries mini games in RE:4 and RE:5 was that they were complimentary to a fully fledged out, traditional story mode that was really the meat and bones of the package – the Mercenaries mode was simply the dessert.

On the 3ds, unless you are familiar with the Resident evil ‘menu’, you may not entirely be sure what you are digesting. At $40, and with several issues to boot, this ‘desert’ doesn’t taste as sweet as it did when it came with a ‘main course’ on the consoles, regardless of the extra dimension the 3ds hardware offers.

The game is broken up into 30 missions – each can be played single-player or CO-OP over local wireless or the internet. Each mission has a time-limit under which objectives must be completed and you receive a grade based on how quick and accurate you were in finishing them, along with skill points to level up the various unlocked abilities that each of the playable characters have.

In essence, game progression is more akin to Capcom’s fighting games than past RE games.  Running each character through the various missions both online and offline to best your previous time and achieve a high score is the name of the game here – and in that respect the game is almost successful.

I say almost, because the less than ideal controls and poor animation mar what little fun gamers can have.  The over the shoulder aiming and slow turns made resident evil 4 a standard for survival horror games back in 2004.  The problem is, once you take that urgency and fear out of the equation, the controls simply don’t support a quick paced arcade shooter like RE:TM3D.

The PS vita may have better hardware and a much bigger screen than the 3DS, but Capcom sure did ‘wow’ gamers with footage of the upcoming RE: Revelations, and later RE:TM3D.  Standing still the game engine looks fantastic; Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine, Jack Krauser and the several other playable characters all look great – as do the enemies. At first glance you might even mistake it for a low-res version of RE:5 on the consoles.

The problem comes when it’s all in motion.  Enemies further than about 15 feet away animate at very low and jerky frame-rate, something akin to early claymation.  It’s simply horrid to look at and really detracts from the already less than stellar game-play experience.

On the other hand at least the 3D in the game is well done and worth enabling. Unfortunately this game needs a lot more than 3D effects to justify its repetitive single-player campaign that will last less than two hours in your first play-through.  If you can tolerate the game-play and look past the graphical hitches then the online or local wireless play with a friend may redeem some of the game’s inadequacies. Of course a much lower price tag certainly couldn’t hurt either.

Hopefully RE: Revelations will provide the juicy main course survival horror fans have been waiting for on the 3DS; unfortunately, unless you are a diehard Mercenaries fan with 40 bones to pick, this 3DS arcade shooter is most definitely not the Resident Evil game you were looking for.

+ detailed graphics

+ short levels are easy to play on a commute

– not scary in the least bit

– terrible animation

– way overpriced for the amount of content included

It’s worth noting that the game does not allow the save file to be deleted for some odd reason.  Fortunately this doesn’t matter much since all 30 missions can be re-played anyways. And unless you absolutely need to unlock all of the characters and weapons again, it shouldn’t make much of a difference during subsequent play-throughs.

5/10

As of September 2011 the 3DS is slowly gaining traction due to the recent price cut.  The problem still is of course: there aren’t too many great games to play, especially if you’re not looking for standard Nintendo-fare like Zelda or Star Fox.  For better or for worse, 3DS owners finally have themselves a ‘console caliber’ action game in the way of the Nintendo Wii port of Thor: God of Thunder.  Derivative to a fault – and lacking any kind of subtlety showing it – Thor: God of Wa -err.. Thunder is a semi-appetizing bone thrown to game-starved 3DS gamers.

T:GoT is an exact port of the Wii game of the same name released last march – albeit with 3D and some downgraded graphics.  Though a tie-in with the namesake Marvel film released over the summer, T:GoT has its own plot that has nothing to do with the film.  Told through an admittedly cool animated comic style it’s unfortunate that everything is entirely forgettable; sufficed to say, Thor lets his hatred for the frost giants snowball one fight into a all out war that affects his world of Asgard and several others, all the while sounding so much a block-head that it makes Kratos look like a poindexter in comparison.   Expect to be confused if you aren’t a fan of the comic book series or have seen the film.

If you’ve ever wanted to play God of War on a Nintendo handheld… then you should buy a psp. T:GoT tries to emulate the style of GoW in every which way – some of it works, though most unfortunately doesn’t.  The face buttons are mapped to weak and strong attacks, jump, and a hammer dash in which Thor lunges forward with his hammer extended.  L trigger blocks and R trigger revs up your hammer to be thrown.  Other special attacks can be performed through the combination of trigger and button presses.

The formula is simple: charge anything you see and hammer the attack buttons (and sometimes block!) till they are dead and you can move on. To break up the fighting, T:GoT includes some on-rails flying sequences that can be somewhat fun and do well change up game-play for a few minutes; think along the lines of Panzer Dragoon or Sin and Punishment.

Throughout the game Thor will unlock new special powers that consume his energy bar when performed.  These are activated through the bottom touch screen.  Some of attacks are pretty awesome, such as the lightning storm that damages all nearby enemies; others, like the maneuverable lightning bolt are awkward to use due to having to continuously press down on the touch screen while aiming with the slide-pad.

As Thor receives upgrade tokens for racking up kills, you can spend them to improve your health and energy bars, damage output, and add additional combos and special attacks. Throughout the short adventure you can also find equipable runes that augment Thor’s already formidable abilities.  Unlock-able costumes can further customize Thor and are fairly easy to find in the very straight forward and linear levels.  The upgrades and collectable runes can be allot of fun to purchase and find, yet the very easy nature of the game makes them somewhat unnecessary in all but the highest difficulty.

The mid and end level boss-fights are the only things with any semblance of a challenge; both rely on a mixture of normal fighting and timed button press mini-games.  While the gigantic end level bosses can be pretty satisfying to take on the smaller mid-level ones are all essentially the same and just become repetitive fairly quickly.

The graphics weren’t anything spectacular on the Wii and things on the 3DS are no different. To compensate for the weaker hardware the developers understandably had to cut back on the particle effects and remove all of the shadows.  What isn’t understandable is the overall lack of polish on the graphics, including clipping and frame-rate issues that plague the title throughout. Thor’s feet frequently blend with the environment and it’s common to see him standing knee deep in a piece of concrete.  These issues don’t affect the playability of the game much but do make it look quite sloppy at times. That said some of the large environments can be fairly impressive.

The 3D itself is adequately implemented, if not a bit on the underwhelming.  Even with the 3D set to maximum, the depth isn’t all that great, although objects do pop out on occasion.

If you’re starving for an action game to play on your 3DS then T:GoT may be worth checking out as it can be fun and entertaining at times – especially during boss fights; just don’t look for God of War quality here, the technical issues and uninspired game-play hold this 5-6 hour romp back from giving 3DS owners a great handheld action experience.

+ Some badass looking attack combos

+ Large environments

+ Entertaining on rails flying sequences.

– Graphical glitches and frame-rate issues

– Repetitive and unoriginal game-play

–  Forgettable story

6.0/10

With an ever-changing video game market it is not uncommon to see franchises established on one system eventually arrive on another.  No one would have believed that Sonic, Spyro the Dragon, or Crash Bandicoot would grace a Nintendo platform but they all have.  Halo began its life as a PC exclusive before it caught the eye of Microsoft, became a flagship title for the Xbox, and subsequently was ported back over to the PC a few years later.  Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series, once one of the driving forces behind the unprecedented success of the Playstation 2, is now on all the major platforms. (Barring the Nintendo Wii)  The departure of PC centric developers like BioWare, Epic Games, and Lion Head Studios to multi-platform or console exclusive development has been disappointing to say the least.  Not because of a desire to keep these studios solely within the PC community, but because their titles haven’t really been the same since their shift towards console development.

Though it is evident that the success and proliferation of piracy on the net has caused some of these developers to jump ship and swim for friendlier waters, newer independent developers and some prolific console ones have braved the waters to try and reap some of the booty from the largely untapped treasure that is the PC games market.

Most of these games are released multi-platform to maximize profits and safeguard from PC piracy though there are several key experiences available only on PCs – at least for the time being.  The following games are great – though not always perfect – showcases for computers as viable gaming platforms.

RPGs:

The Witcher – Strong well acted lead role for a protagonist? Check. Immersive and original fantasy setting? Check. Gorgeous scenery and visuals? Check Check.  The Witcher, a breakout hit in 2007 and based on the fantasy novels of Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowsky, made a strong impact in the RPG genre at release; it’s dark and magical world resonated with a sense of stark realism and palpable issues not usually covered by the fantasy genre.  Racism, vice, political corruption and intrigue are all important themes back-dropping a world filed with cloak and dagger spies, cutthroats, mercenaries and ravenous monsters.  Though not open world like the Elder Scrolls series, The Witcher still managed to deliver a satisfying story while giving the player choice over matters of morality in the main story and the many side quests – always with varying shades of gray and often to weightily consequences. Perhaps one of the unfortunate shortcomings of the game was that that it originally shipped with several annoying game-play bugs, though fortunately they were patched and a re-mastered version containing additional material released.

The Witcher 2 has recently been released to wide acclaim and builds on the original’s engaging world and protagonist by upping the cinematic presentation, incorporating stunning graphics, and streamlining the combat and controls.  The game remains a PC exclusive for now but is slated to be released for Xbox 360 by the end of the year.  The PC version will definitely be the superior if your hardware can handle it.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.  The Shadow of Chernobyl series:  Released more than a year before Bethesda’s massive hit Fallout 3, Stalker allowed gamers to explore an irradiated world filled with mercenaries and mutants.  Not quite in a ‘wasteland’ setting, the game none the less made you feel like you’re in something very close, perhaps due to it taking place in the heart and surrounding area of the real life Chernobyl nuclear disaster.   Largely a first-person shooter with some RPG elements, Stalker is a semi-open world game where exploration plays an important part in a very bleak and dangerous world.  The game and its several sequels have great graphics and atmosphere while offering tight shooter controls.  Not quite as an RPG as fallout 3 the games still contain just enough role-playing elements to keep RPG fans engaged.  Like with the Witcher, Stalker and its sequels have contained some bugs that have kept the series back from universal acclaim, though most have been fixed through patches and by the community.

World of Warcraft: Little needs to be said for this titan of a game.  Even those not familiar with computer games – or RPGs for that matter – most likely know about WoW.  The game underhandedly revolutionized the MMORPG genre at release in 2005 and has since dominated it with more than 60% of the market share.  If playing a fantasy RPG full of orcs, goblins and elves with millions of other people sounds appealing, then World of Warcraft along with its several expansions could be worth trying as it still stands as one of the better MMO experiences available today.

Star Wars the Old Republic:  If there is any game with the potential to bite into the enormous market share of WoW, it’s the upcoming Star Wars The Old Republic MMORPG by Bioware – with over a million and a half beta subscribers already on board, the game is shaping up to be a big hit in the online community.  BioWare is pouring a tremendous amount of resources into shaping the story and the mechanics of the game and with a proper launch and a steady stream of content it might be the next big MMO to play.  SWTOR is slated to be released later this year.

Diablo III – This upcoming sequel in the classic Blizzard Diablo franchise looks to give fans what they want: bloody isometric action-RPG gameplay with plenty of loot to collect and monsters to slay.  The game is shaping up to be a great revival of an endeared franchise, much in the same way Star Craft II turned out to be.  Fans of the dungeon crawl have allot to look forward to, and Blizzard rarely (if ever!) disappoints.  Look for Diablo III to be out sometime next year -hopefully.

Shooters:

Crysis: Crytek has joined the club of PC game developers who have jumped on the multi-platform bandwagon with the release of their latest though not so greatest hit, Crysis 2.  It’s wonderful that console gamers can experience some of the tech and gameplay that has made the series into the blockbuster it is today, though the sequel by no means tops the original –  surprisingly not even in the visuals department.  The original Crysis’ open ended game-play and large jungle environments are replaced in the sequel with linear shootouts in a concrete New York City.  Sure Crysis wasn’t totally perfect; the story left much to be desired and the incredible graphics required a powerful computer, but ultimately the game delivered on its promise of being a super-soldier in a non-linear jungle.  The game’s last third section is amongst the best I have ever played, featuring Matrix inspired aliens and jaw dropping battle sequences.  Some gamers may ascertain that the game is shallow and focuses on visuals over substance.  The majority of these naysayers probably have never played past the demo level. Crysis will undoubtedly be remembered as a benchmark for computer graphics – it’s worth noting that though it won’t win any writing awards, it’s a blast to play from start to finish.

Team Fortress 2:  I thought this game was released on the consoles as part of the Orange Box? Why is it on this list? Yes Team Fortress 2 was released on both the Xbox 360 and the Ps3.  Yes it belongs on this list.  To say that console gamers received TF2 is as if to say that you can receive a half written book and call it a complete read.

TF2 is a multi-player team based online first person shooter featuring quirky characters not unlike ones you might find in a Dreamworks 3D animated film.  Different classes such as the minigun toting heavy weapons guy, the team-mate healing medic, or the long range sniper can be used to lead your team to victory through the capture of a particular objective, the capture of the enemy’s intelligence documents, or the pushing of a large cart full of high explosives.

The game as it is now on the PC is a wholly different animal, Valve software has revamped the game-play, added an enormous amount of free content and incorporated an online store for the purchase of premium content like hats and crafting materials to make custom hats.  The console versions are in comparison, a beta of the TF2 being played now.  The game was fairly good at its release in 2008.  In 2011 it stands as one of the most popular online shooters on the PC due to the extensive support by Valve Software.

Real Time Strategy:

Dawn Of War 2: Ready at Dawn Studios’ well crafted Dawn of War 2 is a shining example of how to expand the RTS genre by streamlining the game-play so that those who may not know the difference between micro or macro management can enjoy the game alongside strategy veterans.  The single-player campaign’s focused story takes place in the gothic-scifi universe of Warhammer 40,000, and revolves around a squad of well armed space marines. It puts the players’ control on the action rather than base and resource management; with a few RPG elements such as leveling up squad members and gear thrown in for good measure.  The multi-player is completely different beast with up to six players controlling multiple squads to outwit and outmaneuver their foes.  The single player campaign may be to simplistic for the hardcore RTS gamer, but anyone who likes a side of action and RPG with their tactics will appreciate the new direction Ready at Dawn goes with Dawn of War 2.

Star Craft II: As American football is to the states and soccer is to much of the world, the original Star Craft became somewhat of a past time for many South Koreans with televised matches and endorsements for professional players.  Indeed throughout the entire PC RTS community Star Craft reigned as the game of choice of millions of gamers despite being released over 13 years ago.   The good news is that purists need not fret, the sequel Star Craft II: Wings of Liberty has retained much of what made the original the hit it has been albeit with more focused and cinematic storytelling and an expanded multi-player mode supporting up to 12 players.  The plot revolves around a group of human (terrans) rebels as they fight both the powers-at-be and the multitude of alien infestations.  The game-play is much of your traditional RTS fare revolving around base building, resource gathering, and massive battles involving both infantry, armored vehicles, and space ships/ air support.  Unlike the original game the sequel only presents the player with the terran campaign an not those of the bug-like Zerg or the high-tech Protoss aliens – those campaigns are slated for future expansions.  It’s a small gripe in an otherwise outstanding game but should be noted considering Star Craft II’s hefty $60 price tag.  The next expansion pack will focus on the Zerg and will be out sometime next year.

Total War Series: If 300 pound space marines, savage space Orks, or the high-tech Protoss don’t have much appeal, and neither does base building or resource management, then the Total War series might be of interest to the RTS fan.  Grounded on history, the past two games in the series, Empire Total War and Shogun Total War, are excellent installments in a franchise where seeing thousands of troops fighting it out on screen at any one time is common place and the feeling of being part of a real historical battle is very palpable.  The campaign mode features turn based movement of your forces across the world map while managing finances, trade embargoes, and political alliances.  With installments taking place in Europe, North Africa, the Colonial Americas, Ancient Rome and Asia, the series has covered a large segment of history all the while featuring some of the best tactical gameplay in the genre.

Simulation:

The Sims: Out of all of Will Wright’s Sim games – including SimCity, SimLife, SimEarth -none have shaped and expanded the simulation genre as much as the Sims.  Perhaps it is only natural that gamers would be most fascinated with controlling the lives of a few animated characters.  He who has the power to command a computer generated individual to empty their bowels is truly powerful indeed.  Or so I’ve been told. Perhaps just me….

In any case though some of the games in the series have made it to other platforms, none have replicated control or attention to detail of the originals on the PC.  Partially due to the ungodly amount of expansion packs and spin-off titles that have presented the world of the Sims for almost every possible angle.  The latest game in the series, The Sims Medieval, has added RPG elements to a backdrop of a fantasy world full of heroes and wizards.  It seems that becoming a Monarch in a videogame is all the rage these days.  The Sims is still a good series for those looking to control all aspects of a group of hapless humans in their strife to live meaningful (or at least accident free) lives.

Games That Aren’t Exclusive but should be played on the PC

The Elder Scrolls series – It may be available on the consoles but the extensive mod community can only be found on the PC.

Fallout series – Like with Elder Scrolls expect the series to remain computer-centric under Bethesda’s development

Unreal Tournament – Epic may have shifted ‘gears’ and focused on Microsoft’s console but its original hit franchise may see a comeback in the future on PCs.

Command and Conquer – To say that the RTS is not suited for consoles is not a PC-centric view; it’s simply a fact of the limitations in console controls.  The C&C series should still be played on a computer. (unless those Nintendo Project Cafe touch screen controller rumors come out to be true!)

Dragon Age Origins – Perhaps Bioware’s swan song to the age of the infinity engine powered RPGs like Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment.  Definitely a must play on the PC.

There are a ton of others that are not listed here


Microsoft has released its highly anticipated PC version of Fable 3 a few days ago and it’s largely good as far as action RPGs go, though not without problems.  PC gamers are notoriously critical of console ports for good reason: more often than not they are simply quick cash-ins as opposed to full featured PC experiences.  There is probably no worse an indicator of this than poor performance due to a lack of optimization and polish.  The good news for Fable fans is that the game can perform decently on most computers, the bad news is that unless you own a fairly recently built rig you probably need to do some tweaking to get this game to run fairly well while looking  good.

The in-game graphical tweaks are fairly robust though not as much as most PC gamers would like; various detail sliders control the effects quality, texture quality, anisotropic filtering, model detail, terrain detail, shadow detail, and view distance.  The problem with these sliders is that they don’t really let you know what graphical effects are being changed at the different slider levels.

A quick look at the VideoOptionsConfig file in the game’s main directory with Wordpad reveals the different details and the slider level needed to switch on the effect or change the value. Setting any value above 5 in the effects section of the config will disable the effect completely.

Most of the game’s effects do not have a large impact on performance if using a graphics card made in the past 3 years.  The two exceptions being draw distance, which is largely limited by your processor, and shadow quality, which even in its most basic form cuts the framerate nearly in half.

For a low end configuration such as a laptop or one with an older video card (Geforce 8800gts, radeon 3850..etc) the following values for the VideoOptionsConfig file should make the game look like its Xbox 360 counterpart but with higher resolution shadows.  All effects are included with the exception of depth of field and temporal anti-aliasing, both of which make the game look like a horrid and blurry mess from the bygone era of awful ghosting on early LCD screens.

If any of these visual effects settings in the beginning of the config file (motion blur, bloom, SSAA, etc) are desired, they can be enabled simply by lowering their respective values in the config file to bellow 5.  Any value above 5 will disable them.

The shadow and view distance has been tweaked to give a good balance between viability and playable frame rates. This config, coupled with a reasonable resolution and hardware should allow the game to run at 30+ fps.

1) Copy these values to the VideoOptionsConfig file in the Fable 3 Directory:

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”utf-8″?>
<ConfigSettings>
<IntSettings>
<BloomMinimumEffectsDetail>2</BloomMinimumEffectsDetail>
<RadialBlurMinimumEffectsDetail>2</RadialBlurMinimumEffectsDetail>
<DepthOfFieldMinimumEffectsDetail>5</DepthOfFieldMinimumEffectsDetail>
<MotionBlurMinimumEffectsDetail>2</MotionBlurMinimumEffectsDetail>
<TemporalAAMinimumEffectsDetail>5</TemporalAAMinimumEffectsDetail>
<TemporalAAMinimumEffectsDetailMGPU>99</TemporalAAMinimumEffectsDetailMGPU>
<SSAAMinimumEffectDetail>5</SSAAMinimumEffectDetail>
<SaturationMaskMinimumEffectsDetail>2</SaturationMaskMinimumEffectsDetail>
<SpecularMinimumShaderDetail>1</SpecularMinimumShaderDetail>
<EnvMappingMinimumShaderDetail>5</EnvMappingMinimumShaderDetail>
<RainAndSnowMinimumEffectDetail>1</RainAndSnowMinimumEffectDetail>
<FresnelMinimumShaderDetail>2</FresnelMinimumShaderDetail>
<TieredOcclusionMaximumModelDetail>4</TieredOcclusionMaximumModelDetail>
</IntSettings>

<FloatSettings>
</FloatSettings>

<DetailSettings>
<!– Shadow detail –>
<DirectionalShadowBufferSize>256,512,1024,2048,4096</DirectionalShadowBufferSize>
<SpotLightShadowBufferSize>256,512,1024,2048,4096</SpotLightShadowBufferSize>
<InnerShadowRangeMultiplier>0.6, 0.6, 0.6, 1.4, 1.6</InnerShadowRangeMultiplier>
<OuterShadowRangeMultiplier>0.6, 0.6, 0.6, 2.0, 2.5</OuterShadowRangeMultiplier>

<!– Water detail –>
<ReflectionTextureResolution>0,256,512,1024,2048</ReflectionTextureResolution>
<ReflectionOceanWaterResolution>0, 0, 0, 64, 256</ReflectionOceanWaterResolution>
<ReflectionPatchBoundsClip>1, 1, 1, 1, 0</ReflectionPatchBoundsClip>
<ReflectionTreesFlag>0, 0, 0, 1, 1</ReflectionTreesFlag>

<!– Tree detail –>
<TreeLODDistanceMultiplier>0.6, 1.0, 1.3, 1.6, 2.0</TreeLODDistanceMultiplier>
<TreeAnimationDetailLevel>0,1,2,2,2</TreeAnimationDetailLevel>
<TreeDrawDistanceMultiplier>0.9, 1.0, 1.2, 1.4, 1.6</TreeDrawDistanceMultiplier>

<!– HeightField detail –>
<HeightFieldLodFactor>0.5, 0.5, 0.7, 1.3, 1.5</HeightFieldLodFactor>
<HeightFieldFadeFactor>0.5, 0.7, 1.5, 3.0, 4.0</HeightFieldFadeFactor>

<!– Draw distance –>
<StaticEntityDrawDistanceMultiplier>1.0, 1.5, 3.0, 4.0, 6.0</StaticEntityDrawDistanceMultiplier>
<AnimatedEntityDrawDistanceMultiplier>1.0, 1.2, 3.0, 4.0, 6.0</AnimatedEntityDrawDistanceMultiplier>
<VillagerDrawDistanceMultiplier>1.0, 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 4.0</VillagerDrawDistanceMultiplier>
<CreatureDrawDistanceMultiplier>1.0, 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 4.0</CreatureDrawDistanceMultiplier>
<StaticMultipleMeshDrawDistanceMultiplier>1.0, 1.0, 2.0, 2.5, 3.0</StaticMultipleMeshDrawDistanceMultiplier>
<RepeatedMeshDrawDistanceMultiplier>0.0, 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 4.0</RepeatedMeshDrawDistanceMultiplier>

<!– Model detail –>
<LodScreenFractionMultiplier>1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, 5.0</LodScreenFractionMultiplier>
<BoneLODDistanceMultiplier>2.0, 2.0, 2.0, 3.0, 3.0</BoneLODDistanceMultiplier>

<!–Texture anisotropy –>
<MeshTextureAnisotropy>2, 2, 4, 8, 16</MeshTextureAnisotropy>
<GroundTextureAnisotropy>2, 2, 4, 8, 16</GroundTextureAnisotropy>
<GroundNormalAnisotropy>2, 2, 4, 8, 16</GroundNormalAnisotropy>

<!– Texture pool sizes –>
<TexturePool0>1024</TexturePool0>
<TexturePool1>1024</TexturePool1>
<TexturePool2>64,  96, 128</TexturePool2>
<TexturePool3>64,  96, 128</TexturePool3>
<TexturePool4>96, 160, 256</TexturePool4>
<TexturePool5>32,  80, 128</TexturePool5>
<TexturePool6>16,  96, 192</TexturePool6>
<TexturePool7>12,  48,  64</TexturePool7>
<TexturePool8> 6,  32,  96</TexturePool8>
<TexturePool9> 4,  24,  32</TexturePool9>

<!– Benchmark scores for auto-calibration–>
<ModelDetailDefaultBenchmarkScoreCPU>0,2,3,4,5</ModelDetailDefaultBenchmarkScoreCPU>
<WaterDetailDefaultBenchmarkScoreCPU>0,3,4,6,10</WaterDetailDefaultBenchmarkScoreCPU>
<ShadowDetailDefaultBenchmarkScoreCPU>0,3,4,6,10</ShadowDetailDefaultBenchmarkScoreCPU>
<DrawDistanceDefaultBenchmarkScoreCPU>0,3,4,6,9</DrawDistanceDefaultBenchmarkScoreCPU>

<TextureDetailDefaultBenchmarkScoreGPU>0,2.5,3,4,6</TextureDetailDefaultBenchmarkScoreGPU>
<ModelDetailDefaultBenchmarkScoreGPU>0,2,3,4,6</ModelDetailDefaultBenchmarkScoreGPU>
<WaterDetailDefaultBenchmarkScoreGPU>0,3,5,8,14</WaterDetailDefaultBenchmarkScoreGPU>
<ShadowDetailDefaultBenchmarkScoreGPU>0,4,8,12,16</ShadowDetailDefaultBenchmarkScoreGPU>
<EffectsDetailDefaultBenchmarkScoreGPU>0,2,3,4,4</EffectsDetailDefaultBenchmarkScoreGPU>
<EnvironmentDetailDefaultBenchmarkScoreGPU>0,2,4,6,8</EnvironmentDetailDefaultBenchmarkScoreGPU>
<TreeDetailDefaultBenchmarkScoreGPU>0,2.5,4,6,8</TreeDetailDefaultBenchmarkScoreGPU>
<DrawDistanceDefaultBenchmarkScoreGPU>0,3,6,10,14</DrawDistanceDefaultBenchmarkScoreGPU>

</DetailSettings>

</ConfigSettings>

2) Set the Graphics to the following options (Set textures at high if your video card has less than 1GB of VRAM)

3) The game should look like this: 

This config was tested on an Acer 3820TG notebook with a Radeon 6650m and an Intel core i5 CPU and a desktop with a Radeon 4850 and a Phenom II x4 Processor.   V-sync was enabled on both machines and limits the framerate to 30fps.  If your computer is equipped with a more modern card like a Geforce 480GTX or a Radeon 5870 then it may be worth using D3DOverider to force the V-sync to render the game at a locked 60fps, though I found 30fps to be adequate for this type of action RPG.

A full review of the PC version of Fable 3 will be posted soon.

If you have any further tweaks for Fable 3 or suggestions for future tweak guides, post them in the comments section. 

Perhaps the most ambitious and original of the LEGO games at it’s release, LEGO Batman is Traveler’s Tales first LEGO game not based on a particular set of films.  In fact, the game isn’t based off of any particular medium that Batman has appeared on.  You could say that it blends a little bit from the campy 60’s series, the films, the comic book, and the animated series. The PSP version of the game surprisingly has all of its console big brother’s content, and were it not for a few design choices and graphical hitches, would be a must have title.

Like the other LEGO games the tale is told emotively through gestures, laughs, and grunts,both in-game and rendered cut-scenes. The fairly generic story follows Batman and his trusty side-kick Robin as they try to stop a motley crew of super villains who’ve broken out of Arkham Asylum to make havoc for Gotham’s citizens. There’s some laughs here and there but the original material isn’t as funny as the famous scenes found in some of the other LEGO games.

Gameplay spans 30 levels – 15 for Batman, Robin, Bat Girl, and Night Wing and 15 for the various villains including the Riddler,  The Joker, Poison Ivy, Two-Face, Mr. Freeze, Bane and others.  Batman and Robin both get different suits and upgrades to their tech which makes puzzles diverse.  The puzzles themselves are usually a matter of pressing a switch or building a necessary component out of LEGO blocks.  Many of the puzzles require your AI buddy to perform an action with you simultaneously. Usually it works as planned, though on a few occasions the AI will jump off a platform instead of pressing a particular switch. The puzzles are generally not too difficult and are simply a matter of smashing enough stuff to find the solution.

Unlike many other games ported to the PSP, LEGO batman controls very well thanks to the simple controls and the lack of a rotating camera all the the game’s commands are handled through the face buttons and either the analog sick or the d-pad can be used for movement.

Combat is fairly simple and involves mashing the attack button with a few sporadic grab moves thrown in for good measure.  Almost anything can be destroyed, including your trusty sidekick, who fortunately re-spawns with no hard feelings.  Destroying various objects and villains will net you LEGO studs, the game’s currency. The only consequence death in the game is the loss some studs Ala sonic the hedgehog.

Back at the Bat Cave you can spend the studs on new characters, upgrades and costumes. In addition to studs there are other collectables needed to unlock certain upgrades, many of which are inaccessible the first time you play through a level and need to be reached with a different costume through the level’s free-play mode- unlocked after having finished the level in story mode at least once.  This adds a tremendous amount of replay value if for those who like to collect everything available.

Between the platforming and brawling in the normal levels, the game places you in driving and flying missions.  With very little steering involved these missions devolve into something more akin to Metal Slug – shoot in every which way until nothing is left to shoot.  It’s pretty fun while it lasts and is a nice break from the rest of the game.

Graphically the PSP version of the game is both incredible and somewhat disappointing at the same time.  The levels are fairly large both in the amount of things to do and the scope of the action.  The camera is pulled back further than any of the other LEGO games and consequently shows a lot of action and detail on screen.  The downside to this is that Batman and any of the other characters you might be controlling are fairly small and sometimes it’s hard to see what’s going on on the PSP’s 4.2″ screen.  In addition, the frame-rate takes a dive whenever there is a lot of action on screen at once – which is in fact quite often.  The colors and aren’t as vibrant on the PSP as they are on the consoles and have a very grainy look to them. Still the feat of compressing an entire console experience into a handheld is pretty substantial in its own right and makes these small gripes easier to look past.

Danny Elfman’s excellent soundtrack from the original 1989 Tim Burton film further adds to the game’s atmosphere, though not always for the best.  There are unfortunately only a few tracks throughout the entire game and they do tend to get a little repetitive.  the grunts and laughs are serviceable to the franchise but like the music, can get a bit dull and repetitive.

The coop mode in the console versions is entirely absent from on the PSP.  Considering the game’s $30 price tag and the large amount of single player content, the coop is probably something most PSP owners can do without.

As a 15-20 hour adventure with reason to play over multiple times, LEGO Batman is a good addition to any Batman or LEGO PSP fan who is willing to look past some of the graphical hitches and the childish exterior.

OVERALL: 8.0/10

Pros:

 – Generally good graphics and big levels

 – Long campaign with lots of replay value

 – LEGO+Batman Universe = tons of charm

Cons

 – Poor frame rate and textures

 – somewhat easy combat

Traveler’s Tales long series of LEGO games has included the likes of several of the Star Wars films, Harry Potter, Batman, and Indiana Jones.  Taking an established franchise, converting it into an action-platformer chock full of LEGO bricks, and mixing in some tongue in cheek humor is the idea here.  Most of the games are fairly good if not derivative of each other, and in that respect LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean is no different for – better or for worse.

LEGO and the Pirates brand are actually very intuitively combined into an action-platformer.  All three of the released films are in here as is the upcoming fourth film On Stranger Tides, set to release in a few weeks.  The goofy and charismatic Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow translates perfectly to a LEGO game and arguably is one of the most humorous LEGO characters to date.  Unfortunately, as with all of the LEGO games, a prior knowledge of the films’ events and characters is almost mandatory for any of the game’s story to make any sense considering all of the characters speak through  mumbles and grunts without subtitles of any sort.  Its very charming in its own right, but can come off as somewhat exclusive of those not familiar with the series.

A Pirate’s Life for Me

Gameplay is fairly standard LEGO fare, if you’ve played any of the other Traveler’s Tales LEGO games then this will be very familiar to you.  For better or for worse, the game sticks to the series staple of going through several sets of short to medium length levels while collecting LEGO studs to unlock new minifig characters and other goodies. Pre-rendered cut-scenes summarize the four films’ stories and are taken from Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game.  A central hub level allows the player to use their collected LEGO stubs to buy new outfits, accessories, and minifig characters, of which there are over 70.

The platforming elements are light and the combat easy throughout the adventure’s 16 levels, which are broken up into 4 chapters based on the films.  Sword-fighting is a fairly easy affair, you can swing a sword or fire a ranged weapon to make short work of baddies.  Short work being the key word here considering the incredible ease of defeating the enemies.  Most will take a few slashes with your sword or two shots with your pistol to finish off.  What’s more is that if you so happen to find yourself out of health you simply re-spawn while loosing some LEGO stubs. It’s probably worth noting that  I did not find myself dying in combat at any point in the game.

Boss battles are handled through duels and take a cue from Sid Myers Pirates! – released on the PC, Xbox, and PSP a few years ago. Dueling  involves mashing the B button to build up an onscreen gauge and following several on-screen button prompts to successfully land an attack on the boss.  The duels don’t get much harder as the game progresses, leaving the boss battles with much to be desired. Duels aside, the simple combat and platforming allow for very accessible controls- namely the four face buttons controlling the various actions and the shoulder buttons swapping characters.

All in all, the game should take about 6 hours to play through the first time around if collecting the various LEGO stubs and treasures along the way.  Not every character can access every part of the level so a second or third play-through of each level is almost mandatory if you want to see everything that the game has to offer.  That said, it feels more like a leisurely stroll in the park rather than a full on roller-coaster ride – especially if you aren’t in the suggested age category of  10+ .

Sights and Sounds out Yonder.

Traveler’s Tales did a great job in capturing the look and sound of the Pirates franchise in this latest LEGO installment.  The 3DS version of the game is visually akin to the PSP one albeit with much better lighting and shadow effects.  Will Turner, Jack Sparrow, and the rest of the cast are very well animated, particularly Jack Sparrow’s trademark swagger.  Textures can be blurry in certain places but overall are crisp and clean.  The 3D effect is not as pronounced in some places due to the isometric camera angle but is still fairly decent throughout. The 3DS version has less detail than the Wii version yet boasts some very nice real time shadows and lighting.

The excellent soundtrack from the films makes the action sequences more exciting and the platforming more immersive though at the cost of being somewhat repetitive. You will here the roaring pirates theme alot -which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.   The sound effects are fairly similar to he previous LEGO games and involve  a lot of grunts, mumbles, laughs, and the sound bricks being assembled.

Another LEGO Brick on the road of life

One absent feature from the 3DS – and the PSP and DS – version of the game is the coop multi-player.  Instead, Treaveler’s Tales implemented a Street Pass battle feature where you can level up characters by participating in random battles with other 3DS gamers with Street Pass enabled and a copy of the game.  These duel battles have take no input from the player and are simply resolved based on the characters stats.   It’s a neat little feature, though is likely to not get much use, depending on where you are located.  A proper coop mode over the internet would have added a lot of replay value to the relatively short LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean. 

Lego Pirates of the Caribbean is a fairly good action platforming romp on the 3DS for fans of the films and younger gamers in general.  Those looking for more substance in gameplay or innovation to the established LEGO formula would do better to pick up LEGO Star Wars III for Xbox 360 or Ps3, as LEGO Pirates for the 3DS might not sustain your interest for too long.  The action and platforming elements are decent if not overly easy and derivative of past games; though a strong visual and audio presentation, coupled with some great charm and character, does help to look past the games simplicity.  LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean is worth the purchase for 3DS owners looking for some light action-platforming on the go.

Pros

 – Great graphics and Sound

 – Lots of stuff to collect

 – Charming LEGO gameplay

Cons

 – Short

 -Easy and somewhat shallow gameplay

Overall: 7/10