Archive for the ‘PC’ Category

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

Gamers had been eagerly awaiting the release of Elder Scrolls V:Skyrim for years, with the last edition in the Elder Scrolls franchise appearing all the way back in 2007. Bethesda Game Studios didn’t disappoint when they rolled out Skyrim in November 2011, with the game getting nearly universal high praise from reviews at sites such as IGN, Wired, and GameSpot. The game was an immediate hit as far as sales as well, with 3.5 million copies sold within 48 hours of its release.

Available for PC, PlayStation3, and Xbox 360, Skyrim’s plot tasks the player with creating a character and defeating Alduin, a Dragon god who is prophesied to destroy the world. Set two hundred years after Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the game takes place in the province of Skyrim, located on the planet Nirn. The trademark open world gameplay of the Elder Scrolls series is back in Skyrim, with the player given the option to explore the world at their own pace — and even ignoring the main quests and goals entirely if they choose to do so. The quests built into the game also allow for many hours of gameplay, with some players completing the game but still enjoying it for many hours as they loop back and discover new quests and items.

The deep gameplay and attention to detail sets Skyrim apart, especially with the larger trend among game developers to make things simple and straightforward (and accessible via Facebook) such as casino online games or clones or knock-offs of existing games. Much of the appeal of the Elder Scrolls franchise is that it offers a very different experience for gamers, as far as slower-paced more thoughtful action that lets the gamer control the experience and adventures that unfold instead of being forced to follow a rigid plot or spend most of their time blazing away and blasting opponents to bits.

It’s hard to find much to complain about in Skyrim, with the only real complaints coming from PC gamers struggling with game controls that were more designed with game controllers in mind, as the keyboard-mouse combination can be difficult to use for some fairly common in-game tasks and commands. Other technical issues that cropped up after release — including slow frame rate speeds, crashes, and texture display issues — have largely been addressed in patches released in November 2011 and December 2011.

Hoyle Casino 2012 Review

Friday, January 13th, 2012

The Hoyle Casino series is a trusted standby for many gambling fans, offering the chance to play the best casino games at home without having to venture out to the casino. Hoyle Casino 2012 won’t break your personal bank (priced at $19.99) and gives you instant access any time of the day or night to hundreds of the most popular casino games, including slots, baccarat, Pai Gow, blackjack, poker, craps, and roulette.

Slots fans have a lot to enjoy, as the game offers over 100 unique slots of various themes and types, including multi-line and progressive video slots. Whether you’re taking a break from online play at some of the top sites listed here or just killing time with some slots play before your next big Vegas trip, you’ll find plenty of different exciting options with fast gameplay and well-designed graphics and bonus features to keep things fun.

Unlike some casino games that are just geared towards slots, Hoyle Casino 2012 offers hundreds of other games, including poker tournaments where you can test out your Texas Hold’em skills. There is also an instructional mode for many games that will offer you tips and pointers as you make your bets, giving you a chance to enjoy the thrill of gambling and try your luck as you learn at the same time.

Games such as Hoyle Casino 2012 can be an excellent way to learn the best casino games before a trip to the casino, as it’s a low-pressure way to learn the ropes without risking even a penny of real money. It can be intimidating to try to learn to play more complicated games like craps for the first time at a casino but playing on your computer removes all those barriers, as no one is around to rush you or get upset if you take your time when figuring out all the betting possibilities and options.

Review: Portal 2

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

The original Portal basically caught everyone who played it completely off guard. It was the product of Valve Software’s time-honored tradition of benevolently devouring smaller companies and teams that they think are being unique or creative. Conceptually beginning as a student project being made at DigiPen, the game (and its creators) were picked up by the company with the intent of fleshing it out in Valve’s proprietary Source engine and turning it into an actual retail product. When it was released in 2007 it amounted to a tiny three-hour-long sliver of the multi-game Orange Box, Valve’s flagship release of that year which included heavyweight names such as Half-Life and Team Fortress. However, it ended up being one of the most original products in recent recollection, both mechanically and thematically. Now, we are seeing the release of a big-budget sequel to the small but remarkable game. It takes the concepts put forth in the original, refines and expands them with a good helping of the series’ signature black humor. It is a formula for a sequel worthy of the Portal name. Any scientist would agree.

I dare anyone reading this to name a game in which you laughed out loud during the base-line tutorial sequence. I bet you either can’t, or have played Portal 2 already. Seriously, this game is really funny. That is the first thing that jumped out at me when I sat down to review it. It’s not like I wasn’t expecting it to be, as the first one was amazingly humorous, but it’s worth noting that when Portal came out back in 2007 no one playing it was yet acclimated to the off-kilter universe it takes place in. Going into the sequel, part of me was worried that the magic would be gone since I already knew all about the fictional cake, weighted companion cubes, and the homicidal computer pulling the strings. Thankfully, the writers of this game are great at their jobs and don’t resort to rehashing old jokes or memes as if to say “hey, remember that game we made that was pretty popular 4 years ago?” Granted, it is the same type of writing (i.e. everything with a mouth or vocoder basically hates main character Chell’s existence and lets the player know it), but it all feels fresh. Some of the most creative insults I have ever heard lie within this game’s dialogue.

Whether you’re unaware of Stephen Merchant, or you love listening to the Ricky Gervais Show as you play partypoker or Halo: Reach in the evenings, he’s bound to make you chuckle, and that’s before the other members of the cast make an appearance.

However, we don’t often come to games for the writing alone. This game is one of those rare instances where almost every elements of it conspires to create a gestalt. At no time did I feel like the story, dialogue, game play, art, and music ever felt disparate. Going one step further, every facet that makes up Portal 2 helps to enhance every other aspect. This was something that was notable about the original Portal–how cohesive it all felt–but it is more impressive in the sequel because of the increased scale. The core gameplay remains fundamentally unchanged. Players again take on the role of Chell, a young woman trapped in a vast underground research facility run by a megalomaniacal computer system named GLaDOS and must try to escape her endless tests using only the series’ staple “portal gun.” For those of you readers who don’t know how the game’s played, this gun shoots portals into walls, one entrance and one exit instantly connecting the two. Generally, each level is a “test chamber” (akin to a devious obstacle course) with a beginning and an end, and players have to figure out how to use this singular mechanic integrated with various other environmental tools in order to traverse the chamber and complete it without dying. The puzzles this time around have grown in complexity due to the inclusion of several new gameplay elements. For instance, lasers and blocks to manipulate them with have been included, as have gels that increase your run speed or jump height when Chell is on top of them. Even with these additions, the levels are typically designed to only utilize a few of them at a time as not to overwhelm players, and the game generally does a great job of tutorializing their uses when new elements get introduced. There were very few instances where a new puzzle piece got integrated in which I wasn’t immediately sure how I needed to use it.

A special call out needs to be made to the level design. Seeing as Portal’s levels are far more opaque than most games’ (they manage to make the almost all the game’s inherent conceits part of the point) it is easy to notice that they are designed well. And they get challenging fairly quickly. Sometimes, I would hit a point where I was not sure how to progress, and then after being away from the game for a little bit the answer would appear to me bright as day. As with the first, this game really requires that you leave all previous understanding of spatial relationships at the door in order to best surmount its challenges.

The only section of the game that I was not completely enthralled about was a portion of the middle that takes Chell outside of the standard testing chambers seen throughout the rest of the game. I won’t spoil any of the story stuff leading up to this (it had me laughing constantly), but without a discreet start and end point, I found it was far easier to lose sight of where to go. Rather than being ingenious puzzles, these rooms felt like pixel-hunts that tasked me with finding the two walls in the room that I could lay a portal onto. Besides this momentary lull, the game maintains a good clip throughout, winding through its absurd plot beats and passing players from testing chamber to testing chamber, each with an increasingly more complex design.

Mechanics aside, the game also looks and moves great. This mostly flows out of it’s clean techno-organic art direction, but technically its no slouch either. Valve’s Source engine never ceases to amaze me, and it has a few new tricks to show off here. It may not be able to push as many pixels as some of its counterparts (I did notice some rather ugly aliasing on various shadows throughout the game), but it is incredibly versatile. Valve knows how to use their engine like no one else, and therefore Portal 2 looks up to modern standard even on the 8 year old engine. There are lots of little details to satisfy the eyes. Each chamber has plenty of moving parts, some necessary and others superfluous, but it all looks and animates wonderfully. I got the sense that despite being run entirely by machines, the Aperture Science Enrichment Center is a living entity as GLaDOS continues to rebuild the damaged facility around Chell.

This would not be a proper review without mentioning perhaps the most talked about new feature to come to the series: Co-op. I have not yet finished every co-op course, but those that I have completed have left a very good impression. The rules remain fundamentally the same but with the addition of a friend and courses designed to capitalize on the two-player experience. Players take on the roles of two robot test subjects named Atlas and P-Body. The co-op campaign is structured differently, as there is no real story to speak of (though GLaDOS does not cease the constant beratement, especially towards the player who’s “losing”). Rather, there is a hub world from which all of the other co-op courses stem from. Each course is made up of 7 different testing rooms (some of which have multiple parts) and generally has some kind of theme mechanic tying it all together. For instance, one extensively utilizes “hard light” bridges, which as the name suggests are made of light but are impassable.  Many of the courses use the idea in intriguing ways, such as having one player navigate an obstacle course and have the other push buttons to remove hazards from his or her path. To that end, successful navigation is very reliant on good communication. Thankfully, the game gives players all the necessary tools to coordinate their efforts, including a “ping” function that lets players highlight elements of the world they want their partner to interact with as well as full VoiP support. I had very little trouble with the game’s voice chat functionality and cannot wait to see more Valve games employ this custom API. The game keeps track of several different elements of play, such as number of steps taken or portals fired, displaying them on a scoreboard in the hub. In addition, Team Fortress 2 style microtransactions make a return here, though are purely cosmetic. This, however, suggests to me that Portal 2 might become a type of content platform in the same vein as Team Fortress 2, which would be very appreciated.

As I mentioned, part of me was a touch hesitant going into this game as I was not sure that the original Portal needed or could support a much expanded sequel. However, upon playing it through I would recommend this game to anyone. Fundamentally, it is more Portal but expanded and augmented as to make a better, even more fleshed out experience. The core single player is lengthy but doesn’t outstay its welcome by routinely changing up the rules of play, and the co-op is a well thought out addition that adds many more hours of enjoyment. Chances are, if you care about PC games like I do, you already have played and beaten this game. But on the off chance that what I have to say about the game will sway someone’s opinion, please buy Portal 2 as soon as possible. It is a very funny, endearingly demented and mechanically unique experience that would be hard to replicate elsewhere.

Magicka MicroReview

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

I read once that when designing a game, it is important to not include mechanics just for the sake of having them.  For example, don’t include a crafting system in your roleplaying game if you don’t have the time or resources to make it seriously compelling.  To take this idea once step further, when it comes to smaller projects I think it is almost necessary to design a single mechanic and build the rest of the game around it.  Magicka is an action game with heavy RPG overtones that really takes this philosophy to heart.  You (and up to 3 other friends you can partner with) all play wizards and the game mostly consists of your party hurling spells at hordes of goblins, orcs, and other ugly monstrosities.  So far, this sounds like it could be a stripped down Diablo analog (as if we don’t have enough of those in the world).  However, due to the nature of the game, the spellcasting system is really the star of the show.

The game lets you play with 8 different forces; fire, water, earth, lightning, shield, life, ice, and arcane.  Each has different properties and behaviors associated with it.  For example, lightning can jump between targets, ice slows, and arcane makes targets pop into meaty chunks when they die.  I say “targets” as opposed to “enemies” because it is worth noting that any spell can be cast against any being in the game.  I have accidentally wasted many an ally because they ran in front of the business end of my staff. All players can summon up to 5 elements at a time which will combine into a spell reflecting the properties of all its member components. For instance, earth can allow you to launch a boulder missile that does impact damage and fire burns. Combining the two creates a fireball. There are some rules about spell creation, as all elements have an opposite, which will negate each other if summoned together. Fire and ice are an obvious example of this. Other elements interact with each other constructively, however. Fire and water make steam which can combine with lightning to make a spell that moistens and shocks, a feat usually impossible in a single spell as water and lightning are opposed.

This depth is what makes the system so remarkable, but the game is also mind-blowingly frantic, especially in multiplayer. When I have been in multiplayer games, everything is blowing up all the time as I hammer on the buttons for spell combos that I know and trust with blind muscle memory. I should also mention the game’s quirky, referential sense of humor–the characters therein don’t so much make jokes as they talk about stuff you know about (e.g. Star Wars, Dungeons and Dragons, Monty Python, Lovecraftian fiction, etc.) but through insane fake-Swedish voice-overs.  This game is definitely worth a look, especially at the 10$ price they’re asking for it.  But it’s probably better to show than it is to talk about. Follow the links for a few snippets of gameplay I shot with a friend.

Magicka Dungeon Fight

Magicka Bridge Massacre

Magicka Lightning Suicide


Dragon Age II: After the Hype

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

After about a hundred hours and some four play-throughs with Dragon Age II it’s fairly easy to see what all of the commotion is about. Not the stinging hype that’s been around since the game was first announced, but the incredibly mixed user reviewers that have plagued the last month. For what it’s worth, Dragon Age II is a decent RPG and a worthy time sink if you’re the type that absolutely loves anything that Bioware has managed to crank out over the course of its existence. However, even with the improvements in virtually every technical aspect the game ultimately feels like its missing something.

Bioware made no effort to cover up the fact that the vast majority of the quests are fairly mundane fetch quests that usually plague MMORPGs. You’ll find random items lying about and you’ll direct your Hawke to drop it off somewhere for a bit of XP and some coin. When you’re not doing that, you’re killing someone then telling someone that you’ve killed someone. It’s in this that the leading narrative just isn’t very strong. You’ll always have something to do, there’s no doubt about that, it’s just that sometimes you’ll end up questioning why you’re doing it in the first place. The actual main plot quests are a bit more complex and complimented by the spectacular voice acting, but they don’t make up the majority of the game.

The biggest complaint to be found in Origins, the games predecessor, is that the combat was painstakingly slow. Characters would hunker over and lumber towards their destination in a weird combat stance before finally taking action in slow, methodic animations. Sure, swinging a huge sword almost as big as your body isn’t an easy task but this is a video game. If you’re going to be shooting fire balls out of your fingertips swinging a big sword with some style isn’t a bad thing. Dragon Age 2 accomplishes this and more: the swagger a mage wields their staff with is entertaining and the long forgotten melee rogue traverses the combat field with stunning precision (granted the AI might have you leaping into a wall since stairs are so 2010).

Much of the game has been streamlined by comparison to the slower-paced Origins. You’re not going to be scouring every shopkeeper’s inventory or every corner in a dungeon to get an ingredient for an explosive. Instead, you find the actual piece of the formula lying around the world along with different formulas and recipes. Items can only be created at a specific shop or in your home, but with no longer being occupied on finding specific shards or springs, using grenades and poison is actually much more affordable than it was before. Likewise, you no longer need to actually know the poison skill to be able to use the poison, so you can give all of your heavy damage classes a damaging poison, your tank a poison that lowers enemy damage and a poison that slows down enemy attack speed on your mage.

Further on the technical aspects, Dragon Age II is a better looking game than Origins, which to be completely honest isn’t saying all that much. The majority of the game is filled with varying degrees of brown, gray and green. Hawke’s class-specific Champion sets are fantastic to look at and the Grey Warden armor is to die for, incorporating the long lost blue to the drab palette. If you’ve got the hardware to support it, the texture patch is definitely worthwhile and helps bring the game to life the way it should be.

Odds are if you’re a fan of the series or Bioware you’ve likely already purchased the game. If you’re on the fence about Dragon Age II it’s a 30-40 hour affair with excellent characters, improved combat and a streamlined experience (read: dumbed down in many regards). Here’s to seeing how the downloadable content fills out the rest of the experience. Dragon Age II gets a 7. Not bad score, but not a great one either — still worth a playthrough, but not about to go down in gaming history as a landmark title.

RIFT: The Early Game

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

It is difficult to take a critical look at massively multiplayer online games.  They’re huge, for one thing and are largely dependent on extraneous variables such as the community that populates them and the quality of post-release support.  However, as a genre the MMO is an important and unusual entity.  We are at a bit of a crossroads when it comes to MMORPGs, as World of Warcraft’s popularity is plateauing and several other large-budget games are nearing the end of their development cycles, hoping to simultaneously diversify the market and take the crown away from Blizzard.  Enter Trion Worlds’ RIFT, a game that is so obviously not looking to reinvent the genre but rather iterate on and refine the paradigm that we are used to.  And it does that very well.  This is not intended to be a review, as it is almost impossible to write a definitive piece on something that has the potential to grow and evolve the way MMOs must.  Alternatively, I want to chronicle my experience with the game in order to convey what it is like from a player-level perspective.  So, without further ado, let us venture to Telara.

Levels 1-15


You have done this before.  Anyone who has ever played an MMO has.  I was presented with two faction options, the smugly pious and subsequently kind of boring Guardians, or the spunky technomagical Defiants.  Logically I chose the latter.  Then, I had to pick a race.  Both factions have variants of humans and elves.  Dwarves and the third Guardian race and the Defiant can be Bahmi (who are basically bulky blue people with dreadlocks).  I chose to be a Kelari (dark elf) and was then asked what “calling” I wanted, either warrior, rogue, mage, or cleric.  This is where the game begins to become more interesting.  A player’s calling is not quite their class, it is more like their archetype and defines what potential classes he or she can choose to take up.  I want to spend a good paragraph or two talking about this game’s class system, because it is one of the coolest I’ve yet seen.  I picked to be a mage.  After tweaking my avatar’s image a bit (e.g. making my face thinner and adding some snazzy violet eye markings), I was thrust into the world of Telara.
The whole establishing sequence of the game is pretty neat.  I’m not a big proponent of story in MMOs by virtue of the fact that a player is inevitably sharing the story with tens of thousands of other people.  However, they handle this well.  Players play “ascendants” who are people brought back from the dead in order to save the world from some evil god of death bent on obliterating all things.  But the game opens in medias res, during the apocalypse that you were created to stop.  It also provides a good introduction to most of the systems that make this game unique.  This game does not need to rely on front-loaded tutorials or anything, because as I mentioned, if you have ever played an MMO, you will be able to intuit how to play this game.
Within the first few seconds of play, I got my first soul.  Your souls are, in essence, pieces of your specialization.  Each functions as a class in and of itself with a complete skill tree and special functionality.  Each tree is interesting because it is broken up into two parts, the “branches” (which you actually put points into) and the “roots” (which you do not).  The branches are typically passive abilities or augmentations that aid you in fulfilling whatever the soul in question is geared towards.  The roots, on the other hand, are generally activated abilities that unlock as you put more points in the given tree.  However, possibly more interesting is the fact that you are allowed 3 souls at any given time.  The interplay between them can be remarkable.  For instance, at start I equipped my mage with a warlock, necromancer, and chloromancer (life mage) soul.  I unlocked a branch ability on my necro tree that increases death damage and a “life drain” skill on my warlock which deals death damage and returns a portion to me as health.  My chloromancer’s heals aided my survivability even more, making me far more durable than a mage has any right being.  The skills that I unlocked also do a really good job of being different but equal.  I haven’t seen too many skills that are inherently better than others just because I got them at a higher level.

Again, if you’ve played an MMO, you’ve done this part before.  Early game fetch quests and kill X amount of monster Y quests abound as the game slowly exposed new features and the requisite tutorial of each.  Once I found the time machine and was shot back to the past to try to stop the future destruction of the world, it opened up but I found myself presented with awfully familiar quest structure.  Trion does break it up some, with quests that require using a particular item in a particular place to get some desired result (or summon an awful hellspawn that you have to then kill) as well as the titular rifts (which kind of function like micro-raids against primal forces that can happen anywhere), but it’s generally standard early game fair.  However, one evening I was hanging out with a friend on the Freemarch, and the sky grew dark.  We then saw on our map murderous hordes of Abyssal TideLords and their thralls pouring out of water rifts all over the zone.  This was my introduction to Invasions.  The entire zone had to rally to fight back the hordes of sea creatures, lest they overwhelm the entire Freemarch.  It was at this point that I realized that the game I’m playing is different.  This sequence gave me a sense of agency that few other MMOs I’ve played have approached.  If the TideLords won the Invasion, they would have established footholds throughout the region and populated it with their spawn, making it a deathtrap for the relative newbies the area was designed for.  These invasions are basically area-wide public quests, and they’re lots of fun, albeit a tad chaotic, seeing as there might be 6 or more raid groups running all over the place and converging on single targets of interest.  I wish I had a screencap of one of these invasions, just to show the mess of polygons and particle effects it sometimes devolves into.
At around level 15, I made it to the Defiant capital of Meridian.  Seeing all that was inside that city made me think “Wow, there is still a lot that I don’t know about this game.”  But I will continue on and write on the next block of levels as soon as I can.



Batman: Arkham City’s Debut Game Play Trailer

Friday, March 18th, 2011

If someone stopped you on the street and asked you to name every single video game that’s taken advantage of the Batman franchise you probably wouldn’t be able to do it. Going back over two decades worth of gaming, the dark knight has seen his fair share of ups and downs, innovation and regression, and everything in between. When Arkham Asylum was released two years ago, it appeared to be the culmination of everything you’d ever want in a Batman title. Thankfully, there are some developers out there that make sure that we’re never as satisfied as we think we are. The song featured is “Short Change Hero” by The Heavy.

Review: Kane & Lynch 2 – Dog Days

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days is a dirty, lens-flared romp through the neon-streaked streets of Shanghai. Set a few years after the first game, Dog Days reunites the two foul-mouth protagonists for one last “job” before both can retire for good. It’s a plot we’ve seen dozens of times and while the story of Kane & Lynch 2 isn’t going to win any awards, the visual design manages to set the overall experience a notch above some of the game’s weak spots.

Kane arrives in Shanghai where he’s greeted by Lynch who, since we last saw him, has moved to China, met a girl, and made some connections with various crime bosses of the underworld. The deal is all set but things quickly turn to hell and the duo have to shoot their way through a seemingly endless stream of thugs.

The gameplay of Dog Days is a typical third-person shooter with cover mechanics. Cover points are graciously thrown throughout environments and the mechanic works well enough. The problem with the gameplay is that, in 2010, it’s nothing we haven’t already seen many times before. As a result, the shooting feels mediocre, almost aggressively so. Kane and Lynch make their way through city streets, parking garages, nondescript high-rises, and more, taking cover behind all-too conveniently placed columns, pillars, crates, and boxes. The setting, however, is one of the game’s strongest elements. The streets of Shanghai are gritty and, through the game’s bold visual style, give the world a unique authenticity. In fact, the look of Kane & Lynch 2 is perhaps the game’s most pronounced saving grace.

Dog Days does striking things with visual design. The whole game looks as though it’s being filmed by a cheap hand-held camera. Think: YouTube. There’s digital artifacts on the video, bright lights cause lens flares, large explosions cause a buffering/stuttering to occur. The designers intentionally made something less-than beautiful and it works wonders for the overall experience. It’s a smart use of contemporary influences that never feels forced or out of place. In fact, I can’t imagine playing the game without it. The hand-held motif does include a shaky camera effect which follows the game’s protagonists. During my time with the game, I did note some pretty bad motion sickness, a problem I’ve never had before with games. There is, thankfully, a setting which turns on a steady-cam option so the shakiness goes away without sacrificing the game’s other visual elements.

There’s nothing about Kane & Lynch 2 that’s downright terrible but I often found myself wishing the visual style existed in a better game. It just refuses to evolve from a gameplay perspective. The reliance on cover-based shooting even takes a negative toll on the level design. The environments really begin to show their seems when you’ve entered yet another warehouse filled with a surprising amount of crates. It telegraphs the upcoming actions. If you enter a room with lots of cover, prepare for a fight. It’s indicative of the larger problem with Dog Days, it all feels like a huge waste of potential. Despite the visuals, the world feels vapid and empty. For instance, at one point the duo are shooting their way through an old train yard. But the level is static. How great it would have been to take cover behind moving trains, timing your progress forward to the movement of the incoming train-cars. I don’t want to stray too far into backseat game development but I would like to say, to me, it isn’t enough to simply be shooting in a train yard when, in terms of the level’s geometry, it’s exactly like the warehouse from before.

There is a short sequence later in the game where players shoot from a helicopter into the windows of a skyscraper but the gameplay is essentially the same thing as before: take cover, pop out when you can, shoot, repeat. Still, it was an attempt at changing the pace. That being said, the game barely has a chance of over-staying its welcome. The main campaign can be finished in under four hours. That’s right, four hours. Playing through the game with a buddy in co-op mode could offer some replay value but the levels don’t really offer anything that seems designed specifically for co-op. In many of the best co-op experiences, the game features elements built into the level to take direct advantage of the two-player feature. In Dog Days, a co-op buddy is just another gun. Again, I felt this was a missed opportunity. I was hoping to see some more parts of the game take advantage of co-op but mostly we just opened doors together at various checkpoints.

Multiplayer mode really shines with some clever twists on common game-types. The two most notable include “Fragile Alliance” where a team of criminals must work together to complete a heist and escape from the AI-controlled police force. The catch being that, at any time, your online buddies can turn on you, attempting to take more of the cash for themselves. There’s a risk vs. reward behind your decision to turn on your teammates and makes for some pretty tense sessions. The most fun I had online was with the “Undercover Cop” mode which is not unlike “Fragile Alliance” but with the added touch of one of the players being the titular rat. When the round begins, one of the criminals on your team is told they are the undercover cop and it’s up to them to eliminate the criminal team one-by-one without being detected. I enjoyed these modes but, again, couldn’t help feeling somewhat disappointed they were in a game that, often, felt so average.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy my time with the game, far from it. Despite offering gameplay we’ve seen before, Kane & Lynch 2 still manages to be a fun experience, most of the time. It isn’t anything revolutionary but it’s simple brainless shooting fun and that could be enough for a lot of people.  The game does significant things in terms of  visual design which is why I think people should at least play through the game once. Just rent it, set it to easy, and blast through it over the weekend.

Review: Mass Effect 2

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

Most of us should feel absolutely honored to have such a fantastic video game this early into the year. Mass Effect 2 is simply that – a gem of a video game, with more firepower, features and fun than the prequel. The gameplay is nothing but amazing, and if you love RPG’s, Mass Effect should be right at the top of your list. The original Mass Effect was simply one of our favorite video games of the past decade. It seamlessly combined fun, action, adventure, combat, emotional characters, and planetary exploration on a scale that was unprecedented. While the first Mass Effect did have a few quirks, especially on the Xbox360, most if not all of these issues were addressed in the release of Mass Effect 2 which have left us with an almost perfect Role-Playing Game.

Many of us have probably seen the Mass Effect 2 advertisements popping up all over our TV, our internet browsers, and our e-mails as BioWare wen’t pretty heavy on the advertising for the game. Mass Effect 2 has also been a very popular topic of discussion on forums and boards across the internet, clearly portraying it’s following by hundreds of thousands of fellow gamers. In a world filled with dozens of races, planets, political alliances and rivalries, it will most definitely be hard to put down the controller at times. The world of Mass Effect sucks you in and there is no other video game like it.

An interesting feature, Mass Effect 2 lets you continue your save from the original Mass Effect, granted that your game saves are on the same hard-drive (Xbox 360 or PC). Choices and decisions that players made during the original run of Mass Effect will have clear implications on the world in Mass Effect 2. When transferring your game, you are given the ability to choose which save you want to use, and the consequences of using it. For those who are new to the world of Mass Effect, you can of course just start a new game and customize your character accordingly. The beginning gameplay will bring you up to speed, and let you know what you missed in the prequel. Mass Effect 2 is so customizable, you can choose everything from your characters facial features, to their combat style. An event early in the game will help explain all of this in some logical context so that you will not feel confused or let down.

As aforementioned, most if not all of the quirks in the original Mass Effect were corrected in the release of the sequel. Thank you BioWare for listening to us gamers! It often boggles us that the video game manufacturers do not often read critics and gamers reviews to help to fix and make the appropriate corrections. BioWare has, and events such as never-ending elevator rides, the receiving and hoarding of dozens of useless weapons and armor, and the uncontrollable driving of the Mako (your terrain exploration/combat vehicle) have all been corrected in some way, shape or form. We don’t want to give away any spoilers, but the inventory management system, planetary exploration systems, and elevator rides are a bit different than the original Mass Effect gamers may be used to. Definitely all for the better, as these were most notably the biggest three complaints from the previous game. On another note, we were also a little disappointed to the fact that Mass Effect 2 is simply a one-player game. It would have been nice if some sort of multi-player gameplay mode or battle mode was entrenched within the game.

Mass Effect was strongly built around the relationships of the world it was set in. From love triangles, to political alliances, to earth-shattering enemies, Mass Effect had it all. As with the prequel, you will be spending a lot of your time in dialogue with your crew members and other members of the Mass Effect world. We must stress that it is pretty imperative within the game to ensure that you have comforting relationships with your crew members. We know that sometimes it can get pretty extensive, but you really should spend the time to talk to each character and person especially in between game missions. This game may not be for those who just like to battle it out and shoot ‘em up, please remember that this is a Role-Playing Game, and you must spend a good amount of your time talking to other characters, exploring other worlds, and hunting around for secrets and easter eggs – not just shooting up the bad guys. Each of the in-game characters and NPC’s have their own distinct backgrounds, personalities, strengths and weaknesses. It is truly interesting to explore each one, and see the pros and cons that come along with each. Certain characters may not talk to you or give you different responses depending on whom is in your party. Sometimes your own teammates may quarrel, and as the leading Commander, you are going to have to step in and do what’s right (or wrong).

Mass Effect 2 isn’t for the light-hearted and for the younger aged children. The content has been rated mature by the ESRB. There is plenty of graphic violence in combat, drug references, sexual content, and strong language used. With that said, the average teenager gamer and above will probably enjoy this game immensely due to its galactic realness. Any and all Stars Wars and especially Star Trek fans will love this game, as it is strongly reminiscent in many ways of the Star Trek legacy.

With the enhancements made in the release of Mass Effect 2, the gameplay modes have strongly adapted towards a ‘shooter’ game, instead of strictly being an RPG. Yes, Mass Effect 2 is classified as an RPG game, but the slightly enhanced gameplay mode does make you feel like you are playing an FPS game. When you shoot an enemy with one of your many weapons, body parts may fly off, blood may spatter, but after some time, the bodies do disappear such as they did in the first Mass Effect. As with most RPG games, you will be able to pause the game anytime mid-battle to make inventory, weapon and ability changes. Shot accuracy also plays an important role as it does in most games, with head shots inflicting the greatest damage while body parts will inflict less damage. Cut scenes also often depict important events within the beginning, end or middle of a mission, overall adding to the cinematic effects of the game which are truly outstanding.

In conclusion, the Mass Effect world is nothing but ordinary, and with the launch of the sequel, Mass Effect 2, gamers will be undoubtedly happy with almost every element of the game. The graphics are nothing but incredible, the soundtrack nothing but enthralling, and the combat and gameplay mode have been enhanced enormously to add not only more realism, but more dramatic and coercive elements to the gameplay. The following for Mass Effect has been so huge that comics and novels are even now in production which will further iterate stories and scenarios that will go beyond the video game. One thing is for sure is that the dynamics of Mass Effect combine for an outstanding gameplay experience for all. Make sure you pick up a copy of Mass Effect as soon as humanly (no pun intended) possible. Your friends and family may not see you for the next few weeks, but hey, its definitely worth the $59.

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SpikeTV Video Game Awards 2009

Saturday, December 12th, 2009

It’s that time of the year again – SpikeTV host’s their annual Video Game Awards ceremony show, full of lots of hot chicks, funny washed-up actors, and of course, video games! This years show was nothing but spectacular (at least for us video game enthusiasts), and it was definitely worth the watch. This time we were graced by tons of celebrities, including but not limited to: Marissa Miller, Kim Kardashian, Megan Fox, Snoop Dogg, Stevie Wonder, and of course many others. The VGA show by SpikeTV seems to be gaining increasing popularity with each year as it is due by its fine production and collaboration of many.

As a proprietary division of MTV Networks, the 2009 Video Game Awards were estimated to be viewed by almost 100 million people, in over 175 countries. MTV’s decision to let SpikeTV brand the show over the years was a notable move. Not only does it bring notoriety to SpikeTV, it also helps emphasize the target market of both brawny and geeky gamers alike. Interestingly enough, the VGA show does not only pay tribute to video games, but also artistic performances and developments, new technologies, and even the music that help shape the video games we play today.

As the years progress, more actors have been willing and able to lend their off-screen talents to the creation of video games. Most notable was Hugh Jackman who won the award for the best performance by a human male for his role in X-Men Origins: Wolverine Uncaged Edition. Furthermore, presenter Zachary Quinto, who most of us know as the new Spock in Star Trek has announced that he will lend his vocal skills to the creation of the next Star Trek game. In retrospect, this can only help an actor’s career, and even more so help solidify their lifetime roles as characters like Wolverine and Spock accordingly.

In conclusion, MTV Networks and SpikeTV have done an outstanding job during this years performance. This will help ensure viewership for the years to come. Video games have begun to be intertwined with the movie and music entertainment industry, further solidifying its role for the years to come. As a cliffhanger, we are always left with video game previews for the 2010 year. Several of these games will surely make their way to the top over the course of the next year, and we are sure to see them again during SpikeTV Video Game Awards for the year 2010.

SpikeTV’s VGA: Halo Reach Trailer

2009 SpikeTV Video Game Award Winners

Game of the Year – Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Studio of the Year – Rocksteady Studios

Best Independent Game – Flower

Best Xbox360 Game – Left 4 Dead 2

Best PS3 Game – Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Best Wii Game – Super Mario Bros. Wii

Best PC Game – Dragon Age: Origins

Best Handheld Game – Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

Best Shooter – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Best Fighting Game – Street Fighter IV

Best Action Adventure Game – Assassin’s Creed II

Best RPG – Dragon Age: Origins

Best Multi-Player Game - Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Best Individial Sports Game – UFC 2009 Undisputed

Best Team Sports Game – NHL ’10

Best Driving Game – Forza Motorsport 3

Best Music Game – The Beatles Rock Band

Best Soundtrack – DJ Hero

Best Original Score – Halo 3: ODST

Best Graphics – Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Best Game Based on a Movie/TV Show – South Park Let’s Go Tower Defense Play

Best Performance by a Human Female – Megan Fox as Mikaela Banes

Best Performance by a Human Male – Hugh Jackman as Wolverine

Best Cast – X-Men Origins: Wolverine Uncaged Edition

Best Voice – Jack Black as Eddie Riggs

Best Downloadable Game – Shadow Complex

Best Downloadble Content (DLC) – Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony

Most Anticipated Game – God of War III