Archive for the 'Reviews' Category


Hath Hell frozen over?

I never thought I’d say this… but a Gamestop employee really impressed me this weekend.

I know, I know. I constantly rag on the retail game shop for their unethical practices regarding trade-ins and the resale of used games. And they’ve still got millions of gallons of virtual blood on their hands for those things, as far as I’m concerned. But I actually witnessed a valorous act on the part of a Gamestop employee, and I was so moved by it, I feel compelled to share it with all of you.

I stopped into the Gamestop location on the 3rd floor of the Mall of America on Saturday to pick up Grand Theft Auto IV. My buddy Nick recently purchased the game for PS3, and I’ve been getting burned out on CoD4 lately. Besides, even if the review scores are inflated, I haven’t played a game in the franchise since GTA III, so I was curious to see what if it lived up to the hype at all. More on that later…

Anywho, I was browsing around in the store, still debating in my head whether I really wanted to buy the game, when I overheard a conversation taking place at the register. A father had come into the store with his four kids, ranged maybe 6 to 16, and he was going to purchase GTAIV, presumably for his older boys. Not so uncommon. In fact, it supports the statistics that most parents are with their kids when they buy video games.

What was incredible to me, though, was that the guy manning the register actually told the customer about all of the violent, sexual and drug-related gameplay elements. He even talked about soliciting “ladies of the night” as tactfully as he could, considering all of the small children walking around. He explained that some of the adult content was optional, but that all-in-all, the game was made for adults, hence the rating. The guy essentially spent a good 7-8 minutes explaining all the reasons the dad shouldn’t buy this game for his kids. He was willing to sacrifice the sale so that the parent could make an informed decision.

I was really proud to be a gamer at that moment.

The father ended up buying the game anyway. I really wanted to shake him and tell him that the opening scenes of the game involve a dominatrix whipping the shit out of a Russian guy standing around in his underwear. THE. GAME. IS. FOR. ADULTS. DUMMY. That’s why it’s rated “M – For Mature.” And even if your 16 year-old is mature enough to handle it, chances are it’s not appropriate for his younger siblings, who will inevitably see it.

I didn’t. Maybe I should have, but I didn’t feel it was my place. In the end, they’re his children. As their parent it is his right and responsibility to decide what media they are or are not allowed to consume. That’s how it’s supposed to work. And the parent already made the decision to buy the game in spite of the detailed description the Gamestop guy gave him. Even as he was handing the game over the counter though, the clerk was encouraging the parent to go online, read some reviews and watch some gameplay videos. Then he could decide whether to give it to the kids, or bring it back unopened for a full refund.

After the dad walked out of the store I approached the counter with my copy of GTAIV. He jokingly started to launch into the same speech about the adult content. I made a point to tell him how much I appreciated what he’d just done. He then proceeded to annoy me with a story regarding his nephew and the same game, which I wasn’t able to follow due to his incoherent storytelling and the fact he was spitting all over the place.

You win some, you lose some, I guess.

Overall though, the experience was a win for me and for gamers everywhere. I wish Jack Thompson had been present, just so I could rub it in his face. The dad was given every opportunity not to purchase a game for his children very obviously made for adults. Rockstar and the ESRB put the rating on the box, along with some details of what garnered the game that rating. He could have just read it. Then the clerk reads it for him and gives him a detailed description of what to expect. By the way, it was clear the dad hadn’t read the box at all before he stepped up to the register by his reaction when the clerk first started explaining the content to him. Then, he bought the thing anyway, even though he obviously has reservations about it.

What else do you expect from the industry’s end? Seriously?

On a related note, my first impressions of the game are as follows:

GTAIV kicks all kinds of ass. Yes, it is just another GTA game. But I haven’t played one seriously since GTAIII. It has done an amazing job of drawing me in, i.e., hours pass and I don’t notice. The environments are great, the dialogue makes me smile or laugh out loud on a regular basis, and the combat and driving are pretty well executed. Rockstar aimed to create a living breathing city, and I think they’ve succeeded. Plus, the character development is pretty outstanding. I immediately felt a connection with the main character Niko. This was the first time I’d dropped into a GTA game and not felt immediately compelled to hijack someone, kill them with their own vehicle and immediately troll for a hooker. I think it’s because I don’t think that’s what Niko would really want. I think he really does want a fresh start for himself.

Maybe it’s also a sign that I’m 5 years older than I was the last time I played a GTA game. Though, I doubt it, considering the havoc I would wreak playing Crackdown. Anyway, I’m really excited about playing the game more over the coming months. It especially helps mitigate the symptoms of “no-new-games-worth-playing syndrome” I think we’ve all been feeling since the beginning of the year. More on the game as I experience it.

PS: My favorite quote from the game so far was a yokel saying something to the effect of “How my supposed to feed my kids, buy Pay Per View wrestling, and get a sandwich when weed costs so damn much!?” Again, not for kids.


New Zero Punctuation Review

This week, Assassin’s Creed. Enjoy!

Via The Escapist.


Review: Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare – Single Player Campaign

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls; I’ll begin by making a bold statement:

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is unequivocally the best game I have played this year. Better than BioShock, far better than Halo 3, better than Assassin’s Creed. This game will remind you why gaming is your hobby of choice.

I realize the year isn’t over yet. I also haven’t played Super Mario Galaxy, which is supposed to be a life-changing experience, and the beautiful jungles of Crysis await my arrival. Perhaps saving the universe from annihilation next week in Mass Effect will make the conflict in CoD4:MW seem insignificant.

As is, every other game I play this year will be measured against the herculean awesomeness of this game.


CoD4:MW is a homecoming for the series. Developer Infinity Ward created the first two Call of Duty games. But Treyarch developed Call of Duty 3, released last year. That game was essentially a carbon-copy of Call of Duty 2 with added timed button presses. While Treyarch’s effort was certainly loyal to the franchise, the formula was getting stale. Call of Duty set a high bar for the “WWII-shooter,” but we’ve been killing Nazis since Wolfenstein 3D. It’s time to move on – a sentiment that’s been echoed elsewhere.

Infinity Ward took that sentiment to heart by moving CoD into the modern era, and into the Middle East, no less. There’s far less certainty in a this modern war than in America’s finest hour. In WWII, victory meant the defeat and surrender of Nazi Germany. Unless it’s an alternate reality game, the player knows the Nazis lose WWII, evil is defeated, and victory is achieved.

In the war that you’ll fight in CoD4:MW, much like our current situation in the Middle East, the definition of victory changes day to day. Infinity Ward fully realize the fear inherent in a situation where violent zealots wield nuclear weapons that can kill millions of people in an instant, and they use that to create palatable tension. Through it, they tell the story of the men whose job it is to protect not just the United States, but the entire world.

You read that correctly. They tell a story in this game, and a substantive one at that. In fact, I was more moved by the events of CoD4:MW than BioShock. Seriously. Maybe it’s because I guessed an important part of the plot twist in BioShock about an hour in, but there is a unexpectedly gut-wrenching scene in this game that had far more emotional impact than anything in 2KBoston’s tour de force.

The primary goal of the game is to restore peace to the Middle East by killing the extremist revolutionary Kahled Al-Asad, who has destabilized the region by killing the president of an important unnamed country.

In fact, as the opening credits roll, you’ll play as deposed President Al-Fulani as you’re helplessly transported to your execution at the hands of Al-Asad. The level ends as Al-Asad puts a gun in your face, on national television, and pulls the trigger.

You’ll play as four characters as you hunt Al-Asad and the men who aid him. Each character has different mission-types. As Sergeant John “Soap” MacTavish of the Special Air Service, you’ll play a number of covert-ops missions. You’ll also spend one gloriously difficult flashback in a ghillie suit as Soap’s superior officer Captain Price when he was a Lieutenant. These levels contrast nicely with the chaotic, high-intensity front-line missions of Sergeant Paul Jackson of the United States Marine Corps. You’ll also rain down death from an AC-130. This mission, while fun, becomes strangely eerie after a while. You’ll get an idea of how easy it must seem to kill a man when you can’t really see or hear him die.

The game play has remained essentially the same, not that it’s a bad thing. If you’ve played a CoD game in the past, you’ll immediately feel comfortable in this sequel. You’ll have your pick of two different main guns, flash bangs and frag grenades, and you can swing a knife for close-quarters combat. You can also use a grenade launcher, though its usefulness is somewhat less than you’d expect. The renewable health mechanism returns, as well, for better or worse. The physics are pretty much spot on, and the ability to shoot enemies through thin cover is a nice addition. A cover system, a la Gears of War, could have enhanced the experience. Regardless, finding cover still isn’t difficult. Environments aren’t as destructible or as interactive as I’d like, but most of the structures you’ll be moving through wouldn’t be destroyed by small arms fire.

Your teammates and the enemies’ AI is also well done. Flanking, lobbing grenades, and taking cover are done intelligently for both groups. One complaint is that the enemy AI can shoot you accurately from a hundred yards away, while it sometimes seems like your brothers in arms couldn’t hit the proverbial broad side of a barn. Speaking of grenades, they’ll kill you a lot. This is common in the Call of Duty franchise, but it seemed to happen even more frequently in this game than in previous titles.

It doesn’t hurt that the game looks incredible, too. The models and environments are all detailed, and there wasn’t a single moment in the game where I thought, “man, that just looks bad.”

All-in-all, the game feels seamless. The way you “woosh” down from the tactical satellite view, which takes the place of a standard loading screen, and into the action is a stroke of genius. It’s far less jarring than suddenly materializing into the into the level.

Some have complained about the duration of the campaign. It took me about 10 hours to complete on “Hardened” difficulty level (the second-most difficult setting), but it was some of the most intense play I have ever experienced. The difficulty was evenly scaled over the course of the campaign, and only became frustrating once or twice. It only made it more satisfying when I finally got it right.

When the credits started rolling, I felt physically drained. I sat back in my chair, suddenly realizing how rigidly I’d been sitting in my chair. At the end of BioShock I felt disappointed, so anticlimactic was the final act. This game had kept me on the edge the whole time. I watched the credits, listening to the humorously bad rap song that accompanies them. Then, I realized there was a surprise. I don’t want to ruin it for anyone, but if you haven’t sat through to the end of the credits, do so. You’re missing out on something special.

I think the most gratifying part of finishing the campaign is that there’s still so much more to the game. I haven’t even touched the multiplayer yet, which I hear is outstanding. There’s the Arcade Mode to play as well, which gives you two additional game-play modes.

I can’t think of anything truly negative to say about the game that wouldn’t be nitpicking. There are a lot of titles out there demanding your time and money this holiday season. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare should definitely make the cut.



Well, this was unexpected…

The reviews for Assassin’s Creed have started rolling in, and I’ve got to say I’m surprised at the widely varying scores for the game. I haven’t yet played it, but you know how it usually goes with these high-profile releases. That there’s anything less than an 80% on Metacritic is actually refreshing.

I can’t help but feel a little alarmed – I put a lot of stock into loving this game. I planned to spend my weekend playing Assassin’s Creed, in celebration of completing the rough draft of a very long academic paper, which I’m currently putting off. The major criticism seems to be that the action gets repetitive and the combat isn’t all that satisfying. The mechanic of scouting out locations then gathering information and perpetrating the crime seems to be the only thing you get to do in the game. That actually sound pretty awesome to me, but I can see how you’d want more. After all, you did pay $60 for the game. Why should you only get to do the same thing over and over again? For those of you who think that may end up being frustrated, I have a novel suggestion:

Take a break and play something else.

I’m not trying to defend Ubisoft for designing a game that ends up being tedious. I’m merely proposing that there’s a way you could enjoy the game even though becomes a bit repetitive.

Game reviewers essentially have to play the game from beginning to end in a short period of time. But we don’t. We have a million other games sitting on our shelves looking for some love. So, if you get bored after the 3rd or 4th assassination, throw something else into your CD tray or switch to a different platform. Better yet, play a board game, read a book, watch some TV or a movie – I can’t believe I’m about to say this – GO OUTSIDE. Then, when you find yourself itching to get back to your part-time assassination career, it won’t seem so repetitive.

Seriously, you don’t have to finish the game in a marathon session.

On a completely unrelated note:

Apparently, there are some strict rules of acceptable behavior for professional bridge players?


First Impressions: Gears of War – PC

So, I just started into Gears of War on the PC. I’ve played through the campaign of GoW on X360 twice already: once alone, once with a friend. I had an awesome experience both times through. I never really played the multiplayer component, primarily because I’m a PC gamer at heart and I think paying 50 bucks a year to play shooters online seems like a ripoff. I’m even starting to think monthly fees for MMOs are kind of rediculous; but, they are most definitely for shooters that don’t provide regular content updates. Also, Xbox Live is full of douche bags.

This is all beside the point.

I really enjoy the way the control scheme has been adapted for us keyboard/mouse loyalists. I’ve only changed one of the defaults so far – I changed the key used for entering cover and roadie running to be left shift instead of space bar. It just felt more natural to me. The difficulty level seems a bit higher for the Windows version of the game, too, perhaps due to increased accuracy from aiming with the mouse. Maybe I’m just rusty though. To boot, the game looks absolutely gorgeous; even better than it does on X360.

But it’s not all good times, unfortunately.

Now, I don’t have a state of the art box, but I’m pretty well equiped. (Insert juvenile jokes, here) Despite my dual-core Opteron 180 and my 8800 GTS 640MB and my 2 GB of system RAM and the fact I’m running XP on a nearly empty, freshly defragged hard drive, I’m getting major stuttering issues and framerate drops, even with V-Sync turned off.

All I have to say is:


There’s no reason I should be having these troubles on my rig, with the game at medium-high settings. I can run the Crysis single-player demo at higher frame rates on medium-high settings. I really, really want to play the Brumak level. But as is, the game is just too choppy.

It’s not like I don’t have other games to play, but come on, Epic. GoW is an experience I want to relive . Just not as a slide show.

May 2018
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