Publisher: Sony (2012)
Rating: Everyone 10+ (fantasy violence, mild blood, mild suggestive themes)
If Sorcery was meant to showcase the Move motion controllers, I think the strategy backfired. The game got off on the wrong foot, forcing me to sit through an agonizing installation process. And for what? Sorcery is a standard third-person adventure that puts you in control of a young wizard's apprentice. You're accompanied by a white cat-like creature named Erline with a sexy female voice. In addition to providing guidance ("you're going the wrong way") she's quick to dole out smart-aleck remarks. The scenery boasts some impressive locations including a magical tower, a tranquil lake, and misty tombs. The motion controls are a mixed bag. The ice cream cone-shaped Move controller waves your wand, but a navigation controller is required to move, dodge, and block (a normal controller will also work). Using both controllers at once is awkward, but casting magic spells is fun for a while. You can open doors and move stone pillars with a flick of the wrist. You can reconstruct objects by moving the wand in a clockwise motion. Like the Lego games, it's fun to watch objects like bridges rapidly assembled before your eyes. You can shake the controller to activate a potion, causing your Move "ball" to turn red before you down it with a drinking motion. But the main use of your wand is firing bolts of energy at banshees and resurrected corpses. This is done by flicking your wrist in a rapid-fire manner. Not only can you control the direction of these shots, but you even can make them curve!
Sadly, the novelty doesn't last, and during an extended boss encounter my wrist started aching really badly
from shaking the controller so much. On top of that, the calibration occasionally goes wonky, causing your shots to fire in random directions. Sorcery has its moments, but when you start wishing you could play with a normal controller (and you will), that's not a good sign. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Digital Leisure (2009)
It would easy to write off Space Ace as "Dragon's Lair in space" but I think that would be giving this game too much credit! If Dragon's Lair was a video game masquerading as a movie, then Space Ace is a movie masquerading as a video game
. Dragon's Lair offered a series of brief challenges in enclosed spaces, making it possible to logically deduce your next move (in theory). In the expansive universe of Space Ace however, you're at the mercy of blinking prompts, or more likely - trial and error!
Many of the moves completely defy logic! In terms of visual flair, Space Ace is beyond reproach. Moderns games wish
they had graphics like this! The artistic backgrounds look like oil paintings and the animation is rendered with style. The game stars a dorky kid named Dexter who periodically transforms into a muscular stud. The non-stop action will have you leaping between crumbling ledges, dodging shooting lava, and blasting robots with your laser gun. The diverse stages will have you roller-skating through a collapsing maze and racing away from chicken-hog aliens on bikes. In one memorable sequence you battle a blue giant who systematically shoots himself to oblivion as you hop around his body. Space Ace contains a number Star Trek references (tribbles!) and Star Wars references that are a lot less subtle (is that the Death Star?) The game is more fun to watch than play. Its lengthy sequences are hard to complete, and one screw-up sends you back to the start. The action unfolds so quickly you often can't see what's coming, and you don't always get a flashing prompt to help you along. In some cases you'll complete an entire section, only to be presented with a mirrored
version of the exact same sequence! Periodically you have the option to "energize" by pressing the action button. This branches the story slightly, but it can't compensate for the game's flaws. I seriously doubt I would have reached the ending (which is about three seconds long) if not for my friend Steve's perseverance. Fortunately you also have the option of sitting back and watching the story play out in its entirety. If you're a fan of animation you can bump up the grade by one letter, and if you pumped quarters into the original arcade game (like Steve), you can bump it up by two
letters. But for most gamers, Space Ace will be a beautiful-looking exercise in frustration. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sony (2010)
Rating: Everyone (violence)
I'm pretty jaded when it comes to these motion-sports compilations. I've already played motion-enhanced versions of Beach Volleyball, Archery, Disc Golf, Table Tennis, and many others. The difference is, they were never this
good! Sports Champions includes six events, there's not a single dud in the bunch. The Move controllers offer better accuracy than the Wii or Kinect, and the ability to use a pair
of unwired controllers is liberating. Archery feels completely natural as you hold one hand forward and pull the other back, and it's satisfying to splatter targets like watermelons and pumpkins. The well-designed Beach Volleyball lets you perform block and dig moves without hitting the ceiling or breaking a lamp. Disc Golf is good enough to justify the entire package with its scenic, multi-tiered holes. It feels like you're throwing a Frisbee just as you would in real life! Table tennis gives you one-to-one control of the paddle without the erratic hiccups associated with similar games on other platforms. Gladiator Duel offers exciting one-on-one combat as you angle a shield with one hand while wielding a sword with the other. And for goodness sake don't sleep
on Bocce! It might seem like a lame ball rolling game, but it's remarkably fun and competitive. Sports Champions features gorgeous graphics and a diverse selection of characters including a mega-hottie named Belle. Playing head-to-head is extra fun because players can stand a safe distance from each other thanks to the wide-angle Move camera. If you tried these on Kinect you'd be bumping into each other like keystone cops. The champion mode lets a solo player work up the ranks, and upon completing the bronze level of archery I was prompted to pose for the camera with a virtual bow in my hand
. That was pretty amazing. There are plenty of loading screens, but they let you pass the time by paging through helpful hints. I guess the only downside to Sports Champions is that you'll need at least two Move controllers (ideally four). At $50 a pop, that's not exactly chump change, but it's the price you pay for premium motion sports action. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Sports Champions 2
Publisher: Sony (2012)
Rating: Everyone (mild violence)
The first Sports Champions impressed the heck out of me with its precision controls and beautiful graphics. This sequel provides more of the same but the event list is a little uninspired, offering bowling, boxing, archery, skiing, golf, and tennis. I've played these on the Wii, but they were never this good. Golf itself is worth the price of admission. The controls let me use my natural golf swing, and the courses are absolutely gorgeous. It's a far superior experience to EA's Tiger Woods series. Tennis is equally impressive, and probably my favorite event. You can position your racket for a forehand or backhand shot and apply spin with ease. It's extremely satisfying to smack a hard shot down the line. I love the robot tennis player who lets out electronic "grunts". Bowling is fun but maybe a little too
easy. Still, I love the fantasy bowling alleys including one in a cozy log cabin and an outdoor alley at a tropical resort. Boxing is a tough sport to get right because the action must closely follow your movements, but this version is pretty close to 1:1, so you can really let the punches fly. Skiing is a sight to behold with its gorgeous mountain scenery and scintillating sense of speed. Using a pair of Move controllers, you use your arms to turn, crouch, and perform tricks. It works, but I have to admit that a balance board would have really rounded out the experience. Archery gave me a bad case of deja-vu, since it was on the first
Sports Champions. Its controls are surprisingly awkward. Sports Champions 2 is obviously a nice party game, but it's the "cup play" that gives the game legs. This mode offering a series of short, diverse challenges of increasing difficulty. Tutorials are spread out over the challenges, gradually introducing new concepts. So what's wrong with Sports Champions 2? Well, the controller calibration is a pain, especially when you want to add a second controller during an event. And if any game could benefit from an install option, it's this one. The load screens are frequent and long - a real party killer! Still, Sports Champions 2 pushes the envelope for motion games. It doesn't get much attention today, but this would have been a monster hit six years ago. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sony (2013)
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language)
Naughty Dog (Crash Bandicoot, Uncharted) has a history of making great games, and The Last of Us may be their best effort to date. The game's post-apocalyptic premise didn't impress me at first, but its third-person gameplay gradually sucked me in. I tend to downplay the role of the story in video games, but there's something to be said about being emotionally vested in the characters. The acting and production values put this game in a league of its own. The characters are well-developed thanks to superb voice acting, believable dialog, natural mannerisms, and amazing facial expressions. The hero is a grizzled survivor bearing a strong resemblance to Josh Brolin. He's sworn to protect a crafty 14-year-old girl who looks like Ellen Page. The scenery is stunning as you trudge through crumbling hotels, restaurants, and schools. The degree of detail is all the more impressive once you start to realize just how sprawling this adventure really is. The city is a convincing vision of overgrown decay, and the scenes in the countryside rekindled fond memories of Alan Wake
(Xbox 360, 2010) and Silent Hill (PS1, 2000). I love how all four seasons are rendered with tranquil beauty. Most of the action takes during daylight hours, yet the game maintains a high level of intensity. Infected people run toward you screaming once they catch sight of you. Even worse are the "clickers" which look like people with cauliflower growing out of their faces. These grotesque creatures are totally blind but sensitive to noise, so you have to creep carefully around them. Being grabbed by one is an alarming experience as you frantically tap buttons to push them away. The violence is brutal and the profanity is extreme. In addition to zombies you'll engage in shootouts with local militia. A stealth approach is paramount, but it helps that you can use your hearing senses to locate enemies through walls. Many puzzles involve positioning planks or ladders, which is another unique element. Unlike many modern games, you won't waste time collecting worthless junk. I didn't even mind collecting ingredients to construct items like nail bombs, smoke bombs, and Molotov cocktails. I love how there's no limit to the amount of items and weapons you can carry. The auto-save system is terrific, so you never have to retread very far. The lack of a manual is disappointing, considering I forgot how to switch weapons, throw a grenade, and turn on my flashlight. Otherwise The Last of Us is so good
, it makes other games look bad
. It does hold your hand at times to propel the narrative, not unlike Heavy Rain (PS3, 2010). And like any good horror flick, every time you think the game's over it takes another dramatic turn. A lot of games try to convey a cinematic experience, but The Last of Us actually delivers with a pulse-pounding epic you'll want to see through to the end. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sony (2011)
Rating: Teen (animated blood, fantasy violence, mild language)
This is your basic light gun shooter in the tradition of Lethal Enforcers
(Genesis, 1993). Instead of shooting people or zombies, you're the actor on a movie set blasting animated cardboard cutouts. This allows Sony to keep this a "family" game since all the violence is pretend. The Shoot is about as generic as its name would imply. Stage themes include the Wild West, robots, gangsters, and a haunted house. At first it feels like you're in an amusement park as the game automatically whisks you around elaborate set pieces. I really like the big band music and retro-futuristic style of the Mob stage. The targets shatter nicely and the explosions are satisfying, but some stages are too long and repetitive. When targets appear in the same patterns and linger like sitting ducks, it feels like you're just going through the motions. Targets always appear in the same order, so you can memorize the stages. One interesting aspect of The Shoot is how there is no reloading
and unlimited ammo
. How do they get away with that? Well, earning bonuses and power-ups are the result of consecutive hits, so if you shoot with reckless abandon you're probably not going to fare so well. The aiming controls are probably the most accurate I've seen in a Move title. In the cowboy stage you can actually shoot the shackles
off the wrist of a damsel in distress! The game does ask you to perform some awkward things, like spinning around to initiate a power-up, or employ a "quick draw" to finish off a boss. You're often prompted to dodge incoming missiles by moving the controller from side to side, but this can be frustratingly ineffective. A director provides corny (and non-stop) commentary like "I'm getting the tingles - don't let up!" and "This is the dawning of awesome!
" The five stages are a challenge to unlock, and a score attack mode lets you play each for high score. The Shoot will put your Move controllers to good use, and it's not a bad buy if you can pick it up cheap. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2012)
Like Madden, these PGA Tour games are yet another exclusive license that EA is running into the ground. Not only is Tiger Woods 13 slow and dull, it's fraught with technical glitches and design oversights. I purchased this PS3 version mainly for its Move (motion controller) support. I've used the Move controllers with other sports titles and found them to be far more precise than the Kinect or Wii. I was expecting the ultimate in control, but failed to anticipate how bad EA would botch the rest of the game. After a painfully long load process, you're presented with the title screen which prompts you to "Press Start", but the start button on the Move controller does not
work. That means you need to activate a normal controller just to get started
. That might not seem so bad until you're in the middle of the third hole and the game suddenly freaks out because the normal controller has "timed out". You'll find yourself frequently having to re-register that controller (which you are not using) over the course of a round. You would have expected EA to test this game at least once
, but I guess I gave them too much credit. The career mode prompts you to complete a form
before you get started, and it's about as fun as a trip to the DMV! Once you finally begin playing, it becomes apparent that it takes longer to load a hole than to actually play the thing! And there's no reason these holes should take so long. They are very bland and blur effects are used to mask the lack of detail. The control scheme is needlessly confusing, but once you get the hang of it the game isn't hard to play. The Move controller is generally very accurate, although there were times when my friend Steve's swing wouldn't register at all (guess you can't swing too hard). I like how the balls tend to be "dead", since less rolling means less waiting. The game is playable if you have a lot of time on your hands, but there's no denying the fact that Tiger Woods 13 is a very uninspired golf title. Clearly the concept of "fun" is something totally lost on the people running EA. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Bandai (2007)
Rating: Teen (violence)
As a fan of the Time Crisis series since its inception (Playstation,1997), I am truly disappointed with this next-generation effort. The intro depicts a dam in a thick jungle, and I was licking my chops in anticipation of being plunged into some gorgeous tropical scenery. But instead Time Crisis 4 (TC4) begins in an airport - one of the most overused light-gun locations ever! Other uninspired places in the game include a dock, warehouse, cave, forest, and research facility. Time Crisis has never been known for its cutting edge graphics, but the degree of detail here seems more on par with a PS2 game. The storyline is a real snore-fest, replete with two cocky, spiky-haired heroes spouting hackneyed dialogue like "Let's do this!" Like previous Time Crisis games, your character moves automatically as you shoot enemies that come out of the woodwork. Just take care not to shoot your partner in the back of his head - that's really
inconsiderate. I find it amusing how two or three terrorists will suddenly pop up right in your face, pausing just long enough for you to blow them away. Ducking for cover lets you avoid incoming projectiles, switch weapons, regain health, and automatically reload. The highlight of TC4 is a high-speed helicopter chase through a city. Not only is it a wild ride as you swerve between skyscrapers, but you fire a gatling gun non-stop at trucks and other helicopters, leaving massive devastation in your wake. A Guncon 3 controller is included with the game, but it requires you to run two sensors along the top of your TV - a real pain in the ass if your PS3 is not close by (I had to use a USB extension cable). The gun's accuracy is decent, but it feels cheap with its wonky thumbsticks and poorly-labeled buttons. Time Crisis 4 would have been respectable had it stuck to the original recipe, but the developers had to get fancy. As a result, you'll spend an inordinate amount of time blasting swarms of "Terror Bite" beetles (a la The Mummy). Ugh! Who in their right mind came up with this
stupid idea?! Also, certain stages force you to fight enemies on multiple fronts, aiming off-screen to "swing around". Not only are these sequences unresponsive control-wise, but they are just irritating and pointless. In addition to the standard arcade mode, there's a new story mode that plays like a first-person shooter (FPS) - from hell
. Lacking both the raw thrills of a light-gun game and the fine control of a FPS, it's a complete disaster. Time Crisis 4 offers a two-player mode, but each player gets his own small screen, which is lame. I don't ask much from my light gun games, but Time Crisis 4 failed to meet even my modest expectations. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Time Crisis: Razing Storm
Publisher: Namco (2010)
The early Time Crisis games set the standard for light-gun shooting action, but the franchise has been in decline. This disk actually contains three individual games, making it quite a value (or so it would seem). You get Time Crisis: Razing Storm, the arcade mode of Time Crisis 4, and Deadstorm Pirates. Each requires a separate installation process, and they can chew up about 10 GB of space when all is said and done! I used my Guncon 3 light gun to play, but the new Move controllers are also supported. The headliner, Time Crisis: Razing Storm, is pure adrenaline pumping action from start to finish. You and your squad have been dropped into an urban warzone in the Middle East where you're attacked by enemy soldiers backed up by some menacing mechanical monstrosities. The "Kraken" is an enormous metal octopus outfitted with missile launchers, and the "Raptors" look like something out of Robocop. This game is a little crazy. Instead of watching enemies slowly filter in, the camera will swing around to reveal 20 terrorists in your face about to pull the trigger. The destruction quotient is off the charts, and it's often necessary to level nearby buildings in order to reveal hiding enemies. The machine gun is your primary weapon, and while you can spray bullets liberally, you'll want to give priority to the big red circles which indicate someone is about to fire. Like most light gun games, you're not in control of your movements, so you can just sit back and blast away. In addition to machine guns, the game will put other weapons in your hands at strategic moments, including a missile launcher, cluster gun, and sniper rifle. Razing Storm offers solid arcade action but Namco managed to totally ruin it. First, there's the business of unlimited continues. Since you can't adjust these, there's no challenge. Playing for score would have been a viable option, but there are no local rankings
, so your scores are not saved. You need to be on-line to access the bulk of the features, which is preposterous for a light gun title. The story mode lets you move freely instead of "on rails", but like the one in Time Crisis 4, it's an uncontrollable mess. What saves the entire package is the inclusion of Deadstorm Pirates, which puts you in the role of a pirate at sea armed with magical golden pistols that fire like machine guns. It's like Pirates of the Caribbean meets Rambo!
The exhilarating stages let you fight off skeletons boarding your ship, blast your way through caves stocked with gunpowder, careen down wild river rapids, and fight a Kraken in a whirlpool. The tropical scenery is gorgeous and the brisk pacing makes the game feel like a high-speed thrill ride. It's also the only game of the bunch to feature limited continues (not adjustable though) and local high scores. Razing Storm is a hard package to grade. Each game is a first-rate shooter at its core, but Namco mishandled them badly by limiting your options and shamelessly forcing the on-line issue. Whether by laziness or incompetence, Namco really dropped the ball. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Disney (2010)
Toy Story 3 begins with one of the most exhilirating stages I've ever played in a video game. You view our hero Woody from behind as he rides a horse through a desert canyon. As you dodge boulders and jump over fences, flying saucers fire lasers from all sides and the ground crumbles below your feet. It's incredibly fun and the eye candy is off the charts!
That exciting sequence is followed by a high-speed train ride where you defeat aliens by throwing toy balls at them. It's top-notch entertainment while it lasts, but then you're dropped into a "toy box" mode which brings the momentum (and fun) to a screeching halt. For the first time in a Toy Story game, you have an "open world" you can customize to your heart's content. Big freakin' deal. This miniature western town has loads of characters to converse with, hidden secrets to unlock, and endless errands to run. It's easy to make progress, but there's no pay-off and it all feels like a pointless exercise. After a while I realized I could select other stages from "world map", but none were very compelling. The cooperative stages are well designed but marred by erratic controls, like when you hit a button to release an army man from his parachute and it doesn't respond. The Buzz Lightyear shooting stage is an absolute mess as you fly through a windy canyon while blasting floating rocks. Constantly pressing the right trigger to fire is tiresome, and it's hard to judge your proximity to the walls. Looking on the bright side, Toy Story 3's superb visuals are comparable to the films, and the cut-scenes very humorous and worth watching. This is an uneven effort - the kind of game that gets you excited at the outset but fails to hold your attention for long. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Touchstone (2007)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, language)
Since making a name for itself on the Nintendo 64 in 1997, the Turok series has long been in decline, but this new chapter may reinvigorate the franchise. The first-person shooting (FPS) action begins when Turok and his fellow space marines crash-land on a planet crawling with enemy troops and
dinosaurs. The jungle scenery would have been more impressive if I hadn't already played Halo 3
(Xbox 360, 2007), but the lush, organic setting is still pretty awesome. The high, rustling weeds offer plenty of places to hide, yet convey a paranoid feeling that you're being stalked. Turok must not only contend with soldiers who offer a tactical challenge, but dinosaurs who prefer to go for the throat. If you're lucky, dinosaurs will wreak havoc on an enemy camp, or better yet turn on each other. Naturally, the T-Rex steals the show, and from the first glimpse, you know it's only a matter of time before you'll have to face him one-on-one. The dinosaur animation is completely convincing, and the texture of their skin is amazing
. The first-person shooting action is typical, employing stealth attacks, sniping, grenades, and dual weapons. But instead of a health meter, your vitality is reflected by redness that creeps in from the edge of the screen as you take damage. Taking cover allows you to heal - a concept lifted straight from Halo (I won't even bring up the "spider tank". Whoops.) Turok's primary weapon is his bow which reflects his American Indian heritage. The longer to pull back, the harder the shot, and it's really satisfying to pin a soldier against a crate! One glaring issue is the touchy aiming. The analog stick of the PS3 controller is sensitive enough as it is, but moving, firing a weapon, or taking a hit throws your aim way
off. As a result, during intense firefights you just tend to spray bullets and hope for the best. Turok deserves to be applauded for its violence and gore. The splattering of blood against walls is spectacular, and special knife attacks (presented in third-person view) are Mortal Kombat-worthy. The audio is also exceptional, with an adrenaline-pumping soundtrack and expertly recorded voiceovers. Turok is a linear game, but does a wonderful job of hiding it, as you never feel like you're being led around. An auto-save feature kicks in regularly, except
in really hard areas, where it seems nowhere to be found! It's bad enough to replay long stretches, but reloading the last checkpoint is slow
(thanks a lot
Blu Ray!) Turok's multiplayer mode supports up to 16 players on-line. It took a while for this game to grow on me, but my friends were crazy
about Turok from the start. No doubt I'll be getting a lot of flak for not giving this game an A. I don't think it's quite as fun as Halo, but Turok is consistently intense and exciting, and shooter fans will have a hard time putting down their controller. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sony (2012)
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)
I've been on the Twisted Metal bandwagon since day one
, so I know a good car-wrecker when I see it. The series was hugely popular on the original Playstation but the ill-conceived Twisted Metal Black (PS2, 2001) soured a lot of fans. All things considered, it was probably a good time for a reboot. I'm happy to report that this is everything Black should have been and much, much more. It retains the dark themes of Black but its arcade-style mayhem is more reminiscent of the original games. In fact, the classic controls are the same as the 1995 original. The sprawling, high-definition stages include the stormy suburbs, run-down industrial areas, and an amusement park complete with a haunted house. There's a snowy Christmas-themed city stage and a trap-laden arena that's constantly changing in configuration. You can race through the storefronts of many buildings, shattering windows and plowing through furniture. All your favorite vehicles are back and now you can even pilot a helicopter named Talon. Twisted Metals's gameplay is finely tuned, and I love how you can load up on weapons. When you get an enemy in your sights, you can unleash hell by tapping the lower triggers. The ensuing chaos is dazzling, and I love the flying numbers to indicate damage. This, my friends, is some quality violence!
You even get the old "special moves" like freeze and shield. The single-player story mode features computer enhanced live-action
(!) scenes which are gory, disturbing, and a heck of a lot of fun to watch!
A wide variety of challenges include "battle races", "moving cage" battles, bosses, and endurance matches. You can even play co-op with a friend! A fully-configuration split-screen mode supports up to four players. There's the obligatory on-line mode and a challenge mode that lets a single player go up against an army of bots. The musical score is dead-on with appropriately abrasive tunes like "I Can't Drive 55", "Heavy Metal", "Dragula", and even "Straight Outta Compton". I can't get over how much fun this new Twisted Metal is. This is so good, I'm afraid they might not have to make another one! © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Publisher: Sony (2009)
Rating: Teen (blood, language, suggestive themes, violence)
Many critics failed to recognize the greatness of the first Uncharted, but now I see they've all jumped on the bandwagon. Better late than never boys!
No question about it, Among Thieves is an exotic adventure that hones the Tomb Raider formula to perfection. This time our hero Nathan Drake (hey, isn't that Nick Lachey?) is on the trail of Marco Polo's lost expedition in search of a mythical stone in the Himalayan Mountains. At any given time, you can expect Nathan to have a shapely chick - or two - at his side, and who's complaining? Uncharted 2 has a substantial initial load time, but once the action kicks in, disk access is undetectable. The game's diverse environments include a war-torn city, a dense jungle, a Turkish museum, icy mountain passages, and a snowy monastery. There are elaborate tombs with immense statues, gears, and pulleys. The scenery is astonishing, and there were many times when I wanted to stop and look around but couldn't
due to the breakneck pace of the game! Cleverly-designed stages constrain your movements without having you feel
constrained. The city stages offer breathtaking views and realistic details like pigeons that flutter away as you approach. The jaw-dropping "shootout-on-the-train" stage defies description - it's incredible!
Uncharted 2's gameplay offers an ideal combination of stealth, exploration, climbing, puzzles, pulse-pounding chases, and chaotic shootouts. The controls are supremely forgiving. Nathan will automatically grasp ledges while falling and reach out to indicate if the next ledge is close enough to leap to. The ability to fire a gun while hanging from any ledge adds a whole new dimension to shoot-outs. You can save your progress at any time, and frequent checkpoints ensure you'll never have to repeat long stretches. Among Thieves places a heavy emphasis on the story, with frequent cut-scenes that initially give you the feeling of being strung along. That would be a liability in most games, but Uncharted 2's cinematics are a real treat. Yes, they latch onto every action movie cliche you've ever seen, but it's all in good fun. The likeable characters are rendered with subtle facial expressions, and the voice acting is fantastic
. Whoever wrote this dialogue is brilliant! I love
it! The characters consistently toss out genuinely funny one-liners, and the profanity is thankfully restrained. Last but not least, the triumphant orchestrated musical score is momentous - worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster. The game clocks in at about 11 hours, and while many adventures pad their playing time with repetitive, time-consuming tasks, Uncharted 2 has zero filler. Among Thieves is so grand and well produced that pointing out minor glitches like awkward camera angles or stuttering animations seems almost petty. When it comes to making a playable video game, the Naughty Dog development team really "gets it", and with Uncharted 2 they've delivered one for the ages. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
Publisher: Sony (2011)
Rating: Teen (blood, language, violence)
The fact that I couldn't pull myself away from this game is a testament to its tremendous production values, intelligent stage designs, and highly tuned difficulty. Uncharted 3 takes explorer Nathan Drake on an action-packed thrill ride from underground London to a burning French Chateau to a rusty ship yard to an ancient desert city. The pacing is breathless and it seems like every ten minutes Drake finds himself dangling precariously for dear life. Several friends join him throughout his quest and the game thoughtfully includes a two-player split-screen coop mode. The characters are very likeable with the exception of his love interest Elena who can be a pain in the ass at times. The intriguing storyline borrows heavily from classic action films, and Indiana Jones fans will be rolling their eyes a lot
. One of the early chapters offers a flashback to Drake's youth when he was a dead ringer for Michael J. Fox. For the bulk of the game Drake is on the trail of a lost relic while being pursued by thugs in suits and ties (Oh no! Republicans!!
). Drake is one crazy monkey man. He can scale walls, hang by his arms, swing on ropes, and make great leaps over yawning chasms. Climbing in most games is slow and tedious, but here you can traverse treacherous cliffs with ease. The controls seem to work with
you - not against you. The animation is interesting. Typical video game characters look stiff when they run but Drake leans from side-to-side, pushes off of things, and his momentum is a factor. He'll automatically perform special moves like slamming a door on a pursuer, smashing a nearby bottle over a thug's head, or snatching a gun out of the air. The environments are incredibly detailed, beginning with a rainy London at night with its wet streets shimmering under the street lamps. When you get a nice panoramic view of the city it doesn't look static; you can see the movement of cars in the distance. Uncharted 3's puzzles are extremely inventive and never frustrating. The hand-to-hand combat is amazing at first, but it does tend to fall into predictable patterns over time. The lack of an auto-aim makes the shootouts challenging and exciting, but turning while aiming is slow (what happened to analog control?). There are some adrenaline-pumping chase scenes that are surprisingly long. The voice acting is superb and the dialogue never stoops to the level of forced profanity. Your progress is auto-saved every minute
. Uncharted 3 is highly cinematic and even though it leads you around by the nose it doesn't feel
like you're being led around by the nose. Once you start getting tired of a location (like the shipyard), there's an unexpected turn of events which lands you in a completely fresh venue. The set pieces are massive as you survive collapsing ruins, sinking cruise ships, and crashing cargo planes. Even the ending lives up to its promise, bringing Uncharted 3 - and the trilogy - to a proper and satisfying conclusion. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
Publisher: Sony (2008)
Rating: Teen (blood, language, mild suggestive themes, use of tobacco, violence)
When I think of summertime activities, I think of going to a ballgame, relaxing on the beach, playing tennis, and raiding ancient ruins for treasure. Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is to video games what Indiana Jones is to movies. Gamers should be falling over themselves
with unbridled joy
over this gorgeous game. Man, we are some spoiled bastards! Uncharted was developed by Naughty Dog, the good people who refined platform gaming with their PS1 hit Crash Bandicoot (1997). And here they go again with another first-rate jungle adventure! Uncharted is jam-packed with amazing sights, exciting shootouts, and one death-defying stunt after the next. You'll also cruise jungle rivers on a jet ski and embark on a high-speed jeep chase. Uncharted's scenery really steals the show with its dense foliage, partly submerged ruins, crumbling monasteries, and fortresses rising up at the edge of the sea. Jumping between crumbling cliffs is a lot more exciting when you're staring over the top of a magnificent waterfall! I often found myself gawking at the scenery, and with 60 hidden treasures, you'll want to explore every nook and cranny. The star of the game is a likeable, wisecracking guy named Nate (Nick Lachey?), and he's joined by a blonde reporter (Helen Hunt?). Nate really puts his whole body into his leaps, and it looks amazing. His clothes become visibly soaked when they get wet, and gradually dry. While similar to Tomb Raider, Uncharted's pacing is faster, the puzzles easier, and the controls are practically idiot-proof. This is one of the few games I've completed without once looking the manual or an FAQ, partly due to an ingenious hint system (hit L2) that prods you along before you get stuck. Wall climbing and ledge-jumping has never been so effortless, and the shootouts combine a Gears of War-style cover system with simple aim-and-shoot mechanics. Let's face it - in most games auto-targeting is used to compensate for lousy controls, but here they aren't necessary. Granted, enemy thugs can absorb a lot of bullets, but that's okay, because so can you!
There's no health meter, but the screen loses color as you take damage, and you reconstitute health by staying out of harms' way. Uncharted's plot is compelling, and the dialogue features true-to-life lines like "Sweet
- that's why I'm talkin'
bout!" (after finding an Uzi) and "Where'd all these guys come from?!" (after an ambush) Uncharted's single misstep occurs late in the game when it temporarily becomes a Resident Evil knock-off for no good reason. It's a shame a game this fresh had to fall back on such a tired formula. Even so, Uncharted is a summer blockbuster of a game that had me absolutely riveted from beginning to end. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Under Defeat HD: Deluxe Edition
Publisher: Rising Star (2012)
Rating: Everyone 10+
Shooters of the 2D variety have become an endangered species in recent years, often relegated to download-only status. I was shocked to see Under Defeat for the PS3 - on an actual disc
no less! This high-quality vertical shooter first appeared as a Dreamcast import in 2005. Over the years Under Defeat has achieved near-legendary status, partly due to its rarity and partly because it kicks ass
. The action is intense as you pilot a helicopter over photo-realistic scenery that includes lush wooded areas, rocky valleys, and harbors filled with battleships. You can unleash rapid-fire bullets, devastating bombs, and deploy an "option" for additional damage. Your ability to angle your cannon is key, as it lets you destroy towers and turrets while evading their line of fire. It takes cat-like reflexes to reduce military hardware to smoldering rubble while weaving through waves of projectiles. The explosions are outstanding thanks to some amazing smoke effects, and your bombs practically envelop the entire screen in fiery death. Under Defeat's arcade mode consumes only a narrow portion of your screen, but the "new order" mode presents the game to its full-screen glory. I don't know if it's due to the closer perspective or not, but this game seems a lot harder than the Dreamcast version. I also noticed some substantial slow-down I didn't see on the Dreamcast. It's not a deal-breaker, but you'd expect the PS3 to be able to better handle a game like this. You get three continues and high scores are saved along with your initials. In addition to on-line leaderboards, it saves your local rankings as well! I could have sworn that technology was lost in the late 1980's. This game could use more control options, such as the ability to adjust your angle via the shoulder buttons. You can use dual-thumbsticks, but it's not as comfortable as you would think. A stage select should have been included as well, considering how lengthy that second stage is. Still, I'm grateful to own this game. Under Defeat HD is a must-have for gamers who want to enjoy real shooting action without all the entanglements of on-line play. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (2010)
I was pretty stoked about this new winter Olympics title, but ultimately dismayed by the way Sega handled it. Vancouver 2010 gets off to a rocky start by warning players that certain features are only available on-line, including the ability to view your records
. Perhaps "Vancouver Online" would have been more fitting, as the game displays blatant distain for off-line players. Before you do anything, be sure to turn off the music from the options menu, because it really doesn't mesh with the Olympic theme. Before competing, each player must select a country and enter his name. That's fair, but the screen that facilitates this is the epitome
of poor software design! My friends and I must have accidentally exited to the main menu about six times
before getting it right. Unlike classic Olympic titles like Winter Games
(Atari 7800, 1987), Vancouver 2010 feels terribly disjointed. There are no opening or closing ceremonies, and this lack of pageantry detracts from the overall experience. It's a shame, because the events themselves are pretty good! Prior to each you have the option of participating in a brief interactive tutorial. The control scheme is intelligent, the camera angles are optimal, and split-screen is used where applicable. Downhill skiing is a blast, offering breathtaking views as you careen down the slopes and navigate the winding course with pinpoint control. The sensation of speed is enhanced by blur effects, you can almost feel the wind resistance! The only thing that sucks are those annoying beeps indicating you're running behind the leader (as if I didn't know that!) The slalom events are trickier, mainly because it can be tough to see the flags. The snowboarding events are very similar to skiing, but incorporate a jumping aspect. The ski jump event has a myriad of gauges that effectively convey the subtle nuances of the sport. The women's speed skating and aerial events have learning curves that limit their fun. You might expect the bobsled, luge, and skeleton to be the most exciting events, but in fact you'll tire of them quickly. Each requires two lengthy runs, and all occur on the same track. Once all the events are completed, you are unceremoniously kicked back to the main menu. Although Vancouver clearly tracks high scores per profile ("it's a new personal best!"), there's no way to view these records off-line, and that really stinks. Sega's Winter Heat (Saturn 1997) let you view records locally, but I guess Sega lost the technology. A challenge mode offers mini-games like hitting snowmen on a slalom course or reaching a certain speed in bobsled, but it didn't hold my interest. Vancouver 2010 offers some impressive visuals and exciting multiplayer action, but Sega needs to get its act together and focus on making games that are fun for everybody
. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Virtua Fighter 5
Publisher: Sega (2005)
Rating: Teen (suggestive themes, violence)
How the mighty have fallen! Once the reigning champ in the world of one-on-one fighters, this hastily assembled fifth edition drops Virtua Fighter squarely into the realm of mediocrity. Yes, I realize Virtua Fighter 5 (VF5) has received glowing reviews from other sources, but I get the impression that those critics made up their mind before they even played the freakin' game
(you know the PS3 cheerleader types). The sharp-looking characters are meticulously detailed, but they don't mesh well with the underlying game engine. If anything, the increased resolution just accentuates their stiff movements and lousy collision detection. Most hits feel soft, and some register when clearly no contact was made. In one extreme example, I actually witnessed a guy pick up and throw a chick without even touching her! The skin textures look remarkable, but the rigid, expressionless faces aren't even in sync with the dialogue. The controls are less responsive than VF4, the characters poorly balanced, and the matches lack the same "flow". Throws are hard to initiate, and side steps are also problematic. There's no shortage of hot babes, but there are no "jiggle" effects, and worst yet, the most revealing outfits are locked from the outset (curses!). And where's the innovation? Couldn't Sega make fighters that model damage, or at least grow tired as their health wears down? VF5 is also saddled with the most poorly-designed, counter-intuitive data loading system in recent memory. The first time you play, the game prompts you to create some kind of mysterious user data, warning that "the process will take several minutes to complete". What the [expletive]?! After that ordeal, whenever you load the game you'll be interrogated by a series of load prompts, and sometimes it takes forever to reach the title screen. The main menu offers the familiar modes, including arcade, versus, quest, and practice. In versus, each player needs to create additional data to save his progress, and the interface is horrible. In order to simply enter a name for your data you must exit versus mode, access the options menu, and then traverse a "customization" menu. So when did Sega forget how to design video games? If you forgo the user data, the game doesn't record statistics, and that stinks. The news isn't all bad for Virtua Fighter fans however. The rounds are ideal in length (read: short), so even best of seven contests seem reasonable. There are a gazillion moves to choose from, and they're all listed in the manual as well as the pause screen. The waterfall and outdoor party mansion scenes are magnificent, but most stages are far less interesting, and many are boxed in by unsightly fences. There's still some competitive fun to be had, but after ruling the previous generation, I was expecting Virtua Fighter 5 to set a new standard, not play second fiddle to Dead or Alive. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Wonderbook: Book of Spells
Publisher: Sony (2012)
Rating: Everyone 10+ (alcohol reference, crude humor, fantasy violence)
This is probably the closest you can get to attending Hogwarts and learning how to cast magical spells (if you're into that kind of thing). Like the Harry Potter novels, Book of Spells is geared toward younger players but will enchant all ages (literally). My first exposure to "augmented reality" was on the 3DS, which used a 3D camera to create the illusion of creatures materializing out of cards. Spellbook takes the concept a lot further, and is easily the most effective use of the Move controller and camera. The "game" is broken up into a series of lessons that teach how to do cool stuff like levitate objects, conjure birds, unlock chests, and shrink pumpkins. The camera places you in the center of the screen and superimposes the image of a wand in your hand (over the Move controller). A big blue Wonderbook is required and must be positioned directly in front of you. Be sure to follow the instructions on the set-up screens, because if your positioning is off or the lighting is dim, the controls will be unresponsive. You conjure spells by speaking incantations or drawing simple patterns with your wand. Somehow this game can hear my voice; is there a microphone in the Move controller? The origin of each spell is presented via interactive puppet shows that are kind of fun to watch. Casting spells is an immersive experience thanks to some amazing visual effects. Paper dragons will fly out of the book, objects will catch on fire, and bugs will crawl all over the room. When casting a water spell, you can spray virtual water over the camera lens. To put your powers to the test, Book of Spells also transports you to mysterious environments like dusty tombs and dark libraries. Each of the five chapters concludes with a test, and one was so intense I almost knocked over my beer! Book of Spells features terrific production values with quality narration, a beautifully orchestrated score, and a highly stylized presentation. There's not much replay value (if any), but the gee-whiz factor makes this worth experiencing at least once. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
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