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

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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Friday, January 05, 2007

Rogue Trooper (Xbox)

I finished Rogue Trooper last night, the Xbox shooter from Rebellion.

This is a great little game, and I'm so bummed that it's likely to never see a sequel -- this thing would be awesome on the 360. Updated graphics, the continuation of Rogue's mission, better enemy AI and a robust multiplayer -- this thing would be pretty sweet (but would probably suffer in the Gears of War shadow).

The thing pretty much played out like my last post about it. There were was some nice diversity of maps (the Petrified Forest in particular), nods to the inspiring comic book elements (Nu-Earth fauna, to-be-later-girlfriend Venus, etc.).

My only gripe is the the end of the game was ridiculous. One of my gaming pet peeves is an insane push to get to the final boss, and then not (as the player) having the opportunity to take out the final boss myself. There are several ways this can be done badly in a game, but I'll let you play to see how it was badly implemented in this game. But even that doesn't detract from how much I enjoyed the whole game.

Oh, and stay to watch the credits. This one of those there's-a-scene-after-the-credits-you-shouldn't-miss things. Not Nu-Earth shattering, but worth waiting for. (Besides, you should always view the credits on a game. Those people put hard work into what you just finished.)

On the whole, I'm really glad this game was made. I'm frankly surprised it was, since the character was ostensibly rested after 1996, and had an arguably lackluster reboot in 2002 (though a couple of novels did come out in 2005 and 2006).

And this isn't the first game for the franchise. There was a 1986 shooter (isometric) from Piranha Software for the Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, and ZX Spectrum. There was also a A platformer for the Amiga and Atari ST in 1990 (Krisalis Software), which I'm not sure how I missed, since I was into both 2000AD and the Atari ST at that time.

Rambling, but all that is to say I hope a fourth game is made from the Rogue Trooper franchise, this time for now-gen systems. I'd do a lot to make that happen.

UPDATED: I just saw Pro-G rated Rogue Trooper 12th in 2006 -- ahead of games like Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Double Agent, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, and this quote from the reviewer is spot on:
"I don't think I've ever been as surprised as I was with Rogue Trooper. The team at Rebellion have crafted a tactical combat game that hits the target so often that slight wavering now and again can easily be overlooked. It would be easy to dismiss Rogue Trooper as the game where you play as a blue man with a talking gun, helmet and rucksack, but that blue man is one of the greatest video game action heroes."

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Monday, January 01, 2007

Rogue Trooper (Xbox)

I try to play all games comic book related. With the exception of the excellent Marvel: Ultimate Alliance and X-Men Legends franchise (all from Raven Software), and the Spider-Man movie games, most comic book video games are lackluster. Or blow chunks (ahem, virtually anything Batman).

Not only am I a fan of comics, I've got an affinity for Brit comics, and a lot of the good ones come from 2000AD, like Rogue Trooper. I've been meaning to play the Rebellion-developed, Eidos-published game (based on the comic) for some time. Since the game is playable on the Xbox 360, I recently rented a copy to put it through its paces.

Rogue Trooper shipped in May of 2006 for the original Xbox (and PC and PS2), and this is a gem of a game that's not getting enough recognition.

This is probably largely due to being a last-gen release 6 months after the launch of the Xbox 360, and in the pre-furor of the PS3 and Nintendo Wii. But I'm bummed this game and development team probably won't get its/their due.

I lost track of time and was up until 5 a.m. playing this game. This hasn't happened in I don't know how long.

The game is a third-person shooter with some surprising depth and mechanics, great last-gen graphics (and better than some of the now-gen), a compelling story that moves the action forward, good voice acting, and stays true to the source material.

Rather than just running and gunning, you'll quickly leverage skills from your fallen comrades (a la their personality and affinities built into rescued and -- uh, liberated -- bio-chips) to spice up the game. You can also collect salvage to build weapons, buy upgrades, and replenish supplies, giving it an almost RPG(ish) (lite) mechanic.

But the big thing -- and here's something that will probably get me some nastigrams -- it's like Gears of War, the Xbox 360 powerhouse that's the biggest franchise (and exclusive) on that console.

Seriously, Rogue Trooper is like Gears of War. Not that I'd necessarily pick the former over the latter, but the similarities are suprising.

Check it out:

Vault over stuff? Check. Use cover? Check. Blind fire? Check. Grenade-arc mechanic? Check. Even crouching and running in Rogue Trooper is like the roadie run in Gears of War (but with out the cool shaky cam dealy). Weird.

The multiplayer (offline, system link, and Xbox Live) is pretty limited, but really fun. There are only two cooperative game types -- basically variations on Assault (get from one end of the valley to the other to control the landing platform, in the allotted time with the allotted lives) and Defend (protect the wounded G.I. in the allotted blah blah blah). But these two variations are pretty intense, have some decent configuration options, and you can easily invite a friend to play online (ahem, Gears?).

There is no adversarial online, which is a bummer, because this game is ripe for it. There's also no online or offline co-op for the story, which is too bad, because (again), the game is ripe for it (but hey, Bungie badly stubbed out the online co-op for Halo 2, so at least Rebellion's exclusion is more graceful). Actually, there's a lot in this game other titles should learn from.

Like the HUD system. If you're not going to be minimalist (like Gears, which I like), Rogue Trooper's HUD/interface/selection widgets are pretty slick, intuitive, and I found myself not thinking about them as I switched and blasted frantically online or off. That's a good sign.

I recommend Rogue Trooper. If you find it in the bargain bin or on the rental shelf, do yourself a favor and put a few hours into it -- this is one of those pleasant gaming surprises.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Soul Caliber II (Xbox)

Since Soul Caliber II got added to the Xbox 360 backwards compatibility list, I picked this title up to treat myself for Christmas.

This game is still one of my favorite fighters -- and I generally don't gravitate toward fighters.

Seriously, this is the game that made me kind of mheh on Dead or Alive 4 (don't get me wrong, that's a great game, but I expected more visually for Team Ninja's now-gen offering). Now that Soul Caliber II is playable on the 360, I can see the two back to back, and Soul Caliber II holds its own.

This game has got a decent amount of depth, arcade and tag-team elements, and (of course) weapons.

Good times. And this title retails for $10 bucks new. Everyone should own a copy.

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Monday, October 09, 2006

X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse

Since I'm so stoked about Marvel: Ultimate Alliance coming out the end of this month, I've gone back and been playing X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse -- Raven's second entry in the Marvel RPG universe.

This game is so fun.

The two things I really hope they fix is forcing online multiplayer to dumb down to the lowest resolution common denominator (4:3 NTSC on a widescreen hi-def display looks pretty freaking bad), and if I'm at the top of a 10-item menu, pushing up should cycle me to the last item on the list (I should not have to manually push down to get to the bottom item).

The first item is a big deal, the second is a nit.

If I'm playing single or multiplayer at home, this is an awesome game. If I'm playing online with folks with standard def TVs, it's a bit of a painful experience (unless I start a drinking game, like, every time Wolverine falls off a cliff, drink; it becomes self-fulfilling after a while).

Still a great game, and I wish it (and its predecessor) would make the Xbox backwards compatibility list.

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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Stubbs the Zombie

It was the best of zombies. It was the worst of zombies.

Four score and seven zombies ago ...

Oh, that this too, too solid flesh would melt!
OK, so I finally finished Stubbs the Zombie: Rebel Without a Pulse, the seminal work from Wideload Games. And while the game may not be the cat's meow, it's got a ton going for it, and I really recommend it for the game play and humor.

Why am I playing (and writing about) a last-gen Xbox game that came out in October?

Because (A) I've been hyping the hell out of the "coming zombie game from Halo's Daddy" for a long time, and (B) I was promised a free review copy, so I held off buying it. Which actually didn't show up until mid-December -- after I was well into Xbox 360 insanity.

Not that I'm looking this gift zombie in the mouth (because it's like a gift horse, except bipedal, and undead, and ... Look, similes aren't really my thing; it's like me driving a car with a ladle).

Besides, despite all my writing about the game industry, I've never asked for any freebies, so this unsolicited one for something I was genuinely excited about was pretty cool.

Right -- about the game.

Awesome! Best thing since sliced brain!

Concept, gameplay, and humor are the three areas where this pussed little gem really shines.

Setting the game in a 1950s idea of what the future would look like? Brilliant! Zombie specific powers like being able to toss a gut grenade, detachable possessing hand, unholy flatulance, and exploding cranium? Brilliant! A soundtrack with covers of 50s tunes by today's musical hotties (Ben Kweller, The Raveonettes, Death Cab for Cutie, etc.)? Brilliant!

Oh, and the humor. Read signs. Everywhere. Notice that packages of hamburgers have several normal looking ingredients ... except for eyeballs. Read the menu in the diner level. Read it!

Not that everything on the game play front is pushing up daisies, though. Shambling sucks. Seriously, there are some booooring sequences where you have to watch your third-person zombie move coagulated-blood-slow from one end of a level to another. And forget getting away from a vehicle that's hell-bent on mowing you down.

And the story is seriously lacking. You're kind of thrown into Stubb's rotting skin at the outset, with a teaser of a story that isn't fleshed out enough to keep you going (and the denouement bites) -- so if the game play and humor hadn't been there, this title would have sunk. Luckily, the game play and humor are there. In spades.

And though I like being able to call and shove my zombie brethren, the truth is the game has brain dead squad controls; they're inconsistent, and unavailable when you want them most.

And though they trumpet the game being built on the Halo engine, the graphics, honestly, look like warmed-over death. I put in the original Halo to see if the engine is just that dated, but no (kind of), it's Stubbs. Part of it is I was playing the game on the Xbox 360, so hi-def on a projector really showed off the jaggies.

And the game is playable on the Xbox 360 (thanks, I'm sure, to Microsoft enabling Halo), but there are some levels that are so dark as to be almost unplayable. I had to ramp my projector up all the way and due total light killage to get through them.

And the sound is great (and funny), but it turns the constant screams as heard by someone outside the gaming room (and missing the humor) can be alternately grating and freaky.

All that said, the game is a solid 8(ish) out 10, and soooo worth spinning through for the humor, the game play, and the innovation. And for co-op. Thanks to Wideload for getting how important it is that every game have co-op. Tag-teaming unholy flatulance and a gut grenade is one of those beautiful moments in cooperative gaming.

So, shamble outside and pick up a copy of Stubbs the Zombie: Rebel Without a Pulse today. Support Wideload. Support Austin-based publisher Aspyr Media, Inc. Support good game innovation and design, and an innovative model for game development (applying the Hollywood staffing model to game production).

I think you'll find the purchase worth it (it's also available on PC and Mac).

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Serious Sam II (Xbox)

Serious Sam is on of my favorite franchises on the Xbox and PC, and blasting through Serious Sam II on Xbox (via online co-cop) is a great way to blow through a Saturday afternoon.

The Xbox version's not going to win any graphics awards, but the visuals are colorful, bizarre, and like the dialog and overall premise, is so ridiculous and non-serious as to be a ton of fun.

The game has a lot of fun with itself, which makes it fun for me. The pace and volume of baddies is absolutely insane, but with co-op in some of the heavier moments, the frame rate does glitch a bit.

Plus, you can generally pick the game up new for $10-15 on sale ($20 MSP), and even cheaper used.

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Black (Xbox)

UPDATED: This title is now playable on the Xbox 360.

I picked up EA/Criterion's Black yesterday, and put it through its paces a bit.

I've been waiting for this title for some time, from the EA-purchased Criterion Software (the folks behind the Burnout franchise).

Black wants to do for the FPS genre what Burnout does for the racing/wrecking genre -- make it loud, ridiculously unrealistic, and a ton of fun.

Based on the premises "if Hollywood can make a handgun sound like a Howitzer, why can't we", and "the bullets are the heroes", Black has been described as "gun porn" and "The Matrix lobby scene".

So how does it play?


I mean, the wanton destruction is good fun. The guns are gorgeous. Slowly chipping away at a concrete pylon is impressive.

But I have two big pet peeves in gaming:

  1. Stupid AI
  2. Bad usability

On the stupid AI front, I don't like coming down staircase and seeing one of my squadmates (who I can't control) and a terrorist standing -- barrel to barrel -- blasting away at each other until one of them falls down.

That's stupid AI.

I can't remember who died first, but I killed the other one out of spite.

I'm hoping Online Alchemy does something genuinely innovative with their "ground-breaking AI technology for use in next-generation massively multiplayer online games as well as training and other applications."

Hey, how cool would it be if developers could license AI engines and toolkits for other games, like Project Offset and Epic Games do for the Offset and Unreal Engine for graphics, and Havok does for its physics engine?

My second major pet peeve is basic usability problems.

In Black, this plays out when you start up the game and can't skip the developer and publisher spalsh screens. Worse, I watched the opening "thetrical credits" cinematic when I first watched the game, and thought it was really cool. Later, when I restarted the game, I was annoyed that I couldn't skip it.

Worse, when I created a new profile for some friends, I had to watch the mission cinematic in total, and couldn't skip it. And it's looong ...

Skipping cinematics and splash screens is basic stuff, and really noticeable when it's missing (and when the unskippables are long and/or suck; at least in Black they don't suck).

There are also some unneeded extra steps in the options and profile creation set up that are unneeded.

The menus are slick, however.

Oh, and there was some weirdness in the game where the game controlled super slow. Not stuttering, but almost like my guy was underwater. Annoying, that.

I'm only about 30 minutes into the game, so it remains to be seen if these things will keep me from enjoying the game.

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Saturday, February 11, 2006

Halo 2 (XBox)

I'm not sure how you beat 4-to-8-player Rocketball on Foundation in Halo 2.

Oddball, with a Rocketball variant (3 minues to win; no other weapons on map; toughness and speed with ball on; radar off but ball indicator on).

Crank up the surround sound, bump up the subwoofer, and laugh until someone pees.

We break for that.

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Monday, January 30, 2006

Painkiller, Half-Life 2 (Xbox demos)

In the February Official Xbox Magazine, the Xbox demos portion of the list includes Painkiller and Half-Life 2.

I was seriously stoked, because I'm a big fan of what the Painkiller guys did with Painkiller on the PC (frenetic action with a fantastic, oft-missed summary of heaven/hell/purgatory legends), and Half-Life 2 is arguably one of the greatest recent PC games.

So, how were the demos?

They sucked. And blew, while we're at it.

Graphics on both were abysmal, and the Painkiller demo didn't have Y-axis invert (lesson for all demo creators: I understand locking controller configurations for a demo, but if "invert" is germane to your genre, f***ing include it!).

I'm really hoping this is just indicative of pre-release demo concessions; but I don't know that I'm motivated enough to buy the full versions, with the bad taste the previews left in my mouth.

I need to ping some Xbox buddies who have the games and see if they suck as much in the retail versions (Painkiller releases next month).

FYI, though TeamXbox and GameSpot gave high ratings to Half-Life 2 (9.5 and 8.3, respectively), I believe OXM gave it a sub-par rating for ridiculously frequent and slow load times.

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Friday, January 27, 2006

Doom 3 (Xbox)

Man, Doom 3 for Xbox just rocks.

Gorgeous, freaky, amazing/creepy in surround sound, and a blast in online co-op mode.

Me and Xboxer dajoti just finished playing through the entire game co-op. All games (if it makes sense) should be online co-op.

What a rush.

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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Shamu's Deep Sea Adventures (Xbox)

No, I haven't finished Perfect Dark Zero yet, but any time that title's single player story and dialog irritates me to the point of stoppage, I've been bouncing around to other titles.

Like this little All-Ages gem: Shamu's Deep Sea Adventures.

Why? Because it's an Xbox title compatible with the Xbox 360, supports HDTV 720p (high-def widescreen), and doesn't suck gameplay wise like Finding Nemo.

Good luck finding the Xbox version, though. I've been able to track down the Nintendo Gameboy Advance version pretty regularly, and the Sony PS2 version surfaced once, but I couldn't find the Xbox version until I ordered it from Searching for it on Activision won't get you jack tuna -- you need to go to their Activision Value Publishing sub-brand microsite. And, oddly, I couldn't find anything about the title on developer Fun Labs' website.

I'm only 4 levels in, but not bad so far -- and a high-def killer whale on a big screen projector turns out to be pretty cool ...

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Monday, November 07, 2005

The Bible Game (Xbox)

I picked up The Bible Game from Crave Entertainment, because it's sort of a freak of nature on a few fronts for the big black 'box:
  • It's a budget game ($19.99 MSRP, but most places seem to be selling it for $14.99).
  • It's a budget party game.
  • It's a budget religious party game.

Crave is a small budget publisher, but there are a dearth of party games for Xbox (uh, Whacked!?).

Remember my "Christians got game" post? I also had a brief exchange with Chris Morris about it and his "The greatest story never played" column over at CNN. Religious gaming is a nascent niche genre, and the game is a (mostly) right-shaped peg for that hole.

The game's not bad, is largely a four-person, Old Testament trivia game, with 7 variations. There are also mini-challenge games, which surprised me for their variety and for being entertaining (mostly; the creation of the world mini-game to me seems inane, and the "false idols" and "Pharaoh's snakes" challenges are kind of pointless -- for the game play; I'm not disparaging the principals). Some of the challenge games are pretty gosh darn entertaining when played against multiple human opponents.

So the title is a middling offering, but gets some of those points because (a) it's a niche title, and (b) does a fantastic job soundtrack wise (with contemporary Christian artists (most of whom I haven't heard) like Newsboys, Kutless, and FM Static.

Overall, kudos to Crave for meeting a niche need, and the game is a solid foundation for potential future titles along the same lines, which I hope we get to see, in light of Crave's recent aquisition by Handleman Company

I may alternate play sessions with this game and DOOM 3: Resurrection of Evil, for irony's sake (I kid; RoE on Xbox isn't the game Doom 3 for Xbox is).

Graphics: Not bad, but nothing to write you about. Moderate avatar selection (6) with no customization.

Sound: Pretty good, both due to the above-mentioned soundtrack, and good voice-over work for the "Justin Warren" host character (which suffers some serious detraction due to repetitiveness throughout the game; I do not need to hear "Let there be light" at the beginning of every flippin' challenge).

Game Play: Surprisingly good variety, and fairly solid mechanics. Points deducted for trivia questions repeating (come on, if you have 1,500 O.T. questions, I expect a little less repetition), some lame mini games, and for making some basic game development mistakes. On this last one, regardless of genre, I get ticked if a game doesn't save your character settings (expecially with the current Xbox's built-in hard drive), and party games should be playable, and fun, and fully challenging with any combination of one to the supported number of players for the game; this title is not.

Score (non-scientific): 7 out of 10 (because I gave it a point for meeting a niche game need, and because I have an aversion to lightning. I'm just saying ...)

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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects (Xbox)

I'm playing Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects. It's a slick, stylized, appropriately dark fighter with a story mode that doesn't totally suck. I'm not sure I'm stoked about EA's Universal Control Set, but I'm adjusting.

The game is frustrating because it has potential not realized, and feels like it was forced out the door before it was ready, which may have been a timing restriction due to the partnership with Marvel and its tie-in mini-series.

There's a fairly blunt insiders view of the game from an EA employee over at game girl advance.

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