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Thursday, 22 January 2015 00:00

Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Review [Xbox One]

geometry wars 3 dimensions title

The naked body is one of the most beautiful objects in the world. There’s a reason why the Greeks used it as an analog for the gods in their sculpture and why art students around the world study each muscle and intonation of nude models. It’s because the simple lines and curves that shape the human body conspire together to create the perfect melding of form and function.

Here’s an exercise. Imagine the most attractive person you can. It doesnt matter if it’s a man or woman, take your pick. Imagine that person standing there, void of clothes, makeup, or tattoos. Visualize only their body, proud and confident. Beautiful isn’t it? Hell, it’s downright stunning. Now, keep imagining that person, but add the usual adornments people require. Shoes, a simple shirt or dress, etc. Maybe that person looks slightly better to you now, or maybe a little less. Now, continue adding the accessories that we’re used to seeing draped on the human form. Imagine them with a complicated, in vogue hairstyle, pile on the makeup and gold jewelry. Keep going. Picture them wearing a hat, gloves, designer sunglasses. And just like that, the beautiful work of art that was once there no longer has the simple perfection that they were born into the world with. Instead, this new creation is a gaudy substitute. Hidden somewhere under all of those unneeded additions is the true beauty. Somewhere.
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That’s the path that a lot of modern games have taken. At the core of Call of Duty’s dozens of weapons and myriad of controls may be a solid first person shooter. Deep down beneath The Crew’s needless storyline and layers of special effects could be a decent racer. But like many games today, you’ll be hard pressed to find the beauty of the game underneath all of the extraneous makeup and jewelry that are masquerading as ‘innovations’.

Geometry Wars 3 takes a different route. The simple, straightforward gameplay that dates back to one of the first twin stick shooters, Robotron 2084, is stripped of any pretense. You aren’t inundated with a story that was shoehorned in. The graphics are made up of basic geometric shapes that somehow seem at home even on a powerhouse like the Xbox One. It’s the opposite of the runway model who can barely stand under the weight of the latest in fashion.

The idea of the naked form has become transformed by society. It’s been co-opted by everything from advertising to porn. Sure, there’s a juvenile part of us that wants to laugh and point, mock and ridicule, or reduce it to a base sexual stimulant. But once you look past that, what you’ll see is beauty. Pure, simple beauty without the need to cover it up and over adorn it with needless trinkets and toys.

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The developers at Lucid recognize this. The gameplay modes of Geometry Wars 3 are basic, yet still satisfying. They range from the straightforward ‘Deadline’ where you shoot everything that moves in a set time limit, all the way to Pacifism, where the object is just to survive as long as possible without firing a shot.The adventure mode is a simple progression of level and game types, getting progressively more difficult as your ship equally gains in power via A.I.drones. These power ups are the only really unnecessary piece of bling on the title. Most of them equate to either increasing your firepower, or helping to protect your ship. But with the hectic gameplay, they could have easily been left out without much impact on the experience. Lucid has managed to hone the controls to near perfection, with movement becoming almost instinctive. Your eyes and hands work together in harmony with no middleman to slow them down. 


Some people say that it’s our insecurities that cause us to hide behind layers of makeup or strut around with expensive watches and designer clothes. The theory is that there’s some inherent flaw underneath, real or perceived, that can be covered up. Like an over compensating student at prom wearing too much cologne. Game developers have a tendency to fall into the same trap. It’s as if they know that if you were to strip away the fancy graphics and dense controls from most AAA titles, you’d be left with uninspired, tiresome gameplay thats been repeated for years. Geometry Wars 3 stands defiant and proud, unashamed of the absence of baubles and trinkets. It has grown since it was born as minigame in an Xbox racer. It’s a bit bolder, a bit wilder. The primitives based visuals have matured into a melding of shapes, color and sound that complement the gameplay instead of overpowering it. It doesn’t need nor want to be hidden under a thick blanket of excess. Geometry Wars 3 revels in it’s nakedness. And that’s a beautiful sight to behold.

Score. 9 out of 10

Published in Xbox One
Wednesday, 05 June 2013 00:00

Injustice: Gods Among Us (PS3)

Injustice: Gods Among Us PS3When I was a kid, I wanted to be a superhero. I wanted a cape and a secret hideout. I wanted to beat up all the bad people in the world and I wanted to fly. I didn’t want to be Batman, because even as a kid, I knew that he wasn’t a real superhero. He didn’t have any powers. He was just a rich guy who was friends with the police commissioner. Living in the projects, I knew that those traits were more out of reach for me than getting the ability to fly. Plus, I had already tried jumping off of the top of a dumpster while holding an umbrella over my head, and the results were nowhere close to the smooth gliding descent that I had seen on Batman's TV show.

In their latest fighting game, Injustice, Gods Among Us, NetherRealm Studios is giving gamers the chance to become their favorite superheros (and villians). Using the well sculptured fighting engine from 2011’s Mortal Kombat, players can battle each other as some of DC’s most iconic characters. And for the first time, it doesn’t feel watered down. Superman punches people into space, Batman runs opponents down with the Batmobile, Aquaman feeds bad guys to sharks. It’s the epitome of comic book wish fulfillment. The list of characters is a good mix of well known standards and fan favorites. Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and Flash are joined by lesser known heroes like Green Arrow, Hawkgirl and Cyborg. Infamous bad guys, Joker, Bane, and Lex Luthor stand beside second stringers Solomon Grundy, Killer Frost, and Black Adam. In all, there are 24 characters in the game with more being added via DLC. Each character has the trademark powers we all know them for. It’s a true feat how the developers managed to balance the gameplay between the esoteric powers of someone like Green Lantern with the more grounded attacks of Deathstroke.

I've always wanted to be Superman. He was a real superhero. He could fly wherever he wanted. Bullets couldn’t hurt him. And he was strong enough to stop anyone from even trying. Superman was my guy. And when my mom dropped me off at the YMCA Boys Club for the first time, I was proudly wearing a freshly washed Superman shirt. In the summer, when there’s no school, some kids would get shipped off to summer camp to give their parents some rest. I've always wanted to be Superman. He was a real superhero.Others spent those off months playing outside in the neighborhood. But when camp is too expensive and your neighborhood is not a good place for a kid to be walking around, you get dropped off at the YMCA Boys Club. Think of it as a daycare center littered with makeshift weapons, filled with boys from 9 to 17 years old and with barely enough adult supervision to satisfy any government regulations. Each morning parents would drop off kids on the way to work, and each evening they’d come pick them up. Hopefully more or less intact. As soon as my mom drove away I was faced with a scene that was a mix between the Lord of the Flies and the Hunger Games. But I wasn’t worried. I was wearing my Superman shirt.

I had managed to map out a schedule to surviving each day. In the morning, before the big kids showed up, I passed the time in the game room, playing pool and foursquare. Once the older kids arrived, it was time to abandon the inside of the building and head for the playground. And once it got too hot to stay outside, I would head for the makeshift library, to spend the rest of the day playing board games and reading in the corner. In the end, the library became my fortress of solitude. But for a while, the playground was my favorite part of the day. Because that’s where I got to practice being a superhero.

Superman Batman BatcaveInjustice: Gods Among Us has all of the prerequisites for a fighting game, alternate costumes, distinct locations, flashy super moves, etc. Then it takes them a step further. Levels are multi-tiered, with the ability to knock your foe into an entirely new environment. Supermoves go a step further and deliver a cinematic punch worthy of their comic book origins. The single player offerings include the usual versus modes, but there’s also an inventive Star Labs section where the heroes are given different tasks to complete, not always involving fighting. Dodging debris, saving civilians, and breaking barriers are some of the skills you’ll master in Star Labs. Of course, there are still a good deal of ‘Beat up this guy to win’ type of missions, but the occasional change of pace is welcome after years of single player fighting game modes that are simply dumbed down versions of the multiplayer experience.

Swingsets are boring. Sure they’re fun for a few minutes, but day after day, week after week, even a goofy kid like me figured out that I was just going back and forth. That is, until I discovered how to ‘fly’. Here’s how it worked, first, you stand up on the seat. Then by bending your knees, and pushing forward, you get much higher, much faster that you can by sitting down and pumping your legs back and forth. Now, most of the other kids would sit down at some point and then ‘jump’ by sliding off of the front of the swing. That was fun. But it wasn’t flying. Flying was jumping off while you were still standing. Soaring through the air and landing further than anyone thought possible. Thats what I was doing. A lot. I was 12 years old and still invincible. And when some of the other kids began to copy my swingset superheroics, I had to find a way to take it up a notch. It’s not a superpower if everyone is doing it. So I decided to add a level of difficulty.

I stood on the cracked black rubber that passed as the seat of the swing and bent my legs. I pushed my feet forward while pulling back on the chains as hard as I could. For this to work I would need to go higher than I ever had before. Best case scenario, I would land twirling in the grass, armed crossed, looking like a bad ass.</>Soon I was speeding back and forth, the wind whooshing in my ears and the world blurring. The moment of truth was almost here. I couldn’t go any higher and some faint twinge of self preservation told me not to try. But it was just a twinge, and so it failed to stop me from completing the next part of my kryptonian destiny. I jumped. Just like I had dozens of times before. I figured I must have been twenty feet off the ground, no, more like fifty. And this is where I would set myself apart from all the pretenders. In mid-air, I twisted my body to spin around 360 degrees. Best case scenario, I would land twirling in the grass, armed crossed, looking like a bad ass. Worst case scenario...well, kids don’t really consider worst case scenarios. Plus, I saw Superman do it in a movies, so I knew it was possible.

Harley Nightwing MetropolisInjustice:Gods Among Us manages to mix casual and hardcore gaming together, so that even if you’re not veteran of fighting games, you still feel like anything is possible. You can hit a guy through a brick wall without memorizing a complete sequence of button presses and thumbstick movements. On screen indicators let you know when you can pick up that helicopter and slam it down on Bane’s head. But at the same time, it never feels crippled by it’s simplicity. It’s just as happy to have you dole out punishment via 20+ hit combos worthy of the best players at EVO or single button supermoves that send your opponent through a subway train.

My own supermove was a near complete success. When I made the leap from the top of the swing’s arc, I heard everyone gasp. When I spun, I heard the appropriate amounts of ‘WHOA!’ . And when I landed I heard the kid who was up next yell ‘Oh my God!’. I also heard someone snap their fingers for some reason. The landing wasn’t perfect. I must have over-rotated because instead of the cool superman pose I had planned on, I was sprawled on the grass with dandelions in my teeth and ears. Not a big problem. I’d do better next time. I didn’t realize that there’d be no next time.

I got up to soak in the adulation of the other kids, but they had already moved on. I decided to sit on the edge of the nearby see-saw in case anyone wanted to come and ask how I managed to fly like that. For some reason, getting from the ground to my would be throne was a lot harder than it should have been. My right foot wasn’t cooperating. In fact, it was screaming for me to stop moving. I hobbled over and sat down as tears welled up in my eyes from the pain. I hobbled over and sat down as tears welled up in my eyes from the pain.I sat there for an hour. Partly trying to figure out why I couldn’t walk but mostly working out how to spin better the next time I jumped off the swing. Some kids yelled that a game of ‘Bombardment’ was about to start in the gym. Bombardment is basically dodgeball on steroids. We all loved it. And if enough of us got there fast enough, we’d be able to avoid the influx of older kids that always signaled the end of ‘fun’. I got up to run to the gym, and was immediately reminded that my foot was still off duty. It should have fixed itself by now. I wasn’t worried though. Superman never stayed hurt for too long, so I was positive that my malfunctioning foot would be better soon. I hopped on one leg to the gym. and each time my right foot even glazed the ground, a bolt of pain shot up my leg. By the time I made it to the gym, any thoughts of dodging rubber projectiles had fled my mind. Instead, I crawled to the top of the bleachers, and pretended to watch while fighting back the urge to cry for help.

Injustice: Gods Among Us succeeds where other superhero games have failed. No one wants to play a game as a superhero only to find out that your character’s powers are diminished for the sake of ‘balance’. It’s not fun to don a costume only to find out that you can be taken down by an average street thug. And it also avoids the traps that other fighting games fall into. It’s easy enough to learn, but not so convoluted that you need a guide book and months of practice to enjoy yourself. NetherRealm has done a fantastic job of allowing anyone the chance to feel how fun it would be to have superpowers, even if it’s only in a game.

By the time my mom was due to pick me up at 5:30pm, I had been in the bleachers for nearly 6 hours. It wouldn’t be until the next day that I would learn the snap I heard on landing was actually my ankle fracturing. I had no idea that I was destined to spend the next 6 weeks in a cast and crutches. I hopped to the car, dragging my useless foot behind me, each step an explosion of spikes slamming into my leg. I got in the car, shaking from the pain, and the first thing I said was ‘Ma, Today I was Superman!’

Score 9/10

Published in Playstation 3
Saturday, 16 October 2010 00:00

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Review (PS3)

 

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The best part about video game conventions aren’t the games on the show floor, it’s the parties afterward where a bunch of geeks can hang out and be themselves. Its not like going to the neighborhood bar where the smell of cigarettes and alcohol is outmatched by the cheap cologne of men talking to women with cheaper perfume.

An industry party is different. Mostly you’re just standing around with a drink in your hand talking to someone about how the big name actors like Patrick Stewart are showing up more and more in games. There’s not a lot of cheesy lines or male bravado because to be honest, there’s not a lot of reason for it. The women at a gamer party don’t have a lot to fear from guys who spend a good chunk of time retracing levels to find that one last health gem.

This party was no different. I had come with my friend who just happened to  fit the role of a stunningly attractive woman. She may not have officially been my date, but that didn’t stop me from feeling just a little bit good about the approving nod I got from the bouncer at the door. As the night progressed we slowly drifted to opposite sides of the room. Every so often I’d see her out of the cornier of my eye hanging out by a Mrs Pacman machine. Even though I’m deep into a discussion about whether the migration from 2D to 3D in classic remakes is a natural evolution or a just money grab, I can still pick out her laugh across the room amongst the background noise. I looked past the blogger blocking my view and see  that she’s talking to a guy we had interviewed  earlier that day on the show floor .I also notice that he had ditched the lanyard and controller based accessories he was sporting at the show and swapped them  for a shiny dress shirt and jacket topped by a gold chain that would be more at home on an MTV reality show than a bar filled with podcasters. I knew the look on his face from experience. He was on the prowl.

Published in Playstation 3
Thursday, 17 April 2014 00:00

Forza Motorsport 5 Review (Xbox One)

Forza-Motorsport-5 review

 

A long time ago in Art Class, I had a specialty. Whenever we were given a project, I’d draw, paint or sketch pretty much the same thing every time. It was an image of a house with a tree in front with a mountain in the background with the sun peeking through. I got pretty good at creating this vista. Each iteration was slightly different from the one before. Sometimes there would be smoke pouring out of the chimney. Or the sun would illuminate the tree and cast a shadow in a different direction. When we studied Monet I even did a pointillist version of the image using nothing but dots. That house/tree/mountain was my touchstone.

Turn 10 Studios have become masters at delivering a solid racing experience. For years they've sculpted Forza Motorsport into showcase of beautiful cars and race courses. Forza 5 looks great and drives even better. Turn 10 Studios have become masters a delivering a solid racing experienceTwo hundred gorgeously rendered vehicles and a driving model that has been top notch for years is all that's needed to make it one of the best games on the Xbox One. Each car has a stunning interior view and even the guys from the famous TV show Top Gear lend their voices and test track to the game.

Near the end of the school year, the Art Class final exam included the assignment of creating whatever image you wanted using the techniques we had learned. So of course I dug into the well worn well of the house/tree/mountain. While I was going through the motions of creating the house, I glanced around the room to see what my fellow students were up to. The guy to the left of me was trying to sketch a barely decipherable animal, either a cat or a horse. The girl in front of me was working with seemingly random blotches of paint that might as well have been finger painting. I was clearly at the head of the class, secure in the knowledge that I was leaving with an easy ‘A’.

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For the first time, multiplayer in Forza allows 16 players to race against each other at once. When racing against the AI, you are actually going up against ‘drivatars’ that have been built using traits from other online drivers and people from your friends list. Turn 10 has even added a multitude of gaming modes for drivers to compete against one another. Standard events like drag racing, and circuit racing are joined with less common affairs like cat and mouse and tag virus. The Rivals section has returned from Forza 4 that matches you up against a single person’s drivatar to compete against.

The next week, I returned to the classroom to receive my test score. I was stunned when I opened my portfolio. ‘C’. A big post-it note with a ‘C’ was stuck on my painting. It had to be a mistake. I quickly surveyed everyone around me. ‘Do you see anything wrong with mine? Be honest, is this painting just average?’ Each person agreed with me that I had been grossly wronged and that my house/tree/mountain was definitely worthy of an ‘A’. As soon as the class was over, I went to the teacher’s desk to rectify the situation.

The balding old man with black rimmed glasses was buried deep in his gradebook. I stood there for a while waiting to be acknowledged. He glanced up slightly and I saw that as my cue.
‘Yeah, Professor, I got a ‘C’ on this, and come on, it’s not a ‘C’ painting.’
Before he could respond I started pleading my case.
‘I mean, compared to that cat thing that Ronald did, it’s way better. And the splotches of paint that Marie turned in, she even said she had no idea what she was doing and she got a B. You can’t tell me that this is a C. I have shadows, l added smoke. Check it out.’ I laid the painting in front of him, cementing my point.

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He stared at me for a beat before fixing his gaze on the painting I had placed on his desk and speaking.
‘I’m not grading you compared to the work of others. I’m grading you compared to you. You’ve been doing that scene all year long. And yes, you use light well, and yes the composition is fairly balanced. And so was the one before that, and the one before that. It’s a good scene. I was hoping that you would challenge yourself this time. Take a hard look at the work you've done and ask yourself, is it the best you can do?’

That question hit like a brick. He had called me out on something that I didn’t even realize I was doing. I was coasting. I knew what was needed to be considered a success and thats what I did. Nothing more, nothing less. I figured the work was good enough to get by and so why do more? Thats why I got the grade I did. Not because the work wasn’t good. Not even because it wasn’t good enough. But was it the best I could do? No, it wasnt.


forza5 race

Forza 5 knows what it needs to do to get a passing grade, and thats exactly what it does. And that's all it does. The 200 cars included look and sound fantastic. Even though for a series that has spanned 3 consoles, the low car count raises some eyebrows. As dozens of DLC cars were quickly released over the past few months, you realize that the low car count was a thinly disguised money grab, nearly doubling the price of the game if you want to get close to the levels of previous iterations. It’s even more telling when you hear the detailed descriptions that once accompanied each car have more often than not, devolved into a lukewarm overview of the car manufacturer instead of a history of each individual vehicle.

The race courses included with Forza 5 look incredible, although it seems odd that it’s always the same time of day and weather is non-existent. Especially considering some of the tracks included are well known for their night races. Lemans, Sebring, and Yas Marina all go hand in hand with night racing. With this being the fifth version of Forza running on one of the most powerful consoles available, the omission of night racing or any type of weather is very noticeable.


With so much emphasis placed on the multiplayer side of Forza 5, it falls short on closer inspection. You aren’t allowed to create a public room or even search for a specific race type. If you want to find a race with a certain number of laps on a specific track to join, it simply isnt possible. Instead you’re restricted to pre-created hoppers or private matches which you have to fill yourself. And since the ‘Car Club’ feature from previous Forzas isn’t included, finding and staying in touch with a group of like minded racers is difficult at best. 

Somewhere along the way the franchise has started coastingForza has been doing what it does extremely well for years. But somewhere along the way the franchise has started coasting and has done just enough to get by. It’s good. It’s even good enough to be the best racing game on the XBox One. But it's lost many of the features that made it exceptional. The game has relied on higher resolutions and framerates instead of expanding on the features and capabilities that would make it great. It's almost like the game got to a certain point and just stopped evolving.  Forza Motorsport 5 needs to take a step back, look at what it’s done and ask the question, “Is this the best you can do?”

forza5 boxScore 7/10

 

Published in Xbox One
Wednesday, 17 September 2014 00:00

DerrickH Unboxes the ASUS GL551J Laptop

ASUS sent AllGames a Republic of Gamers G Series GL551J Gaming Laptop to review. And the first step in all reviews is of course, opening the box. Take a look. 

Published in PC
Thursday, 27 March 2014 00:00

Retro Shouldn't Mean Pixelated

A few weeks ago, while playing through yet another batch of indie games, I realized that I had finally been elevated into ‘grumpy old man’ territory. Because I was looking at all of these great, imaginative, fun to play games and I found myself annoyed. Instead of enjoying the bounty of independent game development in front of me, I could only think, 'What are these idiot kids thinking?'

There are a lot of games today that have embraced ‘pixel art’ as the style of choice. Low color, blocky, detail-less objects on the screen that are often described as ‘retro’. The thing is, it’s not retro, not at all. Back in the good old days of 8bit gaming, game developers worked with what they had, and admittedly, it wasn’t a lot. 4 color sprites built in a 32x32 grid was as good as it got. They did some great work. But gamers and developers both wanted more. Thats why we went from 8bit to 16bit to 32bit and on. Thats why each year consoles got more powerful. Retro shouldn’t mean ‘blocky graphics with good gameplay’ Retro shouldn’t mean ‘blocky graphics with good gameplay’ Retro should mean good gameplay with the best graphics you can squeeze from the machine.

Two Tigers - 1984 - Bally MidwayLuftrausers-300x200

 

 

 


Every game doesn’t need to reach Infamous 2 or Titanfall levels of 3D open world grandeuer. But if you’re going to make a title, it should look as good as you can make it, whatever the genre. If you have a 2D platformer that has less frames of animation than Mickey’s Castle of Illusion on the Sega Genesis, then why? If you have a WW2 dogfighting game that is less graphically impressive than Two Tigers from 1984, then why? I no longer believe that it’s a style choice. And even if it is, it’s a style I’m not willing to pay for.  I lived through that time, and I waited patiently for games to claw their way out of the era of eye scorching, gaudy, 8 bit graphics. I have no desire to go back. And it also upsets me to have gameplay used as a scapegoat for poor visuals in a game. It’s not an either/or situation. There isnt a gameplay->graphics slider in a console. Hearing the words ‘we focused on gameplay’ makes me cringe because too often it means ‘It looks pretty bad, but if you can get past that it’s kinda fun’.

FEZ-GAMEcastle-of-illusion

 

And don’t think I haven’t noticed the odd double standard the industry has when it comes to graphics. If you walk into one room and proclaim, ‘Graphics don’t matter! It’s all about Gameplay!’ You’ll get a round of applause. Walk into that same room an hour later and say ‘720p is good enough, we dont need 1080p graphics’ you’ll get booed into submission. There are sites that have spent pages on zooming in on screenshots to see if the anti-aliasing for Ground Zeroes is better on the Xbox One or the PS4. And then those same sites will explain how endearing and detailed the squares are in SuperMeatBoy.It’s enough to make your head spin.

say ‘720p is good enough, we dont need 1080p graphics’ you’ll get booed into submission

I’ve had this conversation a lot with people and I’m usually told at this point that games like Titanfall and Luftrausers are completely different and have different goals and budgets when it comes to graphics. I know this. My point is that there’s no reason for any game released on hardware as powerful as 99% of the consoles and PC’s available today, not to at least be on the same graphical level as games released 30 years ago on hardware 1000 times less powerful. Thats not an exaggeration. A modern console is exponentially more powerful and easier to develop on than systems of the past. So why am I looking at something that would have been rejected from a Tecmo board meeting? The indie community is filled with talented artists The indie community is filled with talented artists that could use your screen as a virtual canvas if given the chance. Instead their work is reduced to the lowest common denominator and then reduced even more.

Not all indie games fall into this bracket. There are legitimately beautiful titles available that fulfill the goal of ‘retro style’ gameplay while not insulting the player with poor graphics just to make sure you know you’re playing a ‘retro indie’ game. You can find them everywhere from the PC, Ouya, Phones, and even on next gen consoles.

 

 

Published in All Games Blog
Saturday, 18 April 2009 00:00

Review: Midnight Club Los Angeles Xbox 360

One of the worst feelings in the world is when you realize you're number two. The 'Backup Plan', the 'Just in Case', the 'If All Else Fails', 'Second'. Because even when you do get to step up to the plate, its only a matter of time before you're back on the bench. It doesn't matter how good you are or how well you perform. You're only there because the first choice wasn't available. It was you or boredom.


That's Midnight Club L.A. It likes to pretend it's a glitzy blinged out arcade racer. It tries hard to impress with a lot of licensed cars and a pseudo representation of L.A.'s streets and highways. But as soon as you load it up and the poorly scripted 'story' starts, it's true nature shines through. Its really just a slightly ramped up version of the driving sections in GTA IV. And you're only playing it because you've already played through Nico's storyline twice.


Sitting across from the table from someone while they wait for their cell phone to ring is not the best way to enjoy a meal. It doesn't matter if you're funny or smart or know how to order the wine in French. Because you're the second choice. They'd happily trade you in for a cold sandwich with someone else. The pasta is bland and dry as you swallow because you know that all it takes is one phone call, and you're eating alone again. Look at those eyes. They're looking through you.
Being second sucks. You're always waiting for the hammer to fall when number one decides that they're ready to take over again. You can never get too comfortable because there's nothing stopping the door from slamming on you. What will happen when the first choice stops showing up at all? It doesn't really matter, because no matter what, you're number two. Someone else will go to the top of the list while you brush up on witty reparte.


Burnout Paradise is what Midnight Club wants to be. It wishes it could have Burnout's style and graphics and falls short imitating its gameplay options. MCLA's modes consist of 'Race from A to B', and 'Race from A to B to C'. Sure, you can plow through traffic like a madman, but it lacks Burnout's wild stunts or crashes. Adding in motorcycles and a race editor don't make up for the yawn inducing treks through the city. It wants to be more, but it falls short.


Being second sucks. Your phone only rings because someone else didn't pick up. You only get invited because someone else dropped out. You're only on the speed dial until they need the room. Midnight Club L.A. is only in the Xbox because Need For Speed Undercover wasn't on the shelves. You'd rather be playing EA's version of cops and robbers than Rockstar's. The cops that roam the streets in MC:LA act like after thoughts. The car customization tool looks like it was pulled directly from old versions of NFS. Nothing is terrible, its just 'okay'. But 'okay' is only good enough until the real deal is available.


Being second sucks. You wonder how it would feel to not get dismissed. No more sick feeling in the pit of your stomach when you hear the click of call waiting. What would you do if every call didn't end with 'my other line is ringing, I gotta go'. It must be staggering to have someone's full attention. Being first would be great. Intoxicating.


Midnight Club:LA doesn't do a lot wrong. The rubber band AI, uninspired gameplay, and lax graphics aren't it's biggest flaws. Its biggest flaw is that it's a second choice. And being second sucks.
Score 5/10

Published in Xbox 360
Saturday, 19 November 2011 00:00

NASCAR 2011: The Game - Review

 

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I’ve driven on two NASCAR tracks in my life. And by driven, I mean  I’ve sat in a car, pressed my foot to the ground, and went around those ovals as fast as my nerves would let me. The first time was at Richmond Raceway, a high banked oval designed for the fastest race cars in the world,  and I was driving a high powered AMG Mercedes coupe capable of 155 mph, courtesy of the local dealership. The second NASCAR track I drove on was Langley Speedway. A small quarter-mile oval that looks like it was paved in someones backyard. And I was driving my own car, a bone stock Crown Victoria LX Sport. Guess which time was more fun.


To call Langley Speedway a ‘Speedway’ is kind of like calling Snookie an ‘actress’. That’s being a little unfair to Langley, but not by much. Unlike it’s heyday in the 70’s and 80’s, where the track was a haven for short track racers on their way to the ‘big leagues’, now it’s mostly used for Late Model and ‘Legends’ races. The term ‘stepping stone’ would be a fitting caption for most of the divisions that run at Langley now. A few times during the summer though, they open the track to anyone with a license and a helmet for what’s called ‘Wacky Wednsday’. That’s where me and the Crown Vic come in. 

Published in Playstation 3
Tuesday, 02 September 2014 00:00

The Golf Club Review [Xbox One]

I’ve only been on a golf course once in my life. I’m not talking about the Putt Putt courses with a spinning windmill and an orange ball. I practically used to live at those things. But a real, honest to goodness 18 hole PGA level golf course. That count stands at one.

At the time I was a web programmer. I spent my days sitting in an office, writing the same apps over and over while our salesman convinced local businesses that they really needed a contact page added to the new website he just sold them. Suddenly, I found myself in the passenger seat of Pete the salesman’s convertible BMW, on our way to a golf course in the middle of nowhere. According to Pete, I was there to ‘check out the golf pro’s system’.

HB Studio’s ‘The Golf Club’ on the Xbox One doesn’t boast PGA courses or professional golfers. Instead it offers you the chance to create your own course via the built in, Greg Norman branded, editor. You can share your courses online and have them rated and ranked by other players. I can’t help but think that whatever HB Studios paid for the Greg Norman licence was could have been used elsewhere because the legendary golfer makes no appearances in the game. No helpful tips on what makes a good course, or a critique of your creations, or even a simple audio clip saying ‘Hi I’m Greg Norman’ show up. Instead the only impact I see from the trademark is his Shark logo on the main menu. Your choice of golfer consists of either guy or girl. I admit that I’ve been spoiled by the extensive character creators of other sports titles, but at this point it’s almost a prerequisite.

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A major part of The Golf Club is the voice of your golf buddy, John, who gives you tips on certain shots and comments on your play. He has a friendly, ‘one of the guys’ tone but unfortunately, he quickly gets repetitive. Before I had finished 18 holes I was already hearing some of the same remarks over and over again.

When we arrive it’s eerie how close the scene was to the stereotypical golf clubs you’d see on TV and the movies. You’re immediately greeted by beautiful mahogany decor with deep leather furniture carefully placed throughout the sprawling lobby. There was even a chandelier. I quickly asked where the server room was, hoping to be in and out of the building in a few minutes. Pete gave me a quizzical look and informed me that the computer could wait, we were on our way to the dining room to get lunch. As someone who was living on a diet of Subway and Rally’s I was a little out of my depth when the waiter came to our table and asked to show the wine list. I just ordered a chicken salad sandwich.

In The Golf Club, the decor is a bit more sparse. I know that actually hanging out at in the proverbial clubhouse in the game may have been too much to ask for, but John, the disembodied voice keeps bringing it up, making the absence of an (admittedly gratuitous) visual lobby even more noticeable. The game boasts local and online multiplayer, and it also allows you to play against your own best rounds or those of your friends. You may be a little disappointed when you don’t see your opponents on the screen though. I would have enjoyed the feeling of a group of golf buddies on the course together. Instead only their golf balls make an appearance.

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We had been there over an hour and I had yet to see anything resembling a computer. Finally, the golf pro appeared and we led us back to his office, overlooking the driving range. After deciphering his non-technical explanation of ‘This computer aint working’ I realized why I was there. Tech support. It turned out that he had ordered a video capture card because he wanted to tape his lessons and sell them online. The problem was, he had no idea what a capture card was and definitely didn’t know how to install one. The next thing I know, Im installing drivers, screwing in video cards and configuring the network adapter.‘Sure I got Internet, but It don’t work’ was translated into ‘I never plugged in the network cable and don’t know if I even have one’.

Controlling your golfer on the XBox One is a very straightforward and intuitive affair. Instead of the standard 3 button-press control scheme for your swing, The Golf Club relies solely on the analog stick. Pulling the stick back winds up your swing and moving it forward completes the motion. It’s the same for driving or putting. It’s a natural feel and easy to get used to. The downside is that you aren’t given much in the way of gauging how much power you’re using. You have to guess how far back a swing you’ll need for a 28 ft putt or a 53 yard chip shot. It’s frustrating and transforms each hole into a difficult series of guessing games. There’s no kinect based control options.

In the middle of downloading drivers for an ancient Creative Labs card, I realize that I’m alone in the office. I look out the window and see Pete practicing his swing and getting a steady supply of tips from the golf pro. I could hear them both in between swings, sometimes talking about how important to bend your knees when on the backswing. And sometimes discussing just how they’d split the commission if the golf pro convinced the Club to ’add this internet stuff’ to the building. And thats when it hit me. I was living a textbook example of how the world works. These two guys, puffing on cigars, playing golf, were deciding how much money they were going to make from the work I was doing. And the numbers being tossed around were way above the hourly rate I was getting. As a matter of fact, my workday was done hours ago, so I wasn’t even being paid for this.

I put down the screwdriver and announce that I’m done. I gave some technobabble excuse as to why the videocard wouldn’t work and that he needed to buy a new one. Maybe it was true, maybe it wasn’t. I honestly don’t remember. But I do remember deciding I wasn’t going to spend another second sweating over some old rich guy’s computer while he squabbled with another old rich guy about how much money they were going to make from me.

TGC Screenshot-3

The Golf Club is a solid golf game. There’s is no denying that. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go much further. On the XBox One the game looks beautiful in still shots, but in motion, cracks appear under the surface. You can’t help but to notice the trees popping into existence during long drives or the emptiness of the course thats void of any other golfers or even a caddy. The Golf Club is perfect for a simple relaxing game of golf on the XBox One. One of the things HB Studios’ title has over the golf club I was a guest at, is with it’s budget price tag, you won’t feel like some old rich guys are trying to cheat you out of a dollar.

Score 6/10

Published in Xbox One
Thursday, 24 April 2014 00:00

Titanfall Review (Xbox One)

 Leave it to Beaver was one of my favorite shows when I was a kid. Everyday I’d sit and stare at black and white reruns of a show that had been off the air for decades yet still managed to spark a laugh and speak the truth. My favorite character wasn’t it’s namesake, Beaver Cleaver, and it wasn't his stoic older brother, Wally. My favorite was Eddie Haskell, Wally’s near delinquent friend. Eddie Haskell was the catalyst for a lot of the problems that the Cleaver boys would get into. Cheat on a test? It was Eddie’s idea. Cut school and go fishing? Eddie was behind it.My favorite was Eddie Haskell, Wally’s near delinquent friend Go to a party instead of the library to study? All Eddie. It wasn’t his bad deeds that drew me to the miscreant Eddie Haskell. I was fascinated by the fact that he never got into trouble. Whenever the boys would do something wrong, they would, of course, inevitably get caught. Back then, parents were always right and were never outsmarted by kids. But still, Eddie would slide away unscathed and slither back into the house the next week, none the worse for wear.

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The mom on the show, June Cleaver, must have known this kid was doing his best to put her sons on a short path to jail or a long life filled with bad choices. The patriarch, Ward Cleaver, had to have known that every word from Eddie Haskell’s mouth was at best a bold face lie. But still they welcomed him into their home. Why? The answer was simple. Because Eddie Haskell was charming.

He never missed a chance to remind Mrs Cleaver how lovely she looked in her pearls. He would be polite to a fault, something that must have been sorely lacking in her day to day interactions with the male-centric world of the 50’s. He made her feel beautiful, respected, and appreciated. He would make a point to congratulate Mr. Cleaver on raising 2 fine boys. And at a time where there was no higher goal than to provide for and build a strong family, Ward Cleaver had to have enjoyed the recognition given to him. Both Ward and June Cleaver were more than willing to overlook the shortcomings of Eddie Haskell, as long as he stroked their egos and made them feel good about themselves.

Titanfall is the Eddie Haskell of next gen games.

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Titanfall is pretty straightforward, taking the well worn genre of futuristic first person shooters and adding giant robots to the mix. You can fight on the ground with assault rifles and grenades, using parkour skills and jetpacks to run up walls and perch on buildings or you can call in a Titan mech to stomp grunts, let missiles fly, and even self destruct in an atomic mushroom cloud. Titanfall is mostly a multiplayer affair with the campaign seemingly only there to tick off a box on the back of the case. The core of the title is made up of 6 vs 6 online game modes. While 12 players may seem like it would make for a sparse battle in a world where 64 player skirmishes aren’t out of the norm, don’t worry because space on the field is taken up by AI grunts who do their best to get shot instead of you.

Titanfall looks great on the Xbox One. The levels are filled with detail and the Titans inspire the appropriate amount of awe when they drop into the fray. While the levels look fantastic, they quickly reveal how lifeless and static they are.Titanfall looks great on the Xbox One. You would expect that a huge battle taking place within a few city blocks would leave some type of impression on the environment, especially with giant robots lobbing missiles at one another. But after a battle, you would be hard pressed to point out any evidence that a war was going on, much less one involving 30 foot tall robots. Trees survive megaton explosions without losing a leaf. Structures that look like they’re barely holding themselves upright manage to survive multiple rocket impacts without the paint getting chipped. For all the power you wield on the field, you have surprising little effect on it. The titans are epic and the transition from scurrying along the ground to being placed inside of one is seamless. It would be nice to have more variety in the types of mech you can pilot. Aside from the 3 main body types, your customization options consist mostly of switching out the types of guns they carry. If you had dreams of dropping into battle with a customized battlebot, then you will need to scale back your expectations.

The 6 vs 6 player limit is frustratingly low, especially when you realize that MechAssault on the original Xbox was 4 v 4, and that was one of the first Xbox Live games ever. All of the advancements over the past decade have led to just 2 more players per team.Titanfall is the best last gen game you can play on a next gen system The upside to the low number of players is that you’re almost always in the middle of the action, mainly because the levels themselves are so small. Each map is roughly the size of just a few city blocks. These are limitations that you would have expected to be a thing of the past on a next gen system as powerful as the Xbox One. Instead of plowing through an entire metropolitan area, you will be battling over a small patch of land that quickly becomes repetitive. These limitations are ones that I expected to be a thing of the past. And being so early in the life of the Xbox One, maybe it’s understandable that Titanfall feels like it would be just as much at home on the Xbox 360. The more time you spend with it, the more obvious it is that Titanfall is the best last gen game you can play on a next gen system.

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Titanfall may have it’s shortcomings, but still, it’s fun. Charming. When you’re running past the near brain dead AI, you don’t care because they yell encouraging phrases to inflate your ego as you dash by.Titanfall may have it’s shortcomings, but still, it’s fun. You won’t get frustrated after being blown up repeatedly by another player because you can always go mow down a few squads of enemy AI, replenishing any feeling of power you may have lost. Eject from your doomed Titan and look in awe at the magnificent landscape below you. The leveling system is so forgiving and generous that your rank will soar up faster than you can say ‘Prestige’. Despite everything else, the bottom line is that playing Titanfall makes you feel good. Good enough to make you overlook it’s faults. Eddie Haskell would have been proud.

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Score 8/10

Published in Xbox One
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