Author - Jennifer Paxton

Gotham City Impostors Review (XBLA)

Gotham City Impostors is a rare breed. Coming along mere months after the critically acclaimed and long anticipated Batman: Arkham City, Impostors offers you a skewed look at the Batman universe through a pair of mentally imbalanced eyes. Playing as either a member of the ‘Bats’ or the ‘Jokerz,’ two street gangs taking after their favorite costumed celebrity, you will find yourself running and gunning through the streets of Gotham in an inspired and satirical FPS.

“His is the path of righteousness, ours is the path of cordite and home-brew explosives.”

The game is spawned from a four issue story from Detective Comics (#867-870) wherein the Joker drugs Gotham City, causing mass hallucinations leading to Batman inspired maniacs who protect the innocent and Joker inspired madmen who want nothing more than to cause damage to the city. Upon jumping into the game, you’re treated to a brief intro level where the leader of the Bats, known only as ‘Sir,’ and his dimwitted second-in-command Marvin welcome you to the good fight and introduce you to the game’s mechanics.

If you’ve played Call of Duty, Battlefield, Bioshock, or any of the infinite first person shooters that dominate the current generation of gaming, then you’ll be right at home with Gotham City Impostors. The controls are immediately familiar save for a brief learning curve in timing some special moves. You are privy to roller-blades, glider wings, spring shoes, and grappling hooks to help you move about the map. Weapons range from the standard shotguns and machine guns to pipe bombs and PVC rocket launchers. The game plays fast and cartoony, both due to the weapons and travel options, and there is rarely any downtime to the action.

The game plays host to five maps, all of them highly vertical and full of locations immediately recognizable to fans of the comics. Alongside five maps you get three main game types. You have your standard team deathmatch, capture the flag, and king of the hill. On top of the multiplayer there is also a challenge mode to help grind for additional experience. Get ready to spend the majority of your time in straight up death matches, however. Over the last week or so of playing the game I have had difficulty filling up a lobby in either of the other multiplayer games types.

Experience points earned throughout the game can be used for a number of different purchases. You can unlock new costume pieces for your characters, new mascots that float above your head, different load-outs, and even customizable ‘calling cards’ that pop up on the screen of anybody unlucky enough to die by your hand. In an interesting move reminiscent of mobile gaming you can unlock items both with experience earned in-game or through micro transactions, paying real world money for the right to unlock items.

Gotham City Impostors is not revolutionary by any means. But it is a whole heap of fun. It is a multiplayer game that wouldn’t fit in with any current Batman game on the market while not being robust enough to be its own full retail release. This is a prime example of what a downloadable title should be, however. It is a fun idea packed with insane humor and something you should definitely download if you’re looking for a change of pace from the more serious FPS offerings out there.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Review (PS3)

Okay, let me try this again…

I got most of the way through my first review of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning by the time I got a call from my editor asking for a progress update. We talked over the game for a bit and I found myself admitting to feelings that were very contrasting to the way my review was piecing together. I wanted so badly to like this game. An open world action RPG with deep customization? Right up my alley. It has everything going for it. It’s the first major release from Curt Schilling’s (yes, THAT Curt Schilling) 38 Studios. The game has a tremendous pedigree of talent. New York Times bestselling author R.A. Salvatore crafted thousands of years worth of history for the land of Amalur. Todd MacFarlane, creator of ‘Spawn,’ supervised the art department. Ken Rolston, formerly of Bethesda, served as Executive Designer. Everything was in place for this game to be astounding. Yet something fell flat…

I was having a hard time writing my review of Amalur the first time around because I simply didn’t find myself with any passion for the game. The hardest part of playing Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning,  was actually wanting to play Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning!

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning throws you head-first into a world at war. Humans are at odds with the relentless Winter Fey. Amalur is a land ruled by destiny with every man, woman, and child moving towards a predetermined fate. After dying on the battlefield your character is revived through the arcane magics of the Well of Souls, leaving you curiously without a destiny of your own and free to carve out your own fate in the world.

The story is presented through use of cut-scenes and dialogue wheels very reminiscent of Bioware’s popular conversation system. Nearly everyone you come across has something to say or, more importantly, something to ask you to do. Through dialogue you can accept or refuse their quests and be as nice or as mean to them as you choose. Nothing really sticks, however. There never seem to be any long lasting effects of treating an NPC one way or the other and nothing is ever truly gained or lost based on your choices.

That is, of course, if you can find anybody to begin with. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning actually began life as an MMO before making the switch to a single player experience and it shows. The world is often altogether desolate, save for clusters of NPCs gathered around town squares or packed into local pubs. You may come across the odd wanderer between point A and point B but Amalur, in large part, is a very lonely place – and not in the deep and introspective way that Dark Souls is.

In between the cities of Amalur you will, of course, run into all manner of enemies that need a handy slaying. This is one point where I must say Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning shines. Being that you are left without a destiny, you are not tied down to any one character class. Any time you level up, you can choose to take on a new destiny, each with its own perks and bonuses. There are multiple weapon slots available allowing you at any time to have a mix of any of your weapons active and ready to be called upon in battle. Longbows, daggers, swords, hammers, staffs… any weapon can be placed into your primary or secondary weapon slots and used on the fly in combat in addition to any magic spells at your disposal. The combat can be fast and action packed and is a welcome challenge during the long walks between one town to the next.

The environments and character models are fine enough to look at. Everything has a colorful and less than real quality to it, much like the Fable franchise. Character models are often exaggerated and the game has a certain charm in its style. The fantasy world of Amalur separates itself by not looking like anything that would exist in our own world and given time to grow over future titles could become something awe inspiring. The sound design is workable as well. There is a varied cast of voice actors and you will listen to a lot of dialogue before you come across a recycled voice, which is much welcomed when most NPCs in other titles all seem to share a communal voice box.

Amalur does everything that a game should, just not in any stand out fashions. There is nothing inherently wrong with the game but nothing that really hooked me either. There are many fantastic RPGs based on existing licenses that I am familiar with and care about. I just found no real reason to fall in love with this game. It’s definitely worth a rental to see if it’s your cup of tea. I can easily see a first time RPG gamer getting into this title. 38 Studios has been open about their plans for the future of this series. An MMO is touted to be in the works and we’ll have to wait and see if it warrants a return trip to Amalur.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning faces the very precarious position of launching as a brand new intellectual property directly between two of the biggest RPG releases of recent memory: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Mass Effect 3. Skyrim was released last November and still continues to dominate the hearts and minds of many gamers. Mass Effect 3 is less than a month away and will wrap up an epic trilogy that many people, myself included, have found themselves wrapped up in for countless hours and multiple play-throughs. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a capable game and does a good job in most areas, just not good enough to get out of the shadow of the titans it’s being launched against.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review (Xbox 360)

There are various experiences one can have while playing a game these days. You can be told an engrossing story. You can experience a roller-coaster ride of summer blockbuster proportions. You can kill hours with your friends in all-out online war. Skyrim, the latest in Bethesda Softwork’s massively successful Elder Scrolls series takes place 200 years after Oblivion (the series’ previous installment) gives you an experience wholly it’s own. Skyrim gives you the entire world. Sure, games you’ve played before have touted open world gameplay or the flexibility of user choice but you’ve never played Skyrim.

As the game opens, you find yourself in the shoes of a prisoner, as is tradition in Elder Scrolls titles. You have been arrested for illegally crossing the border of the Nordic nation of Skyrim as it teeters on the brink of civil war. Just as your execution is to be carried out a dragon descends from the sky, allowing your escape in the ensuing chaos. That’s where the hand-holding stops. After your escape, you’ve seen roughly thirty minutes of Skyrim and the game seemingly could care less where you go from there. You’re given a little nudge towards the starting point of the central quest line but, outside of that, you’re on your own. Or so you think.

This is all the doing of the Radiant Quest system, promoting NPCs to the role of quest-giver…

First and foremost, Skyrim is a game that values and encourages exploration but never forces it upon you. There are no ticking clocks to race and nothing dictating where and when to go to a far off town. The star of the show here is the game’s new ‘Radiant Quest’ system. I cannot over-emphasize the fact that you can go anywhere and do nearly anything you want – even from the first, breathtaking moments of the game. While you pursue whatever activity you like, the Radiant Quest system is in the background, chugging away. It pokes you in tiny ways, suggests places to go or landmarks to see. You may visit an inn in the city of Falkreath and meet a woman whose husband is being held captive by bandits two cities over. You may be walking down the streets of Winterhold and over hear of a dragon attack near a local farm. This is all the doing of the Radiant Quest system, promoting NPCs to the role of quest-giver in an effort to get out there and explore off the beaten path.

Bethesda has every reason in the world to want to make you explore every inch of Skyrim. This is one gorgeous game. Running on the developer’s brand new Creation engine, Skyrim is a sight to behold. Grass gently swaying in the breeze, the dawn of the Aurora Borealis late into the night, the ripped tendons of a zombie’s neck. These are but a few of the many things to take your breath away. Everything in this game has been crafted with loving detail, from the smallest items in the environment to the architecture of the cities you’ll visit. The world has a believable weight to it and the environments all tell a story. The cities all have a very distinct look and their own identity. Whiterun, for example, is perched atop a hill in the middle of an expansive plain. The city itself escalates up the slopes until finding the majestic castle Dragonkeep at the peak. The whole city gives way to a very Lord of the Rings feel, echoing the horse-centric Edoras from The Two Towers. Other cities may find themselves carved out of a mountain or nestled in the swampland. One thing is for sure, you’ll never see two places that look anything like each other in the entire game world.

Further showcasing the outstanding design of the game are the loading screens. It seems that Bethesda is rightfully proud of the craftsmanship that has gone into creating the game world and as such has chosen to feature movable models of game assets on the loading screens to keep you busy. Most often these are related to whatever you are currently doing, but sometimes it’s just awesome to see the level of detail put into something as small as the head of a mage’s staff.

I’m pleased to report that the Creation Engine is outperforming the previous Gamebryo builds used for Oblivion…

Being that this is a Bethesda title, one might expect tedious load times and buggy gameplay. I’m pleased to report that the Creation Engine is outperforming the previous Gamebryo builds used for Oblivion, Fallout 3 and New Vegas in leaps and bounds. This is a massive game with some 300+ teased hours of gameplay, 60,000 lines of dialogue recorded, and one of the largest game worlds available with hundreds of different locations to explore. That being said, the entire game fits on one DVD. With all this data being compressed onto one disc for the XBox (compared to two discs for Dead Space 2, two discs for Mass Effect 2, and three discs for L.A. Noire) one would expect major bugs to be present, especially given Bethesda’s history. The Pitt DLC for Fallout 3 froze my XBox almost every ten minutes or so. Fallout: New Vegas was almost unplayable at launch due to the number of game crashing bugs. Skyrim doesn’t suffer from these same issues. Gameplay is smooth, in close to fifty hours of gameplay my system only froze once, textures load smoothly and with little to no pop in, and rarely did the game slow down or stutter on me. Load times were acceptable for a game of this size, most of the time clocking in at around twenty to thirty seconds. The Creation Engine is definitely a powerful one (ed.note: I cant wait to see if they are using it in Fallout 4!)

So, exploration is great and the game doesn’t freeze. What about dragons, you say? There has been a year’s worth of hype surrounding this game and most of it has been centered on the chance to fell dragons with your own two hands. Skyrim does not disappoint. Your first real battle against one of these beasts happens about two hours into the main quest line and from then on out dragons will pop up at almost any time. Some of them are tied to quests but most of them will just be found free roaming the world. These are epic battles. My average time taking a dragon down is about fifteen minutes. You’ll stay on your feet, constantly searching for cover, plucking away at the beast with your bow and arrow until it comes crashing to the ground. Once grounded, you charge in to attack and as the dragon dies its soul is released to you.

Dragon souls. Yum!

Dragon souls. Yum! These fuel one of the most exciting new aspects to Skyrim, your “Shouts”. You see, your character is known as the Dovahkiin, or Dragonborn. You have dragon blood in your veins allowing you to understand and use their language. Throughout the world there are ancient dragon words to seek out and the power behind each one is unlocked by absorbing a dragon’s soul. Put these words together and you get immensely powerful magic spells known as Shouts. Shouts offer exciting new combat options, expanding beyond the realm of dual wielding to triple wielding.

Aside from shouts, you can also map attacks to each trigger. Magic in one hand, melee in the other? Sword and shield? Bow and arrow? All powerful two handed warhammer? Any combat setup you can imagine is possible, allowing you to approach battles in the way you see fit. Doing things the way you want to is important in Skyrim, especially since that’s how you’ll level up. Leveling only happens after increasing your skills. Increasing your skills only happens by actually doing things. Put it all together and this is a game that grows around you depending on the way you choose to play it. There was no need to spend skill points to turn my character into a super awesome battle-mage ninja. All I had to do was cast fireballs, use my mace, and sneak around a lot and the game filled in the rest for me. Once leveled up, all I had to do was choose whether to buff out my Magic, Stamina, or Health and choose a new perk for an existing ability. No more stat tracking, just go out and act.

Skyrim is a massive game. The level cap has been set at 50 before any DLC. I have been at it for over 40 hours and I’m only a level 19. I’m already dreading the amount of time it’s going to take me to finish Skyrim. If you’re looking for the best bang for your buck, look no further. Skyrim is for you. Taking the award-winning gameplay of Oblivion and marrying it with a beautiful graphic overhaul and a game engine that won’t crash, Bethesda has made possibly the greatest console RPG of all time. Go buy this game now.

Note: Skyrim was provided for review on the XBox 360. The game was installed to the hard drive to best match the technical experience of playing on the PS3. In this case the XBox 360 install provided better textures, comparable to the mandatory install on the PS3. A day one patch is also available for all platforms to improve stability and performance.

Batman: Arkham City Review

Let’s face it, now is an excellent time to be a fan of the Caped Crusader. Between Christopher Nolan’s films, direct-to-DVD features like “Batman: Year One,” and Rocksteady’s critically-acclaimed mega-blockbuster “Batman: Arkham Asylum” there has never been more quality Batman media to feast upon. Rocksteady has come along once again to add to that list with “Batman: Arkham City,” undoubtedly poised to rise to the top of many of this year’s Game of the Year lists.

2009’s Arkham Asylum offered gamers a chance to feel what it’s like to be the Batman. With a quality story drawing upon a decent selection of one of the better rogue’s galleries in the comic world, Arkham Asylum gave you the toys you’ve always wanted to play with and a chance to take down the villains you’ve always dreamed of fighting. You progressed through the Asylum unravelling Joker’s plot and experiencing a game largely influenced by Metroid. Often times there would be a puzzle to solve or an area to reach that wouldn’t be possible until later in the game with the help of new and more amazing gadgets.

The story picks up a year or so after the conclusion of Arkham Asylum. Warden Quincy Sharp is now Mayor of Gotham and has cordoned off a large section of the city to house the inmates of Arkham Asylum. Christening this borough “Arkham City”, the criminal element is left to it’s own devices as long as it doesn’t try to breach the outside world. Suspecting foul play and corruption at the heart of this program, Bruce Wayne allows himself to become incarcerated as a political prisoner so Batman can investigate the inner workings of the penal colony.

This year’s model blows the door wide open on the formula. You’ll still find yourself using a variety of wonderful gadgets, you’ll still do a lot of back tracking throughout the world, and you’ll still be treated to one of the most wonderful pieces of fan service I can direct you to. Only this time you’re doing it in an open world setting. Arkham City is a massive and gorgeous place. A multi-leveled gothic industrial wonderland, Arkham City gives you the chance to really inhabit Batman’s place in the world. At one moment you may be descending upon a fire-damaged courthouse to rescue Catwoman only to find yourself racing to a bombed out freeway over pass to save a downed news-copter moments later. There is a ton to do in this world and you will savor every moment of it.

One significant addition is the ability to play as Catwoman. Catwoman has a handful of her own missions peppered in throughout the story. She serves, as always, as a romantic foil and equal to the Caped Crusader. Playing as Catwoman, you’ll face down Poison Ivy and have your own batch of Riddler puzzles to solve. Catwoman handles much differently than Batman so don’t think that this is a simple re-skin. Her moves are quicker and much more fluid. There are areas that only she can access and weapons that only she can use. While her story is brief, it is a great diversion from an already fantastic game.

Arkham City isn’t as much of an open world as you’ve seen in recent games like Red Dead Redemption or Saint’s Row, but it functions much more like a hub world in the style of the Legend of Zelda games. Arkham City is your Hyrule and the Courthouse, Steel Mill, and Museum are all dungeons to explore. Moving around Arkham City is a blast and you can typically make it from one end of the map to the other in about two or three minutes. Gliding with your cape and firing off your grappling gun make for some of the most satisfying locomotion in today’s gaming landscape. (Make sure you complete the first round of Augmented Reality training to really enhance the way you travel around Arkham.)

The story moves at a brisk pace, even considering the ten to fifteen hours it will take to complete just the main quest line. Buffering this out, however, are a host of side quests. Should you allow yourself to you’ll find yourself doing everything from solving the over 400 puzzles left behind by The Riddler to tracking down Mr. Zsasz before he can kill again. Add it all up and well, I’ve beat the main quest and I’m at hour 21 of my play through and I’m still only at 54% completion. There is a lot to do here.

Once you’re done with the main story, you can jump back in to a fantastic New Game+ mode. New Game+ starts you off with all of your experience, upgrades and your progression through the Riddler’s puzzles intact. From there you are introduced to a difficulty spike in the enemies, more challenging boss battles, and a lack of alert when an enemy is about to attack. But hey, you beat the game already. At this point, you are Batman. New Game+ is all about taking everything you’ve learned through one play of the game and putting it into practice without the game holding your hand. Once you’re done with New Game+, you can jump into the Riddler’s Revenge lobby. In Riddler’s Revenge you’ll find challenge maps like the first game plus all new campaigns which serve as sort of a best-of mix-tape of the standard challenge maps. Campaigns match three challenge maps together and give you a handful of game modifiers like tougher enemies and time limits that you must put into play. A robust leaderboard system will help you keep track of your progress against your friends and all challenges are playable as Catwoman as well.

In going into any review, You always find yourself looking for something negative about the game. Something to poke holes in whatever argument you’re making for the game. There’s not a lot I could find for Arkham City. If anything, it would be the controversial decision to require a download voucher for the Catwoman content. While I can agree on the need for an online pass in today’s used game market, I don’t agree with having that online pass activate something that rightfully is part of the main single-player story. I didn’t play any of the Catwoman content until after I had completed the game and I was shocked at just what I was missing. Catwoman completely changes the opening to the game and later on there is a very specific plot point that became a bit muddy for me and wasn’t cleared up until I saw it from Catwoman’s point of view. That being said, buy the game new. Install the Catwoman content right away. I can’t slight the game for this, only the publisher for making a poor last minute decision.

Overall, Batman: Arkham City is definitely worth a purchase – especially for Batman fans. For sixty dollars you’re getting not only one of the best games of the last five years, but also a game full of nods to Batman’s rich history (No Man’s Land, anyone?) and the privilege of witnessing Mark Hamill’s swan song as the definitive actor to portray the Joker. Batman: Arkham City isn’t just a worthy sequel to Arkham Asylum, but it’s better than practically everything else on the market.

Dark Souls Review (PS3)

“Seriously!?!” That was the first thought that echoed through my head as I began my journey through the underworld in FromSoftware’s newest next-gen punishment-dealer, Dark Souls. A spiritual successor to 2009’s critically acclaimed Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls once again finds you as a recently deceased warrior/knight/rogue/wizard/naked dude with a wooden plank who is on a horrendous journey through purgatory to kill dragons and do… stuff.

Dark Souls starts you out in a well rounded character creation lobby. A full host of sliders exist to change everything about your characters colors to their height and build. From there you are tasked with choosing your character class and starting gifts. Class mostly determines some of your starting weapon choices and stat levels and gifts are a minor perk that sticks with you throughout the game. Once you have built your character, the real fun begins.

You wake up to find yourself in a dungeon for the undead. You are given a key to your cell by a mysterious benefactor and sent into the world proper. You’re given a broken sword, a wooden shield, no direction whatsoever and are left to fend for yourself.

“Enjoy your broken gear. Go f**k yourself.”


Make no mistake, that seems to be the true sentiment FromSoftware wants to impart on you. You will die. You will die a lot. You will die in horrible ways. There is no way around that simple fact. There is no difficulty setting to change if the game gets too tough. There are no hints to guide you on your way and barely even a story to hitch an objective to. You start at point A, will eventually find point B, and you’re going to die a whole hell of a lot on the way. There is no princess to save, no invasion to fend off. Your only goal in this game is to survive.

Survival comes in the form of souls. As you slay your enemies, you absorb their souls. Souls can be used to purchase upgrades at bonfires but souls can be lost very easily. Should you die (and, again, you will), you leave all of your souls behind. You re-spawn at the last bonfire you came across and should you manage to make it back to where you died in one piece, you can reclaim your lost souls. If not, it sucks to be you. Die and all of your souls are lost.

In addition to leveling up, bonfires serve one other important purpose: Safety. You cannot pause this game and bonfires serve as the only place where your enemies can’t touch you . Beware, however, because sitting at a bonfire will re-spawn every enemy in the area.

Dark Souls is a game that benefits heavily from an always online status. While traveling through the game you will often see the ghosts of other players or bloodstains in the spots where other players died. You can leave notes for other players to help guide them along and you can even jump into their game for better or for worse. (ed. note: That is an awesome feature)

Everything in this game is designed to be extraordinarily lethal and seeing where other players bit the bullet can be a tremendous blessing. The open world level design is full of twists, turns, and passages that you may never notice. Dark Souls has some of the most twisted and creative design I have seen in a game in a very long time. The environments vary, from the rotted Undead Burg to the hauntingly beautiful and foul swamps encountered later in the game. Equally impressive are the creature designs. Gigantic dragons, hook-armed ghosts, gargoyles with axes at the ends of their tails, killer demon butterflies; you will not see imagination on display like this in any other title this year.

This is a game that brings a ton of assets to the table and lets you fill in the blanks. The story is intentionally sparse and the game never forces you in to one particular style of play. You can hot swap abilities at a whim and go from a hulking tank to a nimble mage at your choosing. Your abilities are all tied to the equipment you are carrying, as long as you have that stats to use it efficiently. Music and dialogue are mostly absent, leaving you to create a mood for yourself. Dark Souls refuses to hold your hand at any point and it leaves you with one of the most hardcore gaming experiences found on the market today.

If you’re looking for a challenge, I cannot recommend Dark Souls enough. This title is a must-buy – especially for the more masochistic of our readers!

Fallout New Vegas: Old World Blues Review (XBLA)

The latest expansion to Fallout: New Vegas, Old World Blues, once again takes you far away from the expanse of the Mojave Wasteland to a secluded area known as Big Mountain, or the Big MT (get it?). Does this expansion justify the download, or does it leave you feeling empty (get it? Again?). If you’re a fan of New Vegas you may have found yourself feeling a little disappointed in Dead Money’s awkward survival horror slant and Honest Hearts felt a little too unspoiled outdoorsy for your tastes, let me introduce you to Old World Blues.

In a nutshell, if Old World Blues was a member of your family, it would be your drunk uncle: Nonsensical, rambles on a bit too long at times, gut-bustingly hilarious, and an absolute blast to hang out with.

Old World Blues finds your courier responding to an invitation to a midnight movie at the old drive in. Upon pressing play, you are whisked away to a fantastic world full of mad scientists, robot scorpions, and a talking toaster.

You wake up to find yourself sans brain, spine, and organs. Why? Why not! A victim of some heat-of-the-moment surgery by an insane group of mad scientists, you are forced to track down your brain who may or may not have grown legs of it’s own and trotted off to spend time with an even madder scientist than those who removed it in the first place.

Old World Blues earns high marks for being the most hilarious addition to any Fallout game to date. The writing is top notch and the expansion is full of unique characters, like a toaster with dreams of being a heat powered death ray.

While it is quite long for an expansion, it can get quite lonely. Unlike the previous expansions to New Vegas, you have no companions throughout the Big MT. Instead you are on your own throughout the full five hours or so of gameplay and the fetch quests can get a little repetitive. To offset this however is some fantastic voice acting as your captors will frequently spout insanities over the speakers throughout the research facilities.

Once again, the level cap is raised by five and there are a handful of new perks to choose from, including one that let’s you respec your character should you decide you want to change things up a bit.

In the end this is a must buy for any New Vegas fan. With a host of awesome loot to bring back to the Mojave Wastes and some of the funniest dialogue this side of GLADOS, you’d be hard pressed to not enjoy a vacation in the Big MT.

Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 3 Review

Oh Koei, when will you ever stop? After, to my best estimate, 438 Dynasty Warriors titles, Koei is bringing giant robot fighting to the table for the third time with the appropriately named Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 3. Does this outing prove improve on the franchise? Does it bring anything new and exciting to the world of gaming? Does it make any sense at all? Your answers are no, no, and no.

If you are unfamiliar with the Dynasty Warriors franchise, here’s a bit of a summary. You fill the shoes of a general in a sprawling battlefield, directing a war effort against the enemies of neighboring territories. You move through the map, taking strategic locations, and all around slaughtering countless enemies. After fulfilling certain level specific criteria the game will abruptly stop and announce that you’ve won the battle. Collect your rewards and carry on smartly.

For those unfamiliar with Gundam, here’s the lowdown. In the not too distant future humanity wages war against itself as we are wont to do. But this isn’t any old war… it’s future Japanese war! Giant robots! Bang! Smash! Kapow! Random philosophical musings! Wait… what? You see, Gundams, the aforementioned giant robots, are largely piloted by teenagers who spout more pretentious nonsense than your average asshole “writing” his “screenplay” at your corner coffee shop. If you were wondering how you could make giant robots boring, there you go.

Great! Now that we’re all caught up, where does that leave us? My average Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 3 experience went a little like this. Choose pilot, choose Gundam, choose mission, mash the X button a whole lot for five minutes until I won, listen to teenagers shout psycho-babble at one another, repeat ad infinitum.

Granted there are dozens of pilots to choose from, each with bountiful missions to complete and upgradeable statistics, and countless Gundams to unlock and upgrade. The overwhelming response I gave to the game was a resounding “meh.” There is a ton of content present but none of it is very deep. You can choose to play through various story missions, oftentimes seeing things from both sides of the conflict which end up feeling quite identical to one another. There are memorial missions which retell key points in the various Gundam anime series which all play and feel quite identical to the story missions. There are even friendship missions to help you gain new allies which, you guessed it, are no different from the story missions save for your reward at the end.

This game is a straightforward grinder in the most boring sense of the word. You are doing the same thing over and over and over again with your only rewards being upgrades to your mobile suit or new allies which don’t change the gameplay at all, leaving you wondering why you’re bothering in the first place.

All this adds up to a game that is extremely long, just not very big. On a somewhat more positive note, the game does populate hundreds of enemies onscreen at once and the character models for the Gundam themselves are quite detailed, however none of this matters much when the enemies only AI seems to be “surround player en masse, shoot gun repeatedly.” I can think of far more interesting ways to spend sixty bucks rather than listening to a 12 year old boy hollering stuff about machines, nature, and being a father while I press the X button over and over and over and over again.

Seriously, that’s all you do: press X.

For 100 hours or so…

Transformers: Dark of the Moon Review (PS3)

In Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the latest title from Blue Moon Studios, you take the wheel as both the Autobots and Decepticons, racing toward the ultimate showdown featured in this summers big budget explosionfest courtesy of Michael Bay. Does the game live up to the thrills of the movie or is it just another in a long line of mediocre tie-in releases? Find out our review!

I’m going to get this out of the way early. Dark of the Moon is not a good game. I’ve said it and I’m not taking it back.

I grew up with the Transformers as a child of the eighties, I’m almost thirty and I still occasionally buy a Transformers toy (ssh! Don’t tell my girlfriend!), and I’ve managed to turn off most of my brain to take enjoyment out of the films. I am a die-hard Transformers fan and that made it so much harder for me to feel disappointed at this title, especially given the pedigree Blue Moon has established with the excellent Transformers: War for Cybertron.

With the roadmap laid out for them courtesy of War for Cybertron, a solid game engine and a full games worth of assets to fall back on, you’d think that Blue Moon would have a solid springboard to make a stand out movie based game. Instead what we are given is little more than the previous game’s engine wrapped up in a lackluster shell.

The story of the game follows the lead up to the events of the film. As the Autobots you are investigating the Decepticons activities on Earth, uncovering relic technology to bring forth an army to enslave humanity. As the  you are charged with tapping into human communications and guarding your plot from the Autobots. While it could have been interesting to choose a side and character to play as, instead you switch characters on a per level basis, each level taking advantage of a particular character’s strengths. Halfway through the game you change sides from Autobot to Decepticon, stripping away any chance one would have of becoming invested in the plot.

The level design is essentially a series of corridors loosely populated with generic enemies. There is little to no variation on the challenges faced which is extremely disappointing. I found myself quite bored an hour or so into the game when I realized this was going to be nothing more than running from room to room spamming enemies with missiles. No challenge, no strategy, no real hook to keep you interested in the gameplay.

It would have been interesting to be able to choose your own character since you can see that there was at least some thought put into differentiating how the different characters would play. For instance, Bumblebee is a very straightforward infantry type while Ironhide plays like a tank and Mirage is suited towards much stealthier gameplay, especially with his cloak and melee combat abilities.

What we get instead is a game that wants you, it seems, to play almost exclusively in your vehicle mode. When you shift to vehicle form you are now able to take much more damage and your unlimited artillery deals out an unbelievable amount of punishment compared to your robot form. With very few instances where you actually need to use your robot form for some mild platforming, I found this to be a game that felt almost like a cheap Twisted Metal rip off.

On top of an already broken gameplay experience, Dark of The Moon adds boring, flat textures, hokey talking head FMV cutscenes and horribly placed mid level load times. The only standout piece to this game is the multiplayer, lifted almost straight from War for Cybertron but adding nothing new to the mix.

Save your sixty dollars here. It is much better spent on taking your significant other to see the movie in some of the best 3D work since Avatar. I hate trashing a game, but there is no excuse for such a short and broken piece of work as Dark of the Moon.

L.A. Noire Review

L.A. Noire, by Australian developer Team Bondi and Rockstar Games is a refreshing breath of air in the current game marketplace. You are Detective Cole Phelps, a military man fresh from WWII, trying to make a difference in the crime ridden streets of late 1940s Los Angeles. Working your way up through four different detective assignments, Traffic, Homicide, Vice, and Arson, you will explore failed relationships, Hollywood sex cartels, the mysteries behind the Black Dahlia, and ultimately a conspiracy that reaches the highest levels of Southern California power.

What rocked:

Old Genre, New Package – Much has been made of the core gameplay being focused around the investigation of of crime scenes and subsequent questioning of suspects and witnesses. What we have here is essentially an old school point and click adventure game brought up to meet today’s gaming standards. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The conversation mechanic and inventory come together like peanut butter and chocolate. Finding specific pieces of evidence open up interrogation options. Do you think the suspect is lying? Call him out on it… Just make sure you’ve collected the evidence to back it up. You’ll spend hours searching out every corner of a crime scene for the one missing piece that brings the whole case together and the effort is extremely rewarding when you know you’ve got your perp backed against the wall.

The Visuals – Team Bondi has developed an amazing new performance capture system known as MotionScan. MotionScan afforded the developers the chance to capture not only the broad strokes of facial expressions today’s audiences are used to seeing in special effects laden summer blockbusters, but also every nervous facial twitch, shifting glance, swallowed word, and corner of the mouth smirk. While you get a subtle audio cue when you stumble across a piece of evidence in a crime scene you get no such hint when a witness is withholding the truth. You’ll need to rely on your own personal instincts and ability to read the human face and this may be the first game to allow you that unique opportunity. This game is by no means the best look game on the market, MotionScan transcends animation into the realm of pure acting.

The Cast – The cast list on this game is huge, filled out by a number of faces you’ll instantly recognize from your favorite TV show or movie. There’s not much to say here aside from the gratitude I have that each one of them brought their A game.

Pacing – L.A. Noire is an open world game, that much is (mostly) true. Rather than the typical modern game trappings of finishing a mission, wandering around until you choose to begin the next mission, and exploring along the way, L.A. Noire finds you beginning the next mission the moment the previous one ends. Once you reach the conclusion of the case you are working you are immediately introduced to a cut scene setting up the very next case. In the midst of an investigation you are given the choice of in which order to tackle important locations, but the game makes it a  priority of leading you through the proceedings, keeping you heavily immersed in the story.

What didn’t:

“Open” World – Okay, I know I might sound contradictory given the fondness I have for the game’s pacing. Bear with me. L.A. Noire is an open world in the base sense of the word. Yu have a vast map to explore with collectibles and locations to search out and discover. The problem is that the game never really encourages you to do so. There isn’t so much of a world to explore, as in the living breathing environments of GTA 4’s Liberty City or the vast western countryside of Red Dead Redemption, as there is a whole lot of streets and buildings. There are plenty of opportunities for diversions to be had outside of police work but aside from the twenty or so street crimes that get called in over the radio you’ll mostly find yourself driving from investigation to investigation. This wouldn’t have been so much of a negative had it not been for a case halfway through the game that almost punishes you for not exploring the map as it demands you decipher clues on a scavenger hunt around the greater Los Angeles area.

Repetition – In addition to the lack of a true open world experience with diversions to be had outside of the main storyline, the core gameplay mechanics of investigation and questioning can become quite repetitive, especially during longer gameplay sessions. A few hours into the game I knew that the procedure was going to be a lot of “investigate, question, investigate, question.” The game tries to offset this with car chases and shootouts, but even these start to become telegraphed and predictably within the individual cases. It’s a good thing that the story is immersive enough and gameplay interesting enough that it’s easy to ignore the repetition in favor of seeing where the story will take you next.

Delayed Story – As mentioned above, L.A. Noire sees you working four different desks within the LAPD. This roughly breaks down to five hours per assignment. The meat of the story doesn’t really pick up until you hit the vice desk, at around the halfway point of the game. This means that, while an enjoyable first half to the game, you’ll work through around ten hours of game before beginning the main storyline. You are thrown off this sensation a bit with flashbacks to Phelps’ time in WWII after the conclusion of nearly every case, but until you reach the vice desk nothing truly feels like it matters to Phelps as a character. This is further heightened by the homicide desk almost being its own self contained story and the traffic desk having little to no relation to anything else that happens in the game.

What fell flat:

Odd Choices – There are two choices made in the the game that confused me thoroughly. Platforming and dungeon crawling. You read that right. Platforming. Dungeon crawling. While both segments are extremely brief they do bring an overwhelming sense of “what the fu..?” to the game. One mission has you climbing precariously across the most dangerous parts of Los Angeles landmarks, complete with balance beam segments, only to culminate in the darkest dungeon I have ever explored in a game. I had to turn the games brightness all the way up and even at that, I found myself discharging my firearm and lighting my path via gunshots. Both segments came out of left field to never be seen again throughout the game.


With L.A. Noire, Rockstar and Team Bondi have crafted a game that challenges you to experience a completely different style of game. Heavily story driven and saving action for choice moments, it is a refreshing answer to the Call of Duty clones that dominate much of the marketplace. Using a tried and true genre, the point and click adventure, today’s gamers have been introduced to a hallmark of video game acting and animation that demands other developers to make their own advancements in visual storytelling. The few things that fell flat for me are by no means game breaking and given the sales numbers this title is sure to achieve I am positive that Team Bondi will have the chance to improve upon them in the future. The game’s pros far outweigh its cons and it is a step in the right direction for gaming that I cannot recommend highly enough.