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Video games, PC games, or other interactive media that's currently caught my attention ...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes (Xbox)

After playing Gauntlet Seven Sorrows the other night, when a buddy came in from out of town Monday, we decided to dig out our mutual favorite original Xbox co-op game Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes.

This is a freaking fantastic game, and you shouldn't miss it. Seriously.

The title probably didn't get its due because being an Xbox exclusive in the early days restricted its visibility, and it's licensed fare. And let's be honest, some reviewers hate licensed fare (to be fair, most licensed fare sucks).

Sure, there are some hack-and-slash tropes in the game (a la Baldur's Gate), but this is a pretty game, has great level design, differing feels for each level, fun side quests, and well-done cut scenes (though there are a couple that seem disjoint on the graphical side, but that's only when compared to the others of super high quality).

Actually, the cinematics (I think mostly done by Dragonlight Productions, Inc., who I don't know if is even still around) are high quality, with solid voice work, interesting, cinematic flare, and are head and shoulders above most video game cut scenes.

And the game has prettiest, most subtly effective water I've seen. Last-Gen or Now-Gen. Seriously.

And a game like this, designed to be played together, really shines with 1 to 3 friends questing along.

And there's a whole bunch of "little" stuff this game does well.

Things like the water. Usability things like your most recent saved game moves to the top of your save/load games menu. The game slows down action while you make button assignments, but doesn't stop the action. Your characters change looks (onscreen and in menu) as you swap out armor and weapons. It's easy to buy / sell / drop / give items.

Keep in mind, this was 2003.

You can pick up this game for dirt cheap new or used. I highly recommend it.
Would I rent? Yes.
Would I buy? Oh, yeah!

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Gauntlet Seven Sorrows (Xbox)

I've wanted to play Gauntlet Seven Sorrows on the original Xbox for some time.

Due to external happenings and a request from my East Coast gaming buddy Dajoti, I rented the game Friday night.

This is an under-rated game.

I mean, it got middling reviews, but it's real strength lies in multiplayer. Questing through the entire game with a buddy on Xbox Live (or, better, together in the same room) is a lot of fun. Though I wonder if 4-player multiplayer would hold up over Xbox Live -- two player was a bit frustrating as we talked each other into what direction to go next.

This a hack and slash game, with light RPG elements that let you choose powers to purchase and skill points to assign.

There are older Xbox games I would argue look even better (Hunter: The Reckoning; the ridiculously underrated Dungeons and Dragons Heroes; etc.), but Seven Sorrows has some great character designs and detailed environments. There are also decent production values in the not-overbearing back story and cut scenes.

The game's a bit on the short side -- Dajoti and I bulleted through it in around 5 or 6 hours.

And, after playing games like X-Men Legends or Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, I expect fully destructible environments. Not so much in Seven Sorrows.

Oh, and the game ends unceremoniously. Dajoti were texting each other and saying, "Um, I guess that's the game. G'night."

As an aside, though Gauntlet Seven Sorrows is on the Xbox 360 backwards compatibility list, my playing on a 360 and Dajoti on an original Xbox caused constant disconnects over Xbox Live. My switching to original Xbox solved the issue.

Overall, a fun game to play with friends.
Would I rent? Yes.
Would I buy? No

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (XBLA)

Microsoft and Ubisoft just made Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the 1989 arcade, available over Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA).

If you want to read a review about what's OK in the game, go to

From my perspective, this inexpensive (400 points) title does just fine.

No, there's no "updated graphics" option (what, did Rootbeer Tapper start a bad trend?).

But this game -- this port of a 4-player, cooperative upright arcade game -- can be played 4-player co-op.

Oh, you can play 4-player online co-op over Xbox Live. But, frankly, I'm tired of online idiocy.

You can have 2, 3, or 4 people in the same room, on the same console, and play the game the way it was designed to be played.

Getting to offline co-op is a bit wonky --you have to through the "Single Player", join from a second controller, and sign into an account.

And, yeah, unlimited continues can make the game "easy" -- but the Achievements up the difficulty level.

Good, cheap, retro times ...

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Crackdown (Xbox 360)

Crackdown is an impressive, fun, and fully worthwhile sandbox game.

I was irritated about the marginalizing of Crackdown as a "Halo 3 beta pack-in", but I'm sure the cross-promotion hugely helps them both, so I'm fine with it now. Not that anyone asked.

For those who don't know the genre, an open-world or sandbox game lets you wander around the game world, doing what you want, how you want, when you want.

In this case, you can take out the first- or second-level baddies in any of the 3 gangs in any order you want to weaken the kingpins, or you can skip levels or even go right to the respective kingpins.

Or, you can spend all of your time exploring, leveling up your character (almost RPG-like), getting more powerful on the agility (fun faster jump higher), firearms (quicker and more accurate), explosives (big ol' damage fest), strengths (pick up a car with someone inside and throw it), or driving (faster and better handling).

Or, you can run around trying to collect all of the "Agility Orbs" (there are 500 of them, and I'm at ~370) or Mystery Orbs (there are 300 of them, and I'm at, uh, ~40)

You can also create all sorts of your own mini games within the larger game. Like "Volkball" (get a giant sculpture globe through a goal). Or Lightball (basketball), Rocket Tag, Urban Surfing, King of the Hill, Kick the Car, Car Golf, Huge Air, The Runs, and Jerk Sim 1.0. Or, you can just pile as many cars up as you can, and see how many blocks wide the explosion will be. Or you can pile up pedestrian bodies and see if you can walk up them to that second story (or, um, so I've heard).

Achievements are a big part of Xbox Live, and Crackdown has some of the more creative. I like to play through a game without knowing what the Achievements are (to avoid spoilers), and it's fun to get surprised by things like "Shot-putter" (10 points for "Throw any object (other than a grenade) 205 feet or more") and "Mad Bomber" (15 points for killing 500 gang members using explosives).

Online co-op play is a lot of fun in this game (and needed for a lot of the minigames above). It's fun to work through the mission mode with a buddy. And I'm bummed co-op isn't available offline -- a serious shortcoming that would give the game more legs for me (I'm a social gamer, and online doesn't count for me). I also wish there was more multiplayer, and though there's a version of it enabled by the game keeping score of player versus player kills, I'm hoping this speaks to something more formal down the road. And having 4-way co-op with fully leveled agents would be amazing.

Sandbox games often struggle with a cohesive story, and this is one area in particular where Crackdown struggles more than others. There's no story per se, just "kill all of the kingpins". This is unfortunate, because there's actually a decent story hook that gets laid on you as you finish the game -- which I'm hoping speaks to a sequel or downloadable content.

One of my pet peeves with RPGs, on the other hand, is when you can't replay the game as a leveled up character. Crackdown suffers from the same thing, and I'm not sure why Realtime Worlds made that design decision.

Something that hampers the fun of the game (and a lot of the mini games) is inconsistent in-game persistence. I can be stacking explosive barrels and cars for a mega explosion, but if I get too far away from the pile, things start disappearing. To be fair, this may be a consequence of Microsoft mandating to developers that they don't rely on the Xbox 360 hard drive being present. On the flip side, Oblivion seemed to get this right, and that's an older game.

The one thing that I don't enjoy about the game is it's nigh impossible to play the game without hurting innocents. If I want to play through the game as a "hero", it's wicked tough to do it without collateral damage. Lots of collateral damage.

Overall, a fantastic game, with a lot of longevity if you're creative and have an online friend, and hopefully there's incoming downloadable content and a sequel in the works.
Would I rent? Yes.
Would I buy? Oh, yeah!

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Armored Core 4 (Xbox 360)

I downloaded the Japanese Xbox 360 demo for Armored Core 4 yesterday.

I need to spend some more time with it, but so far I'm happy.

I'm a fan of all but the latest Armored Core entries, and this also scratches a Zone of the Enders kind of itch the 360 hasn't been able to yet reach.

I'm looking forward to the full game.

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