Malicious Review

May 8, 2012 by  
Filed under Playstation 3, Reviews

Some games have a knack for sneaking onto the PS Store to little or no fanfare at all. One such game is Alvion’s PlayStation exclusive, Malicious. If the name sounds familiar, beyond the adjective associated to malware of course, it’s because it was released nearly a year and a half ago in Japan and only crawled onto European (and ME) stores in February (with no North American release date in sight). What is especially odd about Malicious’ clandestine release is that it has nearly all the ingredients of a sleeper hit. That’s not to say it is without flaws, but its fast and varied action sequences, along with its boss rush format, strike me as crowd-pleasing attributes, from a marketing perspective at the very least.

Malicious is a 3D action game and a very Japanese one at that. It’s short, focused and extremely fun once you get the hang of it… or if you get the hang of it. Your character commands a ‘spirited vessel’, which is a humanoid model wearing a shapeshifting cape that doubles as everything from weapons to shields. Your mission is effectively to slay a series of guardians. You can access these guardians via an in-game stage select arena. As you defeat each of the guardians, you gain new weapons, powers and moves to help you along your way (a bit like the Mega Man system). Some weapons are more effective against some bosses so the order does matter, but essentially, with enough skill, any boss can be defeated at any given time in the game (barring the final boss of course).

Malicious’ battle system is largely hack‘n’slash but with a distinct edge. Your character can alternate between long-ranged projectiles and close-combat melee, neither of which are really effective without infusing the attack with aura. You can gain aura by defeating enemies, chaining combos or blocking an attack at just the right time. What enemies you say? Each boss arena is scattered with hundreds of enemies that respawn infinitely. This means, while battles are naturally more challenging since you are obscenely outnumbered, you always have a source of the all essential aura. There is also no health bar to speak of and so to monitor mortality, you’ll need to count your vessel’s limbs. Grim as that may sound, it is actually executed quite elegantly, supporting the premise of your character model being but a mere hollow vessel. If you are without arms and on one leg, then you know it’s time to heal…and how do you heal? You guessed it – aura.

As I’ve stated repeatedly in this review, Malicious is a lot of fun but it is often let down by a number technical issues and general inconsistencies. While the camera is always on cue to spoil the fun, the game’s lock-on system is truly the main culprit. It is easy enough locking-on and off in general, it’s an impossible task cycling between targets or even specifying targets. With anywhere between 10 to 100 enemies on the screen, there is no fool-proof way to specify targets. The system chooses the enemy closest to you by default and also prompts quick target swaps when certain enemies are about to attack but neither solution is convincing or helpful in dire situations. Even the camera behavior when locked-on to targets is far from optimal. For example, if you are locked-on to a fast moving or teleporting target then confusion is the best you can hope for, with an epileptic seizure being amongst the worst. I cannot say that camera and targeting frustrations have little impact on your experience, because they will test your patience. However, if you are willing to persist and adapt, you will find enough to appreciate and move on.

That said, Malicious is by no means a long game. Boss battles are timed at a maximum of 30 minutes and with 6 battles to boot, you are looking at a game that forces you to complete it in less than 3 hours. However, considering that it retails at a modest sum of around 37 AED, there is just about enough content to justify the price. Leaderboard enthusiasts will also try to up the style and hit crazy online score records, if the skills permit. Most of us however will not, settling for a casual night of mass eradication.

Malicious is not a perfect game but more deserving of attention than it currently gets. I suspect that has as much to do with lackluster buzz generation by the publishers than anything else. Perhaps it’ll get more attention when its Vita iteration launches, if online rumors are to be trusted. However this brings me to another point: Japanese game developers have come under a lot of criticism of late and while I maintain my belief that a lot of this criticism is unjust, I do believe some studios’ general lack of faith in their products appealing to western markets is hindering their reputation. As I stated already, Malicious is by no means perfect, but it is one of the most entertaining downloadable PS3 games I’ve played in a while.

Journey Review

March 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews, Spotlight

As much as I love gaming, I’d be one of the first to admit that the medium is a haven for lackluster derivates and imitations. If a formula succeeds, it will be recycled, rehashed and bastardized until market forces intervene. Even the most popular of triple A titles tend to feel a little too familiar at times but then again, must every game reinvent the wheel? My answer would no, but only because it’s enough when a few do and for that we have thatgamecompany. Anyone who has played flOw or Flower would at least be familiar with thatgamecompany’s inventive and minimalistic approach to game-making. While it may not appeal to everyone, few can deny their knack for producing comprehensively immersive experiences – or resist rekindling that old ‘what makes a game a game’ argument. With Journey however, they have broken new ground. Undeniably a game, unreservedly beautiful and capable of triggering emotions you probably never knew you had.

Much of Journey’s appeal stems from the small discoveries you make along the way, that and breathtaking moments so elegantly scripted they seem almost unique to your experience even though reason points to the contrary. Revealing any of these moments will not only diminish your experience but will be down right cruel so I will do my best to disclose as little as possible as a move away from superlatives to discuss bottom-line gameplay.

Journey’s protagonist is a small cloaked puppet-like creature, the design of which is not only intriguing but works flawlessly with the game’s environment. As your character embarks on the journey, making their way through the vast desert, your objective (though never stated) becomes clear. The point is the journey itself. There is no real right or wrong way to play, there is just the experience of the journey with some more traditional gaming sequences woven in seamlessly. Journey is at once completely unique and highly accessible. The act of just traversing sand dunes alone is done so remarkably well, you cannot seem to get enough of it. Along the way, you encounter what I can only describe as enchanted ‘fabric entities’ that you develop a symbiotic relationship with. You reanimate them and they endow you with the the ability to jump and glide freely across areas. This ability (visually represented as a glow of symbols on your character’s scarf) depletes with use but is frequently made available throughout the game. In addition, if connected to the PlayStation Network, you can encounter other players on their own journeys. There is no way to talk with these players beyond using the character’s call and even then, it works just to get a player’s attention or to assist them by recharging their scarf’s leap powers. Journey’s world is designed to make you feel overwhelmingly small, so companionship, despite (or perhaps due to) limited communication, is welcome, especially during consequent playthroughs.

Despite Journey being minimalistic, the experience is weighty. It is not hectic, in the classic sense since its never about winning or losing, but its impactful like no game I’ve ever played. It has a story and a pretty riveting one at that, but it is delivered exclusively through images and music. If The Artist proved you don’t need speech to make a great film in today’s cutthroat industry climate, Journey proves that the same holds true for games – storytelling in games to be precise. However, it is never the plot that really drives you but the emotion invested along the way. You may hear people say that Journey literally made them cry and by the end of it, you will understand why and even shed a tear yourself no matter how hardened you think you are.

Every design decision made works to the benefit of the experience and this extends from the headline material, down to the subtle nuances. The soundtrack is absolutely fantastic from start to finish. The visual style and character animations are exquisite. The sequences, the pacing, all perfect. The only complaint I can conjure up is that the journey ends before you are ready to let go, but the games simplicity is deceptive. Quantitatively speaking, It may be short on content and duration but it is surprisingly replayable as you will miss scores of discoveries during your first play-through.

I can ramble on about Journey for pages and pages on end but nothing I say can really explain the delight of such a game. I highly recommend everyone try it wholeheartedly. Take a break from your Modern Warfare 3, Skyrim, Mass Effect 3 or whatever you are playing now and give Journey a go – it really should not be missed. It is a short, breathtaking experience that is, without a doubt, a milestone in gaming history and finally puts to bed the whole ‘video game as art-form‘ argument.

If Journey is not art, I really do not know what is.

Gotham City Impostors Review

March 7, 2012 by  
Filed under Playstation 3, Reviews, Xbox 360

The appeal of a creative license as rich with material as DC’s Batman is clear and one can hardly blame studios with access to the license from milking it. Rocksteady even showed us that this can be done remarkably well. The odd thing about Gotham City Impostors is that there is no Batman, Robin, Joker, Catwoman or even the Penguin… the protagonist here is Gotham itself. Now the surely sounds bizarre especially since, for starters, there is hardly a defined look to Gotham in the sense of being able to recognize it and distinguish it without prior knowledge. However, as the name suggests, Gotham City Impostors features Batman and Joker wannabes, frolicking around Gotham armed to the teeth and wrecking havoc. It’s all a bit of fun, and if that were the the game’s mission statement, one could stay the ship never really steers off course.

Gotham City Impostors is a multiplayer only first-person shooter. There is no single player campaign, only a tutorial and some challenges. The point is to team up with fellow Batman or Joker impostors and fight for dominance of the streets. The game is wacky by design and attempts to take this wackiness through to all game modes, gadgets, locations and even menus.

The game does not really break new ground, as far as shooters go, but surprisingly manages to sustain a specific mood throughout. It is not a massive game, as a digital download title it sports a appropriately modest 3 game modes with the promise of DLC (of the free and paid variety) however the perks of dedication and leveling up are quite entertaining. From the onset, one can tell that character customization will play a big part, however, the sheer quantity of customization options that gradually become available is encouraging. The key word here is ‘gradually’, as various options unlock as your rank improves, compelling you to hit the servers.

Once again, Gotham Impostors is not about pioneering so do not expect much innovation in the game modes though the Psych Warfare mode does have a certain comic charm…or perhaps cheek would would be a better word to describe it. In addition to the classic Team Deathmatch, you have Fumigation and Psych Warfare modes, both of which are designed as team activities and are derivatives of Capture the flag and Protect the base. Ruling the streets of Gotham is apparently a team sport, so there is no free-for-all solo deathmatch.

While it is disappointing that other Gotham City ‘stars‘ such as the Penguin, Two-face, Catwoman don’t have impostors in the game, the wealth of customization options keeps the Bat v Clown dichotomy interesting for as long as required. Perhaps a more relevant complaint is that GC Impostors matchmaking system is not refined. Seeing as its all about teams, the system does not care too much for skill matching, which effectively means a rank 2 noob can easily be tossed in with a ruthless gang of 50 somethings in rank thus making you more like fodder than an actual participant.

GC Impostors is not a looker but it has got some character…especially in the menus. The way instructions are presented is quite amusing, as are many of the the costume options. There is something admirable about a game that doesn’t try too hard, doesn’t take itself too seriously and is content being unremarkable. It has a ‘let’s stop the pissing contest and just have fun’ attitude which is completely fine… in fact, it made me appreciate the game even more.

For all intents and purposes, the game is technically crude and boasts mild fun at best, in terms of gameplay, but shrewd design decisions save it from the abyss of mediocrity. It is not a classic and may never win awards or be attributed to cult-status, but Gotham City Impostors is a fun shooter that never forgets why its on our systems – to bring low-maintenance wacky entertainment.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 Review

February 13, 2012 by  
Filed under Playstation 3, Reviews, Spotlight, Xbox 360

Few games in recent memory have disappointed quite like Final Fantasy XIII. It was by no means terrible, on the contrary, it was both gorgeous and engaging. The problems lay in the fact that Square Enix seemed to move away from the aspects that made each numbered Final Fantasy a magical experience. The game sported a linearity completely foreign to the series and failed to put together a memorable or even a fully intelligible storyline, prompting people to pose the question: What has happened to the once infallible Square? Final Fantasy purists will point to the merger with Enix as the beginning of the ‘end’ while others may suggest that Square Enix’s attempts to appeal more to western markets has clouded their judgment. Bottom line was that the fans were not happy and something had to be done to appease them…fast. With FFXIV in disarray, Versus XIII moving ahead at Tonberry pace, Square Enix’s best bet was to revisit FFXIII itself. Cue Final Fantasy XIII-2.

Of course, this is not the first time a numbered Final Fantasy has gotten a direct sequel. In 2003, Final Fantasy X-2 was released on the PS2 and was somewhat well received, but those were the days when almost everything Square touched turned to gold. Those days are gone now and Square Enix is undoubtedly desperate to jump-start their mojo once again with Final Fantasy XIII-2. So how does the game fare?

The story starts 3 years after the end of the first game, Lightning, Fang and Vanille are gone but Serah is convinced that her sister Lightning is still alive somewhere. This is confirmed to us in the opening cutscene that shows an armored Lightning engaged in battle in the mythical Valhalla. It is there that she encounters Noel, a boy from another time, whom she sends to fetch her sister, Serah. The two protagonists must travel through time portals, searching for Valhalla and changing the future to save mankind, messing up the space-time continuum in the process.

While the storyline in itself had the potential to be Square Enix’s most intriguing story in years, the storytelling is plagued with trite dialogue, badly paced cutscenes, annoying characters and bad decisions at almost every turn. So, in a manner of speaking, Square Enix has failed in its first order of business – to roll back the years and put out an epic story, capable of capturing the imagination. Judging from their heavy-handed TV-esque “previously on Final Fantasy XIII-2”, the folks at Square Enix probably believed that people could not follow the story and needed constant reminding of the events that transpired, when the reality is that it was just to abstract and completely underwhelming.

While the attempts to improve the story did not quite deliver, FF XIII-2 does get a lot of things right. Despite some questionable design decisions, the gameplay has been significantly improved on almost all fronts. Fans frequently complained the XIII was way too linear an experience, now players can jump from area to area (era to era) at will via the Historia Crux (FFXIII-2’s world map). There are various fragments to collect in each area, so while the main quest needs only around 25 hours to complete, interested parties can spend double or even triple that time collecting the game’s 140 fragments.

Starhawk Beta Impressions

January 31, 2012 by  
Filed under Features, Spotlight

If you’re lucky enough to have gained access to the Starhawk beta in some way or other (perhaps you are a PlayStationPlus subscriber) then this hands-on preview is of little value and you should probably use this time to scan the servers for an open game. For everyone else, I will be walking you through LightBox and Santa Monica studio’s public beta for the much anticipated, Starhawk.

Starhawk is the spiritual successor to Warhawk, a multiplayer-only game and the first ‘full retail title’ to be available on the PSN store as well as on blu-ray. The 3rd person, action-packed game pitted two teams fighting for dominance of the land and skies. Its main strength was the variety of combat options, allowing you to control armored vehicles, turrets, jetpacks or the ever-popular Hawk aircrafts. Much has changed and to the better thankfully, though, judging from the beta it seems this new iteration is pushing for a different set of user habits.

Sony has already confirmed that Starhawk will feature a single-player campaign, something some would argue was sorely missing from 2007’s Warhawk, though that is not on show here. The private beta focuses only on two multiplayer modes, ‘Capture the Flag’ and ‘Team Deathmatch’. Right off the bat, as you spawn, you descend to the battlefield in a pod. This new addition not only looks cool but allows you to adjust, within limits, where you’ll be landing. From there the game is unsurprisingly very reminiscent of Warhawk with a new space-centric theme and a substantial facelift. There are some notable new features and, more significantly, a new ‘build ‘and battle’ system. Upon collecting resources, players can now construct facilities such as automated defense turrets, sniper towers or even vehicle spawn stations within their bases effectively adding an RTS mechanic to the game. This new feature is bound to change the battle dynamics as it requires more strategic collaboration amongst team members. While I failed to establish synergy with my fellow team mates, the potential for tactical cooperation is apparent and that potential will undoubtedly be tapped come clan recruitment time.

Another notable change is with the aircraft itself. Sci-fi fans will be pleased to hear that the Hawk now doubles as…wait for it…a mech. At the tap of a button, you can take your aerial threat to the ground, making it easier to target land-based vehicles and infantry. Having said that, it is now the only way to effectively target land-based opponents as the Hawk can no longer hover. As disappointed as I was, the omission made sense to me, given the new ability the aircraft now sports.

Flying the Hawk is still as thrilling as ever, though I found the dearth of people willing to partake in dogfights a little disconcerting. I am fairly certain this was a symptom of beta blues and all that will change when Starhawk finally hits the shelves (digital or otherwise).

All in all, the game is showing alot of promise and already looks to be a sure bet for fans of Warhawk or newcomers alike. The single-player campaign will also prove to be an attraction for the old school gamers (like myself) that still find comfort in the offline gaming experience. Starhawk is due for release on the PS3 this May and I highly recommend you keep it on your radar.

Dark Souls Review

October 20, 2011 by  
Filed under Playstation 3, Reviews, Spotlight, Xbox 360

Back when it was released, I reviewed Demon’s Souls and stated that it was the best RPG on the PS3 yet. Two years on and little has changed. Though not a game for everyone, Demon’s Souls provided a unique and challenging experience that was as engaging as it was difficult and had a risk / reward balance unrivaled in the world of gaming. Dark Souls is not a sequel but a descendent of Demon’s Souls. In some respects it is almost identical to its predecessor though its differences, as one quickly discovers, are substantial and can change the way you play dramatically. For anyone unfamiliar with From Software’s atmospheric RPG dungeon crawler, the marketing tagline on the box is perhaps the best advice one can give: “Prepare to die” – because whether you like it or not, die you shall.

Dark Souls is a action RPG that starts you off selecting your character’s class. This decision influences your starting stats and equipment but does not really close doors for you. Meaning, if you decide to start as a knight, you can still acquire sorcery later on in the game…and you can still become quite adept at it as well. Once your character is prepped up, it is time for Dark Souls’ tutorial, if one can even call it that. It’s important to realize that, like Demon’s Souls before it, Dark Souls is uncommunicative by design. Do not expect much assistance from the game along the way. There are no help menus, no loading screen tips, even the printed manual the comes with the disc will provide scarce tidbits of information…very scarce. The game requires you to figure things out for yourself either through trial and error or by utilizing the built-in peer assistance devices that make up the game’s online component, something I will get into later in this review. For the next few paragraphs however, I will discuss the game’s various mechanics in a nutshell. Skip on to the later parts of the review if you wish to keep Dark Soul’s convoluted systems a mystery to be discovered, as per From Software’s intentions.

Dark Souls plays alot like its predecessor, allowing you to assign equipment to both your right and left hands. Each melee weapon has a variety of attacks such as a basic attack, a heavy attack and two-handed attacks. Dark Souls is all about precision and timing, so no matter how powerful your character gets, you can still be eliminated by a common lowly enemy if you act rashly. Defeating almost any enemy in the game grants you souls, which acts as XP and currency. You can use souls to level up your stats, to buy spells and miracles, to re-enforce and repair equipment, even to purchase intel from dodgy NPCs. Souls are everything you will hold dear in this game. Upon death, you will drop your souls in the exact location you perished, giving you a chance to return to that location and recover them…should you die along the way, the older batch of souls will be gone. Therefore it is never a good idea to venture into the unknown with a wealth of unspent souls.

Those familiar with Demon’s Souls will recall how, from the sanctuary of the Nexus, one can select the world they wished to venture to, progressing slowly in each one, killing demon after demon. For better or worse, this system has been eliminated. The world is now a seamless phantasmagoria, one that may seem somewhat linear until you begin to discover pathways to other areas or shortcuts back to charted territory. The game does not require save points, as it auto-saves every single action you make almost instantly. In other words, your actions have permanent consequences, which is sort of the game’s mantra. There are however what one could call sanctuary checkpoints, known as bonfires. At bonfires, you can trade in souls for stat level-ups, you can attune your spells and miracles and a variety of other adjustments should you acquire the respective items or abilities. Bonfires can also be kindled (ie upgraded), which brings forth another important aspect of the game, and one that further distinguishes it from its infamous predecessor.

In Dark Souls, the use of health items and MP have been significantly altered or perhaps eliminated would be more accurate a term. Indeed there are no more health items to be obtained. Early on in the game, you will acquire an Estus Flask which has limited uses (starting off at 5). Using the Estus Flask recharges your health as a health item would. When your limited uses run out, you’ll have no way of recharging health and you will require a trip back to a bonfire. At the bonfires, your Estus Flask recharges and as the bonfire is kindled, your Flask quantity increases. This works similarly for spells. There is no longer a mana bar and each spell has a limited number of uses. This may significantly alter the way you play the game because you can no longer rely solely on ranged sorcery. When the spell uses run out amidst a gritty demon battle, its time to get up close and personal.

Catherine Review

October 8, 2011 by  
Filed under Playstation 3, Reviews, Xbox 360

Do you consider yourself a pervert? Would you dump your partner if you found out they were a robot? These are just a few of the questions you’ll get asked in Catherine, Atlus’s unique puzzle adventure. Catherine is the quintessential ‘not-for-everyone’ game for various reasons but whether you’re hopelessly addicted or have no interest in playing, its originality cannot be over-looked. A quick glance at the box-art or the splash screen and you know you’re in for a gaming experience like no other, one that explores various themes including sexuality, love, marriage, infidelity and guilt…quite a tall order for a puzzle game.

The story of Catherine revolves around Vincent Brooks and his long-time girlfriend Katherine. Katherine is looking to take their relationship to the ‘next-level’ but Vincent is quite happy to leave things as they are. As Katherine starts to mount the pressure, Vincent begins experiencing strange nightmares. However Vincent has more things to worry about when he ‘accidentally’ has an affair with a blonde free spirit named Catherine. Things get more ominous when Vincent realizes that dying in his nightmares means dying in real life as well – and with men dying in their sleep all over town, Vincent is determined to survive the nights…that and to keep his polygamous situation a secret from both Katherine and Catherine. Thus the torment begins…

Catherine takes place in two ‘realms’: the Stray Sheep (the real-world bar Vincent and his friends hang out in every evening) and Vincent’s nightmares. In the bar, Vincent can talk to his friends, the bar keep and other customers, he can drink and listen to music or he can play Rapunzel, an arcade puzzle game available in the bar. When Vincent is done with the Stray Sheep, he can go home and sleep…effectively initializing the nightmare sequences. In his nightmares, Vincent is donning only his boxer shorts and holding a pillow…oh and he has sheep horns as well.

These sequences constitute Catherine’s main gameplay mechanic which is scaling towering structures by arranging and climbing blocks. If that sounds a bit weird it’s because it is, but its also great fun and quite challenging. Vincent can only climb one block at a time so he needs to push and pull blocks to make staircases. Each type of block has different properties. Some blocks can’t be moved while others are heavy and require more time to move. Cracked blocks crumble after standing one them twice and as you progress you’ll encounter a variety of other blocks with properties that I won’t disclose so as to not spoil the element of surprise. Catherine’s block mechanic requires a lot of practice for you to be able to think within the game’s constraints and to plan accordingly. A good example of this is the game’s twisted sense of gravity. As long as a block is connected by one edge to a block below it, it won’t fall. It will only fall when there are absolutely no blocks below it, which can take some getting used to.

As is the case with most Japanese games, leniency does not feature heavily. The tower you’re ascending is constantly crumbling so you are required to think fast and act fast. In certain boss-type levels you’ll also be haunted and attacked by massive (and quite terrifying) manifestations of your fears and anxieties…often linked to developments in Vincent’s story. These ‘creatures’ are constant threats and will make your job substantially more difficult. When you finally reach the end of a sequence, you’ll escape through a door to the welcome sounds of Handel’s Hallelujah chorus. Nightmares are generally made up of 2-5 sequences separated by “landing” areas where you can save and discuss climbing technics with other ‘sheep’ trapped in the same nightmare. To progress to the next sequence requires you to step into a confessional and answer a random question. The questions change every time you repeat a level but they are all of the same variety and your answers affect the game’s strange morality meter. Depending on how you answer questions and how you interact with the sheep on the landing or with people in the bar, Vincent’s story will conclude differently. A nice touch no doubt, but generally not enough motivation to replay the story mode.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon Review

September 27, 2011 by  
Filed under Playstation 3, Reviews, Xbox 360

Movie tie-ins have long since become a running joke in the gaming world. Marketing gimmicks hashed out in uninspiring conditions to meet a brutal deadline. More often than not, the best such games can hope for is to be as mildly entertaining as their respective brainless blockbusters. And while this review is admittedly late, I very much doubt that anyone was waiting for someone to tell them that Dark of the Moon is a mediocre game at best – but prior to the game’s release date, there was cause for optimism. A little over a year ago War for Cybertron pulled off an amazing feat – it was actually quite decent. Now let’s not get carried away, it wasn’t a classic by any stretch of the imagination but it certainly exceeded most expectations. High Moon studios were lauded by some and when Dark of the Moon was announced, there was reason to believe the game would be more than mere shovelware.

The events of the game take place sometime before the movie, so if you still plan to watch the film despite all sound judgement and reason, Dark of the Moon won’t be packed with ‘spoilers’. While the story won’t turn you off Transformers forever, it won’t be memorable either, so don’t expect to feel any connection with the ensemble cast of Autobots and Decepticons at your disposal.

Dark of the Moon’s single-player campaign has seven chapters, the majority involving a specific Transformer each. And while the campaign is short, clocking in at around 6 hours, it’s long enough to expose all the cracks and deficiencies. For anyone new to the series, Dark of the Moon is a third-person action shooter where your characters, as one would expect, can transform between robot and vehicle forms. While vehicle form is useful for quickly traversing stretches in the levels, its utility in combat is limited, albeit fun to smack into enemies. In robot form, you’ll have both destructive and strategic weapons and abilities, depending on the Transformer you’re in control of. Robot form is the one you’ll be using most often even though the controls are quite clunky. New to the series is the ‘Stealth Force’ mode, which is basically an aggressive vehicle form on steroids. Stealth Force basically transforms you into a mobile uncanny doomsday machine capable of unleashing tremendous firepower but quite susceptible defensively. The problem with Stealth Force is that it actually looks funner than it is and you’ll more often than not feel overwhelmed as oppose to overwhelming. Nevertheless, it’s good to have variety in the way you dispose of endless waves of foes.

Graphically, the game is sloppy despite some well made animations. The visuals feel rushed, as is the case with virtually every other aspect of the game, and have not really evolved since the last Transformers outing. The environments look stale and the levels, uninspired. While I am not a big fan of the films, they do give the impact of scale – massive robots, engaged in combat with a plethora of collateral damage. This does not really come across in Dark of the Moon which is a shame given that the world is in grave peril and visual reinforcement would have been more than welcome. The sound on the other hand does a much better job of communicating turmoil and fierce combat, especially the in-game sound effects.

It’s safe to assume that what fans really enjoyed about War for Cybertron was online play, and while more volatile and not quite as sharp, it remains the best part of Dark of the Moon as well. What strikes me as the main problem with all the game’s mutliplayer modes is that they often highlight core gameplay problems. The adverse effects of bad controls are magnified, couple that with lag (which may or may not be an issue for you depending on your connection) and we’re talking about frustration of epic proportions. Still if you have a good connection and would like an online experience that’s different than most shooters on the market today, you might find Dark of the Moon entertaining…temporarily. Just to be clear, online multiplayer is by no means a saving grace but some of the best moments the game has to offer.

It’s hard to think of Dark of the Moon as anything but crass movie advertising of the interactive variety and so it’s hard to take it seriously as a game in its own right. Given their efforts with War for Cybertron, we can assume that High Moon Studios know that movie tie-ins can be…should be better games. It’s a shame the opportunity was wasted especially considering that, on paper, the Transformers license should translate into a thoroughly kick-ass game.

The Six Forsaken Franchises

August 2, 2011 by  
Filed under Features, Spotlight

Recently, Epic Game’s ‘CliffyB’ openly stated that he thought it would be “dumb” not to make more Gears of War games. With the third iteration approaching soon, Cliff and his team don’t plan to stop there and why would they? Along with Halo, Gears of War is considered Microsoft’s flagship exclusive series and a notable source of revenue.

Some years ago, Kojima publicly stated that Metal Gear Solid 4 was to be the end for Snake and co. Few took him seriously as Konami was in no state to abandon their magnum opus. Sure enough, two Metal Gear games were announced shortly after, though neither a direct sequel. Even when the stories run dry or the games become stale, designers have a plethora of ways to inject life into their flagship series, through a prequel, a spin-off or the increasingly popular reboot.

Not all series are lucky enough to garner such support. While some games are rushed to intensive care units and fountains of youth in an attempt to extend their life way beyond reason, others are forsaken early on and never allowed to fulfill their vast potential, often struggling to survive (or even make) the jump to next-generation hardware. Here’s a look at some of these unfortunate IPs, lurking in the shadows, waiting for their chance at a comeback:

Strider (Arcade, NES, Mega Drive, PS. 1989-2000)

Perhaps best known now as the glaring omission from the Marvel vs Capcom 3 roster (and an early hint of what is now known to be Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3), Strider was an engaging and fast paced side-scroller with a blade wielding protagonist.

Back in the late 80s, Capcom released the side-scroller on arcade as well as an NES version of the game shortly after. The two versions were completely different, even following different story-lines (the NES one closely resembling the Manga tie-in). A version similar to the Arcade game later came out on the Mega Drive but then around 10 years would pass before Strider Hiryu rode again (though its worth noting that Capcom did license out the Strider franchise in the mid-90s, however the games were mostly ports and a hugely unsuccessful sequel). Then in 2000, Capcom released an official sequel for the arcades and on the PlayStation. It was a 2.5D side-scroller and, though the game was easy and ridiculously short (the game could be completed in 30mins), it was hugely entertaining, Sadly however it was Strider Hiryu’s last outing as a game protagonist and now survives only as an extra character in Capcom fighters, not even fit for a starting role in Marvel vs Capcom 3.

Killer Instinct (Arcade, SNES, Gameboy, N64. 1994-1996)

A highly popular fighter when released in the Arcades and on the SNES, and was thought by some to have taken “the best of both worlds” (those ‘worlds’ being Capcom’s Street Fighter and Midway’s Kortal Kombat). Killer Instinct’s success saw it stripped down and ported to the Game Boy to take advantage of the popularity of Nintendo’s handheld system. An arcade sequel soon followed and though it was not ported to consoles, the N64 got a reworked version called Killer Instinct Gold. Both the arcade and N64 versions got their fair share of success but the series would stop there. Many of my friends still lament the days of Killer Instinct (limited though they were) and there may yet be good news on the horizon. Sometime last year, the silence was broken when rumors surfaced that the people at Rare (now a Microsoft studio) spoke of a desire to make Killer Instinct 3. Given the success of the recent Mortal Kombat reboot, a comeback may be on the cards.

Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes Review

Some game designers have stumbled upon a formula for making highly-addictive digital download games and it goes a little something like this: Take a standard match-3 game mechanic which is simple but tried and tested, modify and expand on it to give it more depth, add what are known as ‘RPG elements’ giving the game continuous purpose and release it with a solid campaign mode. If you play your cards right, ie paid proper attention to the individual aspects, your game will be a magnet for puzzler and RPG fans alike. If you liked games such as Puzzle Quest, you’ll know of the alluring quality such games can possess. Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes is all that and more. In fact, its arguably the most prominent example of how these two genres can be seamlessly fused.

Clash of Heroes, previously released on the Nintendo DS some 2 years ago, is set in the ‘Might and Magic’ universe and follows the story of 5 heroes who command armies of Elves, knights, wizards, demons and the undead. The campaign mode puts in you control of all 5 heroes in fixed succession. Each character campaign takes about 7-9 hours to clear completely (including side-missions) so not only the campaign mode pretty lengthy, but it provides welcome diversity as well. Each character commands different units with different abilities and gains access to different equipment with different status effects so while the actual gameplay doesn’t change, each character campaign feels somewhat unique.

The gameplay is an interesting amalgamation of match-3 puzzle, strategy RPG and tower defense. Each player takes turns arranging units on a battle frontline. Units randomly appear on an invisible puzzle like grid. Vertically matching 3 standard units of the same color creates what the game refers to as an Attack Formation. The same 3 units arranged horizontally will create a defensive wall. The goal is to reach the other players baseline in order to deplete their HP to 0. Each unit and attack formation has its own HP and will damage the opponent for the same amount assuming the attacks reach the opponent’s baseline. In addition to standard units, there are also Champion units which take up either 2 or 4 blocks on the grid and are significantly more powerful than the standard ones (though their attacks take longer to charge). Champion Formations are creating by arranging 2 (or 4) same color standard units behind them. The system may seem slightly convoluted at first but with a little hands-on experience, one can get a hang of the game pretty quickly despite the tutorial’s inefficiently gradual explanation.

The game’s interface is simple but attractive. The anime style character designs are lively and just the kind of visuals that shine in HD. Traversing areas in the campaign mode is not a free-roam but involves moving from spot to spot as if on a board game. So while nothing much really happens on the screen, that fact that everything looks vibrant is a plus. Though it is bizarre how much loading time is needed between one screen and the next. Given the absolute simplicity, the excessive loading is inexcusable and does ultimately take its toll on the pacing of the campaigns.

In addition to the campaign mode, Clash of Heroes features an addictive multiplayer mode. Whether online or offline, multiplayer battles involve the same gameplay but provide a completely different challenge. Playing against human opponents naturally brings a different edge to the game, but even more so since both players have access to the Hero abilities. Hero abilities are special attacks that gradually charge during battles. Most AI opponents in the campaign mode do not have Hero abilities and, given their capacity to turn the tides, having to defend against them is a substantially different challenge altogether.

Overall, Might and Magic Clash of Heroes is one of those games that is hard to drag yourself away from. Even whilst writing this review, I found myself taking lengthy puzzle breaks. Unlike Puzzle Quest, Clash of Heroes is by no means a Bejeweled clone. In fact, as a puzzle experience, it’s fairly unique. Though it may be in the higher price bracket than the average PSN / XBLA game, its lengthy campaign mode and deep multiplayer potential makes it a definite bargain. If you are a puzzle, strategy and/or RPG fan, this game comes highly recommended.

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