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Zynga Names Don Mattrick Chief Executive Officer

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – July 1, 2013 – Zynga Inc. a leading provider of social game services, today announced that the Company has appointed Don Mattrick as Chief Executive Officer and a member of the Board of Directors, effective July 8, 2013. Mattrick has been at the forefront of the industry and brings more than 30 years of executive experience developing, building and managing profitable entertainment businesses. Mark Pincus, Zynga’s founding chief executive officer, remains Chairman of the Board of Directors and Chief Product Officer of the Company.

“Don is unique in the game business,” said Mark Pincus, Founder, Chairman and Chief Product Officer. “He can execute in multiple domains – hardware, software and network, and he’s been the person responsible for game franchises like ‘Need for Speed,’ ‘FIFA’ and ‘The Sims.’ He’s one of the top executives in the overall entertainment business and he’s a great coach who has inspired people to do their best work and build strong, productive teams. He deeply understands the value of a network and the importance of creating lifelong consumer relationships. He turned Xbox into the world’s largest console-gaming network, growing its installed base from 10 to 80 million and transformed that business from deep losses to substantial profits. And he has grown the Xbox Live player network from 6 to 50 million active members in 41 countries. Going forward, I’ll continue in my role as Chairman and Chief Product Officer. I’m excited to partner with Don and the rest of our team to return Zynga to its leadership role in inventing and growing Play as a core human experience.”

“In its short history, Zynga has redefined entertainment and brought social gaming to the mainstream. More than 1 billion people across web and mobile have installed Zynga games, and franchises like FarmVille and Words With Friends have become a part of people’s daily lives,” said Mattrick. “I joined Zynga because I believe that Mark’s pioneering vision and mission to connect the world through games is just getting started. Zynga is a great business that has yet to realize its full potential. I’m proud to partner with Mark to deliver high-quality, fun, social games wherever people want to play.”

Mattrick, 49, spent six years at Microsoft – the last three as president of the Interactive Entertainment Business. In that role, he was responsible for the team that grew Microsoft’s Xbox 360 global installed base by 700 percent to more than 75 million consoles. During his six-year tenure at Microsoft, Mattrick also oversaw businesses and services focused on consumer products that included the groundbreaking Kinect entertainment products and PC and mobile interactive entertainment.

Mattrick served as the president of Worldwide Studios at Electronic Arts. During his 15-year career at Electronic Arts, Mattrick helped develop and scale the company’s leading global game franchises and brands including “Need for Speed,” “FIFA” and “The Sims.” At age 17, Mattrick founded his first company, Distinctive Software, which was acquired by Electronic Arts in 1991.

“Mark took the lead in working with the entire board to recruit Don to Zynga,” said John Doerr, Member of the Zynga Board of Directors and General Partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. “All of us at Zynga – and no one more than Mark – are thrilled Don is joining our mission to connect the world through games. This is a win for the people who play our games, the talented employees who make them and the investors who believe in our long-term value. This also is a win for Mark, who can devote his full attention to conceiving and building the best social games in the world.”

Mattrick will report directly to the Board and was unanimously appointed CEO. Mattrick will join Pincus in a newly formed Executive Committee to manage the operations and affairs of the Company between Board meetings.  Don has established himself during a 30-year career as a world-class leader of game, platform and team development.

NZXT Avatar S Gaming Mouse – A Review


Today, we look at the Avatar S gaming mouse from NZXT, who is better known for their PC cases and cooling systems then for their mice.  The Avatar S replaced my trusty Razor Starcraft II Spectre mouse for this last week, as i tested it on games like DMC, World of Warcraft, The Secret World, and Team Fortress 2.  I was interested in seeing how the Avatar S would behave with this set of games, along with my usual internet and writing duties that I complete in a normal week.


Precision and Flexibility: 1600 DPI laser sensor with 1600/800/400 DPI settings out of the box
Tracking speed of 30 inches per second and acceleration up to 20G
Hardware DPI switch allows for driver-less DPI switch while in game without the hassle of drivers
16Kb Onboard Memory stores 1 profile of macros, dpi settings, and LED settings for gaming on-the-go
Narrow and medium size ideal for users that prefer a thinner and lower profile form
Ambidextrous design ideal for both left and right handed users
LED on/off settings
Teflon feet for effortless gliding on any surface
5 Key programmable mouse
Immense customizability: Ability to modify default DPI settings individually, setup in-game macros, media keys, and X-Y sensitivity options
Polling rate of 1000Hz


Let’s start off with the look and the design of the Avatar S.  The Avatar S is a very sleek mouse, longer but narrower then the Razor Spectre that I normally use.  This, at first, made the mouse feel much to small for my hands.  As the week went on and testing continued, the Avatar S began to feel much more natural and right in my hands.  I think I prefer a mouse that is wider in design then the Avatar S, but that is my own personal taste.  The Avatar S has five buttons, located in a standard ambidextrous configuration, allowing people to have access to all five buttons regardless of whether you use your left or right hand.  With five buttons, the Avatar S is designed more for casual gaming and less for the hardcore gamer that needs more buttons for macros.  I have a tendency to lean towards mice that have less buttons, relying more on keyboard buttons for my macros, so the Avatar S button configuration worked just fine for me.

LED lights give the Avatar S a nice blue glow to it, matching the blue glow on my keyboard and making it just look cool.  My only complaint about the design of the mouse is with the USB cord itself, it isn’t braided.


This may be more of a personal preference issue then an actual performance issue, but I have always preferred my cords with the extra protection that the braided cord gives, and how the braided cord has a tendency not to kink on me.  While I consider this a complaint and a negative against the Avatar S mouse, it isn’t a deal breaker for me and did not impact the performance of the mouse at all.


For me, either a mouse works well or it doesn’t.  The Avatar S has the ability to switch between DPI settings and allows the player to set up macros and settings, just like other mice on the market, but you can also switch between DPI settings on the fly.  Running the Avatar S at the 1600 DPI setting, I hit my weekly gaming session.  While I have the ability to get technical with some hardware in the PC world, with mice I prefer to keep my reviews in the realm of the layman.  For me, either the mouse works and is comfortable or it isn’t.  With the Avatar S, the feel of the mouse grew on me as the week progressed.  The Avatar S performed through my series of games quite well, allowing me to track accurately and quickly.  Switching from a first person shooter to a role playing game didn’t change how the mouse performed at all.  Hardcore gamers may miss some of the extra buttons on the mouse, however, I did not.  I pretty much only prefer to have five to six buttons on my mouse, even for World of Warcraft.  The only negative I can see the Avatar S has versus the Razor Spectre is the lack of alerts that the Spectre has for Starcraft II.  Seeing that the Spectre was designed for that game in particular, this is a negative I can safely ignore.

Final Thoughts:

The Avatar S from NZXT performed quite well through my week of testing, through hours of role playing games and first person shooters.  The Avatar S felt small in my hands, at first, but the size began to grow on me as the week went on.  While I can switch between DPI settings on the fly, I prefer to operate my mouse at the 1600 setting and played all of my games with that setting.  The negatives I have seen with the Avatar S really falls into my own personal preferences; the lack of a braided cord, the overall size of the mouse, and the the weight.  The Avatar S is a light mouse, and for me, I prefer a mouse with a little more weight.  What the Avatar S did do right is perform well through my series of weekly gaming sessions, and general PC use.  The Avatar S mouse from NZXT retails for about $40, which is on the cheaper side for gaming mice.  If you are looking for a new gaming mouse, that is a straight forward functional mouse and one that will save you a few bucks, check out the Avatar S gaming mouse from NZXT.

[easyreview title=”NZXT Avatar S Gaming Mouse Review Score” cat1title=”Overall Score (out of 5)” cat1detail=”” cat1rating=”4″ ]

The Book of Unwritten Tales: The Critter Chronicles – Review (PC)


King Art Games has brought us the prequel to last years point and click adventure game, The Book of Unwritten Tales, aptly named The Book of Unwritten Tales: The Critter Chronicles.  This prequel focuses primarily on how Nate and the Critter meet up and begin adventuring together.  Significantly shorter then the original game, The Critter Chronicles still packs in a lot of humor and solid point and click adventure game play that will make fans of the original game glad they came back for seconds.  Having reviewed over thirteen point and click adventure games within the last two years, I am getting a feeling for what makes these games good, great or just plain awful.  The Critter Chronicles fits solidly into the great category for this genre, and actually makes me want to hunt down a copy of the original game to check out.


The Critter Chronicles picks up right in the middle of a chase scene as Nate is embarking on his new life of adventure, with a floating airship that he won in a poker game.  Of course, the last owner is a little less then reluctant to let Nate get away without a fight, and has hired an Orc mercenary to hunt him down.  The result of this chase is that Nate crash lands on a floating iceberg and is captured by a yeti.  On this same iceberg, is a group of space faring aliens that are stranded on this planet, trying to make repairs.  These repairs keep going wrong thanks to the ineptitude of our Critter, that isn’t all that bright.  Critter is told to go away and leave the others to complete the repairs to their ship, and in his wanderings, meets Nate and saves him from the Yeti.  So begins Nate and Critter’s adventures that leads up to The Book of Unwritten Tales.

The world that The Critter Chronicles inhabits is a very interesting world, filled with great characters and environments.  The Critter Chronicles takes place in a fantasy land of orcs, elves, steampunk technology, and magic.  This world allowed the writers to blend in space aliens with a wizard and make it all work out in the end.  The character Nate, who is the main focus of the first chapter, is a perfect introduction for the player to understand the world that the game takes place in.  Nate believes himself to be an adventurer, but isn’t very good at it.  He had to cheat to win the airship he pilots in the beginning, and loves to narrate his own life as it happens.  The Critter, who is the focus in chapter two, is a little less interesting for me, mainly because he has to emote most of his thoughts and behaviors due to not speaking English.  This works well enough, but worked so much better in games like Magicka.

Point and click adventure games live and die by the story and the worlds that the writers create, and The Critter Chronicles does a fantastic job in getting the player into the game.  The story has a great sense of humor to it and the plot, while short, has a nice pacing.  One never gets bored because of the story line.

Game Play:

The Critter Chronicles plays exactly like a traditional point and click adventure game, nothing new or different here I’m afraid.  You move the individual you are playing as, and inspect your environments to discover clues and objects that you can use to move past the puzzle that is blocking your story from progressing.  The Critter Chronicles has two difficulty settings, Normal and Hard, with the main difference between the two is the amount of puzzles one must solve.  The puzzles in The Critter Chronicles do a good job in being hard enough to make you think without being too hard so that you want to toss your PC out of the nearest window.  Some puzzles do need to be interacted with in order to solve them, not just finding how the pieces fit together.  The lock picking puzzle in chapter one requires the player to wiggle a paper clip into a lock and to set all the tumblers so the lock will open.  Puzzles like this are a nice change of pace, but only occur every so often in Normal.

The player has an inventory at the bottom of the screen, that only appears when you drag your mouse to that area.  Items can be used on the environment, or might need to be combined first with other items.  The game will tell you by the user interface whether or not a certain item can be interacted with, and will even give you hints if you drag an item from your inventory over the screen.  This will help those of us that are not puzzle gurus from getting too stuck for too long.

The game play for The Critter Chronicles is neither broken nor innovative.  It does the job needed by the developers to tell the story and does it without getting in the way of the story.  Since point and click adventures games are mostly about the story and character development anyway, then this game play works out just fine for The Critter Chronicles and does the job admirably.


The visuals and art design of The Critter Chronicles works very well with the story.  While the technical specs of The Critter Chronicles won’t push your PC to it’s limits, the art design is fantastic and interesting to look at.  The environments are brightly colored, even when you land on the iceberg, and filled with items and people to interact with that gives the world a much more real feeling.  Everything from a figurehead that is sentient in the captain’s cabin to a woman who is obsessed with saving the penguins from humanity, there are interesting conversations to be had everywhere.

The sound also works well for the game, but I ran into several sound glitches that, though were not game breakers, were extremely annoying.  Sounds like the engine’s whine, would play louder and continue into the next scene, where the engine isn’t supposed to be heard.  A simple shut down and restart solved this problem, but it occurred three times throughout my play through of chapter one.  Other then that, the voice overs for The Critter Chronicles were fantastic and really helped to flesh out the characters in the world at large.  The only one I found not on par with the rest, was the voice over for the Critter, but it’s easily overlooked.

Final Thoughts:

The Critter Chronicles is a short prequel to last year’s The Book of Unwritten Tales, and easily fits in one of the best point and click adventure games I’ve played within the last two years which is considerable.  The Critter Chronicles puts together a nice blend of great storytelling, interesting characters, vivid environments, and solid game play that will make fans of these types of games smile and have a good time.  The Critter Chronicles isn’t perfect, it is shorter then the original game and does have some sound bugs, but is close enough that I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a point and click adventure game with a great story line.  The Book of Unwritten Tales: The Critter Chronicles is available now from King Art Games.

Avernum 6 HD – A Review (iPad)

Jeff Vogel and Spiderweb Software has brought their latest version of Avernum 6 to the iPad.  Avernum 6 HD is built using Spiderweb Software’s tried and true methods of creating games, focusing on story line and mechanics rather then developing up to date visuals.  What comes out in the end, is a very solid game that feels like a classic role playing game that I played as a kid.  Avernum 6 HD ends up having a great story line that will suck you in and keep you riveted until the very end, but is presented using visuals and sounds that feel outdated, plain, and just down right ugly with little or no animation on the screen.  Despite the lackluster graphics, Avernum 6 HD emerges as the best option for an rpg on the iPad, and as a very solid game choice overall.


Avernum 6 HD has a story line that starts off in humble beginnings, but ends in epic battles for the fate of the entire land.  The land of Avernum began as a prison colony for the worst offenders, since Avernum is located entirely underground and the only way in or out is through a magical portal.  Since then, the land of Avernum has become a wild frontier with adventurers and pioneers looking for fame and fortune in a harsh land.  Recently, life in Avernum has become that much harsher as the mushrooms, Avernum’s only source of grown food, has suffered from a blight.  Sensing weakness from the residents of Avernum, the reptilian Slithzerikai invaded from the south, destroying everything in their path.  Faced with a blight and an invading army, the inhabitants of Avernum began to evacuate through the portal in massive waves.

You begin the story as a group of four adventurers that joined the Avernum military for an extra share of the food.  While other members of your squad has been sent off to fight the invading Slithzerikai horde, you have been stuck with guard duty in a city that is shrinking in population.  Your story starts with humble beginnings, dealing with a rat infestation in the cellar, then you get to move up to goblin issues to the south of the city.  Your role in Avernum’s future becomes more important with each successful quest line, ultimately ending with the entire fate of Avernum on your shoulders.

The story for Avernum 6 HD is solid, thought it lacks a polish needed to truly make it great.  I love how the story draws you into a world that has been completely built underground and makes you feel part of the overall picture from the beginning, but your characters will always feel flat and uninspired themselves.  No video game lives in a void, so it is hard to play games like Avernum 6 HD and not compare them to games from Bioware or Bethesda, companies that are experts in making you feel like you are part of an epic story and makes each character meaningful to you.  Avernum 6 HD has a fantastic story that is presented very well, but your party and its members are never truly fleshed out and made interesting.  Overall, though, the story shines above this particular issue and makes you want to keep playing, just to find out what the next part of the story is in Avernum 6 HD.


The mechanics of Avernum 6 HD are as old as it’s graphics, but work really well on the iPad.  The point-and-click method of moving and issuing combat orders is made easier when all you have to do is touch the screen once or twice.  Movement is solely done by just touching where you want to go, then your party will shuffle off to that point.  Combat requires a few more button presses, but feels just as intuitive.  You can just touch the enemy once, and your member will charge up and swing their weapon or shoot off an arrow, depending on what is equipped.  Spell casting is just an extra push of the screen, that brings up the spell selection menu.  You press the spell you would like to cast, then press the unfortunate recipient to finish the spell.

The user interface feels just like an old rpg interface from twenty years ago.  Your party is listed to the right of the screen by using their portraits with their health and mana bars.  In the upper right hand side of the screen is your mini map, an absolute necessity in any rpg, while at the bottom is your text bar that shows messages and has a few combat buttons attached to it.  Most dialogue boxes will pop up over the main map, and will give you choices as to how you want to address certain situations.  If you don’t know what an item is or what a spell does, you can just hold down over the icon for a second and a interface box will pop up explaining what that item or spell does.

The mechanics for Avernum 6 HD made the transition over to the iPad very nicely with only slight issues in precision targeting, but I attribute that to my huge fingers and not Spiderweb’s design flaws.  Spiderweb understood this issue and made sure to add confirmation button clicks for important items, such as leveling up statistics.  Once you have selected the stats you want to raise, you have to press a confirmation button, which helps cut down on any errors in reading where your finger is for a particular stat.  Avernum 6 HD feels very natural on the iPad and made the transition from mouse and keyboard to touch screen extremely well.


OK, let’s talk about the huge, stinky elephant in the room: Avernum 6 HD’s visuals and sound.  Spiderweb Software has been making games since 1995 and the only thing that has changed since then is the story.  The graphics and sounds look almost exactly like they did almost fifteen years ago, which is a bad thing.  I understand a lot of people say that a good story will beat bad graphics every time, and as much as I hate too, I have to disagree with that.  Video games are a visual media, they use visuals and sound to tell the story of the game.  Without a strong story, good visuals and sound will fall flat.  However, the opposite is just as true.  Without good visual and sound, the story isn’t reaching the player as well as it could.  The player will always look at the graphics and listen to the sound and be taken out of the experience, because they will always see outdated graphics and listen to bad sound effects.

There are little to no animation in Avernum 6 HD, which is quite unsettling.  It’s almost comical to see your entire party shuffle to the next location, almost like they came right out of an episode of South Park.  Characters will swing their arms to attack, and you will see projectiles in the game, but beyond that there isn’t much else to see.  Avernum 6 HD is listed as an high definition game, at least that’s what I assume the HD means in the title because I don’t see anything high definition about this game.  The actual visual designs of Avernum 6 HD are quite nice, the world is interesting and the creatures that inhabit them are designed well, just poorly executed in terms of actual visuals.

These visuals and sound, in no way, kill the overall experience of Avernum 6 HD, but do hinder it tremendously.  With solid graphics and sound, Avernum 6 HD could have been a contender for game of the year in the realm of the rpg.  However, with video games being a visual medium, Avernum 6 HD is handicapped by it’s graphics and sound to only be a good game, not great.

Final Thoughts

Avernum 6 HD is a game that would have won many industry awards about fifteen years ago, but in today’s market will be overlooked by many people.  Avernum 6 HD has a great, epic story line that pits a small band of heroes against both an invading horde of monsters and a blight of the only crop that is available to the people of Avernum.  Avernum 6 made the transition from the PC and Macintosh to the iPad very well in terms of mechanics.  I only had slight precision issues, which is forgivable and didn’t break the game play for me at all.  The true downside to Avernum 6 HD is it’s presentation in terms of graphics and sound.  Avernum 6 HD just looks way to outdated in terms of visuals and sounds just as bad in today’s market.  While the story does a great job in compensating for the ugly visuals, the visuals and sound still takes its toll on Avernum 6 HD, making this a good game instead of a great one.  Avernum 6 HD is available now for the Apple iPad, iPad 2, and iPad 3.


Review of Anna (PC)

It is the Halloween Season, and we here at GamingShogun.com love nothing more than a good scare, whether it is from a movie, theme park, or video game.  So, I was truly excited when the editor asked me to take care of Anna, a first person puzzle horror game from Kalypso Media.  Anna is set in the lovely region of Valle d’Aosta in Italy and follows your investigation through an abandoned saw mill.  You must investigate the grounds and solve riddles by using context clues and items to find out about what had happened here.  So, does Anna deliver the goods as well as the scares, or is this one to avoid?  Let’s take a closer look with my full review of Anna from Kalypso Media.


You begin the story out in front of an old saw mill in Italy, starting a small monologue about how you keep seeing this mill in your dreams.  So, like any other sane individual that wanders into a horror story, you seek out said saw mill to discover the meaning of your dreams.  The game then just leaves you alone, locked out of the saw mill, for you to solve the puzzles and discover the secret.  Once inside the mill, the story starts to get deeper, but not any clearer.

The story in Anna is confusing at the best of times.  I had some major issues following anything at all in the story or what the significance of clues were that I had found.  The horror feeling comes mostly from the atmosphere of the setting, and not from any type of story plot point or character drama.  Anna also has three possible endings, one of which can be completed in about fifteen minutes of starting the game.  Without spoiling the game, none of the endings really gives the player a definitive story as to what really Anna is about.

For horror stories to be successful, the player must feel a connection to the story line, and for Anna that just didn’t happen for me.  I feel like there is a lot of potential here for Anna to be truly scary, but because of my disconnect with the story, I was never drawn into the game enough to be nailed with a great scare.


Anna’s core game mechanic is that of a first person adventure game which utilizes puzzles to move the story along.  The puzzles themselves range from the simple to discover to the insanely complicated, all within a few moments of each other.  Items can be discovered, examined, and picked up for use later, and it is up to you to discover the uses for any item or note that you encounter.  Anna uses a click and drag mechanic to explore your world for some items.  Boards, doors or drawers can be grabbed by the player and manipulated by moving the mouse.  This does give the game a nice tactile feeling, but I feel it is underused.

Anna relies heavily on the trial and error method of puzzle solving, which works most of the time when the game does not bug out and ends all hope of progression.  I had solved a puzzle and entered a new room, collected some items, then started looking for clues.  After about forty minutes of finding nothing new, I finally went online and looked at the walkthrough, only to discover that a painting that was supposed to spawn didn’t, thus preventing me to actually progress through the game.  Wrestling with frustrating puzzles is bad enough, but having the game glitch out on you so that you must restart is even worse.

The user interface is simple, consisting of only your pointer and an inventory screen.  I felt that interfacing with the inventory screen was clunky at best, between clicking the item, then having to click ‘use’ in order to pick it up.  You have no health in Anna, because you cannot die.  Regardless of what you run into, what secrets you discover, you will not die.  When I discovered this little bit of information, all fear that I felt while playing Anna went right out the door.  How can you have fear when you are not in danger?  Fear is the body’s reaction to a possible perilous situation, and when knowledge sets in that there is no consequences, then fear will no longer have a place.

Anna’s mechanics felt just way too clunky for me and not very user friendly.  Even with the mouse speed turned down, I had a hard time controlling my mouse between inventory and play screens.  Anna is so close to being a good game, but in the end, the mechanics just get in the way of a bad story.


Ok, here is where Anna truly shines: Aesthetics.  The game is just plain neat to look at, and the lighting is fantastic – especially once you get into the saw mill.  The fear that players feel in the beginning of the story, is contributed solely to the aesthetics of Anna and nothing else.  The sound just adds to the feeling of uneasiness that Anna is capable of presenting to the player.  This is where the people at Kalypso hit a homerun, to bad it can’t save a game that is already faltering.

The graphics and settings of Anna are well thought out and are designed to increase the unsettling feeling of the game.  Each area you progress through is small and dimly lit, adding to the feeling of being in an enclosed tight spot.  Shadows move across the walls with intent, giving you the feeling that there is something in the room with you, but by the time you turn to look, it is gone.  Shades will walk through the game and appear around corners, giving you a good start if you are not expecting a pair of eyes to be there.  However, once you realize that these shades are nothing more than atmosphere and are not dangerous, they no longer radiate fear.

I love the sound effects of Anna as well.  From the whispers that speak to you from the shadows, to the creaking of footsteps or other noises you hear that go unexplained, Anna uses sound to truly deepen the experience.  Music is artfully done as well to add to the atmosphere of Anna, but again, to have true fear and scares in a game, there has to be the possibility of demise, and Anna just can’t deliver that.

Final Thoughts:

Anna is one of those games that I truly tried to like.  I kept going back to it in hopes that something had changed since I had logged off that would have magically fixed all of Anna’s problems, but that never happened.  Anna scores full marks for aesthetics, with a great creepy local and fantastic sound effects to deepen the mood, but fails horribly with mechanics and story line.  Even after finishing two of the three endings in Anna, I still don’t fully have a clue as to what is going on in this saw mill.  Is Anna scary?  It can be, but that fear doesn’t last long when you realize that nothing you run into can actually hurt or even kill you.  If the developers were going for a more mental journey into fear, then the story line needed to be a lot more clear and easier to relate to.  In the end, Anna comes off as having much more potential than it actually delivers.  If you are hard up for a new horror game, you can give Anna a shot, but there are far better games out there that have been released within the last year or two that I would recommend more.

Community Launches Site to Save Detained Devs

If you read yesterday’s post, you will know that two Bohemia Interactive developers were detained in Greece on charges of espionage. The game developer house, who created the Armed Assault series, is adamant that these charges are not true. While more information on their whereabouts and possible release are waiting to be obtained, the community has launched a website devoted to getting the two developers released. Check out the HelpIvanMartin.com site for further information.

Risen 2: Dark Waters (Xbox 360) – A Review

Piranha Bytes and Deep Silver has brought us the latest game in the Risen franchise with Risen 2: Dark Waters.  Instead of being a direct sequel to Risen, Risen 2 feels more like a re-imagining of the entire franchise, giving up on the high fantasy world of Risen for a more realistic pirate feel in the new game.  The story of Risen 2 follows the same nameless hero from Risen, as he sets out on a fairly generic quest, to collect legendary artifacts to defeat an ancient evil in the form of a sea monster.  Game play mechanics feel right and the world definitely gives you more then enough to do, but on the Xbox 360, the graphics just look horrible.  I’m not sure what happened along the way here, but everything looks washed out, the animations are not finished, and characters will even stop mid sentence and just stare at the screen.  What could have been a solid game, is brought down to mediocre even bad levels by unfinished animations and graphics.


The story for Risen 2 is a very generic piece of work.  Risen 2 still follows the same nameless hero from Risen, who begins Risen 2 working for the Inquisition and being stationed on an island in the middle of the ocean.  He is awakened to see a ship coming into harbor, that is completely destroyed by the Kraken, a huge sea monster that has been hunting down and destroying ships throughout the ocean.  One of the survivors of the shipwreck tells a tale of her father and his legendary weapon that can be used to finally rid the world of not only the Kraken, but the other monsters that threaten humanity as well.  The nameless hero is then charged by the Inquisition with the task of recovering this weapon from the pirates and to proceed in making the world safe again.

While very generic, the story line works well for the world that has been created for Risen 2.  There is a reason that most RPGs use this type of story, and that is because it is an easy way to give the heroes the motivation to leave their homes and partake in the mission that is given to them.  This gives Piranha Bytes the opportunity to fill the world with interesting creatures and side missions galore, which helps to flesh out the story line a bit more but never truly brings it into a great story.  I have to give Piranha Bytes credit for changing up the theme from high fantasy that was the original Risen, but going to a pirate theme in Risen 2 just feels like they are trying to cash in on the Pirates of the Caribbean success.  Unfortunately, Piranha Bytes and Risen 2 are even way to late to cash in on that success.  In the end, the story works, as does the environments, but ultimately just feels a little generic, like we have played this game before.

Game Play:

Game play mechanics for Risen 2 are solid but generic as well.  Your characters skills, in the beginning of the game, start out very rudimentary and boring, only being able to swing a sword.  However, as the game goes on and you start to develop new skills, game play changed drastically.  Sword play becomes more involved and not just mashing the X button, and you gain abilities like sneak or pick pocket.  If learning to fight with a sword does not fit your character or play style, then you can focus on muskets or even learn voodoo spells.  For me, the voodoo system felt very underwhelming and underdeveloped, as I was  hoping for more here.

Voodoo had the potential to be really fun in Risen 2.  I could imagine being a voodoo spell caster and creating zombies or directly hexing my opponents using voodoo dolls, but Risen 2 only lets you debuff enemies or mind control them, with no direct damage spells.  Voodoo is used as a set of spells that you would cast prior to killing your enemies with either musket or sabre.  Not saying that you will not find uses for these spells, but as an overall system, voodoo just feels like a complete letdown and far more underdeveloped then most other RPG magic systems on the market.

Some skills will give you different conversation choices as you go through the game, allowing you to intimidate or charm your way through the world.  Some of these choices will give you funny conversations or change encounters to your favor, but feels just like any other chat system that has used this style before, like Vampire: The Masquerade.  NPCs can be picked up too as you adventure through Risen 2.  Like the NPCs in other RPGs, say like Skyrim, they work best as damage sponges and targets for the beasts and monsters of the world.  Get the enemy to focus on your NPC so that you can move into position and blast away without taking damage, especially if the enemy is fairly cheap in its tactics by using stun locks.

Overall, what is here in Risen 2: Dark Waters is good but ultimately could have been so much better with a little more developmental time and energy.  A complete spell casting system would have given us another viable choice to run through the world of Risen 2, and I feel that Piranha Bytes really missed the boat with that.  I would have loved being able to summon a horde of zombies to do my bidding as I sat back and poked needles into a voodoo doll to damage my targets.


Ok, here is where Risen 2: Dark Waters unfortunately goes belly up for me, the aesthetics department.  Let me reiterate a few points before I get into my little tirade.  The use of aesthetics in a game is a funny thing, all games have aesthetics and a design framework to work in.  Aesthetics and graphics are not the same thing.  Some games out there have great aesthetics with non high resolution graphics, like Team Fortress 2 or Awesomenauts.  The graphics of those games are not bad, just not on par with the top of the line games on the market, hence why I changed the title to this category to aesthetics, to allow games like Awesomenauts to shine.


With the case of Risen 2: Dark Waters, the design of the game is well done.  I can see what the designers wanted to achieve and the world they wanted to portray.  Unfortunately, on the Xbox 360, the graphics ruin any chance for the aesthetics to come through and shine.  This game looks outright horrible on the 360.  It would be a bad looking game on the Wii, that’s just how bad it is.  Animations are not finished in the game.  Characters would stop moving their mouths to match the voice over, like all of that work was making them tired.  Characters would also turn without animations.  I felt like I was watching a horror movie sometimes, the character would be facing someone, then suddenly would appear to be facing someone else.  And who thought it would be a good idea for characters to stop and face the screen to continue their conversations?  This felt like I was watching a bad elementary school production.

The voice overs were not all that great either, with everyone sporting a bad accent and giving over the top performances.  The music was workable, but unremarkable.  Unfortunately, the horror show that was the graphics really took me out of any immersion that I would feel for this game, and made it hard to focus on anything else when it came to the aesthetics of Risen 2: Dark Water.  If you are going to buy this game, and have a PC that can run it, I strongly suggest you get it on that platform.  The Xbox version just isn’t good at all in this category.

Final Thoughts:

What could have been a good game comes off as rather mediocre, even bad, due to some game killing issues.  The horrid “last generation” graphics and missing animations coinciding with a lack luster voodoo system completely ruins a good but generic story line and solid game play mechanics.  If you get the PC version of Risen 2, then you will get an graphics upgrade, but will still be suffering through the underdeveloped combat system.  Even if you were a huge fan of Risen, Risen 2 does not give you enough to want to continue that story line, since this game feels nothing like the last game.  If you need to get a pirate RPG right now, then this is your only choice, but seriously, get it for the PC.  It’s still not great on the PC, but it looks a far sight better then it does on the Xbox, and in this case, that makes all the difference in the world.  Risen 2: Dark Waters is available now.

Kung Fu Strike: The Warrior’s Rise (XBLA) – A Review

Qooc Soft and 7sixty brings us an old school arcade beat-em-up style video game with Kung Fu Strike:  The Warrior’s Rise on the XBLA.  While Kung Fu Strike will not win any awards for game play or story telling this year, the game ultimately succeeds where many have failed before, it is fun to play.  The story is basic and told through dialogue loading screens before each map, and can even be skippable in the options menu, so that should tell you how much the developers believed in their story.  Game play is old school brawler, fighting a screen full of enemies on your way to the boss for that section.  Aesthetics remind me a lot of Street Fighter 4, with the ink outlining and dripping as you pull of major moves, to reproduce the look of Chinese art.  That is Kung Fu Strike: The Warrior’s Rise summed up, now let’s look at the details of what made this game.


Whenever a developer makes the story to a game optional, I have some concerns.  The story is usually what draws the player into the surroundings of the game and immerses us into the world that the developer wants us to be in.  A story gives you that connection and when you make it skippable, like Kung Fu Strike: The Warrior’s Rise does, then you are just solely relying on your game play to save the game.  That means your game play has to be so good that people will want to continue playing your game without ever becoming invested in the characters.  That is a bold move, and it works here for Kung Fu Strike: A Warrior’s Rise, sort of.

The story follows you as General Loh, a general of the current ruling faction of China, who is both searching for his father’s murderer and is trying to save his ruler from a rebellion.  The game follows Loh as he searches for answers in a secluded monastery, searching for the master.  Unwanted at the monastery, Loh must fight his way passed everyone, just to have a talk with the master.  To make matters worse, members of the rebellion have traced Loh to this monastery and are trying to kill him to help further the cause of the revolution.

The story is told through graphic novel pages, a la Max Payne, but without any type of voice acting.  If we had cared more about the story and the characters, I truly believe this could have raised Kung Fu Strike: A Warrior’s Rise to a higher level of excitement and enjoyment.  However, since the developers had absolutely no faith in their story and chose not to develop it further, it only serves as background knowledge and the entire game has to rely on it’s game play to make it through this review.

Game Play:

The good news here for Kung Fu Strike: The Warrior’s Rise is that it’s game play is enough to make this game good, though not great.  The game is set up to have you fight your opponents within sections of the monastery, like the front gate, the courtyard, or the “Zen Room of Emptiness”.  Within these sections, you will defeat soldiers and monks in groups, battling your way to the mini boss of that section.  While fighting these waves are fairly straight forward for this type of game, the action can be frantic if you are not paying attention enough to get yourself overrun, and the boss fights are a pain to play.  Each boss has a set pattern to their attacks, so it is up to you to quickly learn the tells from the boss in order to counter act or dodge these attacks.  I felt like I was playing Mike Tyson’s Punch Out again, staring into his eyes to see what move he was going to make next.  The bosses can also complete moves that are completely unblockable, and must be dodged.  These are truly what drove me up the wall, for I would have the block and counter punch pattern down, only to forget that the next move needed to be dodged.

The moves list plays out like any other brawler, you have some combinations that are all performed by hitting certain buttons in certain order that goes along with a block button that most will forget about until you fight the boss.  In Kung Fu Strike: the Warrior’s Rise, timing is everything.  Your blocks, parries, deflections, and moves will all depend on how quick your reflexes are on whether or not you are successful in pulling of the move.  Your biggest enemy here, however, is the camera.  The camera has a tendency to do it’s own thing during some fights, not all.  It will behave for most of the game, then decided that it’s been good long enough, and misbehave just in time for you to miss a critical move or block.  While not a deal breaker, the camera was annoying enough to make a mention of it in this review.

Kung Fu Strike: The Warrior’s Rise can be played co-op on the same screen, which is great.  Two people beating up wave after wave of monks and soldiers reminded me of the hours I put into Double Dragon as a kid at the local arcade.  What did frustrate me with this game play mechanic, is that essentially you and your partner share the same life.  If one of you is cornered and defeated, then the game is over.  For the minion fights, that isn’t such a big deal unless one of you just isn’t paying attention, but for the boss fights it can become annoying quickly.  Again, like many of the flaws of Kung Fu Strike: The Warrior’s Rise, annoying not game breaking.


Kung Fu Strike: The Warrior’s Rise is done in a very similar art style to that done in Street Fighter 4.  The artists used heavy black lines to represent the ink in a Chinese painting to outline the world, and to highlight the moves of General Loh.  Ink blots will appear on your screen as you pull off major moves and spin through the air.  The visuals of the game look good, if not great and would be quite unique if it had not been for Street Fighter 4.  Still, overall, the game has a nice feel and look to it and utilizes the graphics well enough to give us a nice visually pleasing world to play through.  Level design is very basic and relies on the background textures to be interesting, and are all taken out of your typical Chinese kung fu design schemes.

Voice acting for Kung Fu Strike: The Warrior’s Rise is non existent.  The only voice work you will hear will be the typical grunts and yells of the stereotypical kung fu practitioner.  Sound effects are exactly what you would expect from this type of game; punches, kicks and other impact sound effects.  None of this detracts from the overall aesthetic of Kung Fu Strike: The Warrior’s Rise, but none of this adds to it either.

Final Thoughts:

Kung Fu Strike: The Warrior’s Rise knows what it does and does not do well.  The game is very self aware that the only reason people will play it is because of the game  play and the old school brawler mechanics, not because of the story line or voice acting.  The game plays well and is fun, but truly lacks the polish and care that is shown in some other higher budget games.  The aesthetics, though borrowed from other games, are used well here and make the game look good.  Only a few issues made the game feel unpolished, like a camera that would misbehave every once in a while, and bosses that felt rather cheap sometimes.  These negatives, while annoying, don’t detract too much from the overall feel of Kung Fu Strike: The Warrior’s Rise.  Overall, this is a very solid throwback to the arcade beat-em-up game mechanic, playable from the comfort of your couch.  Kung Fu Strike: The Warrior’s Rise is available now for the XBLA.


Death Rally (PC) – A Review

If I say the words, RC Pro-Am, does your inner child do a back flip?  If he or she does, then I strongly suggest you check out Remedy’s newest IOs port to the PC, Death Rally. Death Rally for the PC is a top down racer that pits the player against computer opponents to see who can cross the finish line first, alive.  Death Rally also supports multiplayer games, up to four players over the internet.  While my childhood memories still has RC Pro-Am as the best game of this genre ever, I must say that Death Rally comes in at a close second.  Sometimes, games just can’t beat nostalgia.


Some game types just don’t need story lines or well written characters to work.  All that matters is that the player has fun with the game and just won’t put it down.  Death Rally is that type of game.  Sure, there is a story mode here, but it’s fairly inconsequential and is used just to rope all of the races together.  You play as a lone wolf driver, who has been captured by the police and forced into the Death Rally tournament.  The police are hoping that your entry into Death Rally will expose the organizer, who is only known as The Adversary.  The Adversary is your target and you have to eliminate him in order to free yourself from the police.

This story won’t win any awards any time soon for it’s writing or presentation.  The style of the presentation seems completely ripped right out of the first Max Payne game, done in graphic novel style.  I swear it even looks like the same artist doing the art.  I am usually very critical with game writing because I feel that this is the entire basis on whether or not the game draws people in.  If we don’t care about the characters or their plight, it’s hard to invest ourselves into the game.  Death Rally is the type of game that can get away with very little narrative and overused plot points.  Why?  Because, in the end, the game is just damn fun to play.  Since it was originally made to be an IOs game, it is played in smaller chunks, so the story does not have a huge impact in the player’s enjoyment, if at all.

Game Play:

Death Rally has a surprising amount of depth to it before each race.  You start off with the lowest beater of the group, with just a single machine gun to kill your opponents with.  As you survive races, you earn money to repair your vehicle and purchase upgrades.  During each race break, you can visit the black market, for some illegal upgrades, visit the loan shark to get some extra cash and a one hundred percent interest rate, or visit some shady gentlemen that are not above a little sabotage to help put you in front of your opponents.

The actual races are done from a top down view, very similar to games like RC Pro-Am or Off Road Rally.  This gives you a perfect view of all of the action that is taking place and it helps line up your opponents for the kill.  As you race, you will expose power ups or parts that you can use either during the game or afterwards.  Nitro, ammo, exploding barrels, mushrooms, and the like are used during races to help you get out in front, while other pieces that you pick up helps unlock the next vehicle in line or another weapon.

My only complaint with the game play of Death Rally is the controls.  I do not have a control pad on my PC, so it was mouse and keyboard for me.  The mouse and keyboard control scheme never felt solid enough to handle the turns in the way I wanted to.  A control pad would handle this situation quite well, I believe, but I can see where this game was designed primarily as a touch screen game, and not one to use with the keyboard.


The visuals of the game work very well for me.  Each track is extremely interesting to look at, vivid and colorful, while the cars will show varying degrees of damage as the race progresses.  The game isn’t cutting edge, and does not have a really well designed aesthetic, like Awesomenauts, but the graphics are clean and interesting to look at.  Not once did I have any type of graphical issues during game play, and only a few times did i really notice something that didn’t look right.  The pictures of your rival racers are static and just hover near the car that they are driving, with the police chief looking a lot like George Lucas.  The graphic novel parts of the game looks exactly like the old Max Payne game, with no motion at all.

Sound is just as serviceable as the graphics are.  The voice acting isn’t all that great, it’s a lot over the top.  However, there is so little of it that you will never notice it unless you are really searching.  The in game sound is just perfect, the explosions sound good while the report of the machine guns sound just as they should.  Overall, a solid technical job that won’t win any awards, but also does not detract from the fun experience of Death Rally’s game play.

Final Thoughts:

Death Rally by Remedy is just fun, and at the end of the day, that is really all that matters.  Death Rally really takes me back to my child hood days of playing RC Pro-Am with my brother.  This is the type of game that doesn’t revolve around a story and does not suffer for it, unlike other games.  The fun of Death Rally is really in just blasting the competition into little hunks of metal while you upgrade your car to get to the next stage.  Game play is solid for the most part, but I found that the stock keyboard and mouse controls to be fairly deficient in giving me absolute control over my car.  The use of a PC control pad, though, should solve that problem right up.  The sound and the visuals of Death Rally do a good job, with the visuals being much more tighter and crisper then the sound.  Overall, I will recommend this game for anyone who is interested in a racing game that has a lot of extra curricular activity going on during the race, but feel that Mario Kart is a little to young for you.  Death Rally is available now from Steam.

Fun Trailer:

Gameplay Trailer:

Razer Taipan Review (PC Hardware)

One of the most important pieces of hardware for a PC gamer is the mouse.  Without a great mouse, a gamer is left sitting in his or her own sweat as their opponents blast away.  Being hardcore gamers at heart, Razer has once again set out to improve the way that we play PC games with the Razer Taipan mouse.  Let’s take a look at the feature set under the hood.

  • 8200PI 4G Dual Sensor System
  • 9 Programmable Buttons
  • Rubberized Contoured Thumb Grip
  • Anti Slip and Fingerprint Matte Finish
  • Optimized Weight, Shape, And Balance
  • Compatible With Synapse 2.0
  • Developed With Feedback By Pro-Gamers

Installation as always with any Razer product was super easy.  The first thing I noticed is how nice the cord for the mouse was constructed.  A braided black cord that really felt like it could hold up to a little bit of punishment.  A simple plug into my available USB port and my operating system recognized it right away.  After a few short moments I was up and running for some game time.  Oh but wait, you can’t forget about Synapse 2.0.  A quick trip to the Razer website  for the download link and it took me about 5 minutes to install everything.  The Synapse 2.0 program not only allows you to manage any driver downloads for your devices, it also gives you the ability to adjust any setting on the mouse.  From macros to glowing logos, Synapse 2.0 is an easy to use program that makes life easier for the peripheral owner.  With my settings all lined up, let’s take a jump in and see what we thought about the Taipan.

Design and Feel

The Taipan is the equivalent of a fancy sports car.  It looks pretty and feels even better when you get your hands on it.  This ambidextrous mouse has the ability to make ANY gamer feel like they are using a piece of gaming art in their hands.  From the smooth black matte finish to the glowing Razer logo, the Taipan sure is pretty to look at.  The big question is, how does the mouse feel?  There have been many times where I have come across a mouse that looks pretty but is not really functional or comfortable.  I am happy to report that the Taipan feels pretty good from the first time you use it.  The mouse rests comfortably in your hand and the thumb grip is a prety great addition.  I felt as though I did not have a lot of slippage in my thumb and is rested really good during each play session.  The one problem a lot of gamers will find is the dragging of a couple fingers while using the mouse.  In order for your pinky and ringer finger to be comfortable, you will need to flex your hand in an awkward manner.  The dragging of the fingers is going to be a problem with pro-gamers everywhere as it may slow down some APM rates.  I have bear paws for hands and sometimes after long play sessions the Taipan just feels a little too small for me.  Just a slight increase in overall size would make it a better fit for those with bigger hands.

Getting Down To The Action

The Taipan for me is not only a dream gamer mouse but it also works for every day use.  I do a lot of business work and the Taipan was great for doing my normal daily routine.  I admit that these days my PC gaming is mainly limited to MMO’s and Diablo III.  I took the Taipan for a spin in both and the dual-sensor lived up to it’s promises of being quite accurate.  I rarely had any miss clicks and the toggle buttons next to the mouse wheel has a smooth DPI changing function.  If you want to be super fast, you can bump it up to the top or keep it down low for noobs like myself.  I do not use a mousepad and after a four or five hour The Secret World session, The Taipan still held up with the accuracy factor.  The Taipan comes with nine programmable macro buttons that you can set via the Synapse 2.0 menu programs.  I am not a huge macro user but testing it out I had no problems at all with them working.  Button presses, mouse wheel, and general use performed better than expected.

Final Thoughts

While not perfect, The Razer Taipan is an outstanding mouse for someone who is looking for an upgrade or for those left-handed gamers many hardware makers overlook.  Pro-gamers may be thrown off a bit by the finger dragging problem but I found this mouse to be a great mouse for every day PC use.  At $80, the price is a little high but with that you are getting a sleek looking new addition to your desktop.  I highly suggest that Shogunites take a look at the Taipan if they need an upgrade.

The Razer Taipan is available now for $80 and we were provided one for review purposes