Monday, November 19, 2007

Assassin's Creed

I've been playing Assassin's Creed since it came out this week.

I'm busy with a move and a new job in the video game industry, so I don't have time to do a review right now.

So, let me just say it's all kinds of awesome.

If you love Crackdown, think of it as a super sexy stealth Crusades-era(ish)(esque) Crackdown. Think of it as a next-gen Crusades-era(ish)(esque) Buffy (the great first game from The Collective), with a better game save system and fewer cheap deaths (oh, non-poisonous, non-bottomless deadly water, how I hated thee).

It's a great game. Great story. Solid gameplay. Fun. Fun.

Is it perfection?

No, but game ratings are broken, so I'll steal from the movie ratings and say this is a five-star game.

Now go play it before Mass Effect comes out this week.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Conan (Xbox 360)

Conan's going through a resurgence.

Besides the Dark Horse comics and collectibles, he's got not one, but two games coming out -- Funcom's MMO Age of Conan next March(ish) for the PC and Xbox 360, and THQ's hack-n-slash fest, Conan for the Xbox 360 and PS3, due out at the end of this month.

This latter game has a demo out, and I played through the Xbox 360 version a few times.

If the demo is any indication of the rest of the game, I think Conan will get fair to middling reviews, and I think this will be selling the game short.

To be honest, the game is pretty, and may end being one of the prettier hack-n-slash titles to date. Add to that what looks to be a faithful recreation of the Robert E. Howard mythos, and I think this game may be a solid pre-holiday game offering. And definitely something that will fill my Rune gap until the new Golden Axe comes out from SEGA.

It's straight-forward hack-n-slash, but with decent throw and combo mechanics. The demo felt a bit too easy, but I'm assuming the full game will have adjustable difficulty levels. The game's definitely mature, which I'd argue is required for a faithful representation of the Hyborian world.

I'm bummed there doesn't seem to be multiplayer, but this is a single-player, iconic kind of IP.

I'm looking forward to the full release, and hope THQ prices it competitively to keep it from being lost in the holiday shuffle.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Clive Barker's Jericho (Xbox 360)

I played the Xbox Live single-player demo for Clive Barker's Jericho from Codemasters / Alchemic Productions / Imajica Productions, Inc. (not to be confused with the TV series).

Not bad.

It's a "supernatural shooter", and I think it will probably do a passable job.

I mean, I like Clive Barker. At least I liked the Nightbreed movie, The Thief of Always book, and the game, Clive Barker's Undying (perhaps the best sound landscape in a game).

And it's Clive Barker, so there's a deep mythos built under Clive Barker's Jericho.

The game doesn't look bad at all -- let's call it "gross pretty". Gameplay is a bit run-of-the-mill, with one "standard" weapon (with primary and alternate firing), and special / supernatural abilities.

It's a squad-based game, so each of the six squad members have different weapons and supernatural abilities, and you can switch between them on the fly (the demo lets you switch between just two).

The switch is supposed to matter, but after playing BioShock, having to switch between different people (where in BioShock all of my weapon and power options were in the same body) felt a little wonky.

Of course, it's going to depend on the gameply and level design. If the game is built in a such a way that switching between various squad mates matters, or if you can use different people to solve problems differently, this should work out. But if switching doesn't matter, the mechanic will likely feel contrived, and I will be irritated.

There are also button-matching "mini-games" (called "life moments" or something), where you need to match the on-screen buttons to survive gruesome attacks. Fail, and you suffer a gruesome death.

I'm mixed on these sequences (think an analog of the Frost Giant fight in Marvel Ultimate Alliance) -- I tend to not like them, because they remind me I'm playing a game, and take me out of the moment. But I do like the frantic urgency they invoke.

We'll see how it all comes together when Clive Barker's Jericho releases next week).

(You can also download the PC Demo.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Halo 3

I finished Halo 3 a week ago, and am just now getting around to posting my thoughts on it.

Brass tacks?

If you love Halo and Halo 2, you'll love Halo 3.


Actually, if you really enjoy twitch shooters, you'll likewise enjoy Halo 3. If you enjoy tactical shooters, I still think you'll get a bang out of Halo 3 (sorry).

I was little rough on the game in my first impressions, and softened a bit in my second.

The fact is I consider this third iteration of the game a fantastic title. There's the single player, the multiplayer, and the extras.

The single player campaign mode is a fun romp, and even more so with 4 player online co-op. I'm bummed that it's a max of two players on the same box, but that's a concession Bungie decided to make.

Graphically, Halo 3 is a good-looking game on the gameplay side of things. We're talking gorgeous at times. It may feel like it comes up a bit short if you do like I did and play it back-to-back with BioShock, but that's not a fair comparison (and not because of the game engines).

BioShock and Halo 3 are doing different things. The former is a tight environment, has a contained number of NPCs, etc. The latter makes use of long-draw distances, arguably larger trajectory calculations for weapons use, vehicles, etc.

Halo 3 looks really good, and I particularly like what they've done with some of the outdoor environments. Snow, trees, and other environmental additives look great, and indoor environments (especially the metallic ones), look slick and appropriately reflective.

Less so for the cutscenes, which are wildly inconsistent. If the scene has Master Chief or the Arbiter, they're pretty slick; but in some of the cutscenes the people look like the original Half-Life (which was great nine years ago; today, not so much) -- they're stilted, and they move unrealistically. I find that surprising in a now-gen game.

The gameplay itself is great. I like the new mechanics for multiple grenade types and the addition of special equipment is pretty slick, but using the bumpers to do everything is really screwing me up -- I constantly drop a piece of special equipment when I mean to reload (thanks to the remapping of Halo 2's X Button to the right bumper). Of, course, I'm probably making this worse by switching back and forth between Halo 2 and Halo 3 (Monday nights are H2, Wednesday's are H3), so I'm not going to belabor it. I also like the addition of Quake-like "Man Cannons".

For the most part, levels are well designed, with the exception of Level 8. That one wicked sucks.

And there are some usability shortcomings in Halo 3 that I find surprising.

For example, while playing four-player co-op through a level, one of our members had to quit -- which killed the game and made the remaining three of us have to restart from the beginning of the level. That's pretty poor.

Likewise, I had a buddy playing local co-op with me, but we were doing Xbox Live co-op mode in case friends wanted to join. When he quit and left, I couldn't continue the game, because it kept asking me to reconnect the second controller, even when I quit Halo 3 and restarted. Turns out the problem was H3 was still looking for the player for the Xbox Live Guest Account we'd logged into so my buddy could play. I had to quit out to the Xbox 360 Dashboard, logout of all profiles, log myself back in, then restart Halo 3. Yeah, that's inane.

Not sure how those two kinds of things got sign-off while Bungie was finishing the game.

And story-wise, the game is OK, but it's not spectacular. I know other reviews have lauded the story, and I'm trying to figure out if they're doing that relative to stereotypically sub-par writing in games, or if I'm missing something.

I mean, by Bungie's own admission (earlier; they changed their story later), Halo was never meant to be a trilogy. I think that's what makes Halo such a great story, and Halo 3 (for me) less so -- it really struggles to carry out the "finalization" of the story arc.

Add to that some kludgy moments that are meant to be profound, some WTF dialogue or scene transitions, and some interruptive devices that always elicit expletives or derogatory comments from my campaign co-op brethren, and the story (for me) is one of the weak points in the game.

And there are marketing impacts that undercut the game's story, too.

First, (for me) the "Believe" video advertising campaign is top-notch and moving. It set a high bar for emotional impact the game didn't match.

In addition, Something happened to the Marvel comic book tie-in that was supposed to bridge Halo 2 and Halo 3, and was supposed to complete before the game was released (so far, only issue #1 has seen retail). Unfortunately, Bungie or Microsoft violated an entertainment product rule: Don't make something outside the product required in order to understand the product. It's a rule because when violated it creates a sense in the consumer the product is incomplete or "broken" in some way.

Which creates something Microsoft doesn't want -- a product that is less accessible to people outside of the "Halo Nation".

Oddly, none of this lessens the overall fun of the campaign mode.

Multiplayer needs another, probably separate write-up, but it's wicked fun (so far, I've got no personal time logged, as I've been playing on other people's boxes and tags). I like things like the new swords mechanic (bouncing off a swords dual that creates the need for a quick B Button smash), and I like the limiting of the life of a sword, so a guy can't repeatedly pwn me from halfway across the universe.

And Forge freaking rocks.

And, true to Halo 2, Bungie is already tweaking playlists. And while this sounds ungrateful, their recent tweak reducing the "Shotty Snipers" variant (shotguns and snipers) feels a day late and a dollar short. Having played the beta and trolled the forums, this was a largely hated gamegtype then, and Bungie didn't respond to the feedback until it increases proportionally to the release install base. See, this is my getting spoiled and selfish as a Bungie consumer. Shame on me.

On the product packaging side, I bought the Legendary Edition, which I regret. If you need a recap of the versions, go here, but the net of it is the The Legendary Edition has an extra DVD disc and comes in a miniature Spartan replica helmet.

I like the insight from the Bungie folks on the remastered cinematics from the older Halo games, but I will be angry if those videos I paid for ever show up for download on Xbox Live or from Bungie or Microsoft. The Legendary Edition also does not contain the hardbound art and fiction book of the Special Edition, and while the helmet is much larger than I expected, I'm in essence paying an $80 premium for a plastic prop (proudly displaying made in China, so I'm not licking it). To me, that's not worth it. It's a cool (unlickable) prop, though.

Overall, the game rocks, and me flagging these shortcomings is just my way to balance what are in my mind overly high reviews of the game.

That said, I will probably replay the single player portion of this game more often and log more online multiplayer hours than any game this year and next.

Rent: Yeah, but why?
Buy: You better believe it. Standard Edition if you just want the game; Special Edition if you want the art book and extra DVD; Legendary Edition if you want an unlickable mini Spartan replica helmet.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

BioShock (Xbox 360)

BioShock, quite simply, is the best game I've played this year, and maybe the best the last two or three years.

The game looks gorgeous, has interesting play mechanics put together in a way that matters, a great story, top-notch voice acting, stellar sound design, and diversity that kept me engaged throughout.

What kind of game is BioShock? At it's core, it's a shooter (First-Person Shooter), but it's a "shooter-plus" -- a shooter plus adventure game (so much fun exploring and figuring things out); a shooter plus RPG (what plasmids am I going to upgrade? Change out? Remove?).

Built on the Unreal Engine 3 (but given the nature of game development and customization, who knows how much of the UE3 is really still there), this is a pretty game. The fifties-deco vibe is well done, and gives a sense of what futuristic technology would look like in that era; and the signs and adverts are hilarious.

Water (one of the things for which I look in a now-gen game) is fluid and conductive (which means I can electrify baddies sitting in water, and get zapped myself if I'm not careful). If you light an enemy on fire, they'll throw themselves into nearby water to but themselves out and come back to attack you.

Which speaks to another strength of the game -- the AI. Enemies alternate between attacking and fleeing when you (for example) light them on fire. Sometimes they sneak up on you (via the ceiling, which creeps me out); sometimes they charge you. The designs of the "Splicers" are horrific and diverse enough between classes to visually cue me in to my attack or defense mechanism.

And there are a lot of options on this front. There are eight slots for weapons, and most have three different ammunition types (standard, anti-personnel, and armor-piercing for the machine gun, for example; or trip mine, fragmentary grenade, or heat-seeking RPG for the rocket launcher).

Then there are the plasmids -- basically your super powers that range from fire to telekinesis -- and those are just the combat plasmids. There are also sets of mechanical (safe hacking, etc.) and attribute plasmids. And you don't have enough slots for all plasmids, and you usually don't have enough Adam to purchase or upgrade the plasmids you want. This limitation (plasmids, ammunition, wallet for money, etc.) creates an RPG-ish mechanic that makes the game more than a straightforward shooter.

There is also a lot of diversity in the title. Far from just combat, there's exploration, puzzle solving, and a recurring mini-game in the form of hacking that is surprisingly engaging and white-knuckling at times.

The other thing the game does well from a design mechanic is that "just 5 more minutes" mechanic. More than once I'd go an hour or two beyond what I'd intended because I wanted to explore something new, take someone down differently, re-listen to audio cues or Foley, and so on. And there are 4 plasmids I still haven't found or unlocked.

And I actually like they way they implemented syringes and snacks and health stations scattered about Rapture. I also liked the various audio diaries and radio intrusions that added to the story (some other reviews have complained about these as too intrusive).

Of course, for me, a stellar story has to be married to top-notch gameplay, or I get peeved (except in multiplayer, where I just get peeved at the idiotic anonymous, socially challenged masses).

Anyway, BioShock delivers on the story front in spades. I don't know how much of this is Ken Levine, and how much is Susan O'Connor and other contributors, but the story rocks. It's full-featured, accounts for the fluidity of the game medium, and moved me along as a player. Stuff of this caliber shouldn't be so rare in video games.

And sound? Symphony orchestra for the score? Mixed (and balanced) surround sound? Some of the best voice acting since Carpenter in Hunter: The Reckoning? Great stuff. I'll try to post more about it on the acting side of my Website, if I can get permission to post one particular clip from the Sander Cohen character, and verify the voice actor.

Is BioShock a perfect game? No, but it's super close.

I mean, it's not all that innovative. Telekinesis? The evolution of Half-Life 2's gravity gun (or Jedi Knight's Force Push). Speaking of Jedi Knight, the electricity plasmid is akin to a certain Dark Force power.

But the way these things are put together matters, and is great fun. Light a Big Daddy on fire, then hit him with heat-seaking RPGs? Freeze an NPC, then bash him with the wrench? Set up trip wires, capped off by a proximity mine near some propane tanks? Good times.

And there are some minor missteps in otherwise great level design. I like how the map is implemented, but on the Arcadia level, the map and the level design caused some problems in smooth navigation that made me pretty frustrated.

And while I like health stations scattered about, I think health packs could have been left out, which would have made for a more frenetic, urgent experience (but leave the snacks, and the related plasmids).

And near the end of the game there's a type of mission that I don't like if it's not implemented well, and while it's implemented pretty well in BioShock, it's not good enough, and frustrated me when it felt like it wasn't possible to complete it with my (and, I suspect, most people's) definition of success.

But honestly, these are nits.

BioShock is a great game, and definitely the best I've played this year, and probably the best I've played in the last few.

Rent: Yes.
Buy: Oh, yeah.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Halo 3

The more I play Halo 3, the more I like it.

And while in my earlier post I said in my first impressions "the graphical fidelity is a bit improved over the multiplayer beta", that's not fair at all -- it's much improved.

As a matter of fact, this is a very pretty game. Playing through lush coniferous forests is a blast, and the detailing on the trees (outer bark, inner bark, etc.) is well-done. No, not BioShock pretty, but much bigger, open, more - things - going - on - at - once pretty.

** Potential Spoilers Ahead **

There's also an attention to detail that I appreciate. Vines and cables that move when I brush past them. My shadow showing my in-hand and on-back (or on-leg) weapons (and the whole weapon - on - back - and - on -leg mechanic; my buddy is able to look at me and yell, "Use the grav hammer!"), the segmented bodies of buggy dudes, the Scarabs.

Speaking of shadows, the lighting is well-done. Kind of G.R.A.W.ish well done. Momentary blindness when coming through a tunnel and turning into the light.

Physics are much improved, too. Vehicles and guns feel and handle differently. Vehicles especially on ice.

Which led to one thing that's not perfect yet -- squad AI. It's certainly vastly improved over the previous games. I like the contextual barks and banter (some hilarious stuff this round), and it certainly feels organic. When I don't like the AI is when they're driving me on ice as I man a gauss gun. We seriously spun out and died almost the exact same way eight times. After the second time, I decided to see how often it would repeat, to see if it was scripted. Turns out it's not, because there was another place on the road we died six times as I let my AI driver do the DUI-ing. But hey, at least I've got an AI driver. That's pretty cool.

And the other new vehicles rock. The Mongoose is going to pwn on capture the flag, as are Hornets. Big Team Battle (or whatever it's equivalent is) is going to get a lot of service from the troop transport-ish jobby.

On the gun front, I'm missing not being able to dual wield needlers, but digging the old SMG being back (and dual-wield-able). I like that I can take turrets off their mounts. I adore the gravity hammer. I'm not so keen on the Spartan laser.

And the HUD is more informative and more minimalistic at the same time. Kudos to them on the usability front for that (but less so on the out-of-game menues; it should not be that complicated to set up co-op campaign).

Good times. I'm bummed I'm flying out for an interview with a games middleware company -- bummed that I'm missing Halo time; stoked that I'm interviewing with a middleware company.

Halo 3

Yeah, I was there for a lackluster (and poorly handled) midnight launch. I have my Legendary Edition, and have been playing for around four hours.

It's great fun -- especially cooping through campaign with a friend in the same room.

I need to think more about my first impressions, and maybe I'll revisit them.

First, yeah, it's fun, and the graphical fidelity is a bit improved over the multiplayer beta. It's tough to have this game following BioShock (which I've been playing a lot lately) -- it really doesn't compare favorably on the graphics, sound, or story side to that game.

Gameplay is fun, firefights are great, and cooping feels like it matters.

** Potential Spoilers below **

But, cutscenes are ridiculously uneven in quality. Some good stuff, some really stilted, original Half-Life kind of stuff; and more time on Master Chief and the Arbiter (or armored folks) than on believable human beings. And nothing approaching Final Fantasy quality footage.

Another pet peeve is is cutscenes not matching the action. If my in-room buddy (playing Arby the Arbiter) pushes the switch, don't switch to a cutscene of M.C. doing the switching.

And what is with me ending the co-op campaign, and the game barfing about me turning off the second controller?

But my big concern is on the technical side. So many hiccups and stutters I didn't expect. And the audio mixing on 5.1 surround does not sound good. I lose voices in the music or effects, sound stutters and drops out quite a bit, and Guilty Spark is neigh unintelligible.

That sounds like a lot of negatives, but the game is good. That being said, the hype machine has set expectations. So, on some basic fronts, I was expecting a lot more.

More later.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Spider-Man: Friend or Foe (Xbox 360)

I downloaded and played through the Spider-Man: Friend or Foe demo on the Xbox 360, and the title has promise. It's kind of a mish-mash of brawler and super lightweight Marvel: Ultimate Alliance.

The demo has co-op, and Venom and the Green Goblin are co-playable with Spidey, so you get to try out how they play differently, and tag out as you like.

The combat is super basic, but engaging enough.

On the usability side, the camera is fixed and problematic. I found my self jumping off of a building unintentionally because the camera didn't switch, the level design wasn't intuitive, and the game transition didn't happen to show me where I needed to go.

The game AI isn't bad during combat, but during exploration, my AI squad partner (Venom at the time) jumped off a building a couple of times. Flying partners probably don't have that same problem.

Also on the basic usability side, while I like using the left and right bumpers to cycle through Spidey's powers, it should not stop when I get to the "top" or "bottom" of the available powers -- it should cycle to the next power (interestingly this is regular gripe of mine for a lot of Activision super hero games, MUA and X-Men Legends included).

But I wonder if the biggest problem is the hodge-podge treatment of the license. The intro plays almost exactly like the intro of next year's animated series. The Green Goblin, New Goblin, and Spider-Man's own costume are from the films. Venom and some of the tie-togethers (Nick Fury, Iron Fist, etc.) seem pretty comic-friendly. So, what is it? Is it going to draw in fans of all of those mediums, or disenfranchise each?

And while Spider-Man's voice work is very good, Venom's felt a little off. But I'm biased.

Guess we'll see. I'll be renting this first when it comes out, to see how much more polished it is than the demo -- entertaining as it is.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Call of Duty 4

I've been playing the Call of Duty 4 multiplayer beta.

I should say trying to play it, as it's been pretty much an internal grudge match to do it.

Gameplay and mechanics are pretty solid, I really like the skills and rank progression, and the ability to customize my loadouts is nice.

But the beta doesn't at all seem to care about Xbox Live mechanics like zones, or preferred players, or players to avoid. To be honest, these games have been some of the worst I've ever experienced crowded with foul-mouthed, racist, immature putzes.

I'm a pretty tolerant guy, but this has been so bad that most of my games start with me getting waxed as I'm trying to mute the worst people, then I play pretty well, then I leave the lobby to do a complaint or two -- just about those folks that egregiously violate the XBLA UA (like those vociferous, vitriolic racists; that's not something I think people should play with).

On the upside, I've met a couple of nice folks, interestingly all from outside the U.S. (but currently stateside) -- guys from New Zealand and the U.K. Nice blokes, and less gutterish than my in-country brethren. Sad.

Monday, August 13, 2007


Been playing the BioShock demo that went up on Xbox Live tonight.

Freaking rocks. Gorgeous, stylistic game

I like adventure games. I like games with atmosphere and story. I like games that make me say, "You want me to what? By myself?"

So this moral dilemma shooter (a la Deus Ex; a shooter like that's a "shooter") has got my interest piqued. Gonna be a long couple of weeks waiting for the full game.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Eternal Sonata

Wow, if you haven't yet, you should check out the Namco Bandai Eternal Sonata demo from disc 73 of The Official Xbox Magazine, or download it from Xbox Live Marketplace.

I'm not really into Japanese-style RPGs, but this is one charming, beautiful little game. Besides, it's got a decent mix of turn-based and action RPG mechanics. You have all the time in the world to decide your attack move with your three-person party, but once you move at all (like, accidentally bumping a thumb stick), it's on, and the attack meter ticks down quickly until your turn is done. Stupid giant wild boar.

And, as far as high art goes, this game is set in Polish composer Chopin's dreams (subconscious?) as he's on his death bed. So, his music is throughout the game. So it's audibly gorgeous, too.

So what are you waiting for? Go play the free demo, slacker.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Carcassonne & Power Grid

Friday night, I hit a buddy's all-night "unplugged" party.

Aside from poker, fine beverages, and premium cigars (provided by yours truly), it was a heavy board game night.

Two of the attendees are hard core traditional gamers, and they brought a huge selection of traditional and not-so-traditional fare.

Puerto Rico. Railroad Tycoon. Carcassonne. Power Grid. And so on.

It was my first experience with Carcassonne, which is a fantastically fun little strategy game. Think fief building and asset management without having to worry about actually managing assets. The timing for my introduction was good, because this Wednesday sees the release of the Xbox Live version of Carcassonne on Xbox Live Arcade.

Power Grid is a cool, actual asset management game. You've got to build cities, makes choices with power options in the context of commodities (supply and demand) constraints, renew resources, and generally try to have the greatest number of powered cities by the time the first player has purchased at least 17 cities. For those familiar with Union Pacific and Railroad Tycoon, it kind of plays like a cross between those two.

The best part of Power Grid for me is the slick retro art, akin to the stuff shown so far in the teasers and posters for video games like BioShock and Fallout 3.

And I really enjoy the in-person camaraderie of table top games. And, as a rule, there are fewer idiots ...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Halo 3 (beta)

I seriously think things look graphically prettier on the beta tonight. I'm sure I would have noticed drifting snow on Snowbound, and the bases look more ... metallic ...

Sucky night for me, though, I was seriously off...

Friday, May 18, 2007

Halo 3 (beta)

I'm having fun with Halo 3.

I'll probably put through more serious paces this weekend, but so far, so good.

I mean, it's beta, so there's really no need to complain. And they're figuring out the server load, so the interminable slowness of Wednesday, according to Frankie, "should be drastically improved" (today was better).

And if you have a problem with no text in the UI (like I did), there's a fix:

  • Restart your Xbox 360
  • Boot up the Halo 3 Beta
  • While the Halo 3 Beta is loading, immediately press up on the D-Pad and hold the A button until you see the Bungie logo. If you perform this correctly a dialog box will appear confirming maintenance has been done to your system.
  • Resume the Halo 3 Beta!

Now, the Beta FAQ, in response to the question, "Is this the final quality of the graphics and audio?"

"A: No. It is Beta software."

Good, 'cause though I know we shouldn't complain about non-final graphics or audio, GameSpot is running the Halo 3 Graphic Tour, and GameTrailers is running a comparison video.

And Frankie keeps spouting off about the water (has he played Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes?). And the beta does include a snow level, and it does have to compete with Lost Planet on that front.

So there's a watermark (*guffaw*), but it's a beta. Keep all of that in mind.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Halo 3 (beta)

After a slight delay, I'm playing the Halo 3 multiplayer beta.

So far, it's fun. I've only seen two of the three maps, and have done almost exclusively individual slayer (and one game of oddball, which has me pretty excited for the new custom Rocketball variant I'm going to create).

It's beta, so not totally representational of the final game.

Again, I'm having fun, but Frankie totally oversold the X button and the water (has he played Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes?).

More impressions later.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Monster Madness: Battle for Suburbia (Xbox 360)

I've been playing the Xbox 360 demo for Monster Madness: Battle for Suburbia, and it's a fun little romp.

I've been looking forward to this title for some time, and it delivers on a bunch of fronts -- funky style, fun with stereotypes (the nerd, the goth chick, the slacker, and the Valley Girl), comic book sensibilities, decent physics, and creative gameplay.

The demo's a bit limited in the gameplay area, but I get a sense of it. Interestingly, the trailer shows a lot more fun stuff (vehicles, transformations, etc.) that seem like they would have been better picks for the demo. There are, however, tastes of some of the context sensitive "traps" you can kick off (and get caught in, if you're careless), and those are decent fun.

The demo does have online and offline co-op and adversarial arena, which is cool. I want to put the demo through its paces with 3 friends, and see how it plays out.

I'm not real stoked about the camera, which is fixed, and not very "smart" -- it wouldn't shift when I got boxed into a corner. There's a needed concession for on-screen multiplayer, but some cameras and levels in this genre are implemented better (like Hunter: The Reckoning or Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes on the old Xbox).

There were also a few too many cheap deaths -- getting boxed into a corner with no weapons or ammo, and not being able to slip out or jump over baddies is irritating (but, that got to be less of an issue the more I played).

Control is a little wonky, and I hope the full version lets me switch my assignments -- mainly the left and and right thumbsticks for move / turn (and I'd like to move jump back where it belongs on the "A" button). Also, the dodge mechanic didn't seem to work at all.

This title will fill a nice needed niche in the co-op multiplayer space, but (for it's sake) I wish it were priced more cheaply than the $59.99 MSP standard for new Xbox 360 titles, since it's possible it will get looked over amid other April / May offerings. A $40 or $50 price point would likely move significantly more units.

But, overall, I'm still looking forward to Monster Madness the first week of May. It'll also be out for the PC the same date, and PlayStation 3 (in theory) in October (which is probably the launch window for which they were aiming last year, but who wants to compete with Gears of War?). I'll probably end up renting it, first, since the GameStop bonus beanie hat isn't enough to get me to purchase it outright.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes (Xbox)

After playing Gauntlet Seven Sorrows the other night, when a buddy came in from out of town Monday, we decided to dig out our mutual favorite original Xbox co-op game Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes.

This is a freaking fantastic game, and you shouldn't miss it. Seriously.

The title probably didn't get its due because being an Xbox exclusive in the early days restricted its visibility, and it's licensed fare. And let's be honest, some reviewers hate licensed fare (to be fair, most licensed fare sucks).

Sure, there are some hack-and-slash tropes in the game (a la Baldur's Gate), but this is a pretty game, has great level design, differing feels for each level, fun side quests, and well-done cut scenes (though there are a couple that seem disjoint on the graphical side, but that's only when compared to the others of super high quality).

Actually, the cinematics (I think mostly done by Dragonlight Productions, Inc., who I don't know if is even still around) are high quality, with solid voice work, interesting, cinematic flare, and are head and shoulders above most video game cut scenes.

And the game has prettiest, most subtly effective water I've seen. Last-Gen or Now-Gen. Seriously.

And a game like this, designed to be played together, really shines with 1 to 3 friends questing along.

And there's a whole bunch of "little" stuff this game does well.

Things like the water. Usability things like your most recent saved game moves to the top of your save/load games menu. The game slows down action while you make button assignments, but doesn't stop the action. Your characters change looks (onscreen and in menu) as you swap out armor and weapons. It's easy to buy / sell / drop / give items.

Keep in mind, this was 2003.

You can pick up this game for dirt cheap new or used. I highly recommend it.
Would I rent? Yes.
Would I buy? Oh, yeah!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Gauntlet Seven Sorrows (Xbox)

I've wanted to play Gauntlet Seven Sorrows on the original Xbox for some time.

Due to external happenings and a request from my East Coast gaming buddy Dajoti, I rented the game Friday night.

This is an under-rated game.

I mean, it got middling reviews, but it's real strength lies in multiplayer. Questing through the entire game with a buddy on Xbox Live (or, better, together in the same room) is a lot of fun. Though I wonder if 4-player multiplayer would hold up over Xbox Live -- two player was a bit frustrating as we talked each other into what direction to go next.

This a hack and slash game, with light RPG elements that let you choose powers to purchase and skill points to assign.

There are older Xbox games I would argue look even better (Hunter: The Reckoning; the ridiculously underrated Dungeons and Dragons Heroes; etc.), but Seven Sorrows has some great character designs and detailed environments. There are also decent production values in the not-overbearing back story and cut scenes.

The game's a bit on the short side -- Dajoti and I bulleted through it in around 5 or 6 hours.

And, after playing games like X-Men Legends or Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, I expect fully destructible environments. Not so much in Seven Sorrows.

Oh, and the game ends unceremoniously. Dajoti were texting each other and saying, "Um, I guess that's the game. G'night."

As an aside, though Gauntlet Seven Sorrows is on the Xbox 360 backwards compatibility list, my playing on a 360 and Dajoti on an original Xbox caused constant disconnects over Xbox Live. My switching to original Xbox solved the issue.

Overall, a fun game to play with friends.
Would I rent? Yes.
Would I buy? No

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (XBLA)

Microsoft and Ubisoft just made Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the 1989 arcade, available over Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA).

If you want to read a review about what's OK in the game, go to

From my perspective, this inexpensive (400 points) title does just fine.

No, there's no "updated graphics" option (what, did Rootbeer Tapper start a bad trend?).

But this game -- this port of a 4-player, cooperative upright arcade game -- can be played 4-player co-op.

Oh, you can play 4-player online co-op over Xbox Live. But, frankly, I'm tired of online idiocy.

You can have 2, 3, or 4 people in the same room, on the same console, and play the game the way it was designed to be played.

Getting to offline co-op is a bit wonky --you have to through the "Single Player", join from a second controller, and sign into an account.

And, yeah, unlimited continues can make the game "easy" -- but the Achievements up the difficulty level.

Good, cheap, retro times ...

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Crackdown (Xbox 360)

Crackdown is an impressive, fun, and fully worthwhile sandbox game.

I was irritated about the marginalizing of Crackdown as a "Halo 3 beta pack-in", but I'm sure the cross-promotion hugely helps them both, so I'm fine with it now. Not that anyone asked.

For those who don't know the genre, an open-world or sandbox game lets you wander around the game world, doing what you want, how you want, when you want.

In this case, you can take out the first- or second-level baddies in any of the 3 gangs in any order you want to weaken the kingpins, or you can skip levels or even go right to the respective kingpins.

Or, you can spend all of your time exploring, leveling up your character (almost RPG-like), getting more powerful on the agility (fun faster jump higher), firearms (quicker and more accurate), explosives (big ol' damage fest), strengths (pick up a car with someone inside and throw it), or driving (faster and better handling).

Or, you can run around trying to collect all of the "Agility Orbs" (there are 500 of them, and I'm at ~370) or Mystery Orbs (there are 300 of them, and I'm at, uh, ~40)

You can also create all sorts of your own mini games within the larger game. Like "Volkball" (get a giant sculpture globe through a goal). Or Lightball (basketball), Rocket Tag, Urban Surfing, King of the Hill, Kick the Car, Car Golf, Huge Air, The Runs, and Jerk Sim 1.0. Or, you can just pile as many cars up as you can, and see how many blocks wide the explosion will be. Or you can pile up pedestrian bodies and see if you can walk up them to that second story (or, um, so I've heard).

Achievements are a big part of Xbox Live, and Crackdown has some of the more creative. I like to play through a game without knowing what the Achievements are (to avoid spoilers), and it's fun to get surprised by things like "Shot-putter" (10 points for "Throw any object (other than a grenade) 205 feet or more") and "Mad Bomber" (15 points for killing 500 gang members using explosives).

Online co-op play is a lot of fun in this game (and needed for a lot of the minigames above). It's fun to work through the mission mode with a buddy. And I'm bummed co-op isn't available offline -- a serious shortcoming that would give the game more legs for me (I'm a social gamer, and online doesn't count for me). I also wish there was more multiplayer, and though there's a version of it enabled by the game keeping score of player versus player kills, I'm hoping this speaks to something more formal down the road. And having 4-way co-op with fully leveled agents would be amazing.

Sandbox games often struggle with a cohesive story, and this is one area in particular where Crackdown struggles more than others. There's no story per se, just "kill all of the kingpins". This is unfortunate, because there's actually a decent story hook that gets laid on you as you finish the game -- which I'm hoping speaks to a sequel or downloadable content.

One of my pet peeves with RPGs, on the other hand, is when you can't replay the game as a leveled up character. Crackdown suffers from the same thing, and I'm not sure why Realtime Worlds made that design decision.

Something that hampers the fun of the game (and a lot of the mini games) is inconsistent in-game persistence. I can be stacking explosive barrels and cars for a mega explosion, but if I get too far away from the pile, things start disappearing. To be fair, this may be a consequence of Microsoft mandating to developers that they don't rely on the Xbox 360 hard drive being present. On the flip side, Oblivion seemed to get this right, and that's an older game.

The one thing that I don't enjoy about the game is it's nigh impossible to play the game without hurting innocents. If I want to play through the game as a "hero", it's wicked tough to do it without collateral damage. Lots of collateral damage.

Overall, a fantastic game, with a lot of longevity if you're creative and have an online friend, and hopefully there's incoming downloadable content and a sequel in the works.
Would I rent? Yes.
Would I buy? Oh, yeah!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Armored Core 4 (Xbox 360)

I downloaded the Japanese Xbox 360 demo for Armored Core 4 yesterday.

I need to spend some more time with it, but so far I'm happy.

I'm a fan of all but the latest Armored Core entries, and this also scratches a Zone of the Enders kind of itch the 360 hasn't been able to yet reach.

I'm looking forward to the full game.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Crackdown (Xbox 360)

Hitachi Wasabe gamer card showcasing Crackdown
The demo wasn't enough, so I'm playing the full version of Crackdown.

This game'll probably seriously be sucking my life away.

And it stands on its own and rocks, so ignore the cutesy headlines faux game journalists are schilling about the game being a pack-in for the Halo 3 beta.


More later...

Friday, February 02, 2007

Dungeon Master (PC)

I recently discovered the Windows PC recreation of Dungeon Master, Return to Chaos (RTC).

I first played Dungeon Master in the 80s on my Atari 520ST, and it's probably my all-time favorite game. DM was arguably the first realtime 3D RPG, had incredible ~50% sell through on the Atari install base (not sure what the later-released Amiga numbers were), and is an engaging, stylistic game that still holds up today. And Lord Chaos deserves to be in the Villains Hall of Fame (is there such thing? If not, I'm starting it right now).

Eschewing the turn-based RPG tropes of the day, DM bailed on the Dungeons & Dragons conventions and complicated rules to stats that updated based on actually doing stuff real-time in the game world. Monsters are varied, plentiful, and challenging (I think this is where my fear of all things scorpion-esque comes from), and there are a decent amount of puzzles, jokes, and brain teasers throughout. And leveling up is rewarding and makes a difference.

Wayne Holder, Doug Bell, and the other folks behind FTL Games and Dungeon Master are seriously impressive. So's this George Gilbert guy, who recreated the game "mostly as a work avoidance tactic in my final couple of months at university" (I can respect that). RTC includes not only the original Dungeon Master, but Chaos Strikes Back, Dungeon Master II (I'm admittedly not a fan of that last one), and a dungeon editor -- all in a 12MB download.

For non-Windows folks, there's (in theory) a Java version, but I've never gotten it to run (and I debug Java), and versions from other folks for Windows/Linux/Mac/Pocket PC.

If you have a chance, you owe it to yourself to try this game out. Seriously, finding this port has pulled me away from finishing Lost Planet on the Xbox 360.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Lost Planet: Extreme Condition (Xbox 360)

I'm currently playing Lost Planet: Extreme Condition for the Xbox 360.

For those who don't care about the details, here's the short version: Best new Xbox 360 game of 2007 (yes, it's the only one so far), totally worth the purchase, truly now-gen, and easily an 8/10 or 9/10 (it's one of those games that makes me re-think my "actors don't do decimals" rule).

For those who care about details, here we go.

First and foremost, I'm glad Capcom keeps shelling out the quality Xbox 360 love. Both this and Dead Rising are Xbox 360 exclusives, both are fantastic games, both really make you feel like you're playing a now-gen game, and both are critical and popular (if not AIAS) darlings. The detail is amazing (both in-game and in cut scenes). The animations for getting into a "VS" (mech') are intricate and solid. Explosions are the bomb (seriously, sorry). The buggy Akrid are lifelike and freaky (I hate anything scorpion-based; which probably stems from young Atari ST Dungeon Master exposure). Snow Pirate battles are intense, and the AI's not half bad.

Sound is amazing (the Soundelux folks are unarguably incredible). Though 5.1 is not quite as impressive as Dead Rising, it's more than solid. It's not that it's in any way sub-par -- Dead Rising just does such an exceptional job of crossing channels (for example, during cut scenes when an NPC runs from in front of you to behind, then up and over a flight of stairs from your right to left).

And the music in Lost Planet is something else. I'm so glad I picked up the Special Edition SKU to get the audio CD musical score. It does what a good movie score for a good movie does -- remind me of powerful/memorable moments from the film/game. (As an aside, there's a good interview with Jamie Christopherson about scoring the game over at

While the graphics and details are fantastic, the cut scenes don't quite measure up to those in Dead Rising, largely for cinematic reasons. Dead Rising's scenes feel like deliberate mini movies -- directed; composed, and very tight. Lost Planet stumbles a bit here, with the cut scenes tending to "ramble" (cue hero handing coffee mug to girl meaningfully).

In addition, while the overall sound is good, that's largely with the music and sound effects, or in-game audio. The voice acting in the cut scenes isn't fabulous, but I think that's largely due to the directing/composition challenges mentioned above (though there are some painful anime tropes realized in the cut scenes.

Game play is pretty good, if a bit "trudgey" at times. The main mechanic that needs some work is also one of its coolest -- being able to swap out or remove and use VS big guns. The problem is since it's the same "B" button used in all scenarios, you can accidentally get in/out of a suit, or attach/unattach a weapon -- usually as you're running from a massive Akrid, and getting out of (or not getting into) a VS costs you the level.

On the upside, checkpoints are better than I thought they were going to be, so you don't usually have to start too terribly far back. And the grapple mechanic (though I've seen it beat up other places), to me works really well and consistently. It admittedly took some time to get used to, but not much at all.

Overall, a fantastic game. Capcom released a demo of this game nine months ago, and it arguably won at the time as the most solid console demo ever released -- and they just upped the quality from there. More impressive, when they released the multiplayer demo later in the year, they actually listened to gamer feedback, and incorporated changes into the final game. They also did things like include a survey in the Official Xbox Magazine to get additional feedback. Very cool.

Again, Lost Planet: Extreme Condition for the Xbox 360 is a fantastic game, and a good play throughout.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Gears of War (Xbox 360)

I finished Gears of War some time ago, and I've been meaning to post some thoughts on it.

First and last, it's a great game -- fully deserving of all of those Game of the Year Awards its been getting.

Is it perfect? No (what game is?), but it's the best package of what it does (by a long shot), and far better for my money and preferences than a now-gen game like Fight Night Round 3 (10 out of 10? Whatever).

Again, it's not perfect. It's pretty close, and does some things spot on.

Take the look, for example. Epic hit the nail on the head with their whole "destroyed beauty" motiff. The buildings are gorgeous, and I'm genuinely saddened at their brokenness.

And the vibe? A sense of a war that is ongoing, without hope, costly, and brutal? Gears, despite it's Sci-Fi clothes, does this better than most (if not all) WWII shooters.

And, honestly, I'm great with the length of the game. There have been complaints about it's shortness, but I think it's good.

And firefights are intense, can be taken from a few angles, and aren't boring or overly repeatable (except for one sniper level, where the snipers always showed up in the same place; WTF? Why not have 5 possible sniper positions, and randomize the 3 snipers; like a "real" war?).

What I thought needs some work is the story. It was decent (and the writer, Susan O'Connor, is honestly pretty impressive), but I think this was a slightly more graceful truncation of the story than what we all got in Halo 2. I think we'll get to see the whole vision on game 2 or 3, but I think that vision could have been pushed more in the first game.

Also, Gears is not prefectly balanced. It's pretty good, but there are some insane levels that do not match the levels before. And the final boss level is tough, but I'd heard horror stories about finishing it out on the hardcore setting than it actually played out (And when I complained about it taking me 8 times to play through before completing it, Cliff Bleszinski told me, "Well, he IS the last boss after all. He's gotta be a smidge tough, eh?").

But the dark wretches that explode when they die inside a closed-in level like the train? Whatever. I dislike cheap deaths.

And I really like the whole "stop-and-pop" gameplay (as opposed to "run-and-gun"), but the cover mechanic in Gears needs some work. I do not like getting stuck against something while running, or not being able to move out from cover cleanly. Rogue Trooper has dedicated context buttons for finding/breaking from cover and blind firing, and I actually like that implementation better than Gears (I know, I know, but check it out then get back with me, then let's have a mature discussion).

UPDATED: An auto-update was released for the game April 9, 2007, and the getting stuck while do the "roadie run" has been seriously massaged. I need to play it more, but seems to make a positive difference so far.

And I'm honestly surprised how buggy Gears of War is. Knocking a Locust to his knees, then have him slide and flip while crouched unmoving, like some 2D cutout, or bullet tracing feeling like it's calculated on where it was fired, rather than where it hits, etc. (Unreal Engine 3 issue?). Minor, but there are some gripe lists out there in the Internet ether. And the previous patch (at least on paper), seems multiplayer focused; but the upcoming patch is a black box.

The other minor quibble I have is the language. Understand, I don't mind language. But the language in Gears feels forced, non-organic, and yanks me out of the moment. It's like part of the premise was "Let's make an R-rated movie, but make it a game", and that premise led the horse. Feels disjoint.

But it's easier to talk about the stuff that doesn't work than the stuff that does, if for no other reason that -- from a usability perspective -- the better the stuff works, the more unoticeable it is.

Again, this is a great game. Easily a 9 out of 10 (I'm a leader of men so don't do decimals). Buy it, play it, understand that it's for mature audiences, and enjoy it.


And check out my previous blurb.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (Xbox 360)

I recently finished Marvel: Ultimate Alliance for the Xbox 360, arguably one of the best comic book games to date (though it's in some ways a shiny skinned update to the X-Men Legends franchise, to which I'd given the title previously). And it may have to share that title with Rogue Trooper.

I finished the game for a number of reasons.

First, I was clearing by Xbox 360 plate for Friday's release of Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, and the upcoming Crackdown demo (then full game) at the end of this month and the end of February (respectively). Second, I want to give Raven Software some feedback on the game, and what I hope to see in the sequel. Third, I'm a comic book geek, and this game really scratched an itch.

And by "finished" I mean I finished the main story. I've also done a bunch of the training sims, but I'm missing about 4. And I'm missing two figures to unlock Black Panter. Mother.

First, a quick reminder of my past impressions:

Those two previous posts focus on some of the needed areas of improvements, so here's more of the positive. And some more areas for improvement.

Overall, this is a great game, and I think Raven really hit the mark. Being able to play with such a huge stable of diverse characters, multiplied by the number of variations that actually change their stats and leveling up, is wicked cool. And the types of costumers are real fan service, too. For example, as a fan of Captain America, it's a big deal for me to unlock the same WWII skin that's on my desk as a Marvel Selects figure. And getting to unlock the Beta Ray Bill variation on Thor is tops. Other skins aren't as great (I think the Iron Spider variation of Spider-Man, due largely to timing, isn't all that big of a deal).

I've seen the story badmouthed in a few places, which I'm not sure I understand. Pultizer-winning it ain't, but it's actually not a bad device for tying together the game, and I could totally see it as a comic book arc. There are a few artificial inclusions (like Atlantis), but better than a lot of games.

And there's a lot of good voice acting in the game, which is nice. There is also, unforgiveably, what sounds like Raven employees doing horribly bad voice over, like during simulation missions (voice over's not that easy, is it, guys?).

I also like how Raven's chosen to mix up camera angles over the traditional 3D isometric view. Occasionally, it's a bit wonky, but works most of the time.

Where the camera didn't work (and needs some serious help) is on same-screen cooperative play. I'm bummed that I introduced to friends to MUA as I finished the game on the final boss battle, which made for a wildy swinging camera, disorienting respawn repositioning of each other, and a generally frustrating, ungraceful experience for my cronies. And this was just 3-way play, and I suffered the same kinds of problems in 2-way play.

The training simulations in a lot of ways seem unbalanced. I was focused on leveling up Captain America throughout the game, but even with that, it was a long time after I found his training sim disc before it was playable. That play balance needs to be tuned quite a bit. Other levels (like Lizard), were serious walks in the park.

The whole My Team mechanic -- where I get create a dedicated super team and increase skills and reputation -- is pretty slick, but needs some tweaking as well. For example, the feature isn't unloocked until you're later in the game, and you're penalized (lose points) if you change out any of your team members. I think the mechanic should be available earlier (or outright), and you shouldn't be penalized if you switch out to characters or skins that weren't available when you first formed your team.

The replayability for the game is decent. But Raven needs to seriously fix the experience. This goes back to the "appropriate cutscene/mission briefing" gripe I've mentioned before (everyone learn from Dead Rising). To get pieces of the the same dialogue for things I've already completed is -- to me, in a now-gen game -- unecessary. Plus, I'd like to unlock some areas, or have things tweaked a bit. Going back into Mephisto's realm should be a bigger deal, because he should be pissed at my last foray into his kingdom.

Again, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is a great game -- especially for comic geeks. But even if you're just a fan of great RPGs, this title should be at the top of your list.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Rogue Trooper (Xbox)

I finished Rogue Trooper last night, the Xbox shooter from Rebellion.

This is a great little game, and I'm so bummed that it's likely to never see a sequel -- this thing would be awesome on the 360. Updated graphics, the continuation of Rogue's mission, better enemy AI and a robust multiplayer -- this thing would be pretty sweet (but would probably suffer in the Gears of War shadow).

The thing pretty much played out like my last post about it. There were was some nice diversity of maps (the Petrified Forest in particular), nods to the inspiring comic book elements (Nu-Earth fauna, to-be-later-girlfriend Venus, etc.).

My only gripe is the the end of the game was ridiculous. One of my gaming pet peeves is an insane push to get to the final boss, and then not (as the player) having the opportunity to take out the final boss myself. There are several ways this can be done badly in a game, but I'll let you play to see how it was badly implemented in this game. But even that doesn't detract from how much I enjoyed the whole game.

Oh, and stay to watch the credits. This one of those there's-a-scene-after-the-credits-you-shouldn't-miss things. Not Nu-Earth shattering, but worth waiting for. (Besides, you should always view the credits on a game. Those people put hard work into what you just finished.)

On the whole, I'm really glad this game was made. I'm frankly surprised it was, since the character was ostensibly rested after 1996, and had an arguably lackluster reboot in 2002 (though a couple of novels did come out in 2005 and 2006).

And this isn't the first game for the franchise. There was a 1986 shooter (isometric) from Piranha Software for the Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, and ZX Spectrum. There was also a A platformer for the Amiga and Atari ST in 1990 (Krisalis Software), which I'm not sure how I missed, since I was into both 2000AD and the Atari ST at that time.

Rambling, but all that is to say I hope a fourth game is made from the Rogue Trooper franchise, this time for now-gen systems. I'd do a lot to make that happen.

UPDATED: I just saw Pro-G rated Rogue Trooper 12th in 2006 -- ahead of games like Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Double Agent, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, and this quote from the reviewer is spot on:
"I don't think I've ever been as surprised as I was with Rogue Trooper. The team at Rebellion have crafted a tactical combat game that hits the target so often that slight wavering now and again can easily be overlooked. It would be easy to dismiss Rogue Trooper as the game where you play as a blue man with a talking gun, helmet and rucksack, but that blue man is one of the greatest video game action heroes."

Monday, January 01, 2007

Rogue Trooper (Xbox)

I try to play all games comic book related. With the exception of the excellent Marvel: Ultimate Alliance and X-Men Legends franchise (all from Raven Software), and the Spider-Man movie games, most comic book video games are lackluster. Or blow chunks (ahem, virtually anything Batman).

Not only am I a fan of comics, I've got an affinity for Brit comics, and a lot of the good ones come from 2000AD, like Rogue Trooper. I've been meaning to play the Rebellion-developed, Eidos-published game (based on the comic) for some time. Since the game is playable on the Xbox 360, I recently rented a copy to put it through its paces.

Rogue Trooper shipped in May of 2006 for the original Xbox (and PC and PS2), and this is a gem of a game that's not getting enough recognition.

This is probably largely due to being a last-gen release 6 months after the launch of the Xbox 360, and in the pre-furor of the PS3 and Nintendo Wii. But I'm bummed this game and development team probably won't get its/their due.

I lost track of time and was up until 5 a.m. playing this game. This hasn't happened in I don't know how long.

The game is a third-person shooter with some surprising depth and mechanics, great last-gen graphics (and better than some of the now-gen), a compelling story that moves the action forward, good voice acting, and stays true to the source material.

Rather than just running and gunning, you'll quickly leverage skills from your fallen comrades (a la their personality and affinities built into rescued and -- uh, liberated -- bio-chips) to spice up the game. You can also collect salvage to build weapons, buy upgrades, and replenish supplies, giving it an almost RPG(ish) (lite) mechanic.

But the big thing -- and here's something that will probably get me some nastigrams -- it's like Gears of War, the Xbox 360 powerhouse that's the biggest franchise (and exclusive) on that console.

Seriously, Rogue Trooper is like Gears of War. Not that I'd necessarily pick the former over the latter, but the similarities are suprising.

Check it out:

Vault over stuff? Check. Use cover? Check. Blind fire? Check. Grenade-arc mechanic? Check. Even crouching and running in Rogue Trooper is like the roadie run in Gears of War (but with out the cool shaky cam dealy). Weird.

The multiplayer (offline, system link, and Xbox Live) is pretty limited, but really fun. There are only two cooperative game types -- basically variations on Assault (get from one end of the valley to the other to control the landing platform, in the allotted time with the allotted lives) and Defend (protect the wounded G.I. in the allotted blah blah blah). But these two variations are pretty intense, have some decent configuration options, and you can easily invite a friend to play online (ahem, Gears?).

There is no adversarial online, which is a bummer, because this game is ripe for it. There's also no online or offline co-op for the story, which is too bad, because (again), the game is ripe for it (but hey, Bungie badly stubbed out the online co-op for Halo 2, so at least Rebellion's exclusion is more graceful). Actually, there's a lot in this game other titles should learn from.

Like the HUD system. If you're not going to be minimalist (like Gears, which I like), Rogue Trooper's HUD/interface/selection widgets are pretty slick, intuitive, and I found myself not thinking about them as I switched and blasted frantically online or off. That's a good sign.

I recommend Rogue Trooper. If you find it in the bargain bin or on the rental shelf, do yourself a favor and put a few hours into it -- this is one of those pleasant gaming surprises.