Publisher: Electronic Arts (2013)
Like so many sports fans in the United States I recently came down with a severe case of World Cup fever
. I wanted to pick up the Xbox One (or PS4) FIFA 14 until I heard EA had unceremoniously axed
the popular tournament mode from those versions. That's one of the few modes left you can still play off-line!
I wasn't too concerned about the graphic fidelity considering the distant camera angle. The players look small but move with fluid grace, and the wide field of vision makes it easy to set up passes. The ability to "queue up" a pass seems confusing at first but ultimately it lets you orchestrate some amazing plays. The contests unfold very much like real soccer. There isn't much scoring but the action is incredibly intense. The default game length is just right and there are few lulls in the action. Off-sides can be a hard concept to wrap your brain around, but FIFA 14 will clearly illustrate the infraction when the penalty is called. I love the British announcers who add class, sophistication, and credibility to the proceedings. The flaws in FIFA 14 tend to be minor but irritating nonetheless. An apparent lack of friction causes the ball to roll and roll until it inevitably goes out of bounds. The arrow highlighting your selected player is tiny, and when it's green it blends in with the grass. A little quality control would have caught that one. The shooting controls are touchy and the automatic/manual player switching is suspect at times. The penalty shoot-out controls are wildly non-intuitive, making the complete lack of instructions
all the more glaring. The "tiled menu" interface is so poorly designed that I had to check the Internet
just to figure out how to begin a new tournament. And locating the international teams on the team selection screen is needlessly difficult. EA did a half-assed job as usual, but FIFA 14 is still an exciting game, mainly because it's so true to the sport. They don't call it "the beautiful game" for nothing. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer
Publisher: 2K Games (2007)
Rating: Teen (fantasy violence)
Despite an agonizing first stage that never seems to end, Rise of the Silver Surfer ultimately proves itself to be a well-constructed superhero title. A few stages take place in boring caves, but the battles in New York City and an old Russia Space station (infested by apes no less) are far more compelling. Playing Fantastic 4 is mainly about beating up gang after gang of aliens or apes, and the action would be awfully repetitive if not for the amazing number of attack options, including potent "team up" moves. The Invisible Woman and Human Torch can create bombs together, and the Thing can whip Mr. Fantastic around to clear out nearly enemies. The puzzles provide a nice break from the mayhem, and these are usually solved using the special ability of one particular hero. Fantastic 4's control scheme is tailor-made for the Xbox 360 controller. The face buttons are used for basic functions, but holding the right trigger toggles them into special moves, and the left trigger enables your team moves. Icons on the screen mirror the button configuration and indicate exactly what powers are available. I enjoyed playing the game solo, but the multiplayer fun was offset by a problematic camera that made it tough to keep the heroes in view. Fantastic 4's graphics are about average, and the sound effects suffer from uneven volume. This Xbox 360 edition is almost identical to its Playstation 3 cousin, except you don't have the motion control during the flight stages, but you do
rumble feedback. In the scheme of things, Rise of the Silver Surfer is a good, all-around superhero game, if you're into that type of thing. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Ubisoft (2013)
Rating: Mature (Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs)
Far Cry 3 uses a serious storyline to add weight to its first-person shooting action. It begins with a group of young thrill-seekers skydiving onto an island where they are captured by a band of ruthless thugs. It's a terrifying scenario and your narrow escape really sets the tone for a harrowing adventure. By working with sympathetic natives you try to rescue your friends before they can be sold into slavery. Far Cry 3's intense narrative has the undertones of a psychological thriller, but rest assured there are still plenty of shootouts, car chases, and earth-shaking explosions. The game encourages stealth, and it's almost suicide to enter a situation without employing some strategy. Item collecting plays a major role but the game isn't loot-crazy like Borderlands or Rage. Far Cry 3 gives you an open world to explore, and I like the idea of climbing rickety old radio towers to activate transmitters to reveal new sections of the map. Unfortunately it's hard to go anywhere without being shot at or gored by a wild boar. I once plowed through a gang of thugs having a cookout on the beach, and would you believe they came after me? It's easy to get back on track however thanks to the "fast travel" destinations. The sense of freedom is nice, but once a mission begins you're locked into a "mission zone". If there's one feature that turned me off, it was the "crafting". It's bad enough you have to collect plants to create health syringes, but I hate
having to make basic containers like holsters, wallets, and sacks. Words cannot express my irritation with having to hunt down a goat
just so I can carry a second weapon! I'm genuinely surprised you can drive any of the vehicles sitting around without first inventing a set of wheels!
The controls could be a lot better, especially when it comes to equipping and switching weapons. Sometimes you'll open a chest only to be told "flamethrower is now available free at store". Huh? Why not just give me the damned flamethrower now?! The voice acting is fine, but poor dialogue synchronization creates some comical situations. Once my guy was shouting "Holy [expletive]
this is awesome!
" while being beaten to death by a gang of thugs. The game saves your progress automatically, and you can also save on the pause menu. Also worthy of mention is how the game tends to flash the F-bomb on the load screen. Far Cry 3 was my designated "summer game" this year, and I enjoyed its edgy storyline, explosive action, and tropical locales. Unfortunately as I played the game more and more I found myself enjoying it less and less. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Far Cry Instincts Predator
Publisher: Ubisoft (2006)
Rating: Mature (blood, drug reference, intense violence, strong language, suggestive themes)
Last summer I had a lot of fun playing Far Cry Instincts on my Xbox, and I was expecting more great first-person jungle-shooting with this new 360 edition. Billed as "two games in one", Predator includes an "enhanced" Far Cry Instincts and a brand new story called Evolution. Naturally I was ready to dive right into Evolution, until I discovered this mode is locked
until you beat
Instincts! What kind of BS is that
? Having paid full price for the game, the idea of having the "new" content locked from the outset is insane! That should be worth at least
a letter grade. I dug up a cheat code ("GiveMeItAll") to unlock Evolution, but my troubles were just beginning. The graphics are obviously sharper than the Xbox game, but not noticeably more detailed. The cut-scenes are certainly not up to 360 standards, and the women look like transvestites. Yes the islands are gorgeous tropical paradises, but they were on the Xbox too! As I began playing the game I noticed that something didn't seem quite right, and soon realized that I couldn't freakin' aim
with any precision! Thinking my controller might be low on batteries, I tried another, but the results were the same. The crosshair movement is erratic, and once the action heats up, the jerky controls degrade even more! Attempting to aim from a moving a jeep or a jet ski is an absolute joke. Ubisoft obviously didn't do a very good job porting this game. Evolution offers a few new minor elements like the ability to detonate pipe bombs or consume special plants to power up your adrenaline gauge, but it still feels like the same game. The overall structure is less linear, but the added freedom makes it harder to locate objectives. There are frequent framerate hiccups, and once I even found myself stuck in the scenery! The only thing that saves Predator is the four-player split-screen mode, which is far more respectable than the story modes. I like how the numerous maps are rated by "number of players" so you don't need to worry about selecting a location that's too big or too small. Far Cry Instincts Predator is clearly a case of a developer "mailing it in", and fans of the Xbox game will not be amused. It's too bad, because the tropical locales and bongo music make this ideal for summer gaming. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Fight Night Round 3
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2006)
Rating: Teen (blood, mild language, suggestive themes)
If a single game embodies the raw power of the new generation of consoles, it's Fight Night 3. At first glance, this could be mistaken for an actual televised event. The sweaty fighters look incredibly realistic (especially up close) and their movements appear smooth and natural. Wait until you see the close-up, slow-motion replays of a boxer's face becoming grotesquely contorted as he's "crunched" with a devastating right hook. Heck, it hurts just to watch
it (is that a blood worm that just flew out of his mouth?). Fight Night Round 3 maintains an unprecedented level of realism without sacrificing the raw energy and fun of the sport. You can throw jabs, hooks, uppercuts, and even specialty punches. Most are initiated with intuitive sweeping motions of the right thumbstick, and the ensuing lag time depends on how tired your fighter is. Being proficient at this game will require employing proper boxing techniques. Punches must be varied and strategically mixed with blocks and dodges to keep you opponent off-balance. Simply whaling away with reckless abandon will leave you tired and wide open for counters. As the fight progresses, sweat flies, bruises form, and blood runs down faces. Initially I was perplexed by the lack of screen indicators (like a clock), but my buddy Scott pointed out that this just adds to the realism. EA got so many things right with Fight Night 3. You get a whole slew of recognizable fighters from all weight classes, including Mohammad Ali, Evander Holyfield, Roberto Duran, and Sugar Ray Leonard. The load times are substantial, but the hip-hop background music is outstanding - some of the best I've heard. Each round is introduced by a shapely bikini-clad babe, but as my friend Jonathan noted, these girls could really use a sandwich (too skinny). The announcers sound professional enough, but at times their commentary is so far off base that you'll wonder if they're watching the same match. In the addictive Career mode, you can create your own boxer and gradually work him through the ranks. It's amazing how you can customize every minute detail of your fighter, right down to the contours of his face. Some of the more tedious aspects of the game have also been addressed with the handy auto-training and auto-healing options. Playing solo is fun, but there's nothing better than slugging it out with a buddy in the versus mode. Fight Night Round 3 is perfect for applying a profanity-laden beat-down to a close friend, so let the trash talking commence. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Forza Motorsport 2
Publisher: Microsoft (2009)
The more realistic a racer is, the more boring it is. It's a scientific fact! That doesn't bode well for Forza Motorsport 2, which purports to be "the complete racing simulation experience". I'm no racing expert, but I did put a lot of time into Gran Turismo (PS1, 1998) back in the day, so I have that much going for me. Forza's career mode will challenge serious racers on several levels. You'll need to systematically upgrade your car to maximize its performance, and you'll need to master its handling characteristics on the road. Being a shallow kind of guy I gravitated toward the arcade mode, which gave me instant access to all the cars. The idea is to unlock the tracks one by one. I figured I could blow away the competition by choosing a super high-end model, until I realized the rest of the field
was driving the same freakin' car!
Unable to effectively harness that kind of power, I invariably settled for a C-class car, which is not unlike what I might drive in real life! The cars look all shiny and new, but the tracks are extremely dull. Heck, even the Times Square
circuit nearly put me to sleep. Forza's brand of racing feels like slow motion, but once you learn how to take corners gracefully the racing is satisfying enough. I found myself cheating quite a bit, which paid off handsomely. I would cut across grass, use other cars as guide rails, and even T-bone an opponent when it served my purpose. The physics in this game is awfully fishy. I don't understand how rubbing against a guardrail at 20 MPH would always turn my car completely around
. A split-screen lets two players go head-to-head, but since there are no CPU opponents, the races are painfully uneventful. Even the soundtrack of cool dance tunes failed to get me pumped up for this game. Hardcore racing fans can probably bump up the grade by a letter, but those looking for instant gratification should avoid Forza 2 at all costs. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Halfbrick Studios (2011)
If you're looking for a Kinect title that delivers instant gratification, Fruit Ninja is for you. You simply slash at fruit that's tossed up on the screen, racking up points while splattering juice, seeds, and pulp all over the place. Your swipes are punctuated by white motion lines and exaggerated sound effects - just like an old Kung Fu movie! It's satisfying to slice open several juicy pineapples and watermelons in one clean slice! To keep you honest the game periodically tosses bombs into the mix. It's exciting to surgically cut through an apple and orange while narrowly missing a bomb! The game offers a variety of modes including classic (normal), Zen mode (no bombs), and multiplayer (two players at a time). I fell in love with Fruit Ninja but the affair doesn't last. The gameplay is shallow and the challenges and bonus items don't add much. The two-player mode doesn't seem as fair or exciting as it could be. My friend Chris wasn't impressed at all, explaining he's had the game on his phone for quite a while. Fruit Ninja would be ideal for a quick play, but Xbox Live doesn't afford you that luxury with its clunky menu navigation, constant updating, load times, etc. The game is definitely a crowd pleaser but I can understand why it was relegated to download-only status. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (2006)
Rating: Teen (violence)
Full Auto combines the power sliding of Project Gotham, the breakneck speed of Burnout, and the brutal weaponry of Twisted Metal to unleash an unprecedented degree of destruction and mayhem. You have to wonder why nobody thought of this before. What could be more satisfying than blowing up the leader of the pack just before he can reach the finish line? I love Full Auto's bright, arcade-style graphics, which exude a certain Crazy Taxi flavor. The detailed city streets are lined with phone booths, trees, outdoor cafes, and other obstacles you can plow right through without even slowing down. Practically everything is destructible, including storefronts, fences, telephone poles, dumpsters, and monuments. Massive explosions and excessive flying debris make it all the more satisfying. The first time any of my friends play this, they can't help but laugh out loud at all of the gratuitous destruction. The wrecks are awesome, and occasionally your car will hit a ramp and go soaring through the air. Each vehicle is equipped with a pair of weapons - one mounted on front and the other in the back. These include machine guns, missile launchers, mines, smoke screens, and grenade launchers. A rearview mirror makes it easy to keep an eye on opponents, and you can even aim at cars on the side by targeting with the right thumbstick and pushing it in to fire. But what really pushes Full Auto over the top is its novel "unwreck" feature. By holding in the upper right shoulder button, you can "rewind" the last few seconds of the game, effectively allowing you to turn back time and correct any ill-advised maneuvers on your part (like running into a wall). Once you get spoiled by this feature, you'll wish it were in every racer. As in Burnout, vehicles are also equipped with a exhilarating turbo boost, and green arrows are used to guide you around town. The scenery is fairly spectacular, especially close to the water's edge. But while the downtown areas shine, the mountainous tracks look very fake. The two-player split screen mode does a respectable job of maintaining the frame-rate and providing a clear view of the road ahead. It even includes CPU-controlled opponents! Despite its winning formula however, Full Auto does take a while to get up to speed. The tutorial takes forever to complete, and you have to invest a heck of a lot of time in the career mode to unlock the weapons. The computer AI seems cheap at times, with CPU racers that tend to bunch up and take advantage of hidden shortcuts. You'll also need to contend with a heck of a lot of load screens. The more I played Full Auto, however, the more I liked it. Its brand of nonstop action and mindless destruction is hard to quit. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Microsoft (2006)
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)
Hyped for well over a year, this kick-ass combat game really does
live up to its lofty expectations. Gears of War is a brilliant combination of first-person and third-person shooting action, making optimal use of each point of view. The game's use of "taking cover" is ingenious. The third person viewpoint not only lets you easily duck behind protective barriers, but also lets you move quickly and effortlessly between different sources of cover. While taking cover, you can hold in the left trigger to aim you weapon without fully exposing yourself to enemy fire. In this position you have a first-person view, allowing you to aim with utmost precision. The well-designed campaigns let one or two players guide war-hardened soldiers through beast-infested, war-torn urban environments. The majestic ruins are stunning, and the battlefields are strewn with barriers to take cover behind. Gears of War is probably the best-looking game ever made
, and even my PC-gaming friends can't argue with that. The visuals are rendered with gritty gray textures and the lighting effects are outstanding. The restrained use of color not only adds to the realism, but makes the spattering crimson blood all the more dramatic. All of the weapons pack substantial firepower, and that's good because the bad guys can absorb a lot
of bullets. The splattering of blood makes it easy to tell when you've hit your mark, and some guns conveniently double as chainsaws (for when you want to get up close and personal). Before tossing a grenade, handy wire-frame graphics show its path, making it easy to adjust and play the angles. And wait until you witness the "hammer of dawn" - a gun that lets you direct a devastating particle beam from a satellite
! Gears is similar to Halo in how it lets you recover health by laying low for a while. But even should you lose consciousness, your partner can resuscitate you, adding to the sense of teamwork. Gears of War is totally engrossing, and my friends often mention how "they could play this thing all night". The only aspect that really bothered me about the game is its dumb save system (the worst since Dead Rising) which only lets you to save one
campaign per user profile. Since I'm playing through the game with multiple friends, I've had to create several user profiles as a work-around, and they're a pain to keep straight. A lesser gripe is that since everything's rendered in shades of gray, it can be tough to tell friend from foe in the heat of battle. Also, there's really no tutorial, so you need to pick up things on your own. Otherwise I love Gears of War. It raises the high water mark for combat games with its exceptional polish and innovative gameplay. It's kind of hard to imagine how Microsoft could even improve
on this thing. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Microsoft (2008)
The first Gears of War lived up to some tremendous hype, and Gears of War 2 is a logical continuation. The core gunplay has only been tweaked slightly, but the scope has been expanded to feature a wider range of environments and challenges. You'll navigate icy lakes, jettison into deep underground caves, blast your way out of a giant worm, and take a wild ride on an open-air transport vehicle. No two chapters feel the same. As with the first Gears, the degree of detail in the graphics is astounding. When I feast my eyes on the ornate architecture, sophisticated machinery, rugged landscapes, and twisted beasts, I feel sad, knowing I'll never be able to absorb it all
. Hell, even my character's backpack
boasts more detail that I could ever appreciate! The control scheme is intuitive and comfortable, allowing you to perform tactical moves like taking cover and tossing grenades with ease. As in the first game, the "active reload" lets you expedite the reload process with a well-timed press of the right bumper. When your health is depleted, you sometimes have the option to crawl to safety. You'll see enemies doing this too, but you can stomp on them to put them out of their misery. The shooting action is nicely paced as you gun down grunts on motorbikes, scurrying landmines, giant spiders, and flying squid monsters. The splattering blood is satisfying, and the jarring explosions are enhanced with some excellent vibration effects. The epic soundtrack blends into the action nicely, and the interesting cut-scenes never overstay their welcome. As with the first Gears, a terrific split-screen co-op story mode is included. This is fun because many stages are cooperative by nature, especially those that involve disabling traps or driving (one player steers while the other fires). Each player can select his own skill level, so a casual player can team up with a hardcore gamer without ruining the experience for either one. One surprising new addition I almost overlooked is the thrilling new Horde mode. This arcade-style romp (which also supports split-screen) challenges you to wipe out wave after wave of enemies invading a confined area. It's utterly relentless, insanely hard, and addictive as all hell
. The hours simply fly by once you get caught up in the madness ("Dude, it's almost 12 o'clock!"). No matter what mode I played however, I encountered glaring bugs ranging from getting completely stuck in an open area to temporarily losing control of my character. Gears 2 could have been an A+ game, but these glitches take the sheen off an otherwise first-rate shooting experience. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Microsoft (2011)
Gears has always been one of my favorite shooting franchises, and Gears 3 has it all: bloated monster blimps, meat shields, chickens, and weapons with names like "mulcher". Blood flows like water, and limbs rain like... well... rain. This game has all the trademark elements Gears is known for including taking cover behind barriers and reviving down members of your squad. You'll forge through a post-apocalyptic world with memorable locations like a football stadium and a bridge that gets pulled down by a leviathan. One notable new weapon is the "digger" gun that burrows underground before exploding on contact with an enemy. You can man catapults, and you get an awesome view of the flaming rock as it approaches its target. The graphics have a realistic, gritty look, but there's not much eye candy. The dialogue isn't exactly Shakespeare but it definitely gets an "A" for sarcasm. The controls are intuitive but I hate how the camera shakes when you run. It makes me ill!
The campaign mode (which can be played cooperatively) is linear but the difficulty is fair and there's never a dull moment. Still, the game gets repetitive at times. I don't know if it's the "Beyond Thunderdome" scenery or familiar bosses like a giant spider, but the developers seem to be running short on ideas. The horde mode is always a crowd pleaser, and you can now fortify yourself with between waves by buying barriers like barbed wire and weapons like turrets. It's addictive, but the insanely difficult boss stages can bring your progress (and fun) to a screeching halt. Gears of Wars 3 gives fans more of what they want, but I think the formula is starting to wear thin. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Golden Axe: Beast Rider
Publisher: Sega (2008)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, language, violence, partial nudity)
At a time when bashing Sega seems the fashionable thing to do, I suspect most critics dismissed Golden Axe: Beast Rider without really giving it a chance. That's too bad, because this is one heck of a game! True to the Golden Axe franchise, Beast Rider offers medieval hack-n-slash mayhem with some simple spell casting thrown in. If you're looking for a dramatic storyline, tedious platform jumping, or mind-bending puzzles, you're in the wrong place! Golden Axe has a nice arcade feel, and in an era of overblown epics, I find that refreshing. The game does borrow heavily from the Heavenly Sword (PS3, 2007) block/perry mechanism, where you press the left or right bumper depending on the "color" of the attack. A successful dodge lets you administer a devastating counter resulting in splattering blood, flying limbs, and emphatic screams. If you're lucky, you might even get some blood on the camera lens. You'll battle your way through armored knights and barbarians donning animal skulls. I love how the brutes scream a bunch of gibberish before they attack, and it's cool how knights lose armor as you wear them down. The fighting action is fun, but it's the beast-riding aspect that sets the game apart. These lumbering beasts have a real sense of mass, and their attacks deal substantial damage to multiple enemies at a time. Between battles midget thieves emerge and scamper around, and it's fun to hack away at them to reveal goodies. Please kids - don't try this at home!
As much as I dig Beast Rider, the critic inside of me can't overlook its flaws. There are some outrageously cheap traps, including giant bear traps that spring out of the ground without warning. Expect occasional camera difficulties, especially when you paint yourself into a corner. During one boss encounter the collision detection seemed to stop working
for a few minutes. Certain locations like the rainy Highland Fortress wear out their welcome and make the game feel padded. Your progress is saved automatically between chapters, which run about 15 minutes each. The game features an excellent musical score that incorporates primitive beats and otherworldly voices, and the combination is effective. The cut-scenes are also a treat, featuring amazing, hulking beasts that call to mind the old Ray Harryhausen films. One thing Golden Axe fans will surely miss is a two-player coop mode - something that's obviously a lot harder to pull off in 3D than 2D. Beast Rider may be rough around the edges, but if you're looking for some down-and-dirty hack-n-slash action, this is your game. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Grand Theft Auto IV
Publisher: Rockstar (2008)
Rating: Mature (blood, intense violence, partial nudity, strong language, sexual content, drugs and alcohol)
At its core, Grand Theft Auto IV (GTA4) mimics the gameplay of its predecessors, but its richer graphics and sophisticated storyline add a whole new dimension to the gangster action. You play Niko, an Eastern European immigrant visiting his cousin Roman in Liberty City (modeled after New York). Roman has become involved with a lot of disreputable characters, and Niko soon finds himself plunged into the criminal underworld, dealing with one unstable crime lord after the next. The Scorsese-esque narrative is nicely conveyed via dramatic cut scenes and colorful dialogue. GTA4 incorporates a lot of modern technology, but it's not just a gimmick. The GPS tracking is an invaluable tool for quickly reaching your next destination, and the cell phone keeps you in touch with all of your low-life acquaintances. The graphics are outstanding
. The city looks so real you can almost smell the urine in the alleyways, and there are no load times
as you drive from one end of town to the other - quite a technical achievement. Driving like a madman or going on a shooting spree is outrageously fun, and there's no substantial penalty for going buck-wild and causing wanton destruction. Within a minute of picking up the controller, my friend Chris was laughing his ass
off and shouting "A+! A+!
" GTA4 is like a real-world version of Crazy Taxi
(Dreamcast, 2000). The impact of collisions is sensational, and I love how Niko shrieks as he's catapulted through his car's windshield. Yes, there is damage modeling. Liberty City is crawling with police cars, but they ignore most infractions, and it's easy to escape their "circle of detection". Exploring the massive environment is fascinating, and you can even swim in the water! Sniper missions and vertigo-inducing helicopter rides really emphasize the game's spectacular sense of scale. The people move with fluid motion and convey realistic facial emotions, but the hookers look pretty rough. GTA4's missions vary in terms of fun and excitement, but they tend to be somewhat forgiving. Unfortunately, failing a mission sends you back to your apartment, and driving back to the mission location can be a hassle. The radio stations offer some standout musical tracks like the Smashing Pumpkins, M.C. Lyte, and Bob Marley, but like real radio, there's too much idiotic talk. The satirical radio and television programs attempt to incorporate social commentary but come across as obnoxious and unfunny. Rockstar should hire some writing talent instead of relying on the guy down the hall. Even so, this game is a technical marvel that's consistently intriguing and often amazing. It's hard not
to be entertained (or at least offended) by Grand Theft Auto IV. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Grand Theft Auto V
Publisher: Rockstar (2013)
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, nudity, strong language, strong sexual content, use of drugs and alcohol)
Grand Theft Auto is the original go-where-you-want, do-what-you-want sandbox game. You can cause traffic accidents, blow stuff up, or walk up to a stranger and punch him in the face. These games bring out the homicidal maniac in us all. Grand Theft Auto 5 (GTA5) gets off on the wrong foot by subjecting the player to a mandatory 8GB installation. Clearing out all those files was a hardship for me, and wouldn't you know - it still
takes forever to load! GTA5 is a gangster tale set in the town of Los Santos, which looks a heck of a lot like Los Angeles. The characters are rendered with distinctive personality but it's the scenery that steals the show. The first thing you'll want to do is take a joyride through this gorgeous, living world. It's exhilarating to weave through traffic at dangerous speeds, and ramming motorcyclists and watching them fly through the air is pretty much my favorite thing to do. The game is generally forgiving and the police won't hassle you for traffic violations (although running down pedestrians tends to draw some attention). You can only enter certain buildings, but there are plenty of extracurricular activities like playing tennis, riding a rollercoaster, getting drunk, and frequenting strip clubs (trouble, here I come!
). Once you get tired of goofing off (and you will), you'll embark on missions that feature elaborate heists, violent shootouts, and exciting chases. You can toggle between multiple criminals with intertwined storylines (a la Pulp Fiction). Some missions are tedious (planting bombs in a trailer park) but many will get your heart pumping (escaping cops on a crowded freeway). The gameplay is not a huge step up from GTA4, but I appreciated the frequent checkpoints and customizable controls. I was really impressed how conversations while driving incorporate reactions to collisions. One thing that rubbed me the wrong way was the handling of adult themes. I kind of expect brutal violence, but much of the dialogue is obscene and obnoxious. The radio talk shows are raunchy and devoid of humor. The "robot" movie you watch in the theater is pornographic and unbearable to watch. Is the game racist? Probably, but since it offends everyone, I guess that makes it okay. I did enjoy the diverse soundtrack which incorporates plenty of old favorites from artists like Billy Squire, Elton John, Simple Minds, NWA, and even Eddie Murphy (remember "Party All The Time?"). The save system can be confusing at times, but at least there is a quick save option. The game has tremendous variety, but sometimes you may find yourself not knowing what to do next. Grand Theft Auto V certainly is a lot of game for the money, but its juvenile treatment of adult themes is a major turn-off. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Activision (2009)
Some gamers are loyal to Rock Band, and others like Guitar Hero. Take it from me - there's not much difference. Both are rock-solid musical games that allow four players to jam together on guitar, bass, drums, and microphone. The primary difference is the song selection. Guitar Hero 5 (GH5) offers a fresh set of 85 tunes that run the gamut from classic rock (David Bowie, "Fame"), to heavy metal (Motley Crue, "Looks That Kill"), to 90's alternative (Nirvana, "Smells like Teen Spirit"), to modern contemporary (Gorillaz, "Feel Good Inc."). There are a few oddballs like "Ring of Fire" (Johnny Cash) and "Bring the Noise 20XX" (Public Enemy with Zakk Wylde). My personal highlight was "Only Happy When It Rains" (Garbage), made all the better when I unlocked Shirley Manson as a playable character. "Sympathy For the Devil" (Rolling Stones) was not a good choice for that band because the bulk of that song's notes come from a keyboard. Whatever your tastes, rest assured you'll find plenty of tunes that you like - and hate!
GH5's familiar gameplay involves hitting the proper notes in rhythm as they roll down the screen, racking up bonuses for consecutive notes. GH5 tries to spice things up with extraneous controls and bonus challenges, but there's nothing groundbreaking. A career mode lets you unlock new songs and venues, and it's fun to play through. But what really sets Guitar Hero 5 apart is its accessibility. Instead of having to painstakingly unlock every song, all
the tracks are readily available in "quick play" mode. While this is handy when you're having a party, it makes the career mode a lot less satisfying. I also noticed that this game seems more forgiving than previous editions, registering notes even if they are a split second off. Music fans will enjoy Guitar Hero 5, even if it's just an old car with a new coat of paint. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Activision (2007)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language, use of alcohol)
This Wild West adventure can be accurately described as "Grand Theft Auto on horses", with all the sex and language of GTA and brutal violence worthy of Mortal Kombat. Set in 1880, you play a cowboy named Colt who embarks on a series of missions in order to find his father. Gun was originally released on the Xbox, and its modest origins are evident in the angular scenery and graphical flaws like dead bodies that occasionally become suspended in mid-air. Even so, this game does a terrific job of immersing the player in a lawless world of rocky canyons, open prairies, and dusty boomtowns. The early stages are mainly tutorials to get you acquainted with the controls, which includes riding a horse. The control scheme could be more intuitive (double-tap left bumper to roll?
), but you'll learn to love the "quick draw" feature, which gives you slow-motion and auto-aim
for short periods of time. Gun's excellent production values are evident in its quality voice acting, heroic orchestrated score, and thoughtfully conceived missions. The horse animations obviously utilize motion-capture technology, and you have to respect that attention to detail. To be honest, Westerns aren't really my thing, so Gun had an uphill battle to win over this critic. But the game succeeded by focusing on the action, keeping the objectives clear, and using short cut-scenes only when necessary. You'll engage in shootouts not only in saloons, but on bridges, steamboats, and trains. The missions have a lot of variety, so you'll engage in stealthy jailbreaks, high-speed chases, and explosive train ambushes. I'm not usually big on "escort" missions, but the one where you ride on top of a stagecoach while picking off attacking Indians is absolutely thrilling!
Gun is linear in nature, but there are side missions to help you pad your "stats". There's an easy difficulty available for those who just want to enjoy the ride, and you can save at any time. The game features a lot of hot, dusty locations, making this ideal for your summer gaming pleasure. Gun is not the most addicting game in the world, but if you play a few missions here and there, you'll find it well worth your time. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Microsoft (2007)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, mild language, violence)
Halo 3 is exactly
what I expected it to be - nothing more, nothing less. The Halo series has always offered top-quality first-person shooting action, and this third edition continues that tradition. Although certainly up to snuff graphics-wise, it doesn't rock the boat much with regard to gameplay. Playing Halo 3 is a lot like playing Halo 2, but there's more
. The exciting campaign mode (played solo or cooperative) is briskly paced with frequent checkpoints and dramatic cut-scenes that typically run for several minutes. Some feature a hideous alien named Truth who has testicles
hanging from his earlobes
! That is not
a good look for him! When playing the split-screen co-op mode, the second player assumes the role of the Arbiter, who unfortunately looks like every other freakin' alien in the game
! I must have fired my rocket launcher directly into my friend Scott's face
from point blank range about five times before realizing he was my partner
! My bad! The campaign has a surprising amount of backtracking, but at least the environments are more diverse than previous Halos, from lush jungles to bright beaches to snowy wastelands. Halo 3's controls are right on the money, providing precision aiming and excellent maneuverability. One new feature is your ability to deploy "equipment" such as bubble shields, cloaking devices, and trip mines. Personally, I'm not convinced these things were worth complicating the user interface for. The weapons are well balanced, with the possible exception of the amazing new "war hammer", which makes the energy sword look like a Wiffle Ball bat
by comparison. Some enemies now wear armor that can be blasted off. Halo 3 conveys an amazing sense of scale, especially when it comes to confrontations with the immense, spider-like "Scarabs". One minute you'll be firing at one of these mechanical beasts from high in the sky, and the next minute you're on the ground trying to infiltrate its outer shell. Halo 3's fantastic musical score melds seamlessly with the action, although my friend Scott did mention that one bit of music sounded like the intro to Kim Wilde's "Keep Me Hangin' On". After that, five minutes couldn't go by without one of us belting out some cheesy lyrics ("why don't cha be a man about it
...). Halo 3 is as polished as they come, and its endlessly configurable multiplayer modes provide unlimited replay value. The franchise has always been known for its superior on-line play, but the split-screen action is also terrific - especially on a high-definition television. If I had to complain, I might mention the seriously long
load screens and the confusing "semi-automatic" save system which is never sufficiently explained. There's nothing revolutionary about this game, but when you have a proven winner on your hands, you don't want to mess around with the basic formula too much. The first time I showed Halo 3 to my friend Steve and asked what he thought about it, all he could say was, "I think I need to get a [expletive] 360." © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Microsoft (2009)
Rating: Mature (blood, violence, language)
I love Halo more than anything else in the whole wide world (except for Ray Lewis of course), but I still
couldn't get into ODST. This is basically a Halo 3 expansion pack designed to keep the cash flowing until the next "real" Halo was released. ODST stands for Orbital Drop Shock Troopers, and its campaign is a series of side quests played through the eyes of several of these soldiers (instead of Master Chief). A few things stand out about ODST. First, instead of a conventional health meter, the screen becomes red from the outer edges as you incur damage. As with all Halo games, if you remain out of harm's way for a few seconds this clears up. Pressing X places you in "VISR mode" which surrounds objects in colorful outlines, allowing you to find your way around in the dark. In addition, it also highlights enemies in bright red, making it very hard for them to hide. There's really no advantage to turning the VISR mode off
, except you can't really enjoy the scenery. The first few stages are set in futuristic urban settings that remind me of those in Blade Runner - only a lot
more boring! The musical score is surprisingly mellow. ODST's gameplay is straight-up urban warfare as you shoot and duck behind the ubiquitous barriers. Although later levels open things up a bit, the monotonous early levels leave a bad impression. The combat is very much by the numbers, and it's not always apparent where to go or what to do. One new element is the ability to detach cannons and drag them around, but that's just borrowed from Gears of War. I didn't care much for the campaign mode, but the game redeems itself a bit with the new "fire fight" mode. Like the "horde" mode in Gears of War, you cooperate against never-ending waves of increasingly mean foes. A scoring system gives the action an old-school flair, and I like how you can compete against your partner or
go for the highest combined score. Naturually there are a slew of other multiplayer modes and the complete set of Halo 3 maps is included. ODST might give Halo fans something extra to chew on, but I found this half-hearted effort to be a bit of a turn-off. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Microsoft (2012)
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood, violence)
There was a lot of buzz surrounding this game because it marked the transition of the Halo development team from Bungie studios to 343 Industries. Some expected Halo 4 to adopt an entirely new look and feel, but that's not the case. No, this feels exactly
like the Halo of old, save for some refined visuals, minor tweaks, and a few new enemies. Halo 4 begins with an exciting escape sequence that helps you get familiar with the controls. Once again you are Master Chief, and he looks pretty much the same except the color of his suit is slightly different. He still engages in the same cat-and-mouse gunplay with covenant forces, although there are several new enemies including metallic dogs and teleporting dudes with skull faces. More powerful enemies have shields, and they might require about 20 shots to kill. You also have a shield, and you can move with it but not fire. As the story unfolds you discover that your holographic guide, Cortana, is rapidly deteriorating and must get home to be repaired. Her virtual figure is gorgeous, so it's urgent
you save her! Halo 4 graphics are terrific, and the high-tech structures incorporate a lot of glass floors and "light paths". Watch your step, because sometimes you think you're stepping onto a glass platform only to plunge into the abyss. The visuals look extremely sharp, but the craggy planet surfaces and sleek fortresses do get a little repetitive. Checkpoints are well placed and you can save your progress at any time. I enjoyed the single-player action (also available in coop) but a resumed campaign takes forever to load. To enable the multiplayer you'll need to install the contents of the second disc, which is also incredibly time consuming. I like how you can commandeer vehicles in multiplayer, but I hate how weapon icons tend to clutter up the scenery. Halo 4 is a polished shooter, but its by-the-numbers style doesn't really bring anything new to the table. Frankly I was expecting more. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Microsoft (2010)
Rating: Mature (blood, violence)
It's hardly a radical departure for the series, but Reach effectively ups the ante by honing the familiar Halo sights, controls, and audio to blood-splattering perfection. So what's it all about? Well, Reach is the Spartan headquarters which has fallen under attack by the largest Covenant fleet ever witnessed. Whatever!
When it comes to Halo, the story is inconsequential, and if anything the dialogue-heavy cut-scenes slow the game's momentum. Unlike the disappointing ODST which had heavily constrained environments, Reach offers an expansive, diverse shooting experience. The mountainous landscapes provide plenty of options for tactical maneuvering, and you'll witness beautiful panoramic views like a flaming space freighter embedded in the side of a mountain. There's even some sporadic wildlife (are those ostriches?
). The controls feel extra crisp, and new "armor abilities" offer a slew of new swappable gadgets to toy around with. The "drop shield" is a throwback to Halo 3, but there are a half-dozen other items that allow you to do things like initiate active camouflage or send a decoy out ahead. There's even a freakin' jet pack
, and if you think the idea of soaring over a battlefield is exciting, well, you're right!
New weapons include a "target locator" that rains destruction from above - much like the "Hammer of Dawn" in Gears of War. There's also a new "gravity hammer" that makes the energy sword look wimpy
by comparison. There are even spaceship shooting stages similar to Rogue Squadron on the N64. The health meter has been revamped so it now has several levels instead of a single rechargeable bar. The enemy AI has been upgraded but I'm not so sure that's a good thing! It's a lot harder to target enemies as they are constantly scrambling and ducking for cover. The game's diverse musical score is absolutely sensational. Edgy guitar sections with pounding drums really get your adrenaline flowing while the lush orchestrated sections elevate the game to epic proportions. The only time Reach let me down was when I struggled to control the vehicles. To be honest, my difficulties with those date all the way back to the original
Halo! The excellent campaign mode has a nice "save and quit" option, which is a welcome upgrade from the ambiguous save systems of past Halos. The mode and customization options are vast, and I loved the split-screen modes with their gorgeous maps and competitive action. Halo Reach is a spectacular first-person shooter, and there's little doubt in my mind that this is the best one I've ever played. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Hydro Thunder Hurricane
Publisher: Microsoft (2010)
My friends and I always held Hydro Thunder
(Dreamcast, 1999) in high esteem, so there was no resisting this sequel, despite the fact that it's only available via download. This stylish boat racer is pure arcade fun. The undulating waves, colorful boats, and spectacular tracks will absolutely bombard your senses. There's a nice sense of speed and I love the sensation of going over giant waterfalls. Explosions jolt your boat and collapsing cliffs create surging tidal waves. I love how the water sprays your windshield - you can almost feel the mist! The stormy Norwegian track features a giant Thor who looms over the action and attacks with his hammer. Your boat glides smoothly through the water and touching canisters fills your turbo meter. Turbo not only allows you to surge ahead, but also jump to reach hidden shortcuts and power-ups. It's easy to unlock new tracks and modes, and this will provide enough incentive to keep you playing for hours on end. In addition to on-line competition you can play your friends via four-player split-screen (sweet). Extra modes include "rings" slalom courses and a gauntlet mode where you need to avoid explosive barrels. The rings mode is a little tedious but I like how it reveals many of the hidden shortcuts. Getting to know the tracks is crucial, especially since many feature narrow canals and sharp turns. You don't see many pick-up-and-play games like Hydro Thunder Hurricane anymore, and that's a shame. It's also too bad it was delegated to download status, because I would cherish a copy of this on disk. With its eye-popping graphics and non-stop action, Hydro Thunder Hurricane has earned the title of "new summer classic." © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Injustice: Gods Among Us
Publisher: Warner Bros. (2013)
Rating: Teen (blood, language, suggestive themes, violence)
I guess it was about time for a new superhero game, but could they have come up with a more grandiose title? Injustice: Gods Among Us recycles the fighting engine from Mortal Kombat
(Xbox 360, 2011) to pit DC Comics heroes against their arch villains. You get a lot of big names like Batman, Cat Woman, Superman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, Lex Luthor, and the Joker. My friends were pleased to see characters like Shazam, Black Adam, Sinestro, Deathstroke, Raven, and Solomon Grundy in the mix. The head-to-head action is frantic fun, but Injustice left me feeling a bit underwhelmed. I went back and played Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe
(Xbox 360, 2008) as a basis of comparison, and Injustice is superior in some areas but worse in others. Its character models are extremely bulky, which doesn't flatter the female characters at all. Wonder Woman in particular has such a broad chest she could pass as a transvestite!
The fighting action is solid as you would expect, but it has that mechanical, Mortal Kombat feel. The battles feel somewhat herky jerky, lacking a sense of flow. One unnecessary new feature is the "wager clashes" which are rock-paper-scissors contests that interrupt the fight. The level of violence is less than Mortal Kombat (of course), but the elaborate super attacks are outrageous. Batman's super attack culminates with the victim getting run over
by the Batmobile! The basic controls are simple but the tutorial reveals a lot of subtle techniques. Unfortunately the next time you play you'll have forgotten everything, and there's no manual to refresh your memory (although there is
a product catalog). The detailed but uninteresting stage locations include the Bat Cave, a space station, and Atlantis. The best aspect of the game is how you can interact with the scenery by kicking your opponent into electrified wires, swinging on a chandelier, or aiming a nearby laser cannon. Gods Among Us has a dark story mode, but its narrative is incomprehensible. You're constantly being whisked between locations, and the dialogue makes no sense. You have duplicate versions of the heros and weird alliances are formed with the villains. Battles like "Superman versus Superman" are confusing as hell. Additional single-player modes are available, but they are awful. I'd much prefer an arcade-style scoring mode to the "experience ladder" system which rewards you for playing longer
but not better
. Injustice: Gods Among Us is a decent fighter, but it's not nearly as epic as its name would imply. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (2010)
Rating: Teen (mild language, violence)
I try to maintain a positive attitude going into each review, but Iron Man 2 is a mess. The storyline is convoluted, the controls are confusing, and the graphics are substandard. Since Ironman can fly, most stages take place in expansive outdoor areas, but the industrial facilities and mountain ranges offer little to see. While indoors it's easy to become disoriented as you become caught up on scenery and stuck in dark corners. Typically the camera is positioned over your shoulder, but it's prone to swinging every which way. Blowing up advancing helicopters, cannons, and robots is moderately fun, especially since you can fire two separate weapons by squeezing both triggers. The targeting system is quirky however and some weapons take too long to reload. In addition to locking on and firing missiles like a madman, you can go fisticuffs with flying robots. Unfortunately, crazy camera angles make it really hard to tell what the [expletive] is going on during these battles. In fact, when Iron Man is wearing a gray suit, it's pretty much impossible to tell him from the bad guys! The missions are action-packed but monotonous, and bosses repeat early and often. In one mission I had to escort a hulking mechanical creature and the damn thing kept stepping on me!
Some objectives are nebulous at best. Get the data spine core? Locate the Tesla reactor? Huh?? The graphics exhibit frequent glitches like objects that magically appear in a person's hand, and even the cut-scenes are unimpressive. Robert Downy Jr. looks like he's Chinese
for Pete's sake! Between levels you'll return to your "headquarters", which is a complex myriad of configuration screens that let you "invent" new items and customize your outfit. It's confusing as hell, and sometimes you'll go through a lot of trouble only to be told, "the next mission uses a preconfigured suit". Wonderful. At least the soundtrack kicks ass, with a relentless, driving score that seems to have been lifted from the film itself. It's one of the few highlights of an exceptionally mediocre action title. Games like Iron Man 2 could give movie tie-ins a bad name. Oh wait... © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Jurassic Park: The Game
Publisher: Telltale (2011)
Rating: Teen (blood, mild language, mild suggestive themes, use of tobacco, violence)
I haven't seen any magazines or web sites review this game, presumably because it's not a military shooter and hence irrelevant to the mainstream media. It's a shame because titles like this provide a welcome change of pace. Describing Jurassic Park as an interactive movie isn't unfair, but it's not as derogatory as it sounds. This game owes a lot to the critically acclaimed Heavy Rain (PS3, 2010), and it isn't just another adventure with a license slapped on it. No, the story picks up where the first movie left off, reusing locations, vehicles, and facilities. The layout of the visitor center looks about right, and I love those colorful green tour jeeps. The dialogue is a little predictable but the game has an appealing cinematic quality. In some areas you just pan around and explore your surroundings, like a point-and-click adventure. You're often presented with dialogue options, but trying them all can be tedious. There are bits of humor sprinkled throughout, like when I tried to tell a lady "you need rest" in Spanish, and it came out as "you eat pencil". The action scenes are where the game gets some serious traction. These intense sequences prompt you to press keys quickly - not unlike the "quick time" segments in games like Shenmue
(Dreamcast, 2000). It's exciting as you frantically try to fight off or escape from a dinosaur. In one memorable scene I found myself caught up in a battle between a T-Rex and a Triceratops. Each failed prompt reduces your score, and too many miscues are fatal. The worst aspect of the game is scouring a scene for clues, which can be time-consuming and boring. Still, Jurassic Park fans will like the idea of being able to revisit the original island and play a part in their own movie. Even if it's never clear how much impact you're having on events, it's a fun ride all the same. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
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