Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified
Publisher: Activision (2012)
Rating: Mature (blood, drug reference, strong language, violence)
Why do gamers like first-person military shooters so much? Maybe because they're awesome?
Declassified is pretty much what I want in a portable version of Black Ops. The missions are short and to-the-point, with fewer cut-scenes and less computer-controlled bull-[expletive]. Declassified puts you in precarious situations in locations that span the globe. You'll infiltrate facilities, rescue hostages, and halt missile launches. You'll travel to Vietnam, Afghanistan, Germany, and Russia. There are plenty of snow scenes, which is always a plus. It's fun to weed out enemies one by one, and the auto-targeting system lets you pick off several in rapid succession. The graphics are comparable to the console version, and I don't mind using the edge of the touch screen to access grenades and other special weapons (less buttons to remember). The commercial for this game highlights its on-line mulitplayer mode, but Declassified packs enough single-player challenges to keep you busy. The campaign only has about 15 missions, but you also get time trials and a "hostiles" mode. Hostiles is like playing on-line, except you fight against wave after wave of CPU-controlled players. High scores and best times are recorded for all modes. If there's one thing I dislike about Declassified, it's the uneven mission difficulty. That second mission is absolute murder!
You need to save groups of analysts being held hostage, and it's really tough to prevent them from getting shot. It must have taken me 100 tries
to get past that one. The key is to use a flash-bang to buy yourself extra time. In the end, Black Ops: Declassified is not the epic experience of the console game, but it doesn't try to be. It's simple yet satisfying shooting action on-the-go. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sony (2011)
Rating: Teen (fantasy violence, mild suggestive themes, use of alcohol)
It's hardly what I was expecting, but I'm pleased with Gravity Rush. This futuristic adventure stars a magical babe in a floating world that's coming apart at the seams. With a black cat as your sidekick, you can manipulate gravity (as it pertains to you) in order to navigate your surroundings. You can temporarily walk on walls and ceilings, or free-fall through the air sideways or upwards. Once you grasp the concept, it's fun to "fall" across town and land on the side of a building, or vault between huge floating chunks of debris. Is it disorienting? Hell yes, but it's also exhilarating to alter your center of gravity at the press of a button. The fact that you don't sustain damage from falling any distance is part of what makes the game fun. You might fall to the ground in a heap but you'll be no worse for wear. As you try to uncover your identity you'll talk to characters around town, battle monsters, and become embroiled in a storyline involving a shape-changing villain. The stylish graphics are anime-style, but there's really not much to see. The controls are a bit touchy (especially when aiming with the right thumbstick) but forgiving - especially during combat. Most of your enemies are black blobs with big red eyes. Guess where their weak spot is! The game moves at a brisk pace and there are frequent auto-saves. A few of the fetch and stealth missions tested my patience, but since they were short, I wasn't deterred. The cut-scenes are presented in comic-book style cels you page through by swiping the touch screen. It's fun to watch the story unfold in these colorful, semi-animated scenes. The makers of Gravity Rush clearly knew what they were doing. This is a very thoughtful and original title that really works. I don't think I've even played anything like this before and that's saying something. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational
Publisher: Sony (2012)
Rating: Everyone (mild suggestive themes)
The Tiger Woods golf games have their ups and downs (mainly down), but Hot Shots is always
a good time. And this Vita edition might just be the best single-player version of the game. The Hot Shots franchise has always employed a three-press swing mechanism that relies on precision timing. High definition televisions can introduce a slight control lag, but on the Vita the controls are as tight as they can possibly be. The courses look gorgeous (as usual) with their rolling green hills, tranquil lakes, and quaint farms. You'll spot occasional wildlife including rabbits, cows, chickens, and bears (what?!). The golfers are likeable anime characters that react to shots with unbridled enthusiasm. World Invitation offers some alternate variations of the three-press swing - like a circle that shrinks to the point of impact - but it's always the same idea. Aiming and gauging the power of your shot is important, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. You need to take into account the wind, the ball lie, the pin placement, and what kind of spin you should apply. Weather is also a factor, and it tends to change abruptly. One hole will be played during a downpour, while the next is played under a clear sky. I personally would have preferred more gradual changes in conditions. Still, I like how the courses represent the various seasons. In the Strokes mode you not only earn a score but also rack up points for special shots. I like how during approach shots concentric circles appear around the hole to indicate bonus values. The enjoyable Challenge mode is a series of short contests (typically nine holes) of increasing difficulty. Points are used to unlock new characters, courses, and miscellaneous items like outfits. The action moves at a brisk pace and your progress is auto-saved. You can play 18 holes in just a few minutes! Frankly, I could play this game all day. Quick, fun, and addictive, Hot Shots World Invitational is everything a portable game should be. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sony (2011)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, language, partial nudity)
If you're looking for a full-blown FPS (first-person shooter) for your Vita, look no further than Killzone Mercenary. It has the look and feel of a big budget title that doesn't cut corners. Your adrenaline will kick in during the opening mission where you infiltrate a skyscraper in a flying squirrel suit. The degree of graphic detail in Mercenary is pretty remarkable. The sprawling citiscapes make you feel part of a larger conflict, and the mission briefings are pure sensory overload. The stages themselves are a lot less interesting as you trudge through crumbling buildings and industrial facilities with a lot of elevators. The character models look terrific and professional voice acting reinforces the notion of a no-nonsense military operation. The controls are well designed, and I like how you actually need to aim
to kill targets (unlike most modern shooters which rely heavily on auto-aim). It is annoying however that you have to reload on a constant basis. I wish the thumbsticks on the system were a little higher, as their low positioning can cramp large hands. The touch controls are basically limited to melee, and they provide an efficient way to administer a dagger to the throat. The missions usually have multiple objectives such as rescuing people or blowing up some ship. Some stages are coop, which is nice because you can count on somebody to bail you out of tight spots. The ability to acquire new arms from a dealer adds depth, and it's fun to use the remote stealth robot to "thin out" enemies ahead. The missions are easy to follow with frequent checkpoints, but they can take up to an hour to complete. That's a serious problem for a portable title, especially when there's no ability to save during a mission! I felt a definite sense of relief when my mission was complete and I saw that saving icon. Killzone Mercenary is yet another example of Sony not "getting" the portable market. It's a quality shooter but its time demands are hardly ideal for on-the-go gaming. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sony (2011)
Oh, how I despise
this game! Little Deviants is a tech demo masquerading as a legitimate title. It features a wacky assortment of cartoon characters who assume roles in mini-games meant to be played for high score. These games really bend over backwards to leverage the touch screens (front and back), camera, and oscilloscope of the Vita system. In the first game you guide a rolly-polly character around a meadow by using the rear touch pad to create bumps and ridges in the landscape. It sounds like a lot of fun, but it's remarkably non-intuitive and aggravating. Other games challenge you to knock down robots that appear in doorways (by tapping the screen) or skydive through rings (by tilting the system). "Bots Invasion" is a first-person shooter that uses the camera to make it look like your targets are flying around the room you are in. On the surface, these concepts sound promising. In reality, they feel like repetitive chores
. And the situation is even worse than that. The games are downright annoying
, so you'll want them to end as soon as possible. No chance of that, as each requires you to persevere through ten grueling, time-consuming waves. You really can't put a pricetag on this kind of misery. I would say Little Deviants should have been shipped with the system, but that may have triggered a deluge of returns. I guess it's best that this ill-conceived title remains as obscure as possible. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Silent Hill: Book of Memories
Publisher: Konami (2012)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, language, suggestive themes, violence)
Silent Hill games are known for their intense atmosphere, mind-bending environments, and psychological horror. Book of Memories feels like a shallow arcade game trying to capitalize on the Silent Hill name. Instead of a harrowing third-person adventure, you're trapped in a generic maze, viewing the action from high overhead. The pale zombies, winged demons, and hell hounds would probably look pretty creepy - if only you could see them
. But the distant vantage point makes you feel detached from the action. That may be for the best, considering the cut-scenes reveal graphics that are barely Playstation 2 quality. The voice acting isn't convincing, and the entire premise is pretty silly. That said, I tried to enjoy this weird Silent Hill knock-off. As you move from room to room you find weapons like steel pipes and meat cleavers which you use to attack a few waves of monsters before earning an item, key, or puzzle piece. There's plenty of spraying blood, largely because these creeps can absorb about 20 hits each! I prefer a melee weapon like the meat cleaver over a gun, because you can usually lay into several enemies at a time. There's little tension but a heck of a lot of repetition. And is that me screaming like a girl when I take a hit? That's just embarrassing. The auto-map on the corner of the screen is an absolute necessity because all the rooms look exactly the same! As with all Vita games, there's no manual, because the controls (like hitting the tiny select button to turn on your flashlight) are common sense, right? There are no checkpoints, and you only have one life bar. I hate how you lose your weapons between levels, and your guy doesn't automatically reload his gun. In many cases you're prompted to select something on the screen (during the action) and that's frustrating because the circles are tiny and my fingers are too big! Book of Memories is an aggravating experience, but despite of my rage I am still just a rat in a cage. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss
Publisher: Sony (2011)
Rating: Teen (blood, drug reference, language, mild suggestive themes, violence)
Uncharted is the premiere franchise of the PS3, but Sony was not wise to hang its hat on this scaled-down Vita edition. Epic adventures beg to be played on the big screen, and on the small screen they lose a lot
. Golden Abyss boasts first-rate production values rivaling the PS3 titles, but it struggled to maintain my interest. Once again Nathan Drake is exploring exotic locales while infiltrating enemy lairs to solve mysteries and uncover treasure. Golden Abyss is a mix of exploration, puzzle solving, stealth sequences, and shoot-outs. The rich scenery is very easy on the eyes, but at times it can be difficult to gauge distances (as in "falling" distances). The fact that there's little in the way of scavenging is refreshing. One thing you can always count on in an Uncharted game is a lot of witty banter, and true to form, the dialogue is very good and often brought a smile to my face. The opening prologue serves as a tutorial stage, gradually introducing controls like jumping, climbing, and swinging on ropes. In addition to standard button controls, the developers went out of their way to incorporate Vita-specific touch-based controls. The result is a convoluted scheme that feels like two separate but overlapping sets of controls. Some of the motion controls are downright counter-intuitive. For example, to climb a rope you drag your finger up and down on the rear
touch screen. Who in the hell is going to remember that?
Fortunately simply pushing up on the left thumbstick provides a reasonable alternative. You need to tilt the system to balance on logs, but the game wants you to tilt the opposite
way you would expect. The touch controls do work well when solving puzzles like assembling a jigsaw puzzle or rubbing charcoal over a piece of paper. The climbing controls are extremely watered down, to the point where you can use your finger to draw a path
up a ledge and watch Nathan follow it. There are a lot of gratuitous touch-screen prompts which make it feel like you're just going through the motions (literally). The adventure takes you through lush jungles and dark catacombs, but you spend too much time trudging through a dumpy shantytown. Uncharted Golden Abyss has its moments but it feels like a console game shoehorned into a portable system. I'm starting to wonder if Sony has any comprehension about what portable gaming is really all about. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sony (2011)
For those of you who will still be commuting to work in 2048, I have good news and bad. The good news is, your car will be a lot
faster. The bad news is, you're going to be attacked with missiles, and that's no way to start the day. Wipeout 2048 is the latest incarnation of this venerable futuristic racing franchise featuring ships floating over elevated platforms that weave and bank through an urban metropolis. This game brought back memories of playing the original Wipeout
(PS1, 1995). Back then just rubbing against a wall could bring you to a complete stop, but here the action is non-stop. Scraping a wall only slows you slightly, and even upon crashing you're immediately returned to the track. The scenery comingles old-fashioned brick buildings and suspension bridges with soaring modern towers and "light bridges" (a la Halo 4). I didn't find any of the tracks particularly interesting though, and some of the more twisty ones will have you bouncing off the rails like a pinball. There are three views to choose from, but each is low to the road. This intensifies the illusion of speed but undermines your ability to anticipate turns. Using the thumbstick to steer feels touchy and I actually prefer the tilt controls. Either way however you'll need to overly rely on the air brakes, and that sucks. The weapons are ineffectual. Even when you unleash a missile right on target, it's hard to tell if it hit, and even when it does, it won't matter much. Wipeout 2048 has tremendous load times. It's becoming clear that the advantages of firmware media are largely offset by the need to constantly uncompress data. From the time you select a track to the time you begin the race, it's well over 30 seconds. And while the electronic music was a major element in previous Wipeout games, it's barely audible over the roar of engines. On the surface Wipeout 2048 looks like a blast, but the more you play the less enthused you become. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com