Trials Fusion - Xbox One Review

The game states: Welcome to the Future. Question is, have we arrived with Trials Fusion?

Ethan: Meteor Hunter - Vita Review

Ethan finally brings his brand of puzzle solving and platforming to the handheld format. Does it pay off?

Lunar: Silver Star Harmony - PSP Review

This classic JRPG got an update for PSP several years ago. We played it - will you want to?

Warlock 2: The Exiled - PC Review

It is not a radically different game than the first Warlock, but the improvements are worth it

Trials Fusion - Xbox 360 Rreview

Does this breakneck stunt game bring the fun? You bet it does

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Gaming Thoughts... 9/24/11 - New Poll

Just a brief on here, but I put up a poll along the left side here about a week ago, and I thought I would call some notice to it. The idea of it is just to see what things you like most about this blog and hopefully indicating things you want to see more of.

I'll leave it so you can choose multiple items, but keep in mind that if everything gets checked, well, that doesn't really give me any idea where I should put the majority of my focus.

Areas include:

- Game reviews: pretty obvious, but do you come here mostly to see what I score things?

- Gaming thoughts: these are usually just random bits that aren't all scoring and metrics, like my musings about playing Warcraft or 'projects' like the Playstation Home

- Retro reflections: these take about the most work for me as I have to hook the system I'm playing up so I can record the playback and then edit it up, which is why I've sort of slacked off on these. But basically just me looking back at older games on the variety of older systems I still have about

- More Facebook/Twitter updates: I've been using these mostly to update things like what games I'm playing right now, quick impressions of games I haven't had a chance to fully review - things like that. And hey, if you're not fanning my FB page found here or my Twitter account here - now would be an awesome time to do so. :)

- Gaming news: I haven't done this in awhile either, but once a week I used to go around gathering up articles that piqued my interest from varied sites and often linked back to them - but not sure if this is something people are interested in or not

- Including images, art, videos: these do sometimes slow down the process for me - do you like seeing this stuff? Does it slow down the page loading too much? I know when I did the King's Bounty review there were a couple of people commenting on how the images and trailer looked - but that was one of the only times I've heard the images brought up, so just curious if the preference is to include them or not.

- Game deals: I go to a fair number of gaming sites and pages - almost every day. Most of the time, I don't see anything great, but once in awhile I'll see a bundle or gaming deal mentioned that might be of interest to others. Would this be something you'd like to see?

- Increase post frequency: I've kept a pretty steady every 3-days rate on posts for awhile - is that frequent enough? Do you stop by every day? Every other?

- Decrease post frequency: Opposite of the above - but do you only come by once a week? Do you find my current 3 days per post pace is too fast and you miss articles?

And of course any comments would be very welcome also. I will leave this poll running until the first of November. Thanks!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Madden 2012 - Playstation 3 Review

It's that time of the year again - Fall! Seriously, this is without a doubt my favorite season of the year. Up here in Michigan, the leaves turn colors, the humidity goes away, the temperature lowers, it gets dark just a bit sooner, I start to use the slow cooker more and the NFL season begins. That last point I cannot stress enough. I'm a huge NFL fan, the lockout this summer worried me to no end, but luckily they pulled it out and I have been able to enjoy my NFL Sundays - pretty much the only TV I watch with any degree of regularity throughout the year.

With NFL Sundays comes another iteration of EA's well-known Madden series. I'm one of those people who buys it just about every year. Yes, I realize that many people consider it nothing more than a glorified roster update, and sure I'd almost always like to see more change from one year to the next than I do, but Madden and NBA 2k are the two sports series I pick up most years where as Hockey, Golf or Baseball I can get by on doing every few years, usually picking up a release that's a year or two old.

So, what does Madden 2012 bring to the table this year that's different from last year? Here's a handful of items right off of the bat that come to mind:

- Dynamic player performances: A player performing very well, or very poorly in a game, may have a hot/cold streak the following week that can impact their overall stats in either a positive or negative fashion. These streaks can only last a handful of weeks and then reset.

- Player Roles: injury prone, playoff performer, underachiever and more - basically these roles can have an impact on the player, and on their teammates depending on the role.

- Trading Ultimate Team Cards can be traded now

- The progression system has been revamped

- Expanded rosters, cut days, altered free agency and scouting for the Franchise Modes

These and a bit more are among the considerations I make while writing my review

Image 12

Graphics - 8:

This is the best-looking football game out there in my opinion. Some of the attention to detail such as jerseys sporting grass stains, the appearance of the grass, player animations and more look great. That is not to say that the presentation is flawless. Sometimes arms move through bodies (I got a laugh out of a referee waving off a catch as his arms went through Calvin Johnson's helmet) and sometimes stuttering performance mar the presentation. The crowd, while a small thing, also feels very dated. The small details, like lights reflecting off of helmets and visors and the effects of a rainy game do a nice job of immersing you into game day though, and generally compensate for some of the lesser technical failings.


Sound & Music - 5:

Seriously, I need to kill the game on this one. The music select is, as it generally is, okay. The sounds sound good, there's a fair mix, some fit what's going on better than others. The on-field sounds are quite good for the most part, if not terribly varied. But, there are three parts of the audio presentation Madden brings to the forefront, and both are absolutely horrible.

- I had to include "for the most part" above though. Every now and then, the audio starts to 'pop'. At first, I thought 'maybe my disc', but I've noticed it at my friends' house, and it's not just my PS3 copy - he has the 360. He seems to think it's attached to the audio commentary, because he has not noticed it since turning that off.

- The coach speak on things like Superstar mode: The guy's voice bugs me a bit - I realize it's supposed to sound like it's coming through on a headset but the tinny quality of it just sounds odd. Aside from that, he is often very, very inaccurate. On one play he'll be telling my halfback to sit back in the pocket to protect the quarterback, and my play art clearly shows I'm supposed to be part of the playaction and then roll out to the flat. On another, he'll be talking about how the wheel route is designed for me to get open past the line, and the play art calls for me to hang back and block - I'm not even a receiving option.

- The in-game announcers are bad. Actually, bad may be giving them too much credit, which is unfortunate because I really do like Chris Collinsworth in real life and actually don't mind Gus Johnson most of the time. But, there are several issues with the commentary. For one, it is badly timed. Johnson will be talking about the best player on the other team's offense when they've already kicked the ball to me. Collinsworth, with his detailed, lengthy deliveries can be on a topic two plays later still. Often the information is patched in wrong. I completed a long pass from Stafford to Calvin Johnson in my Lions franchise and they proceeded to say:

"Calvin Johnson was born to play this position." - and I thought, okay, that's reasonable. Then they went on talking about his throwing power and rare vision for the quarterback position and it just completely took me out of the moment. Names just seem to be goofed up far more often than they should be. Plus, the lengthy detailed delivery for specific players seems odd. I don't need to hear how Suh is the focal point of the Lions defense every-single-game and in the exact same way. In truth, I think the entire commentary system needs reworking. Instead of talking about how Calvin Johnson is called Megatron every-single-game, maybe wait until he does something good and have a comment that includes his name, and something based on a player attribute or statistic - something that branches out. Why not have four or five different things that can be said about a guy with a 90+ speed, and 5 different things for a WR with an 80-90 speed. It would vary things up and feel more relevant. Will they still be discussing how Calvin Johnson is leading the new wave of wide receivers when I'm in year 10 of my franchise? I don't know for certain, but my guess is, yes.

- Lastly, the commentary audio is very inconsistent. You can tell sessions were recorded at different times, and with different levels of volume/quality. One statement sounds quiet, almost tinny, and then the same announcer's statement immediately afterward will sound full and with booth-like quality.


Gameplay - 8:

If you have played prior years of Madden, you basically know what to expect. It's football with all of the bells and whistles. That is not to say there have are no changes this year - blocking feels quite a bit different. Instead of defense players being sucked right into a blocker, it feels like you can shed blocks a bit more easily - which is probably why my Lions have so many defensive line sacks (that and Suh). It seems as though one of my biggest pet peeves of this generation of football games has been that pancakes earned in game were not consistent with those earned when simulating - that appears to be evened out now, which may seem silly, but is a big deal to me.

A lot of people post that the game speed is a bit much, and that they slow it down - I'm fine with it 'as is'. I kept the default settings for my first year and I unlocked most of the trophies available in that time and won the majority of my games onto my way to the Superbowl with the Detroit Lions. That said, tackling looks and feels better than ever, catches don't seem to suction to hands quite as often (though it still happens) and the run game feels great to me (I run far better than I pass).

Menus could be a bit quicker and more easily navigated, but they aren't a complete disaster. The load times seem a bit much at times too, but at least the loading screens give you something to read, though a bit more variety in the screens would be nice.


Intangibles - 9:

There are quite a few different modes here, and with Franchise finally getting some updates (and that is where I spend the bulk of my time), it is a bit easier to sink plenty of time into the mode. There are some other modes available as well such as online franchises, team playing, communities, roster updates and Ultimate Team add some value to the online offerings. Ultimate Team mode is sort of a collectible card game meets Madden, though it's slanted toward people who buy legendary packs and have chances at better cards. You can also earn coins to buy other packs or participate in the new trading feature - but the starting team is rightfully very sad in terms of starting players, and using them to build up is a bit less fun than it sounded on paper.

The Superstar modes are slightly altered, with less of the media/intelligence test stuff that affects your player's draft position, but instead eschews the old methods of raising stats for a more point-oriented one that better resembles games like NBA 2K where your performance and practice time earns you points you can distribute as you see fit. The process is a bit too forgiving I think, compared to the NBA 2K series. My running back got drafted by the Steelers and I got made first string despite them having a good, young back. Before the end of the first season, my guy who started at a 60-something overall was well over 80 and an MVP candidate. I like the format, but it feels just a bit too forgiving at this point.

Largely, the changes you will see affect Franchise mode. If you are a fan of franchise mode, you get a lot more mileage out of the changes than others. I happen to fall into this particular bucket. They even managed to fix, or at least mostly fix, the blocking. For those who don't recall my rant last year, the EA football games used to have a glaring issue with blocking, because your improvement was measured by pancakes performed and sacks given up, and nothing else. The simulated teams would get players with 200+ pancakes. Player teams? your best player would be lucky to come out with around 10 or so. You could have a perfect linemen who was just not performing because of the skewed stats garnered from substituted games by comparison. That's fixed and everyone's totals are a bit more manageable now. It's a small detail, but it's the kind of detail that's gone untouched for years, so seeing it finally get addressed actually goes over quite well with me.

Between these modes and the online content, there is a lot of football to be had here for those who want it.


Overall - 7.5:

I really enjoy Madden and overall I think this version of the game is still the best NFL experience out there. For people who bought last year's though? There might not be enough reason to pick up this year's iteration - that depends on how much you play, and what your opinion of the smaller features is. For me? It's enough - I enjoy and can appreciate the smaller nuances added to the game, but I am a huge NFL fan and have long played the Madden series.

I like the videos you can upload (obviously - as you can see I linked in several here), though I wish you could take and upload stills too. NCAA allowed you to take screenshots, and I can't recall if I could upload them or not (I didn't play this year's version, so I'm basing this on last year's which I haven't touched in awhile), but I had a lot of fun framing out some cool images to show off last year, and it seems odd that Madden doesn't have that option. You also can't create videos from superstar mode, which is a small bummer, but not a big deal.

Of other friends, the opinions have been fairly split. One played quite a bit the first few days - franchise, online franchise with me and Superstar mode but quickly got frustrated with the game and traded it in. Another friend from work has been playing it pretty much non-stop since it came out, mostly in franchise mode, and loves it. I can't help but think that Madden would benefit from some actual competition in the NFL game, but there is no changing the fact that they have exclusivity locked up for quite some time to come. Still, improvements continue to be made to a successful formula and that is enough for me, but it might not be for everyone.

And instead of showing my usual IGN trailer videos and pics, y short video clips uploaded from the easports.com servers:

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Gaming Thoughts... 9/18/11 - Playstation Home

So, after the PSN was down earlier this year, they came back with their Welcome Back program. Part of that program included lots of virtual items for the Playstation Home. My youngest enjoys walking around and socializing on Home, but I had only used it a handful of times in the past. I figured this would serve as a great project for the blog, just to see what I thought now. Unfortunately, there were issues that have derailed this little project:

- Sony has announced they are completely redoing Playstation Home. As a result, most of this could well be null and voice sooner than later

- Network disconnects and errors drove me absolutely nuts. I was getting disconnected dozens of times a night over a 2 week period. Time of day, day of the week - none of it seemed to help, and based on what I was seeing in the forums, this was hardly a problem isolated to me. Looks like a huge failing of the PSN

- Download problems. I would download stacks of rooms while doing something else, then come back and use them briefly. Then I would try to access the rooms later, and the downloaded room would then need to be downloaded once again. Did this across 3 different PS3 systems, finally gave up about 1/3 of the way through the project after finding myself going through the process over and over again.

Basic thoughts before I get into the breakdown:

There is something cool to the idea, but it feels a bit sparse in places. Some of the rooms were clearly meant to be used for a short time only and visiting them now well after that peak intended period is creepy - almost empty. The connectivity issues and download problems were a definitely deal-breaker for me. I spent at least a dozen hours just trying to get things set up and used, and continually ran into issues with stability that made me give up on the process. Here's hoping that the revamp is handled better. Now, a more detailed breakdown of the rooms I was able to visit:

Xi Museum - At first it looks like there is a lot going on, but it looks like whatever events used to take place there are largely closed down now. There was an interesting sort of word/text adventure game that I spent a few minutes on, but it was a lot of load times for very little actual content

WipEout Museam - There's a dance floor with music and some nifty lighting effects. My youngest seemed to dig the techno beats. The environment actually looks cool, but it's very empty in terms of people in there. Kind of a nifty 2-d racing game you can play in it.

TEKKEN 6 Mishima Zaibatsu - Recreation Floor - there's a big screen video running something in the background and some 'arcade' machines you can play Tekken 6 on - if you happen to own it and have it loaded in. Seems like some sort of a really lightweight fighting game would be better served here. You can get a couple of avatar items if you hunt around the weight room in it, but I was literally the only person in there my entire stay

Uncharted: Sully's Bar - Visually, one of the more interesting rooms. There's a Smuggler's Den attached and at two points you can view a slide show of artifacts which is perfectly in-theme with the game, if a bit boring. There's a few interactive items to look at, including a simple, pixelated but kind of neat platforming/puzzling game called Mercenary Madness

S.I.N's Secreate Base from Street Fighter IV - there is a big screen with a trailer of the game running in the background and... really little else to interact with. Looks like there might be a game station set up like the Tekken one where you'd need a disc, but all it did was slap 'novice' over my head while I was in there. Not much else to do really, though it looked neat for fans of the game, such as myself.

SOCOM: Tactical Operations Center - Visually this was somewhat interesting - the environament looked like something out of a military video game, but other than a scoreboard for sOCOM players and a TOC terminal for lookinng at some 'reports' - there was nothing to do but sit in one of a couple of dozen seats. There were a few people wandering around - but not many. It connects to SOCOM: Opposing Force.

SOCOM: Opposing Force - It's a bit more active than the above. There's a gun stripping mini game with scoreboard that uses the two analog sticks nicely. There's also a golden AK 47 game where you have to find 7 peices to assemble it. That said, it seems buggy to me. I disconnected a LOT when trying to use Home, but so far the majority happened when either a) I was downloading this section or b) playing in it. I got kicked 7 times in about 25 minutes before I called it good. Pity since I never got to finish the AK 47 game because every time I got kicked it seemed to start me over.

Sodium 2 - Fairly active little place and while there's not a ton of detail in the distant environment, it has a nice overall sci-fi appearance. There's some multiplayer game console that kept telling me it was not available. I did find something else called Salt Shooter Game - but once I was there, well - there was no one else there and it did not appear to be doing anything. The area looked cool - sort of reminded me of a stage from Mass Effect, but whatever the game was supposed to be? It didn't seem to be working.

Sodium Hub - serves as sort of a connection place for Sodium 2 and the Salt Shooter Game. It looks like there's a few odds and ends that tie in here - for example Salt Shooter can be played... if you buy a virtual item. Looks like that is the case for a few things too, like Scorpio's. There's a few 'free' mini games and items available in here though - reading the info kiosk/screen helps. There's a fairly large twitter integrated board as well. You can step on robotic scorpions for credits, and there's Sodium Training which you can download that lets you get a taste of the action. It actually isn't too bad. I didn't feel like spending money on a flight jacket so I could play, but it was an okay little hover car/shooter game that killed a few minutes. So far, the most active 'area' I've seen in terms of players and content.

Slap Happy Sam's Stage Show - Can't do much with it - you have to buy a $2.50 music box to play. There's really nothing else to do in this big top tent

SIREN Lounge - Dark and creepy - much like the game is supposed to be. There's a video screen playing with a trailer of sorts that looks decent. Pretty atmospheric, but not much happening on the ouside. There's a building called Ward of Despair you can download. In the Ward the dark atmosphere is maintained as you are given a flashlight of sorts to hunt around in the darkness. Immediately you see some tv screens that were downloading media for what seemed like a very long time. It gives the directions on a simple but pretty cool horror survival mini game where you need to dart around a small building avoiding ghostly creatures. The controls sort of stink and the camear angle got me killed the first two times, but it was a neat little trip. This was a somewhat densly populated little area.

The SingStar Rooms - Basically a large dance club. Nifty look to it, a large screen that pumps out music when you're close to it and a dance floor. There's some backroom area that I always get a download error from. Not much to it beyond that. Maybe 2 dozen people or so in it at the time.

Resistance Station - Just would not load up for me the first 4 or 5 times I tried. X80710D23 error - this was the end of the project for me.