Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth3: V Generation - PS Vita Review

The latest Hyperdimension game for the Vita makes the most of the handheld and series

Farming Simulator 15 - PC Review

Down on the farm - again. This simulator provides plenty to do for fans of the series

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt - Xbox One Review

The latest in the Witcher series does almost everything well - a definite Game of the Year contender


This shooter gets almost everything right, throwing lots at you but making it fun

Big Pharma - PC Preview

A fun simulation game with some social commentary to share as well

Thursday, July 8, 2010

News and Notes from 7-8-10

So, here's some interesting tidbits I've picked up in the last day or two from various sites:

Bioware confirmed that Dragon Age will be releasing in March of 2011. This is a big one for me as I was a huge fan of the first game and the solid Awakenings expansion as well. They promise to have an updated graphics engine (one of the few things about the game that got critically picked on) and new combat mechanics. I'm looking forward to this one!

There going to be a downloadable Dead Space 2 prequel for the Xbox 360 and PS3. This is another IP I'm pretty stoked about. The first Dead Space was incredibly solid in my opinion, and I am really looking forward to more out of this series. There is talk that some of the accomplishments from this prequel will carry over into Dead Space 2 in the form of some pre-unlocked goodies.

Red Dead Redemption has 4 new downloadable content packages coming in the future. This was a game that has generated a lot of early Game of the Year buzz, and is likely to be one of my next reviews as I've finally had a chance to sit with it for an extended chunk of playtime.

IGN has posted about 1/2 of the player ratings for the upcoming Madden 2011 here. I am a sucker for football games and admit that I fall prey to the yearly incarnation of Madden almost every year. As a Lions fan (hey - don't laugh!) I'm looking forward to seeing what some of our young guys are going to be rated on there for my franchise mode.

The Star Craft 2 Beta has relaunched according to IGN as well. It has a new patch and some other tweaks in place for those interested.

And lastly, bad news for Assassin's Creed fans (raises his hand) - there next game in the series will not be releasing next year as had been speculated on many sites of late.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Final Fantasy XIII - Xbox 360 game review

I was out for several days due to longer work days and the holiday weekend, but I’m back with a handful of posts to come over the next few days while I’m off work. In that vein, I’m hoping to get more ‘new’ games posted soon when I get my hands on them. I have a few semi-new games on tap though, including Final Fantasy XIII for the 360. I’ve heard that the PS3 version is displayed at a higher resolution and generally the textures look just a shade better, but I haven’t seen that version in action.

However the 360 version looked great and came with three discs. There were quite a few changes to the more traditional Final Fantasy formula. This has been met with mixed results by fans. Looking at the IGN scores, fans rate it an average of 8.3 as I write this, but most of the comments in the review are negative. So, here’s what I thought after about 100 hours of play…

Graphics – 9.5:

The game is something of a technical achievement. There was stuttering framerate here and there, but only rarely in my play through. What I did experience consistently was a very appealing menu system, quality character models and engaging environments. Also the cut scene movies looked great, but then they almost always do in this series.

Music and sound – 8.5:

The music was good, though usually I find 2 or 3 songs that really catch my ear in the Final Fantasy games, and I go out to try and find them and listen to them outside of the game. I didn’t do that with this particular game. The voice work was pretty good, and really helped to drive the story home. That said, some of the battle sounds and quick voice clips were kind of repetitive.

Gameplay – 7:

It’s hard to rank an RPG game on things like precision controls and responsiveness, but the combat system works well enough – though it was one of my least-favorites in the series. There was also a lag in the menu system when you wanted to customize your skill points. Also, the customization never quite felt as good to me as the sphere grid system from Final Fantasy X, though that seems to be the obvious influence for the system used in Final Fantasy XIII.

Intangibles – 8:

The story was decent, but it took awhile to become something that was easy to follow. Some of their naming conventions could have been better, because key terms to the story were often named in similar fashion and for a newcomer to the story it could be a bit confusing. There is also a serious lack of mini-games and as someone who sunk a ton of time into things like Blitzball in the past, that was disappointing. Now, a lot of people complained about the linear storyline, but that did not bother me as much as I thought it would. In fact, the lack of doubling back over places I had already been was kind of nice. However, the game does open up quite a bit in the last couple of chapters, and there are a lot of side missions. You can also improve not only your character’s stats in specific fields but the weapons and accessories they use, though that system became quite a grind in my mind. I spent about 90 hours playing the game, many of which near the end were spent grinding upgrades and abilities. I thought it was a nice perk that certain accomplishments yielded game pics as well.

Overall – 8.25:

RPG’s are probably one of my two favorite game genres (the other being sports). I can sink a ton of time into them, and generally feel better about my investment than an action game that tends to be shorter in length like Alan Wake or F.E.A.R. I love the Final Fantasy series, as noted in some of my prior reviews. I really, really wanted to love this game, but I merely liked it a good deal. Technically the game is very impressive, and overall it tells a pretty good story. But the game itself is just not as strong as prior entries in the series. Combat worked well enough, but it and the systems for improving your characters were not as much fun as I would have liked. All in all though, I did drop nearly 100 hours into the game, and I think that says quite a bit in and of itself.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Alan Wake - Xbox 360 game review

Alan Wake is a game that felt like it was never going to come out. It seemed like a game I was hearing about ever since I bought an Xbox 360. Was the game getting pushed back because they really were tweaking it and making it better – or were there some serious design flaws that they were trying to gloss over?

As a huge fan of horror games (Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Fatal Frame – I love games with a sense of suspense) – this was one I had a lot of hope for. So, was it worth the wait? Let me break it down.

Graphics – 9.0:

The light and particle effects are top-notch. The shadows often feel like they’re alive all around you and the monsters you fight at night feel appropriately cloaked in darkness as you battle them. Animations look decent, if not great during the daytime, story-driven sections. All in all though, for a game that is made to be played in the dark, this game delivers an inky, creepy atmosphere.

Music and sound – 9.0:

Annnnd, speaking of creepy atmosphere, this game delivers on the audio front as well. Overall I thought the voice acting was pretty good. The music was excellent and the sound effects were generally quite good. There were times they lacked subtlety, but overall they were a huge and effective part of the ambiance.

Gameplay – 7.5:

The combat itself is quite good. The use of light as a clever aiming sight was cool, and the weapons feel effective enough. Also dodging was fairly solid. So why the middling score? For one, it sometimes got confusing and a bit annoying to find your way around. On harder levels of difficulty it’s not that hard to run out of ammo and then you’re really hosed (though you can at least restart the level). It’s not always obvious what you should be doing and for a game that feels like you’re being driven to specific points, it would be nice to have a better way of mapping your path.

Intangibles – 7.5:

Tough one here. First off – the game is spooky and fun. So that is key, and it’s the type of game I usually eat up. But I ate it up in like 7 hours or so the first time. And there’s not much to the replay value of it. Sure, you can go through the Nightmare mode and find additional manuscript pages not available otherwise, and these pages are generally very cool – but it doesn’t really feel like *enough* for me. Points though for such a richly realized world and atmosphere. I particularly enjoyed the radio stations and the television shows that had a nice Twilight feel to them. Still, the short duration of the story with no real game+ or online mode really hurts the game’s overall value in my opinion. Also, there’s some language and terror themes that probably make it unsuitable for younger kids.

Overall – 8.25:

This is a game that begs to be rented, or picked up a bit later when you can inevitably find copies of it used and cheap at a Gamestop. With its somewhat limited replay value, I’ve already started to notice copies showing up on the shelf. That said, it’s a very cool game that’s worth a play through if you enjoy this type of horror/survival game. It’s cleverly written and the shooting mechanics work nicely.

Cheap gaming - older sports games

My dad was recently visiting from Florida and he was considering getting a gaming system and an HD tv for himself and family members who came to visit (like my son). So, after some discussion, he decided that the PS3 was probably the best bet since he had an interest in building up a Bluray collection to boot. Of course, the system and the TV promised to be pretty expensive themselves. So what was he to do for games? Well, he found several that were a pretty good price – mostly sports related titles. So how did we do? Not bad for starting out with no games at all.

First acquisition: Bad Company. IGN score of 8.6. Good graphics, entertaining game. It was $17 used at Gamestop. Definitely not a game for little kids though between the crude humor and the violent settings and gameplay.

Next up was Little Big Planet (Game of the Year Edition) for $25 used. Quality game that’s perfect for kids. On top of that, there is a ton of content out there that combined with the level building system provides a ridiculous amount of extra value to the purchase, though having internet access is really key to take full advantage of these features.

Next up was a bevy of sports games. We’ll start with Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08 which got an 8.5 from IGN and ran us $16 at Gamestop. Good game, but the EA servers do not seem to support it, so you can’t hop online or import the face graphic if you don’t have a webcam hooked up to the PS3.

All-Pro 2k8 was one of the best values at just $5 used at Gamestop. It landed a solid 7.6 from IGN, though I thought the engine did not age particularly well (I’m a big fan of the Madden games) and it lacks the really deep franchise modes you might get from a Madden game as well. However, the game itself is fun and did I mention it was only $5?

Speaking of football and Madden games - we snagged the 7.7 rated version of Madden 08 for $4. Sure, the series has progressed since then, but you can buy some foamy flavored coffee for the same price that'll last you 7 minutes. This game? Much longer than that.

We snagged NBA ’08 which landed an 8.4 on IGN for $12 at Gamestop. This was admittedly probably my least favorite of the sports acquisitions personally. There was no online connectivity available either.

MLB ’08: The Show really surprised me. I’m not really a big fan of baseball itself, but I really enjoyed this game. It landed an 8.7 from IGN and ran us $8 I think? I’ve sunk a lot of time into this one myself. I didn’t try every one of these games online, but this one also lacked online play currently.

The last one we picked up with my dad was College Hoops 2k7. I think we were out like $8 on that one, and it scored an 8.3 at IGN. I liked this one quite a bit as well – better than the NBA game we snagged.

After all of these purchases, I decided to beef up my game collection slightly, getting Tiger Woods 08 and then also picking up EA’s fine NHL 08 game. It was $17 and scored an 8.6 from IGN. It’s been several years since I last played an NHL game – 06 I believe was my last one. This one surprised me – for the heck of it I tried to hop online and found an opponent almost immediately. Deep, entertaining game to boot.

Lastly, I really liked the Fight Night games but had never gotten around to the most recent iteration – Fight Night Round 4. This scored a solid 8.8 from IGN and ran me $17 was all. I’ve been playing this one quite a bit as well – the career mode is quite entertaining.

Obviously peoples’ mileage will vary here, and I have a Gamestop card so I shaved 10% off of all of this. But it was a fairly inexpensive way for my dad to create a collection of games. It seems like the sports series depreciates faster than any other genre – likely because the majority of sports titles have a 1 year lifecycle before the latest and greatest comes out. But if you’re not interested in the absolute latest tweaks, rosters and online play, this is a really good way to build up your game library at a fraction of the cost compared to purchasing this year’s sports titles.

A Kingdom for Keflings - Xbox 360 Live review

A Kingdom for Keflings was one of those games I never really paid much attention to when it first came out late in 2008. It’s an Xbox 360 Live purchase that I made because during E3 Microsoft put a few games up cheaply and this was among them. I looked it up and saw overall positive reviews for it. My wife and kid tend to enjoy city builder/sim type games as well, so I figured it was one that would get some mileage and I was right.

Essentially the game is a city builder. You are a giant among… well, Keflings. They are cute little people who run around and do your bidding, though you may have to pick them up and point them in the right direction. They’ll harvest resources for you so you can build parts, which in turn can be used to create buildings that unlock new blueprints and give your Keflings even more to do.

Graphics – 7:

This game is not a technical marvel, but most Live games are not. Still, even by Live standards the framerate and textures fail to impress. The graphics are cute and whimsical and suit their purpose, however. Bonus points for getting to use your avatar in the game as you tower over the Keflings.

Music and sound – 5:

Yikes – I’d almost play this one with the sound off and listen to my stereo. The basic tune itself isn’t really that bad. But it’s basically all you’ll ever hear once you start to play the game. There are almost no sound effects to speak of and no voiceover of any kind.

Gameplay – 8:

I was not a huge fan of the menu system, but it works. I also had a couple of buildings that were kind of complicated – I thought I had it all right, one piece was wrong and I spent probably 10 minutes tearing it apart to figure out what that piece was. Movement’s easy enough though, and the game has a nice flow to it, gradually growing and building and giving you a real sense that you are in fact creating something impressive. Plus, the Keflings are kinda cute, and I’m man enough to admit it. :P

Intangibles – 7:

I don’t think this game will be a staple play of mine. Once I played through, there wasn’t really much else to do. But, it’s fun, and each person goes about things a bit differently. My youngest daughter is only 8 and she spent nearly 2 hours on it before I told her she had to take a break – but she was enthralled by it. I first played it for about 3 ½ hours. In my mind, it’s pretty cool when a game can span a 26 year gap.

Overall – 6.75:

This is just how the numbers came out. I add them up and divide by four. Somehow, this seems a bit low, but I guess it depends on how you weight things. If graphics and music are terribly important to you, then this game is probably not for you. If you can enjoy a relaxing game without worrying too much about the soundtrack, then you may find that this game is quite enjoyable. I got it at half price at the time, which makes it a better deal for me than it will likely be for you. Not really for the hardcore crowd, but it was something of a hit with my family with its cute graphics and theme mixed with city building elements.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Demon's Souls - PS3 game review

Demon’s Souls has been out for awhile now in the US, but only recently has gotten released in some other locations. I put off picking this up because while it looked and sounded good, I tend to wait until games are a bit cheaper to acquire them. Additionally, the game is always being touted as insanely hard, and in my ‘old age’ I’ve grown to enjoy slightly less taxing games. Sure, as a kid I walloped on Ghosts & Goblins, the Ninja Gaiden games, Contra without the 30 lives code and plenty of others. However, I’ve gotten to a point where getting my butt handed to me by lines of code does sometimes get frustrating and I wasn’t sure I wanted to take this particular plunge.

However, I can say after giving this game a good long play, it was a lot of fun – despite some frustrating moments along the way. That said, I feel like the game can be had at an incredible value, if you are someone who can enjoy a challenging game without getting too frustrated with it.

Graphics – 8.5:

The animations sometimes feel just a shade off, but the magic and fire effects are nice, and the world is imaginatively presented. I’ve also seen some slowdown at odd times; and a world of lag and slowdown when one of my matches got invaded. That might fall under something other than graphics, but it was graphics that seemed the most affected (I was blocking but taking huge damage from a guy who also appeared to be blocking. Things were just not lining up at all). That said, the rest of the game looked really good, with some very impressive scenes – some of which really stood out (like the dragon sweeping the bridge to burn everyone on it).

Music and sound – 9.0:

All in all, it sounds good. Narration is solid, sound effects are somewhat varied with voice acting at most interactions. The voice acting is not always great, and I wish I could just skip through the repetitive people sitting in the Nexus. I have surround sound however, and it should be noted that it has been a lifesaver for me at times in this game; on par with the zings of Modern Warfare’s bullets. The music is also very impressive. It fits the theme of the game wonderfully.

Gameplay – 8.5:

This is a tough one for me. The game responds pretty well most of the time, though the lock-on mechanism can get you in trouble early on until you master it. As I’ve mentioned, the game can be hard. Now, I don’t think it’s quite as hard as some people make it out to be, but there are some cheap deaths in there (a pit you see that it looks like you should be able to descend but actually leads to death, any time something knocks you back when you’re on stairs/a ledge, or a ridiculously hard enemy you have no business fighting but might not have any idea of).

Intangibles – 9.5:

New game plus is cool, if brutal. Tons of customization. A deep game that makes you feel like you’re genuinely learning as you play. I mentioned above that there were cheap deaths, but most of the time it’s just your own fault for not handling the situation properly. Also, the online aspects really deserve to be mentioned. There’s a unique, almost beautiful in my mind, system of online play where you can see bloodstains on the ground and see the final moments of a player’s life. There’s been several times I touched it and watched someone barrel ahead only to get dropped from an attack they never saw coming – but I did thanks to that experience. Also you can leave messages that you can rate as useful as well. There was one part with a bridge and a dragon swooping down where the advice saved my arse. The PVP aspects I’m kind of down on. It’s creatively handled when you can invade someone else’s realm, or they can invade yours, but almost every time it’s happened my game stuttered and broke up pretty badly. I’ve seen others complain about the same thing and the general response from others is: play offline. In my opinion, you’re doing yourself an overall disservice if you do so. It adds a tremendous sense of ‘life’ to your world when you see ghosted images of other players, bloodstains and messages on the ground.

Overall – 8.75:

Demon’s Souls is hard. It’s meant to be hard. There is no easy mode. It doesn’t hold your hand or give you easy replays like Final Fantasy 13 does. It does however create a challenging, atmospheric adventure that if you can play without getting too frustrated, will provide you with a good deal of accomplishment as you conquer new tasks. The online features are pretty unique and for the most part they’re enjoyable, if not perfect. Adding to the game’s value in my mind is how much cheaper it has gotten of late. Gamestop had new copies for $40 and used for $26. Not bad for a game that many people thought of as Game of the Year for the PS3. I’m not sure I’d give it that particular title this year or last, but it is a solid action-RPG game that gives you a lot to do on your adventures.