Review – Kayne and Lynch

Kane and Lynch: Dead Men was, for lack of a better pun, dead on arrival in the minds of Internet savvy gamers, all thanks to the fiasco surrounding Jeff Gerstmann’s scathing review for, and Eidos Interactive’s possible manipulation of the site.  That being said, if the controversy never occurred, I don’t imagine the game would have fared any better.  The signs of a troubled development process are all over the place, and the final product is a constant stream of highs and lows.

Where to start?  Visually, the background objects are gorgeous, but the foreground environments are criminally ugly.  The game often tries to hide this by placing levels in the dark, or by filling setpieces with several layers of tear gas smoke. It doesn’t always work, and when I got the chance to stare at some of the more atrocious urban environments, I wondered if I was looking at an Xbox 1 game. →  Read the rest

Alternate Take – Nier

Note: Some folks on Twitter asked me if I was going to write anything about Nier after finishing it.  I obliged, as I did find the game very interesting, but I want to point out that the game was already reviewed by Chris back in December.  The original review can be found here, and I recommend you read it first.  It covers some of the same ground, and  Chris has a much better handle on the genre than I do.

Nier is a bog standard action adventure game in which the lock and key puzzle system of modern Legend of Zelda releases is replaced with traditional jRPG time wasters (mainly sidequests and weapon upgrades).  Its environments range wildly in style, but the over world sections tend to be empty, sweeping plains which don’t really tell you much when viewed as a screenshot.  →  Read the rest

Portal 2 Review Part 2/2: The Negative Review

Any motion picture–such as 2001:A Space Odyssey; Demon Seed; Silent Running or Forbidden Planet–or Star Wars–in which the most identifiable, likeable characters are robots, is a film without people. And that is a film that’s shallow, that cannot uplift or enrich in any genuine sense, because it is a film without soul, without a core. It is merely a diversion, a cheap entertainment, a quick fix with sugar-water, intended to distract, divert and keep an audience from coming to grips with itself.” — Harlan Ellison

It is probably safe to say at this point that everyone loves Portal 2. Just look at Metacritic, just look at the sales charts, just look at what anyone, anywhere is saying about it. So what’s even the point of different publications hiring different reviewers anymore? →  Read the rest

Portal 2 Review Part 1/2: The Positive Review

The first Portal seemed so undeserving of its success. It was essentially a Half-Life 2 mod similar to Research And Development only with a new gameplay gimmick. The story was only added later in the playtesting phase because players were getting bored with room after room of puzzles. Since the developers didn’t have time to model and animate characters a disembodied voice was created from the same disembodied voice that appears in both Half-Life 2 and Team Fortress 2. The end result was barely marketed at all and distributed merely as a small bonus bundled with other “real” games. By all rights, Portal should have been enjoyed for what it was and forgotten afterwards, along with every other short puzzle game. But it wasn’t. Everyone loved the final product, puzzles, storyline, dialog, and all. →  Read the rest

Review – Nier

The first thing you will hear when you start up Nier is swearing. Its intro, as with many other aspects of the game, may be an attempt to be unique. It also foreshadows (or is reminiscent of) a significant plot event. Either way, it’s certainly unusual. Much of the game seems like the intro sequence: it may be an attempt to be unique. It’s harsh and initially somewhat intriguing but each time through it loses a little bit of its charm. In the end, Nier seems to be saying something, but aside from a decent story filled with the requisite twists and turns, it’s impossible to really tell what.

Nier is not entirely a love-it-or-hate-it game, despite all appearances. Most reviewers panned it, saying its quests are too repetitive, its graphics too bland, its gameplay too derivative of the genre(s) it pulls from. →  Read the rest

Review – Pixeljunk Shooter

Q Games’ Pixeljunk project is something that, as a gamer, I have to admire, but as a critic leaves me frustrated.  They exist as a series of small downloadables on the Playstation Network, with their 2d perspective being the only common theme among them (Wikipedia states that a “Pixeljunk Series 2” may explore early 3d visuals).  This loose sense of organization gives Q Games the freedom to be as experimental or traditional as they want to be, which in turn gives the series the potential for interesting developments.  On the other hand, the lack of consistency and predictability is tricky at a time when many of us make up our opinion on a game solely based on our experiences with its predecessors.  A careless gamer could go from loving Pixeljunk to swearing it off in the span of a single game, and might ultimately miss out on something great. →  Read the rest

Review – Dragon Age: Origins

The machine slowly comes to life, the sound of whirring fans and arcane instruments powering up to a deafening howl. Then a blinding flash of incandescence, a painful sense of sudden detachment from where and when you were. Also all your clothes are apparently gone, unfortunately burnt away by the paradox. Uh-oh.

Yes, playing Dragon Age is like taking a trip back in time. Not back to the pseudo-historical-yet-entirely-fictional fantasy universe it is set in, because it never happened! I’m telling you, all that conspiracy theory stuff about William the Conqueror using dragons at Hastings is completely bogus. I was there, it never happened, no chance.

No, the time it takes you back to is around 2004, when the game was first announced. It was an extended development process, and as is often the case, elements of the game feel dated as a result. →  Read the rest

Review – Vandal Hearts: Flame of Judgment

Watching a beloved series re-emerge after years of lying dormant is always disconcerting. On the one hand, it’s nice to see developers expand on a world already well-fleshed out and attempt to recapture something that was thought lost forever. On the other hand, it may be worse to have a crappy sequel than to have no sequel at all. Worst of all would be a sequel that’s good enough to look promising and manages to recreate many of the best elements of the series, but ends up being mediocre and only dulls the series in the fans’ eyes. The last, unfortunately, is the case with Vandal Hearts: Flame of Judgment, a western-developed entry in Konami’s strategy RPG series.

It’s not that the game doesn’t have good elements. On the contrary, it’s brimming with promise: there’s an impressively deep skill system that makes leveling transparent and continual; variety in the missions ultimately makes several scenarios better than many in the original Vandal Hearts games; bonus “treasure” maps allow for hidden stages, and skirmish maps let the grind-lovers do their thing. →  Read the rest

Review – King of Fighters XII

The King of Fighters XII has been out for close to four months. I have had it since day one. I apologize for the delay, but I finally came to terms with why it took me so long. KOF XII is not a good game, and my old review tried to hide it by going over every detail and feature while ignoring the big picture. And the big picture is not pretty.

Here’s the problem – SNK had a vision, one that involved taking this franchise in a slightly new direction. Tag battles, quicker combat, and a new story and new characters were all in the cards. It may not be what everyone wanted, but it was a good excuse to keep the series going well after it probably should have died. →  Read the rest

Review – The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena

The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, was not simply good relative to other licensed games. It is one of the best games in its genre, both upon release and to this very day. People with no interest in the genre have picked it up and had a blast. Shooter fans were stunned that something that looked so derivative on the surface could be so engaging. While it might not have been quite the miracle that Goldeneye was, it was still a blessing, and hopes were high that developer Starbreeze Studios could take their formula and strike gold again with The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena.

Let this be another lesson on the importance of execution when it comes to making a good game. All of the elements that made Butcher Bay a classic are back, but arranged so that they have hardly any potency. →  Read the rest

Review – Wheelman

Wheelman is a straightforward looking Grand Theft Auto clone, made by a dying publisher and featuring the voice and likeness of Vin “I End Lives” Diesel. A recipe for failure if there ever was one, save for the fact that Diesel’s track record with the game industry has been stellar. After the two Chronicles of Riddick games, Wheelman becomes the third release blessed by his Tigon Studios label, and like the others, is better than you might expect.

The key thing to remember about Wheelman is that it isn’t aping the Grand Theft Auto series as a whole. Specifically, it bases itself on GTA 3. All the extra cruft that Rockstar would later add to their series is nowhere to be found here. You have driving, on foot action, and a couple of secrets to find. →  Read the rest

Review – Silent Hill: Homecoming

The last time I reviewed a Silent Hill game, I was playing through SH:Origins, a PSP original developed by an American team with a greater focus on combat than previous games in the series. At the time, I made two points which I thought encapsulated the nature of Silent Hill games. Firstly, I asserted that reliance on locked doors, constant map checking, and finicky combat are an easy way to make your game feel tedious, repetitive, and full of cheap parlor tricks. True they can help create a frightening and oppressive tone when used correctly, but I would argue that no one has been able to do that since the very first game. Secondly, I stated Silent Hill games benefit from their tendency to shape enemies and environments around the mental projections of their protagonist. →  Read the rest

Review – Wanted: Weapons of Fate

These days, it does not take much to get a 3rd person, cover based action game greenlighted for production. Do you have some sort of licensed property to link it to? Then you’re golden! But if you really want to spice it up, find a property that has some sort of silly gimmick for you to work with. That will help justify having the publisher spend millions (and the consumer $60) on a disposable six hour experience. This is exactly the kind of mentality behind Wanted: Weapons of Fate, the tie in game to 2008’s Angelina Jolie vehicle developed by recently defunct developer GriN. In such a crowded genre, Weapons of Fate likes to think of itself as being different and better from the rest, similarly to its source material, this is nothing more than a case of self delusion. →  Read the rest

Review – Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is a strong candidate for the title of “most beloved exclusive in the early days of the PS3”. While this can, in part, be attributed to the lack of competition, there were also plenty of good words said about its quality. I believed them, but any number of screenshots suggested that the game hemmed close to the Tomb Raider mold of exploration and action. Not a bad comparison per se, but the best I can say about Tomb Raider: Legend and Anniversary were that they were worth playing through, though they were certainly not the best releases on any console. Uncharted would have to do more to earn its title.

The reality of the game is that it doesn’t stray from the above description. The platforming controls are straight out of the recent Tomb Raiders, which it, in turn, learned from the modern Prince of Persia trilogy. →  Read the rest

Review: UFC 2009 Undisputed

For the past few days at my house there has been a severe outbreak of Black-on-Black crime. I am not proud of this. I worry about my future, about everyone’s future. It is already getting worse. The violence once contained to just certain groups is already spreading. Asian-on-Black. White-on-Hispanic. Brazilian-on-Canadian. It is a rainbow of sadistic beatings spanning all ages and continents. The fights do not stop. The battles grow with each passing day.

I am more than a little ashamed to admit that my descent into an anarchic world of ultraviolence has brought me so much joy. All of these things, you see, are not happening in my head this time. Instead, they are happening on my television screen. They are happening inside of a game. A game clumsily titled UFC 2009 Undisputed. →  Read the rest

Review – Rise of the Argonauts

I’m not really sure what I think of Rise of the Argonauts. On one hand, the game suffers from some poor design choices that can really slow the pace to an insufferable crawl and frustrate the player immensely … so I wouldn’t recommend it. On the other hand, the exciting combat sequences, engrossing story, fine voice acting and art direction made the game quite enjoyable … so I’d totally recommend it.

On another hand, the developer calls this game an RPG, which it totally isn’t. Yeah, you can choose new abilities and change your outfits, but both aspects are so limited that you can’t really call it a full-blown RPG … so we’re back to not recommending it again (for RPG players). And on the final hand, that limiting of options actually works in the game’s favor, because coupling intricate inventory management with sometimes slow story progression would kill this thing outright … so is that a plus? →  Read the rest

Review – Killzone 2

When I was first thinking about how to approach my review of Killzone 2’s campaign, I thought I could write up a sizable spreadsheet detailing all the cliches and tropes stolen from other games and films. Thankfully, I realized the errors of such an idea. The problem with the game wasn’t that it was using cliches and silly names. Plenty of other shooters do the same and are forgiven. No, the problem was that Killzone 2 was breaking one of my primary sins of game design – it made me feel like I was wasting my time. I began thinking not of the action at hand, but what else I could be doing during my time after work. I soldiered on simply for the purpose of review, which in turn led to my putting a magnifying glass on every little piece of creative laziness, even if it technically got the job done. →  Read the rest

Review – Stormrise

Imagine you are fighting in a war. You are within a small group of soldiers but you control all of the soldiers on the battlefield. It is time to issue commands.

“Corporal Dunnan, do you see the soldiers over there?” you ask.

“The Infiltrators, behind the-” Dunnan starts.

“No, no, no. Not those infiltrators, the ones over there,” you point. Pointing is actually the only way you can issue commands, because your army is not very sophisticated, which is surprising since you are operating within a fancy mechanical robot body-thing.

“Oh,” Dunnan says, “the ones by the refinery.”

“Not in front of the refinery-”

“Oh kinda to the side of it,” he says.

“Yes, yes,” you reply, “Tell them to go over there,” you say, pointing.

“Okay,” Dunnan starts, “Unit 392, proceed to the balcony of the second floor-”

“No, no, no!” →  Read the rest

Review – Resident Evil 5

The release of Resident Evil 5 has brought any number of potential problems along with it. Is the game racist? Will the co-op structure ruin the excellent formula laid down in RE4? Will fans cringe at the story?

These are all valid questions and unfortunately the game does not dispel all of our concerns. Having played it to completion, I find that the game ends up faring better in a few regards, and worse in others.

Capcom’s attempt at a hip hop video.

To begin, let me state that I do not wish to cover the racism aspect in this review. It isn’t that I don’t care about the topic, or that I believe it doesn’t exist. I simply feel that it is important enough that it demands discussion between people with sufficient knowledge and experience on the subject. →  Read the rest

Review – Valkyria Chronicles

Strategy games have proven to be a bitter mistress for me. It is an unfortunate genre because it is home to one of my all-time favorite games, X-Com. When I first boot up a strategy game, especially one that has a similar mechanic to X-Com, I find myself comparing whatever game I may be playing to the venial alien blasting classic. When this happens, almost all games fail and I end up ditching the discs in one of my many binders, never to play it again.

It was with a great amount of trepidation that I purchased Valkyria Chronicles. I loved what I had seen of the game, the story is set in an alternate WWII universe, it is graphically an anime-styled game, and you get to run over people with a big ass tank. →  Read the rest