Cabela's African Safari
Publisher: Activision (2006)
Rating: Teen (blood, violence)
I picked up Cabela's African Safari mainly out of curiosity, and I sort of regret it. I've always associated African safaris with scenic rides through the savannah while looking for picture-taking opportunities. Cabela's idea of a safari is blasting furry animals to oblivion. Fair enough - after all, Cabela is
a hunting magazine. Don't get me wrong - I'm all for senseless violence in video games, but I prefer blasting normal, everyday targets like robots, thugs, or ninjas. African Safari's graphics are functional but somewhat weak, with rudimentary people models and rough animation. The game offers a nice variety of missions, but you'll need to complete them in a particular order. You'll target birds from a cruising riverboat, follow a herd of antelope from the back of a speeding jeep, and face charging wildebeests in the middle of an open plain. Most weapons are equipped with some kind of zoom mechanism that lets you take aim from a comfortable distance, and there's even a Matrix-style "slow down" mode. Though I've never been hunting "for real", I don't think this game is especially realistic. First off, there's a lot of thick brush to trudge through, but it doesn't seem to slow you down one bit. A radar screen not only indicates the exact location of your target, but other animals in the vicinity as well. Once animals are fired upon, they tend to totally freak out, running all over the place. That's bad news, because some of these things can absorb more bullets than a freakin' Terminator
! You'll need to execute a number of kills within a time limit to successfully complete a mission, and it's not easy. In early missions you tend to target small animals, so you'll need to invest some time in the game before working your way up to the rhinos and lions. There are about seven play modes, but most are locked until you complete the main "Safari Hunt". Cabela's African Safari failed to maintain my interest, but my friend Steve claims his father-in-law is really into hunting and he loves
this game, so I guess there's an audience for this. Feel free to bump up the grade by a letter if you enjoy hunting in real life. But as Steve so eloquently stated, "Games like this require time and patience, and we have neither." © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Cabela's Alaskan Adventures
Publisher: Activision (2006)
Rating: Teen (blood, violence)
Wow, who would have thought Alaska could be so freakin' boring?!
I was anticipating a realistic, open-ended romp through the wilderness, but instead Alaskan Adventures seems phony and contrived. The game immediately cuts to the chase, letting you hunt down a huge polar bear right off the bat. Actually, I'm not sure "hunt" is the right word, considering the thing is basically a sitting duck. After pumping it with lead, you claim your prize by approaching it and pressing A. This initiates the "animal camera", which lets you examine the bleeding carcass at close range. So... are we having fun yet?? Before embarking on other hunting expeditions you must first enter the "outpost" and traverse a series of tedious, confusing menus to purchase and outfit yourself with the proper gear. Once you finally begin a hunt, a PDA
provides a radar display indicating exactly
where the animals are! Okay, hold it right there. I've never been hunting before, but doesn't using computer equipment defeat the whole purpose?! Hell, you might as well be playing a video game
. Oh wait... Anyway,
the animals are usually in close range and easy to target. It feels like you're shooting fish in a barrel, and it's about as satisfying! Speaking of fish, Ice Fishing is another activity you can partake it. Sega Bass Fishing
(Dreamcast, 1999) it is not
. As it turns out, sitting by a hole in the ice is about as fun as... well, sitting by a hole in the ice
. After getting a bite, non-intuitive controls are used to reel the fish in to minimal fanfare. Dog sledding is another mini-game, but that's just unbearable. Alaskan Adventure's graphics are fair, and the audio features nice crunchy footsteps and howling winds. But without delivering the realism of a simulation or the fun of an arcade title, Alaskan Adventures languishes in the dreaded "no-man's land" of video games. You can bump up the grade by a letter if hunting is your thing, but as a seasoned video game addict, my time is better spent shooting ninjas, robots, and fat guys who blink red. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Activision (2005)
Rating: Teen (blood, mild language, violence)
Probably the best of the Xbox 360 launch titles, Call of Duty 2 brilliantly showcases the system's power in the form of a remarkably immersive WWII first-person shooter. The game is gorgeous, easy to play, and often exhilarating. Its war-torn environments are totally convincing, the explosions are earthshaking, and fellow soldiers take cover and bark at each other with uncanny realism. The attention to detail makes all the difference, with blowing snow, hazy smoke effects, and the perpetual sound of gunfire in the distance. You'll witness huge bombers flying overhead and tanks rolling above as you take cover in the trenches. The stages are so well designed that you barely realize how completely linear the game is. The controls are as crisp as the graphics, and your degree of precision while aiming is amazing. As with any first-person shooter, your vision is limited, but a handy visual indicator alerts you to any grenades in close proximity. To tell you the truth, the game would probably be unplayable without it. The single player missions are truly exciting, and the intensity never lets up. The checkpoints are frequent, you can save at any time, and the load times are negligible. If there's one area where Call of Duty 2 disappoints, it's the multiplayer split-screen modes. You can't play cooperatively, and the environments are far too large for four players. You'll go for minutes before you can even find
anyone to shoot! My friends would have loved to have been able to fight as a team against a CPU-controlled army. Still, Call of Duty 2 is still a smart purchase on the strength of its excellent single-player mode. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Publisher: Activision (2007)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)
Call of Duty 4 (CoD4) offers jaw-dropping squad-based first-person shooting action, and it would be difficult to find a better-looking game for the 360. CoD4's two-pronged storyline unfolds in a war-torn Middle-Eastern city and the Russian countryside, with missions alternating between the two locations. The initial training stage not only gets you acquainted with the controls, but also recommends a difficulty level based on your performance! Unlike the run-and-gun action of Halo, CoD4 demands a calculated, deliberate approach to each new area, with heavy emphasis on sniping. A helpful objective marker on your compass always keeps you headed in the right direction. CoD4's shooting controls are outstanding, whether aiming through a scope or "shooting from the hip" while on the move. Fatal shots are accompanied by splashes of blood, but enemies can recover from minor wounds and continue battle. One element borrowed from Halo is your ability to reconstitute health if you stay out of harm's way for a few seconds. A more original feature that I love is your ability to call in air strikes or helicopter support at the press of a button. The modern day equivalent of the "smart bomb", it's incredibly satisfying in the multi-player modes. Also notable is your ability to throw grenades back
at enemies! The photo-realistic environments consist of crumbling ruins, burning apartments, country cottages, and a high-tech television station. The diverse missions deliver a lot of tense but memorable moments. You'll escape a sinking frigate, flee from a crash-landing helicopter, crawl past Russian soldiers in a field, shoot down a helicopter with stinger missiles, and engage in harrowing rescue operations. In one after-dark mission you aim missiles from high in the sky using night vision, and it's amazing to see the tiny people below scurrying away from the explosions. Missions are ideal in length with frequent checkpoints, and cut-scenes meld seamlessly with the action, providing some shocking twists. The save and load screens are masked by status displays so buzzing with activity that it's almost sensory overload. On the multiplayer side, the split-screen action is the best I've played, with interesting stage layouts that are perfectly sized. I only wish there was a co-op mode. The critically-acclaimed on-line mode is the main attraction for many gamers. Technically, Call of Duty 4 is watertight, but its realism can intrude on the fun. It's hard to differentiate your troops from enemies as they all look the same. The grenade indicators are rather small, and you might not notice them until it's too late. Cars on fire explode with alarming frequency, leading to many instant deaths. Finally, if you play games to escape the real world, the Mid-East locations look a lot like what you'd see on the news. But for those who crave realism in their war games, Call of Duty 4 is the real deal. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Call of Duty: Black Ops
Publisher: Activision (2010)
Rating: Mature (blood, gore, intense violence, strong language)
I'm a pretty tough critic, but it was hard for me to find fault with this gritty, realistic first-person shooter. Playing Call of Duty: Black Ops is like being in the best action movie you've ever seen. Its thrilling campaign begins with you strapped into a chair in a dark facility while being interrogated by an ominous, disguised voice. Dramatic flashbacks allow you to relive a diverse assortment of Cold War missions set in the Kennedy era of the 1960's. Some tie into actual historical events like the Bay of Pigs, the Vietnam War, and the launch of Sputnik. Actual footage is used in cut scenes, and President John F. Kennedy and Fidel Castro are real characters
in the game! At its core Black Ops' gameplay is pretty standard as you employ guerilla tactics to invade enemy territory, infiltrate strongholds, plant explosives, rescue hostages, and mow down soldiers by the dozen. No tutorial is necessary because the first mission methodically teaches all of the basic actions. You can toggle between two types of weapons and you're armed with both lethal and tactical grenades. In some situations you can call in air strikes to decimate enemy encampments. For the most part you're fighting in a squad, and others will lead the way. The controls are dead-on. Your crosshair turns red when aimed at an enemy, and the ensuing blood splatter is satisfying. But what truly sets Black Ops apart is its radical assortment of missions. You'll leap between rainy rooftops in Hong Kong, crawl through "rat holes" in Vietnam, escape a sinking tanker near Cuba, and rappel down snowy cliffs in Siberia. Each mission feels like a whole new game. There are plenty of vehicle stages as well including a high-speed motorcycle chase and a spectacular helicopter battle over a river in Laos. The environments are completely immersive thanks to their remarkable degree of detail. Your senses will be bombarded, but that just heightens the intensity. The game may feel a bit scripted (because it is) but that keeps the narrative tight. There's plenty of gore and strong language, but it never feels inappropriate or gratuitous. A slew of actors lend their voices to Black Ops, with Ice Cube being the most recognizable. Black Ops isn't particularly hard thanks to a semi-automatic aiming mechanism, frequent checkpoints, and the constant "next objective" indicator. Friendly fire is a problem, but the game is forgiving in this regard. Extending the replay value is a full slate of multi-player modes - both on-line and off. The on-line action is the best I've seen, and if you have a friend over, both of you can play on-line via split-screen!
The off-line split-screen supports up to four players, and you can add in CPU "bots" for a full-blown 5-on-5 death match. I really like that "death cam" which replays how you met your demise. And if that all wasn't enough, there's a bonus zombie-shooting game! Activision spared no expense with this, and it shows. Blacks Ops is so good that it makes me want to lower the grades for other first-person shooters across the board. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2
Publisher: Activision (2012)
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language, suggestive themes, use of drugs)
Like the original game, Black Ops 2 weaves a convoluted storyline that's played out over a series of diverse stages. You begin on a battlefield in Angola, where I was instantly reminded how hard it can be to tell the good guys from the bad. As with most recent Call of Duty titles, the game doesn't shy away from exposing the player to the horrors of war. There are some gruesome scenes, but in fairness, the game offers you the option to skip them. The missions are uneven in quality, but Black Ops 2 has its share of white-knuckle scenarios. When you're rescuing a fellow soldier and need to carry him through hostile territory, you'll be holding the controller like a vice grip. The gunfights are hectic but satisfying thanks to the pinpoint-targeting system. There's no shortage of ammo, and it seems like every weapon you pick up is better than the last. The load times are negligible, and frequent checkpoints ensure you won't have to retread too much ground after that lone sniper bullet takes you out. The game's risk-reward dynamic often comes into play as you must decide whether to systematically weed out enemies or make a mad dash for your destination. The variety of locations and missions is pretty spectacular. In one stage you jump off a cliff and glide in a wing-suit down onto some temple ruins during a raging thunderstorm. In another you're avoiding helicopter-like "drones" at night in a flooded city with buses floating down the streets. Real footage, photographs, and historical figures (including Manuel Noriega) add weight to the storyline, but the game often veers into Hollywood territory. The Afghanistan stage borrows liberally from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and some technology looks like it was borrowed from a Terminator movie. The game's more dramatic scenes are heavily scripted, so it's hard to tell if you're actually in control. An unwelcome new addition is the "strike force" missions which attempt to add a real-time strategy element. I found these confusing and unnecessary. Despite the polished look, I did encounter a nasty bug that forced me to restart one mission. In general I found Black Ops 2 less intriguing than the first. Still, the disc is jam-packed with features including a coop action, split-screen free-for-alls, and a bonus zombie mode. Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 may be a drama queen, but there's a heck of a lot of content here for shooting fans. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Publisher: Activision (2009)
Rating: Mature (blood, drug reference, intense violence, language)
In the crowded field of Xbox 360 first-person shooters, Modern Warfare 2 leads the pack when it comes to realism, variety, and attention to detail. You play as multiple soldiers in a convoluted yet intriguing storyline that takes you to snowy Russia, the streets of Brazil, and even a war-ravaged Washington D.C. That's right people, America
is now the front line! The story is fairly over-the-top, yet told with such realistic fervor that you can't help but buy into it. The missions are intense, action-packed, and ideal in length (about a half hour each). Whether you're rescuing hostages on a massive oilrig, picking off patrols in a snowy forest, directing air fire at enemy tanks, or running for your life over rooftops, Modern Warfare 2 is quite the adrenaline rush. One early mission features a high-speed snowmobile shootout, and I believe Activision could concoct an entire game out of that sequence alone! Most missions place you alongside friendly troops, but it's awfully hard to tell friend from foe in the heat of battle. This confusion adds to the realism and forces you to think before you act. Mowing down enemies is fun thanks to the splashing blood that punctuates each hit. Injured enemies lying on the ground can still fire their weapons, so stay alert. The campaign mode demands a thoughtful, deliberate approach, but the mission difficulties tend to be uneven (Brazil is a killer). The plot is heavily scripted, and occasionally the game will kick into "autopilot" to play out crucial scenes. There are usually multiple routes through each war zone, but a helpful marker always points the way, even indicating the number of meters to your next destination. When you die, the game picks up right near where you left off, alleviating the frustration factor. Modern Warfare 2 gives you the option of skipping a particularly controversial mission that involves mowing down hundreds of innocent civilians in a Russian airport. It feels a bit contrived, but it does set up the story well. Online junkies will contend that the campaign mode is just a warm-up for on-line multi-player mode, but several excellent split-screen modes are also available for off-line gamers, including a fun cooperative "special ops" mode. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 often pushed me to the point of sensory overload, but I played until my wrist was sore. It's a pretty amazing ride, packing enough "holy cow!" moments for six
games! © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Publisher: Activision (2011)
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, drug reference, intense violence, strong language)
Modern Warfare 3 (MW3) is a fantastic first-person shooter that places you in a worldwide conflict, whisking you from one corner of the globe to the next. You'll engage in a helicopter battle in the New York City skyline, fight local militia in a sandstorm in Somalia, and have a shootout in a London subway. While fighting off hijackers in an airplane mission you'll experience a zero gravity
gunfight! You'll ride submersibles, helicopters, tanks, and rain hell from the skies. There's no shortage of spectacle, including a Paris mission that culminates in the Eiffel Tower keeling over. The action is pretty much non-stop and frenetic pacing can make it hard to digest everything going on around you. It's hard to tell the good guys from the bad, but it's important because friendly fire can bring your mission to an abrupt conclusion. The shooting is made considerably easier by the auto-aim mechanism, where you just tap the left trigger and your crosshair automatically locks-on to a nearby enemy. It's a little cheap, but it keeps things moving. Be careful when switching guns - there is a big difference in quality, and you don't want to be stuck with a piece of junk during a heated gunfight. MW3's convoluted storyline is conveyed via rapid-fire cut-scenes that bombard your senses to such a degree that you almost buy into the outrageous World War 3 scenarios. The game contains the now-obligatory "morally questionable scenes" but these are beginning to feel contrived and unnecessary. When MW3 is at its best however, it feels like you're playing a part in the best war movie ever made. The production values are first rate, and frequent checkpoints and an auto-save feature minimize the frustration. The on-line matches are disconcerting at first, but once you start moving up the ranks, the hours just melt away. Add in support for split-screen and coop, and Modern Warfare 3 really is the complete package. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Capcom Digital Collection
Publisher: Capcom (2012)
Rating: Teen (crude humor, mild blood, suggestive themes, use of tobacco, violence)
I have mixed feelings about this collection of eight games previously available via Xbox Live. The line-up isn't bad at all. Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix preserves the spirit of the original Street Fighter 2 series while sprucing things up with sharp, vibrant graphics. The scoring system has been ditched but it's always fun to beat down a friend. The next game is Puzzle Fighter HD, which begs the question "who in the [expletive] asked for this?
" I mean, square gems still look square
in high definition. I guess Capcom just wanted an excuse to reintroduce this addictive puzzler to a new generation of gamers - fair enough. Final Fight: Double Impact is a very misleading title, as it only contains the original arcade versions of Final Fight and Magic Sword. These are two fine coop titles, but they are old news to most classic gamers. Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 combines 2D shooting with some gorgeous 3D backdrops, including a lighthouse in a raging storm. The controls are more complicated than they need to be, but the platform action is still a lot of fun. Next up is Commando 3, which is an overhead, one-man-army shooter. I usually dig games like this, but I quickly tired of its generic formula. Rocketmen is similar, except with a sci-fi theme. Flock is a herding game that failed to maintain my interest at all. My favorite title on the disc is 1942: Joint Strike. This one plays like an old-fashion vertical shooter - just like momma used to make
. The washed-out visuals aren't particularly alluring, but flying over mountains conveys an uncanny illusion of depth, and I love how enemy planes shatter into wooden splinters. The gameplay is nicely tuned so you never feel overwhelmed. There's a lot to like about Capcom Digital Collection, but I wish these games had been tweaked for off-line play. There are no local leader boards (which never ceases to amaze me), and switching profiles to accommodate multiple players is always a pain in the ass. Still, the hours seemed to melt away as I reviewed this fine collection. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Castlevania Lords of Shadow
Publisher: Konami (2010)
Rating: Mature (17+) blood and gore, nudity, violence
Starting with Castlevania
(N64, 2000), Konami has been intent on transitioning Castlevania's classic 2D platforming into the world of 3D. So far their efforts have been abject failures, and the only respectable Castlevania titles these days are the 2D retreads on the Nintendo DS. With Lords of Shadow, Konami has effectively reinvented the franchise as a shameless rip-off of every big-name 3D adventure in recent memory
. In the first battle you slice werewolves with chains, and it took me about two seconds to realize the fighting style was pilfered from God of War. As you're traversing overgrown jungle ruins, the climbing mechanics are a carbon copy
of those in Tomb Raider. Several boss encounters pit you against huge animated statues, and it's exactly like Shadow of the Colossus as you climb on them and hold on tight as they try to shake you off. There are even fatalities
for Pete's sake! I could go on and on, but this review is getting too long. I will credit Lords of Shadow for its high production values, spectacular graphics, dramatic cut-scenes, and epic orchestrated score. But instead of that distinctive gothic style, this is a complete Lord of the Rings rip-off! If the narrator and main character don't tip you off, consider that there's a wizard named Gandolfi!
But a complete lack of originality doesn't make it a bad game, does it? No, it's the lack of fun
that makes it a bad game! At first I enjoyed the linear action and picturesque environments, but the by-the-numbers
style wears on you. Invisible walls prevent you from exploring your surroundings. You're constantly being prompted what to do, not only in terms of strategy but which buttons to press as well! That's partially due to a convoluted control scheme that even employs the little-used L3 and R3 buttons. There are so many moves, combos, and relic powers that they need to be cataloged in a book
accessible via the select button. The combat is okay but as the game progresses the battles tend to drag on. It seems like every time I turn around I'm told, "You have a new scroll. Open your book and read it". If I wanted to read, I wouldn't be playing a [expletive] video game!
The game would also say, "You can't jump high enough to reach this now. Come back when your skills improve." I'm sorry, but I've played Lords of Shadow long enough to know one thing
, and that's that I'm not
coming back. Hell, I don't even want to be here now
. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Ubisoft (2011)
Rating: Everyone 10+
As the spiritual successor to the legendary Rez
(Dreamcast, 2001), this first-person shooter boasts a new age, psychedelic style. Its dreamlike introduction uses actual footage of a girl in a tranquil meadow. The scenery is gradually torn apart with the help of computer effects, segueing into the game itself. Instead of traveling through a virtual computer world (as in Rez) you move through space on some kind of evolution mission. The idea is to lock onto as many targets as you can before unleashing a swarm of homing missiles. Your targets are organic in appearance, and many resemble jellyfish, birds, manta rays, and whales. It's a little off-putting really; why would I want to destroy these beautiful, graceful creatures? The screen is alive with activity and the visual effects are pleasing to the eye. The shooting and explosions have an understated quality that makes them seem almost serene
. You get into a rhythm as you play to the pulse of a relaxing musical score. You can use the Kinect, but I wouldn't recommend it. Locking onto targets by moving your hand works well, but the act of shooting is tiresome and imprecise. Using a controller works better, but Child of Eden has a fundamental flaw. In Rez it was fairly obvious what you were supposed to be shooting at, thanks to its effective sense of depth. In Eden, much of the scenery is flat, as if you're looking into a microscope. With all the flowery patterns it's hard to tell what you're supposed to be focusing on. As a result, you'll find yourself dragging the cursor all around, relying on its automatic "lock on" mechanism to identify targets. Likewise with so many things floating around it's hard to tell which are actually harmful
to you. The stages are entirely too long, and the progression is confusing. Despite its issues Child of Eden is moderately fun and somewhat mesmerizing in terms of its audio/visual quality. I like how high scores are automatically saved to local
leader boards. It doesn't measure up to its predecessor, but it's a nice change of pace for those looking to tone things down a bit. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: 2K Games (2008)
The object of this turn-based strategy game is to gradually develop a civilization from scratch, taking it from the stone age to the space age on your way to global domination. Unlike similar PC games like Age of Empires, Civilization Revolution is a strategy title "for the rest of us". What sets it apart is simplified graphics, brisk pacing, and automation of tedious tasks. You can just dive in, and you will not
need to dedicate your life to it! You begin by selecting one of many historical leaders like Cleopatra (Egypt), Napoleon (France), or Abraham Lincoln (US). By toying around with a gradually expanding number of options, you'll grow a population, assemble armies, develop technology, and construct "great wonders" like a Pyramid or Colossus. The game gets you off to a running start, but holds your hand by offering constant tips, advice, and status reports. The fact that you can only construct one thing at a time (per city) simplifies things dramatically. Turns pass quickly and new options steadily become available, keeping my short attention span fully engaged. Some decisions you'll make have interesting ramifications. For example, adopting a Democratic form of government boosts your productivity, but don't be surprised when the people overrule your foreign policy decisions! My favorite aspect of the game is the combat. It's fun to deploy armies to foreign lands and watch the automated battles unfold. Technology plays a vital role, so if you're the first country to develop a new weapon (like a catapult), you'll have a huge advantage. Civilization Revolution's visual style is similar to Sid Meier's Pirates
(Xbox, 2005), boasting a semi-realistic but slightly whimsical flavor. I was expecting to play this game in short bursts, but whenever I fired it up, I was hooked for hours. The streamlined user interface is nice, but sometimes it's hard to figure out how to do basic things like examine the contents of a ship. Revolution keeps the world map small to minimize navigation, but one side effect is cluttered cities that all look very similar. The pace of the game really picks up in later stages, and sometimes it feels like a runaway freight train. Even so, Civilization Revolution packs a lot of punch into its short campaigns, making world domination both fun and
easy! © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
College Hoops 2K6
Publisher: 2K Sports (2005)
As 2K's first college basketball offering for the 360, I'm really impressed with the quality of College Hoops 2K6. The action on the court flows nicely and the presentation conveys that distinctive college atmosphere. You get 325 teams along with some real coaches (but no Gary Williams or Coach K). You can opt to identify players by number or random name, and I have no idea why anyone would choose the latter. During pre-game festivities the commentators set the stage as you enjoy scenes of fans, coaches, and goofy mascots. Some of the robotic people in the crowd look hilarious. Once the action begins, the player animation is convincing as you witness tomahawk dunks, running one-handers, tie-ups, and acrobatic up-and-under moves. It's interesting to watch defenders body-up and bite on pump fakes. The uniforms flow realistically, but up close the player faces look very generic. The controls are responsive and special dribbles are performed (with some difficulty) using the thumbstick and right trigger. I wish the right stick was used to perform crossovers instead of functioning as a confusing "shot stick". On defense it's difficult to steal but double-teaming is effective. College Hoops 2K6 plays well but could use some tweaking. Three-point and foul shots go in too frequently, and it's far too easy to draw a foul going to the rim. Offensive fouls are pretty much non-existent. Fast breaks are rare, but when they happen it's satisfying to throw down a dunk. The CPU is decent but a little timid towards the end of the game. A two-man commentator team provides enthusiastic analysis, and after the game you actually see
Greg Gumbel at the anchor desk providing a wrap-up. The highlights look good, but why are they showing foul shots?
One big thing 2K6 is lacking is a season mode. The Legacy mode lets you develop a team, but you have to start with a small college. College Hoops 2K6 isn't the most realistic basketball game, but its offensive-minded gameplay keeps the fun factor above the rim. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
College Hoops 2K7
Publisher: 2K Sports (2006)
As the second College Hoops entry for the 360, 2K7 tightens up the gameplay and tweaks the presentation - for better or worse. Before each game you see rowdy players leaving the locker room and then watch them shoot around on the court. The arenas are teeming with activity but sadly, most of those goofy cut-scenes have been axed. Heck, even the mascots
seemed to have lost their school spirit. The player models look sharp thanks to new shading effects, but in the face they look like elves.
Likewise the crowd looks fine from a distance but up close appear to be from Dr. Suess' Whoville
. Coaches constantly prowl the sidelines, and as in real life they often wander onto the court. Gary Williams of Maryland looks about right, but his voice is way off. On the court the fluid animation and vibrant graphics are a breath of fresh air compared to the mess that is EA's NCAA 07 March Madness. The action is decidedly up-tempo with plenty of deflected passes, loose balls, and fast break opportunities. Point guards run the offense and there's more player rotation. Offensive fouls are still non-existent, but you'll lose the ball if you try to push through a crowd. Selected players are now highlighted with icons including wings (speed), hands (ball handling), and the number three for long-range specialists. Unfortunately, players will often seem to have great position under the rim but inexplicably put up an awkward shot and miss. The passing icons are useful, but you can't always see them for players near the top of the screen. I really dislike the automatic intentional fouls that kick in at the end of every close game. It's funny how you can come out of a timeout early and resume play while people are still on the court (including the guy with the mop). 2K7's new feature list includes new crowd chants, but they tend to be pretty moronic ("Take it away!"). A two-man team provides good commentary, but you'll need to turn the crowd noise way down if you want to hear them (why is it so loud?). As in Madden, bonuses flash on the bottom of the screen after you've performed extraordinary feats like hitting 10 shots in a row. College Hoops has an impressive TV-style presentation, but sometimes the graphics can get in the way. Is it really necessary to have sideline reporter Bonnie Berstein's name plastered over the screen while the game is in progress!? College Hoops 2K7 lacks a real season mode, and the "2K Nav" user interface is horrible. Still, the action on the court is solid, making this is a good choice for college basketball fans trying to generate a little bit of their own March madness. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
College Hoops 2K8
Publisher: 2K Sports (2007)
As the last non-EA college basketball title released for the Xbox 360, you might expect this to be the ultimate college basketball game. And you'd probably be right. After failing to produce a decent basketball game in years, Electronic Arts obtained the exclusive rights to NCAA basketball, effectively strong-arming reputable companies like 2K Sports out of the market. Adding insult to injury, EA has basically sat on the license, cheating fans of the sport out of new games. The NCAA should be ashamed for signing this deal with the devil. Fortunately we still have these old 2K Sports titles to fall back on, even if their rosters are outdated. At a glance, College Hoops 2K8 looks amazing. The graphics have been noticeably upgraded from 2K7. The clean, shiny courts boast amazing reflections that give this the look of an arcade game. The player models have been improved so they no longer look like freaks up close. The audio has been enhanced as well with a booming new PA announcer and pumping techno music before each game. On the court, the action is pretty much the same as 2K7, which is mostly a good thing. The gameplay has been tweaked so you get the proper frequency of fouls, steals, fast breaks, and three-point shots. A slick half-time show offers stats and highlights, and you now have the opportunity to perform half-time adjustments. The new "6th man meter" means the crowd apparently can affect the ebb and flow of the game. Unfortunately some of the things I disliked in previous editions once again rear their ugly heads. Players tend to miss some really easy shots near the hoop, and the automatic intentional fouls are aggravating. 2K's menu navigation system is a perfect example of how not
to create a menu interface. The auto-save function is welcome, but I'm still waiting for a real season mode (Legacy mode non-withstanding). Oh well, it's still a fun challenge to take your favorite team through a tournament. College Hoops 2K8 set the high water mark for college basketball games, and it's still the one to get. Perhaps one day Electronic Arts will stop holding this sport hostage and we'll finally see a proper follow-up to this. Otherwise hoops fans will be perpetually stuck in the year 2K8. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: THQ (2007)
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, nudity)
This testosterone-fueled hack-n-slash adventure will appeal to a lot of guys out there. You want gore? Conan has decapitations, dismemberments, impalements, and fountains of blood. You can knock stuff down and burn things to the ground. If that's not enough, just about every woman in this game is topless!
Wait a second, was this game designed specifically for me?!
Some will write-off Conan as a God of War
(PS2, 2007) knock-off, and it certainly is that! This game follows the exact same formula of combat, platform jumping, easy puzzles, and quick-time ("press this button now!
") fatalities. Heck there are even the same green (health), blue (magic), and red (currency) bonus items. Conan's sword may lack the range of Kratos' chains, but his ability to wield a weapon in each hand lets him deal twice the damage. There's button mashing-a-plenty, but as you unlock moves you're treated to endless new jaw-dropping combos and elaborate finishing moves. The stages tend to be wide open so there's no need to fiddle with the camera, although depth perception is a problem on occasion. Conan's graphics surpassed my expectations. When the statues in the opening stage came to life, it actually startled
me! I loved the hulking ships in the harbor and the mysterious temples that look like something out of Mortal Kombat. The multi-stage boss encounter with the Sand Dragon left me breathless, and the elephant demon is one of the most disturbing bosses in recent memory. A booming orchestrated score elevates the action to epic proportions. When unleashing magic attacks like raining fire or swarming birds, the game feels like a modern Golden Axe
(Genesis, 1989). The voice acting is good but it's hard to get used to hearing Conan enunciate his words
so clearly. Conan is crazy fun but not quite as polished a God of War. Some stages are a little sloppy. In one of the final areas I encountered a major bug (read: invisible wall) that made it impossible to progress (unless I had an earlier save to fall back on). It's a shame that what could have been an all-time classic will be remembered by many as a flawed God of War clone. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (2005)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)
Despite its detrimental effect on my blood pressure, I found myself drawn into Condemned. In this dark, first-person thriller you play the role of a wrongly-accused cop fleeing the law while in pursuit of the "real" killer. The atmosphere maintains an ultra-high level of intensity as you creep through abandoned buildings, collect evidence, and bash the skulls of crazed wandering drugs addicts (who love to sneak up on you). The dark alleys, grungy abandoned buildings, and dank subway corridors look amazing. Don't let anybody tell you that graphics don't matter, because these "next generation" visuals make you feel "in the game" like never before. Condemned's understated soundtrack is sparse but effective. Every creak is jolting, and every shadow is alarming. The game plays like a video game adaptation of the classic movie Seven. I must confess I was initially apprehensive about the whole "evidence collecting" aspect. I feared it would be slow and tedious, but fortunately that's not the case. The game prompts you to use the appropriate device to scan the immediate area, which always reveals some kind of glowing clue. There action is complemented by a compelling storyline and brief cut-scenes that blend in seamlessly. Condemned is relentlessly scary. After one prolonged stage in the dark, I was practically begging
for daylight. As for weapons, you'll wield whatever you can get your hands on, including pipes, fire axes, sledgehammers, and sawed-off shotguns. The game even informs you how a newly discovered weapon compares to the one you're currently holding (in terms of damage, range, etc). On the downside, the maze-like environments grow tiresome over time, and sometimes you can't tell where attacks are coming from (especially bullets). But despite these minor issues, Condemned packs a wallop and is truly intense. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Condemned 2: Bloodshot
Publisher: Sega (2008)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language, use of drugs and alcohol)
When I played the first Condemned
(Xbox 360, 2005), I was blown away by its edgy first-person gameplay. While creeping through dark, abandoned buildings there was no telling when some drug-crazed lunatic would leap out at you with a wrench, and the intensity could reach unbearable proportions. Condemned 2 offers a lot of the same but incorporates more sophisticated fighting controls and additional forensic elements. When you enter certain areas, you're prompted to examine evidence and deduce exactly what happened based on subtle visual clues. It plays like a little mini game, and offers a nice respite from the blood-splattering beatings. And lord knows there's plenty of that
to go around! When you hear maniacal laughter, rest assured it's just a matter of time before some twisted freak sneaks up on you. In addition to the typical shotguns and baseball bats, there's an assortment of unusual new weapons like prosthetic arms, dolls, and even toilet seats
. Speaking of which, why are the bathrooms in these game always so filthy?
For once, I'd like to stumble upon a pristine
bathroom in a video game! As with the first Condemned, the level of detail in the environments is astonishing - even up close. When looking out one window, I was impressed to see some birds fly by. Unfortunately, the scenery is also very repetitive, and when searching alleys and hotels it's hard to tell if you're exploring a new area or backtracking! Another annoyance is the arbitrary nature of the game. Certain doors won't open until a specific action occurs first, and that makes the game feel scripted. Bits and pieces of the storyline are conveyed via televisions, where you use the right stick to adjust the "rabbit ears" antenna to view parts of newscasts. The game frequently saves your progress automatically, which tends to relieve a great deal of anxiety. Condemned 2 is great on a technical level, but its gameplay becomes tiresome - especially if you've already played the first game. There are plenty of pulse-pounding moments, but after a while you may find yourself growing weary of it all. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Crash Mind Over Mutant
Publisher: Sierra (2008)
Considering the poor reception of Crash of the Titans
(Xbox 360, 2007), I'm surprised Sierra followed it up so quickly with the ultra-lame Mind Over Mutant. I can only assume they did it as an excuse to make it work with Xbox Live (joy). My friend George is a Crash Bandicoot veteran who completed all three original games, so I recruited him to help me put this game through its paces. He tried to maintain a positive attitude, but it wasn't easy! Mind Over Mutant recycles the previous game's engine with similar results. The new "two player coop" mode is a complete joke. Both players must share a single screen, and as one jumps between platforms the other invariably falls out of view, causing an unhelpful arrow to appear on the edge of the screen. The problem is, there's no mechanism to help the poor slob catch up!
In time we discovered that the best strategy is to let the lead player forge ahead and wait for the second player to magically reappear at the next checkpoint. As with the previous Crash adventure, Crash of the Titans
(Sierra, 2007), you can hop on the backs of large animals and use them to clear away obstacles or beat the living crap out of enemies. Unfortunately this time your beast is usually pitted against other
big beasts, and defeating them requires monotonous "rinse and repeat" attack patterns. One truly awful new feature is Crash's ability to tunnel under the ground. The problem is, once underground his movements are heavily constrained by invisible walls. The stages are buggy and poorly designed in general, and the load screens are unrelenting. The highlight of the game might just be the cartoon intermissions. While they run entirely too long, you have to appreciate their sophisticated Adult Swim-style humor. The voice of N. Gin sounds a lot like Ren from the old Ren and Stimpy Show. Mind Over Mutant probably would have made a pretty decent cartoon. Unfortunately for us, it's supposed to be a game! © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Crash of the Titans
Publisher: Sierra (2007)
Is this really
an Xbox 360 game? With such sparse scenery and angular character models, I could have sworn Crash of the Titans was a PS2
game. Crash Bandicoot may have been a legend on the original Playstation, but his star has faded over the years and now he's relegated to bargain bin titles like this. Most critics completely overlooked Crash of the Titans, and for good reason! This is some very uninspired stuff. The first stage has you jogging through some linear, unspectacular jungle environments while grabbing gems. The graphics lack detail and the gems are so copious that there's absolutely no satisfaction to be derived from collecting them. Crash can perform kung-fu moves against each inept group of henchmen he encounters. His once-effective spin attack is now executed by twirling the left stick and then pressing X repeatedly. Talk about awkward!
Crash navigates his surroundings by gliding like a helicopter, bouncing off of mushrooms, and hanging onto ledges. The camera control is minimal however, making it hard to gauge your jumps. Titan's apparent claim to fame is your ability to commandeer large beasts - after you beat them into submission. Depending on the nature of your ride, you'll acquire the ability to fire projectiles or bash through barriers. This concept has been used to a limited extent in many other games, notably Golden Axe (Genesis) and God of War 3 (PS3). Titans however really beats it to death, causing it to lose its appeal. Another poorly executed concept is the half-pipe "surfing", which employs a weird blur effect. While it's meant to convey speed, it tends to be very hard on the eyes! And why do game designers feel compelled to give animals goofy voices? Crash speaks some bizarre gibberish and his squeaky tone is more annoying than endearing. Crash of the Titans might not seem so bad at first, but the more you play it, the more you'll wish you were doing something else. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, Amazon.com, Xbox Marketplace