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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

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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

According to a Youtube video uploaded on September the 14th by ‘Eric from the Crown3DS team’, the 3DS has been hacked with a flash cart that can run 3DS software.

the Crown3DS, a large and obviously not for retail device is seen plugged into the 3DS’ cartridge slot and loading Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell 3D.

No other details are available right now but this does come as bad news for Nintendo, who have been struggling with poor 3DS sales and disenchanted and rapidly bailing stockholders.

Nintendo DS piracy was facilitated through similar, albeit commercial flashcarts, and has affected both the sale of software on the system and stock price.

Nintendo will likely patch any vulnerabilities through a system update before the Crown3DS is fully functional and ready for commercial – read illegal – sale.

Video games and radical political ideologies certainly aren’t strangers. Several video games have pitted players against the ‘evil ruskies and their Anti-American way of life’; some note worthy ones include Metal Gear Solid 3 Snake Eater and 007 Goldeneye.

But since when do ideological and sociopolitical experiments seem like they come straight out of a video game rather than vice-versa? Peter Thiel, billionaire and founder of Paypal, has reportedly donated a large sum of money – in the tune of 1.25 million dollars – to help the Seasteading Institute fund an experiment of creating an uninhibited and libertarian country in the middle of the ocean that would do away with pretty much all socialism in favor of complete and total de-regulation.   In other words Andrew Ryan is finally building his Rapture, complete with lax building codes, no minimum wage, and the most important of all: light regulation of weapons.  Better stock up on ’em while you can boys and girls, if BioShock is anything to go by you’re gonna need them soon enough.

Source: Yahoo News

Sony has just announced at their E3 conference that the NGP – now known as the PS Vita – will debut bu the end of 2011 for under $250 bucks (or 250 Euros) for the wifi version and $299/299 Euros for the 3G one.   Planned launch titles include Uncharted, Little Big Planet, Ruin, and Mod Nation Racers. Capcom have also gone on stage to reveal that their latest fighting game, Capcom X Tekken, will make a debut on Sony’s handheld with the protagonist of the Infamous franchise, Cole, as a playable character.

Sony is promising that over 80 titles are in development from big publishers such as EA, Ubisoft, Activision and THQ. Previously shown tech demos of Lost Planet 2 and Metal Gear solid 4, and Yakuza 4 were not announced or shown to be upcoming games.


Nintendo is looking to have some stiff competition come this holiday season, and a price cut to the 3DS seems to be inevitable considering Sony’s bold pricing of the Vita. Nintendo’s conference is slated for tomorrow and we shall see what they have in store for the handheld market.

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

Before the current generation of consoles there was no such thing as ‘DLC’ (downloadable Content), at least not in the sense that the term is used today.  Developers tried give gamers the most out of their product through expansion packs with the purpose of adding additional ‘content’ to the core experience of a game.  Usually this equated to several new levels and an expanded/alternate story line.  Expansion packs usually cost about a half or a third of the original game and like DLC require you to have the original installed.

Aside from the obvious key difference of the delivery method of the content (just try to download 1GB of content on a 56k modem in 2000!) the quality of the content has dramatically changed.  Note I’m not referring to the few traditional expansion packs out there such as those for the Warhammer Dawn of War series, Dragon Age, or those for the many MMOs available.  The type of micro DLC popularized by Microsoft and Sony on their home consoles has found it’s way into computer games over the past few years, both with good and bad effect -though honestly…mostly bad.

Cost of Content

The first negative to DLC on PC’s is the cost to content ratio, or the value of the content.  Microsoft charges gamers an average of 800 MS points (or about $10) for the majority of downloadable content, though some small DLC packs like extra weapons or character skins can go for around 200-500 MS points.  $10-15 sometimes nets you a few multi-player maps or single player levels though rarely add a significant amount of game-play or additional story.  Whereas Half-Life 2 episode 1 and 2 offered several hours of new and expanded game-play and added insight to the series mythos. I would gladly be willing to pay $15 or $20 for 6-7 hours of quality content that expands a games story arc or adds significant multi-player enhancements.  In the case of multi-player, Valve software have given away an enormous amount of multi-player content for Team Fortress 2 (though have also introduced one of the most egregious and overpriced micro-transaction systems to date) Sadly, much some publishers have the nerve to charge $5-10 to play as a particular character or unlock certain stages or extra’s included on the disk.  Luckily this is a mostly console exclusive effect as I have seen few PC publishers with the audacity to attempt something so low.

Delivery

The way the content gets on your computer has changed considerably thanks to much higher internet speed, but is it really all that much more convenient?  The problem with most DLC delivery methods is that most companies offering DLC do it through the less than stellar Games For Windows Live.  Having to buy MS points while wrestling with the in-game GFWL application can range from arduous to downright painful when something goes wrong with it.  Some publishers have easier methods involving CD keys -which can work better in many cases- but still lack an easy and universal method.  Even steam users who purchase a Games for Windows title must go through Micosoft’s app to get the DLC.

Much of the DLC content available on consoles never makes to to the PC version of a game, especially if it isn’t a GFW title.  In some cases it simply takes a long time. Minerva’s Den and the Protector Trials DLC packs for BioShock 2 took more than a year to finally arrive on the PC.  for GTA IV, The Ballad of Gay Tony and The Lost and the Damned also took over a year to make it to the PC.  Obviously Microsoft and the other publishers do not see a big enough market for DLC on the PC front and have devoted resources to making the most from the consoles.  It’s a sad state of affairs but with the way GFWL is going I predict it won’t get any better any time soon.  The one hope for easy DLC remains with Steam if they can somehow convince publishers to avoid GFWL.

Digital delivery is the future of content whether we like it or not; hopefully publishers will push out meaningful content in a streamlined way in the near future.  There’s always the modding communities for us PC gamers who don’t want to jump on the micro-transaction bandwagon, though even that unfortunately has a questionable future given the small amount of modifiable games out in the market now.


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