Category: Game Reviews

Splinter Cell 3d for the Nintendo 3DS is a port of 2005’s critically acclaimed Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory.  The story is the same, the levels are all here, but the gameplay is merely a reflection of the original in a dirty pond.  With some 3D effects.  for $40.

You are Sam Fisher, a Black Operative for the ‘Third Echelon’ division of the NSA – all very under the radar top secret stuff.  You are tasked with finding out why a rag tag bunch of revolutionaries in Peru stole top secret computer algorithms.  Naturally the even is connected to North Korea and China, and the story unfolds through news reels and cut scenes throughout the  game.  The story itself is fairly decent although minimal, this isn’t Metal Gear, and at least it isn’t so convoluted.

Due to the one man nature of the mission, Fisher’s success depends on stealth as opposed to run and gun tactics found in most shooters.  To avoid detection you stick to the shadows and either shoot unwitting grunts in the head with your silenced pistol or get up close and personal to interrogate, knock them out, or kill them in close combat.  The latter two are easy enough due to simply running up to an enemy and pressing one of the triggers.  The former can be a pain in the rear -for both parties involved – as you must use a contextual button on the touch screen when you are behind the enemy.  I found myself often nearly touching the grunt with no grab command coming up on the screen.  It can be frustrating to say the least.

Other aspects of the controls are fairly well done considering the lack of a second analog stick.  The circular pad moves Fisher while the face buttons are used for camera control.  The touch screen gives you access to switching weapons, looking at the map, and turning on the all in one enchanted vision goggles.  For a first person shooter the touch screen would have been more ideal for camera aiming, but given that this is a slower paced stealth game the face buttons usually work.

The iconic green glowing vision goggles are back although gone are the different vision modes found in the previous versions of the game.  Instead what we have is a generic white and gray vision mode that highlights anything of importance white.  On one hand it streamlines the gameplay consolidating them all in one function for ease of use.  On the other hand it’s fairly bland and boring. If playing in an area of low ambient light you shouldn’t need them anyways.

The level design is perhaps one of the worst aspects of the game; detailed continuous levels found in the original Xbox and PC versions of the game are replaced by broken up into sections of usually bland ones on the 3DS.  Some fare better than others though the very first in particular, is quite hideous and dull.  The original’s levels felt like real places as opposed to corridors that simply connect level segments.  You get from point A to point B while taking out enemy NPCs of dubious  A.I which aren’t an inquisitive bunch, and will stick to limited paths in the levels. With all of that being said, there is a good amount of content in the game, with about 10 levels filled with both primary and secondary objectives.

The problem of level design is exacerbated by the graphical presentation as a whole.  Ubisoft seemingly rushed the game out of the door with tacked on 3D visuals and a very low framerate.  The game isn’t very detailed and considering the simple level design it’s hard to understand why the framerate is in the 20s most of the time.  The controls may themselves be decent, but when the game begins to chug during shootouts, you will have a hard time aiming.  The 3D effect is quite good, especially in some of the later levels that have a bit more detail, just don’t expect to see it if playing in an environment with too much ambient light.

With the 3D turned on Fisher stands in the foreground  while the levels and enemies remain in the backround. Objects such as rails and boxes sometimes pop out though it can be difficult to see depending on the level.   Ubisoft also included on screen hints in white and red letters – similarly to what they did in Splinter Cell Conviction – that pop out in 3D mode.  It’s pretty neat, just not very useful for actual gameplay.

The audio is pretty much ripped from the previous versions albeit with some of the dialogue omitted. The soundtrack is fairly minimal, kicking in at certain times of action such as shootouts.  Michael Ironside provides some good voice overs for Fisher with some great deadpan humor on the side.

Chaos Theory on the Xbox and PC was known for it’s robust multiplayer component.  Both the coop and versus modes are completely absent from the 3DS version, and probably for good reason: the 3DS version is simply too slow for any kind of multi-player to be enjoyable.

If you’ve played Chaos Theory before on the PC or Xbox then this version will probably disappoint you.  Then again if you are a die hard splinter cell fan then…. you probably should still stay away unless you want to see your beloved spy  in a ‘shadow’ of his former glory.  If you absolutely need something to play on the 3DS and you can find this in the bargain bin then it may be worth it so long as your expectations aren’t too high. It can be fun at times, but the shortcomings can’t justify spending more than $20 for some so so stealth action on the go.  Hopefully Metal Gear Solid 3 will do more justice to stealth games on the 3DS when it’s released.


– Port of a classic stealth action game.

– Plenty of single player content

– Good implementation of 3D


– Hit or miss graphics.

– Low frame rate + slow controls

– No multi-player of any kind.

Score : 6.5/10

As of Sunday March 27th Glasses free 3D is here courtesy of Nintendo’s new 3DS handheld video game system – the question is, should you go out and buy one?

The 3DS is Nintendo’s successor to their exuberantly popular DS system which was released back in 2004.  Including the original’s innovative touch-screen, the 3DS adds a stereoscopic glasses free 3D screen to enhance the graphics in eye-popping 3D.

To get it out of the way I can safely say this: The 3D effect works, and fairly well at that. That said 3D alone is not enough to make a good system.  Is the $250 price justifiable?

Many Nintendo fanatics and technophiles have already plunked down their cash and became early adopters of the handheld gaming device; though if Nintendo is to have their way many more will experience the handheld sooner or later.  The caveat is precisely that: sooner or later; and there are several things to consider, including price, software, and of course 3D itself, before you decide if you should purchase a 3DS.

The Hardware

The first thing you’ll notice about the 3DS is how strikingly similar it is to Nintendo’s DS Lite and DSi systems.  The chassis – which is available in black or turquoise – sports the same dual screen configuration and clamshell design, albeit with a slightly different button layout.  The top 3D stereoscopic screen measures at 3.53” with a resolution of 800×240 (400×240 per eye) while the bottom touch-screen measures at 3.0” with a resolution of 320×240.

The device measures in at less than an inch in thickness, .83” to be precise, weighs about half a pound and is roughly the same size as a Nintendo DS Lite.  Although being somewhat bigger than your average cell phone or iPod the system will easily fit in a pocket or small purse.

The device has four face buttons, a directional pad, and analog nub (called circular pad), a pair of triggers, a slider to control the depth of the 3D effects, a volume slider, and start, select and home buttons.

The face buttons and triggers follow the same layout as the Nintendo’s previous DS systems albeit noticeably smaller.  People with small hands may not mind the small nature of the buttons though those with larger hands may find the button layout a bit cramped. The directional pad in particular is quite bad.

The analog stick on the other hand has a large circumference and accommodates your thumb quite nicely, much better in fact, than the PSP system, which was notorious for having a small and unresponsive analog nub.

The bad news is that there is only one, a limitation that has hampered the control of certain types of games such as first person shooters on the PSP.  That said, the touch screen can potentially mitigate this issue if implemented in games correctly.  Overall, the 3DS is just not as comfortable to hold as the DS Lite or Sony’s PSP.

The 3D slider, located on the side of the upper half, controls whether the 3D effect is turned on, and if it is, how much depth is used.  When pushed all the way the 3D effect is more pronounced and when pushed to minimum the 3D effect is muted.

The start, select, and home buttons are completely flush on the system and are difficult to press.  In certain cases it took me several tries to apply enough pressure on these buttons to use them properly.

The included stylus fits snuggly inside the system and is fairly comfortable to hold.  Two Cameras in the back are capable of taking 3D photos and the lone camera in the front takes 2D ones.  Don’t go throwing out your digital camera though; the two cameras are only 0.3 megapixels (640×480), which is worse than many cell phones.

Thankfully the 3DS has better sound quality than most cell phones, which is an improvement over the original DS and DSi. The volume itself is quite loud but if one desired to play without making much noise a standard headphone jack is available as well.

For wireless capability, Nintendo has included 802.11g, which is fairly good for a handheld but not up to snuff compared to 3G/4G found in other (albeit more expensive) wireless devices or even 802.11n found in most current routers.

The bottom touch screen is pretty responsive though it’s a shame it is not multi-touch responsive like the iPhone and some of the newer touch screen devices.  The screen won’t recognize the press of a thumb for an instance – a particular point on the screen must be pressed with the stylus or thumbnail for the 3ds to register the press.

With a price tag of $250 it is disappointing that Nintendo includes what is essentially 7 year old tech for the bottom screen.

The top screen on the other hand is beautiful and crisp, particularly when viewed in 3D, which is of course the main feature and selling point of the system. The 3DS sports a pretty capable graphics chip to take advantage of the 3D capabilities; close to the Nintendo Nintendo Wii in capabilities but certainly not up there with Sony’s upcoming NGP handheld system.  Now whole it won’t give you PS3 or Xbox 360 level of graphics it will provide enough graphics power for something those systems can’t do: glasses free 3D.

Glasses-Free 3D

The 3D effect truly is revolutionary when you consider that those annoying glasses required for viewing 3D televisions and movie screens are not necessary. The fact that this is true on a handheld makes the 3DS something of a technological miracle – well almost.

The 3D depth slider on the side of the device controls the depth of the 3D and whether it’s on or off.  Some people report that the 3D effect gives them head-aches and makes their eyes feel uncomfortable.  I personally have not experienced any of these issues even when playing with the 3D depth slider set to the maximum level possible.

Others might have the trouble focusing on the 3D and/or get headaches after extended play though this is probably rare.  Never the less if you find yourself feeling sick after viewing a 3D movie at the theaters or with a 3D television, you may have to limit yourself to using the 3DS in 2D mode.

That is of course not to say that the experience of viewing the 3D is just like the one with your standard 3D requiring glasses. The effect is similar, albeit somewhat subtler, as the 3D doesn’t leap out at you as much as it gives you a real sense of depth, like looking out of a window.

The downside to the glasses free experience is that there is a particular angle that the 3DS must be held at to see the 3D effect clearly; move just a little to the right or left and the top screen becomes blurry and you lose the effect.  Fortunately you don’t have to fine tune the angle for more than 1 or 2 seconds at most and the adjustment shouldn’t interfere with gaming – unless perhaps you attempt to run or jog while playing, then it may become problematic.

As with most electronics, the more advanced the hardware, the shorter the battery life.  The 3DS is no exception and the 3D experience unfortunately takes its toll on the portability of the system.  On a full charge and with the 3D and Wi-Fi turned on and brightness set to maximum, the 3DS only manages to muster up about 3 hours of play time.

At minimum brightness and no 3D or Wi-Fi the system can give 4 ½ to 5 hours depending on the game.  That’s particularly disappointing when compared to the Nintendo DSi’s battery life of about 15 hours on minimum brightness.  Still it’s comparable to the PSP’s battery life and is certainly doable.  Nintendo includes a charging dock to keep your 3DS in while it’s charging  though to me it comes off as cheap and largely unnecessary.

It’s also worth noting that Nintendo recommends that the 3D effect not be viewed by those less than 7 years old, though I personally wouldn’t recommend giving a $250 device to a toddler regardless of the possibility that the 3D may burn holes in their eyes.

The 3D itself is pretty much just as Nintendo promised.  It really does enhance the gaming experience so you should drop this article and go run heedlessly to buy one right now right? Well… it’s not as simple as that.

Though Nintendo introduced this revolutionary tech it by no means has exclusive rights to it.  Within the year more manufacturers, almost certainly including apple, will integrate the glasses free technology into their own devices.   What will differentiate the 3DS is the quality software that smart phones simply can’t produce.  Well, hopefully, because right now that doesn’t seem to be the case.

The Software

So perhaps  you’ve bought your 3DS and are dying to test out the 3D.  Even if you don’t have any software purchased with the system you’re in luck: Nintendo includes several 3D games and other software utilizing the 3D cameras built right into the system OS.

Nintendo brought over the wildly popular ‘Miis’ from the Wii console, allowing the facial recognition software to be use the camera’s to approximate your own face, and even allowing you to import your existing Mii from your Wii.  The Miis look and function exactly like they do on the Wii albeit in 3D.

Nintendo Sounds allows you to record and edit sounds and tunes.  Not really a gameplay feature but a cool one to have none the less.

Face raiders allows you to take a profile photograph of anyone’s face and map it to flying balls for some fun shoot-em-up time.  Several AR (augmented reality) games can be played with the 6 included paper cards to use the 3D cameras seemingly blend the real world into a set of mini games.

Both of these games have a definite ‘wow’ factor when first trying them out and showing them to others.  Seeing your face or two-dimensional card come to life is pretty awe inspiring at first, yet grows pretty old after a while.  Both games are great showcase software no but don’t offer much in the way of substance or replay value.  Wii Sports, which was bundled with the Wii console, arguably offered more gameplay, still they’re free and a nice addition to the handheld.

Other software features built into the unit include the Street Pass feature designed for your system to interact with other 3DS systems while walking around. In addition, with the Activity Log, the 3DS keeps track of the amount of steps you take and converts it into coins to purchase / unlock things in certain mini games.    Both features are great though aren’t taken advantage of in most of the launch games.

If you have a collection of DS software, the 3DS is backwards compatible with most if not all.  DS games tend to look fuzzier on the higher resolution screens than the original DS hardware but are still playable – though of course only in 2D mode.  Gameboy Advance carts can’t be used but Nintendo may offer them as downloadable titles along with original Gameboy titles in the future.

3DS games are available in a small cartridge format similar to the original DS, and in the future through Nintendo’s download service.   Of the 16 available launch titles – including the three virtually identical versions of Nintendogs + cats – there isn’t much quality gameplay to be experienced.  Retailing for $40, most of the 16 games are either quick ports or rehashes disguised as ‘sequels’, few substantially justifying a re-purchase to play in 3D on a handheld.

Rayman, Ridge Racer, Samurai Warriors, Pilot Wings Resort, Super Street Fighter IV, Super Monkey Ball, The Sims 3, and Madden are all games we’ve seen countless times before.

What’s more is that many of these games are available – sans the 3D of course – for mobile devices, and under $10.

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time with Super Street Fighter IV: 3D edition and I must say that it is the best one of the bunch despite falling into the same category of being a port.  The game’s graphics and 3D effect are striking and feature set, including online and local play, and street pass functionality which lets you battle out with virtual figures. If you are a fighting game fan and do not own Super Street Fighter IV, this is certainly a fine version of the game and might justify buying a 3DS right now.

That is not to say that all of the other titles are horrible, some like Nintendogs + Cats and Madden are fun if not derivative and shallow.  The problem is that the price of the current games and the system may not justify the purchase so early after release, even if the 3D is quite good.

Nintendo currently does not have a virtual store to buy games directly through the 3DS.  They have stated that an online store will be released at a later date.  I’m confused to the reason for its absence at launch but hopefully they will have it up sooner than later.

The Future of the 3DS

The success of any handheld gaming device or console ultimately comes down to the quality and quantity of the games available.  The 3DS has the potential to become a worthy successor to the DS and one of the better displays of 3D technology.  The problem right now is that none of the games really justify the $250 price tag of admission.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great device and truly one that is unique right now in the handheld market.  If you are dying to try out the technology I can say that it is well designed and truly makes the 3DS shine in that regard.  For most though, a video game system is about the games to play on it, and there lies the 3DS weakness as of right now.  Some great looking titles including the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Kid Icarus Uprising, and Resident Evil Revelations, and Metal Gear Solid 3 are set to be released this year and would make good candidates for the ‘killer app’ that the 3DS really needs to really succeed.

If reports of the ~$101 manufacturing cost of the 3DS are true then it’s only a matter of time before the console receives a price cut, especially with the proliferation of 3D handheld devices and Sony’s upcoming NGP. At $250 the novelty of the 3D may be justifiable to Nintendo but at around $200 the 3DS would be much easier to recommend.

As it stands now, unless you are dying to experience the 3D tech and/or are completely new to handheld gaming and have never played the various ports and rehashes, you could do well to wait for either a price drop or the release of some of the better games planned for the system.

In the World of Darkness some one is always watching…

2004 is remembered by the PC community as the year that Valve’s Half-Life 2 and Id Software’s Doom 3 battled it out at retailers and review publications.  Those who went to purchase Half-Life 2 on its release day might have noticed a vampire themed game sitting on the new releases shelf besides the legendary Half-Life 2 – unfortunately most did not. This poor error in marketing along with severely underfunding developer Troika games in the last few weeks before release resulted in – what is perhaps one of the best PC role playing games of the decade – being released prematurely and without proper marketing.  Fortunately Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines has since overcome some of these issues, and lives up to its promise of a tour-de-force experience of one night in the (un)-life of a vampire.  The game is certainly worth a look even to those who were disappointed by its issues at release.  Thanks to a few community patches, it now stands as being one of the definitive, although not perfect, role playing games on the PC.

Tooth, Claw, and a .45

Story and interaction is undeniably what  defines an RPG; Vampire: Bloodlines is based off of the popular White Wolf pen and paper role playing game Vampire the Masquerade.  Set in the World of Darkness, a Gothic modern day America, the back story focuses on the interaction between vampires and the humans they prey on; particularly in major metropolitan cities.

Different sects, or clans, of vampires struggle for power and dominance while simultaneously protecting the secrecy of their race: hence the games subtitle, the Masquerade.  As a vampire you must protect this secrecy through both stealth and subterfuge, evading human law enforcement, witch hunters, and vampires belonging to other clans.  The society – or political party if you will – that enforces this masquerade is dubbed the ‘Camarilla’. Other factions have different ideas about how vampire society should run.  None of them are whole-heatedly black and white.

Unfortunately there's no physical customization of your character.

The backdrop translates very well to the game; the differing clans all offer different unique play styles and NPC interaction.  Clans such as the charismatic Ventrue make up the upper echelons of the camarilla while Nosferatu – based off of the famous silent film of the same name – are hideously deformed vampires whose mere presence in public sets off panicking civilians and trigger happy law enforcement.  Between these two opposite castes in vampire society exist the animalistic Brujah, the magically inclined Tremere, the seductive Toreador, and perhaps the most interesting to play – the utterly insane Malkavians.

The main story begins with you, a newly embraced (bitten) vampire falling into servitude to the head honcho of the the Camarilla.  As with many other RPGs you begin the game running small tasks for the powers that be. Rival factions opposed to the Camarilla reveal themselves to the player who is given choices about who to cooperate with and when to.  As the story progresses it is discovered that an ancient vampire sarcophagus is found and the player is tasked with retrieving it. What posses a conundrum to the player is what to do with the sarcophagus and how to deal with the various factions all seemingly trying to use you as a pawn to further their own agendas. The answer is not always so clear.

Dialogue with the various NPC’s is done in a first person perspective where various choices are presented; normal responses allow for colorful responses and special choices for seduction, intimidation, and manipulation allow the player to dwell deeper into a conversation to achieve some goal or gain some insight- the dialogue choices available are determined by the player’s skill in different areas.

The interaction between the player and NPCs is rewarding and well written.  Plenty of plot choices and twists allow the game to be replayed to achieve one of the several different endings.  The strength of the main story is that it’s largely linear thus remains focused and rewarding to follow.  Unfortunately side-quests aren’t as fleshed out as the main quest resulting in comparatively less game-play than newer open ended RPGs like Oblivion and Fallout 3 but should still last well over 30 hours.

Not your Typical RPG

Similarly to Bethesda’s Elder’s Scrolls series, Vampire: Bloodlines uses both a first person and third person viewpoints completely in real time.  Being set in a modern city allows for easy access to fire arms which are utilized exclusively in the first person mode.  This is certainly no first person shooter and players can’t simply pop off head shots from the get go.  Close combat is viewed in the third person allowing the player to view themselves chopping up and dicing their foes with the several melee weapons available. Being a vampire requires you to feed on humans (and sometimes rats!) every so often to preserve your un-life.  As with melee combat this is viscerally done in the third person. Unfortunately some of these third person animations are somewhat limited in variety and the detection system can be hit or miss depending on the weapon.

Both gun-play and melee combat, along with other non violent skills, are governed by the various stats ranging from one to five that can be increased by the player with xp points received for completing quests.  Accuracy, melee, stealth, computer hacking, lock-picking, along with a multitude of other skills, can be used to customize your play style.

Players aren’t rewarded for individual kills of monsters, but rather the completion of a particular task.  Head on and all out bloodshed is not always the best answer – certain quests can be completed using stealth or dialog skills without the need to kill anyone. This approach to game-play really sets Vampire:Bloodlines apart from many other PC RPGs; It’s a breath of fresh air and in most cases work’s admirably.  The one exception is a sewer segment in the second half of the game that requires the player to trudge through a multitude of monsters to get to the end.  The segment is long, tedious, and is not very fun for a non-combat focused character. The level is perhaps the low point in the game but by no means a game-breaker.

So many choices…

Game-play progresses through four main hubs located in different parts of the fictional Los Angeles area.  Santa Monica Harbor, Downtown, Hollywood, and Chinatown are the main areas for players to explore, each run by a different powerful vampire.  Combat areas both inside and outside of these hubs are the game’s ‘dungeon’ equivalents.  Some combat areas take place in abandoned buildings, others in skyscrapers. A particularly memorable one is a very atmospheric haunted mansion full of creepy noises and scares, another is a history museum patrolled by human security guards.  Some of the combat areas offer alternate means of completion such as stealth while others require you to bring along some firepower.  Nearly all are incredibly fun albeit somewhat linear.

The Source of all Evil

Vampire Bloodlines had more in common with Half-Life 2 than just its release date.  Troika Games licensed Valve’s Source engine to power Vampire:Bloodlines.  Visually striking in art, style and execution, the game was quite gorgeous at its release – although not to the level of Hal-Life 2.  The art style is Gothic yet colorful; neon lights can be found abundantly in Hollywood, rain and fog particles are very atmospheric in Santa Monica, gargoyles overlook the skyscraper – the list of artistic nuances can go on and on.  The trouble comes with the various glitches and performance bugs Troika was not able to address because of underfunding at the time of the game’s release.

NPCs are stiff in their animations both while performing actions and while speaking.  The lip syncing is done well but certainly not on par with Half-Life 2.  The original system requirements called for a 1.2ghz cpu and 256MB ram.  These requirements were completely in line with valve’s own Source Engine offering, yet as gamers found out, they were certainly not realistic. In certain situations, the game can struggle even on modern machines with dual and quad core cpus in certain situations, particularly when rendering many of the rain and fog particles found in the Santa Monica hub.  The minimum requirements should really be core 2 duo at 2.0ghz, (or equivalent) 1GB ram, and Geforce 6800/ Radeon x1600 or higher.

Dying to Hear

The game’s audio department received more polish than the visuals and it really shows.  All of the NPCs are fully voiced by good voice actors.  One of the stand outs would certainly have to be John DiMaggio, the voice actor for Bender in the cartoon series Futurama and the voice of Marcus Fenix in the Gears of War series.

The game has great original music and a great licensed soundtrack with bands such as Ministry and Lacuna Coil.  The music is always appropriate to context of the situation.  For instance, Lacuna Coil playing in a night club.  Radio and TV broadcast voice over’s are additional little details that go a long way to help the player’s suspension of disbelief and take cues in the humor from the Grand Theft Auto series. The mock advertisements and news reports always are entertaining to listen to, especially since they often describe and event or quest you just completed.

When the game was released in 2004 many discovered that despite the excellent game-play, glitches and bugs really hampered the experience.  Troika Games released a patch to address a few of these issues before going out of business yet still left many others in place.  Had the game remained so it would have still been a solid, albeit largely flawed, role playing game.  Thanks to the community of fans, the game has received a steady stream of patches to correct most, if not all of these bugs in an effort to allow gamers to play the game as was intended by Troika.  As of March 2011 the game is nearly bug free and is able to be played as originally intended – provided you install the latest community patch.

It’s a linear yet focused adventure that contains enough varied game-play elements which allow it to be enjoyed by both fans of traditional PC role playing games and those of FPS and action adventure games.  Just remember to patch it with the latest community update before playing.

The dialogue is particularly witty and satisfying.

Final rating: 9.3/10 – The caveat being that the game is played with the community patch, otherwise the score is somewhat lower.