Publisher: 2K Games (2006)
Rating: Mature (mature humor, partial nudity, violence)
Based on the satiric (and very politically incorrect) cartoon, Family Guy offers an eclectic mix of shooting, fighting, platform, and puzzle solving action. While infused with over-the-top adult humor, the game never comes across as crude or offensive. This version is equivalent to the Playstation 2 version, except the visuals are slightly different. The graphics are sharper, but this benefit is offset by slightly washed-out colors. See the Playstation 2 review of Family Guy for further details. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Far Cry Instincts
Publisher: Ubisoft (2005)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)
At its core, Far Cry is a standard first-person shooter, but its effective use of lush jungle environments make it feel like much more. You feel as if you're immersed in a completely different world (unless of course, you're playing
it in the jungle, which is unlikely). Despite being set on a tropical island, you'll have no problem locating your next objective. There are clearly marked dirt paths and roads, and your movement is actually constrained by "walls" of thick foliage. It doesn't take long to discover the joys of lurking in the scenery, creeping up on enemy soldiers, and employing guerilla tactics. Once you get the hang of setting traps, crawling under huts, or sniping from guard towers, Far Cry is as fun as any first-person shooter you've ever played. This is the game Metal Gear Solid 3 wanted
to be. The frequent driving sequences are exhilarating as you bust through barricades and swerve around falling trees with missile-launching helicopters in pursuit. The beautiful palm trees, clear blue skies, and reflective rivers are very easy on the eyes, although the plants look a bit sparse and chunky up close. The jungle sound effects are nothing short of fantastic. Unfortunately, each loud explosion is followed by a high-frequency hum that lasts a few seconds. This is meant to simulate "ringing" in your ears, but it's actually headache inducing! The voice acting is professional, although the dialogue is laced with profanity. The simple storyline takes a dramatic turn once you become injected with a serum, giving you primal, super-human abilities. Far Cry is a satisfying shooting experience that kept me coming back for more, but it's not perfect. Although the framerate remains smooth at all times, grass often appears to "grow" before your eyes as you approach new areas, which looks odd. On more than one occasion I became stuck in some scenery and had to restart at the last checkpoint. And while the game encourages stealth action, enemies tend to be hypersensitive to your presence, making it hard to carry out sneak attacks. I love the simple control scheme, but the lack of an "action button" can be frustrating when you want to do something simple like open a door or speak to a civilian. There's a nice four-player split-screen mode, but the expansive environments and worthless radar displays make it hard to locate your opponents. As a single player experience however, Far Cry is the most enthralling Xbox game I've played in recent memory. If you detest first-person shooters, this probably won't win you over, but if you enjoy them to any degree, you'll absolutely love Far Cry Instincts. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Fatal Frame 2: Director's Cut
Publisher: Tecmo (2004)
Rating: Mature (blood, violence)
If you're ever in the mood to be scared silly, you really can't go wrong with these Fatal Frame games. An intense third-person adventure, Fatal Frame 2 (FF2) incorporates cinematic techniques like those used in Japanese horror flicks such as The Ring and The Grudge, both of which managed to scare the living [expletive] out of me. FF2 is a story of two young sisters wandering through the woods and stumbling across an abandoned village. According to legend, it was once of place of evil cults and human sacrifices, and its grisly past is gradually revealed through a series of eerie, grainy cut scenes. While FF2's graphics are hardly state of the art, they are sufficiently dark and ambiguous to convey a genuine sense of foreboding. The long shadows and moonlight midst give the forest a Blair Witch flavor, and the tiny rooms are extremely claustrophobic. You'll often catch a glimpse of something in corner of your eye, heightening the sense of paranoia. Like its predecessor, gameplay involves dispelling ghosts by snapping their pictures with a special camera, and timing is key. Normally several "shots" are required, and the ghosts rematerialize in different places each time, creating a sense of alarm as you frantically search around. Few games sent chills down my spine and made my hair stand on end like Fatal Frame 2 - the game is actually distressing
at times! The "heartbeat" controller vibration, otherworldly sound effects, and hideous ghosts combine to create an immersive, frightful experience. Adding to the tension are some of the most effective cinematic techniques I've ever witnessed in a video game. Even the "spirit radio" audio clips are unsettling. FF2's difficulty is fair, the save points are copious, and load times are negligible. Unfortunately, the game is marred by design flaws that become increasingly apparent as you progress. With regards to your camera, the game designers took a beautifully simple concept and overcomplicated it beyond all rhyme or reason. With an excessive number of interchangeable parts, upgradeable functions, and customization options, Fatal Frame 2 has the dubious distinction of being the "Gran Turismo" of horror games. You're even forced to perform "combos" with your camera, which is just plain stupid. Another problem is that your movements are severely limited, with invisible walls that often impede your progress. The controls are responsive enough - until you need them the most. During ghost attacks the frame rate suffers and the controls become flakey to say the least. As you encounter more powerful ghouls, successfully executed "fatal frames" are anything but, and you soon learn the concept of instant death. I should also mention that my copy of the game is buggy and requires about 10 minutes to load a saved game! In the final analysis, Fatal Frame 2 is undeniably scary, but lousy design and technical glitches prevent it from taking the series to new heights. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Vivendi Universal Games (2004)
Rating: Mature (blood, intense violence, language)
Fight Club is among my favorite movies of all time, and despite being dismissed by most critics, this game captures the spirit of the film very well. Unlike the choreographed one-on-one action of Tekken or Soul Calibur, Fight Club captures the gritty realism of an actual street fight. The main story mode is a little thin, conveying its narrative through still pictures and uninteresting dialogue. Once you go fisticuffs however, this game is off-the-hook!
You won't find any floating jumps or fireballs here - just flurries of punches, suffocating holds, and bone-breaking special moves. The impact of the hits is palpable, and it's great how blood splatters onto the screen and drips down. It's especially satisfying when you straddle your opponent on the ground and start pummeling his face with your fists. The characters even bleed and bruise in a realistic manner. Fight Club sounds like a typical button masher, but the game really takes on a cat-and-mouse vibe as you alternate your attacks with blocks. Cool reversal moves are available, like when a guy attempts a kick and you grab his leg and throw him. When a bone-breaking hit is applied, the action slows down and zooms in to x-ray the carnage in all of its glory. Coupled with crunching sound effects, it's quite dramatic. Fight Club's matches are mercifully brief, giving the game a "one more time" quality. The surround sound is amazing, and the excellent, high-octane music really gets your blood pumping. The story mode is fairly addictive - at least until the stages starts repeating. The locations are a mixed bag. The rainy parking lot with the neon lights looks absolutely stunning
, but the docks look awful with that static gray "water" in the background. Other interesting areas include a flooded basement and an airport. Fans of the movie will recognize a number of characters including Tyler Derden, Pretty Boy, and Meat Loaf. I don't know what Wolverine's grandfather
is doing in this game, but he's pretty tough! Fight Club is one low-profile title that took me by surprise. My friend Scott and I really enjoyed beating the crap out of each other - more so than usual. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Final Fight Streetwise
Publisher: Capcom (2006)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language, use of alcohol and drugs)
In the early 90's the Final Fight series was huge
with the side-scrolling fighting game crowd, offering memorable characters, colorful urban scenery, and arcade-style gameplay. Streetwise tries to transition the series into the realm of 3D, and the results are disastrous.
The basic formula mirrors the original game, as one or two players walk the streets while beating up gangs of thugs and the occasional boss. Weapons include knives and baseball bats, and when you find strange food lying on the sidewalk, you'll naturally eat it for health. It sounds good on paper, but Final Fight Streetwise is a complete mess. Much of the blame can be heaped upon the unruly camera system. Your view is limited to a tilted overhead perspective, so instead of seeing interesting layered scenery and majestic skylines, all you get is dirty streets and brick walls. The characters are large, but that's because the camera is zoomed in way
too close! Thugs tend to loiter on the edge of the screen where you can't even see them. Yes, that happened in the original Final Fight game, but at least your
character was visible at all times! That's not always the case here! This problem is irritating with one player, and unbearable with two players. On top of that, the visuals tend to look terribly drab and washed out. In one stage I assumed the "fog" was supposed to be smoke in the bar, but then it followed me outside! Perhaps the grayish colors were meant to hide graphical imperfections, but it looks terrible. The game's main story mode is just a series of encounters separated by cut-scenes whose main purpose is the mindless spewing of profanity. If that's why they call this "Streetwise", then I'm embarrassed for Capcom. Even my wife (who liked the original Final Fight games) saw through this, comparing it to a high school project tossed together at the last minute. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Full Spectrum Warrior
Publisher: Pandemic Studios (2004)
Rating: Mature (blood, strong language, violence)
I mistook this for a first-person shooter, but Full Spectrum Warrior is a realistic third-person military strategy game. The box claims it's "based on a training aid developed for the U.S. Army", and I believe it. Instead of assuming the role of a single soldier, you issue commands to multiple squads of four soldiers each. The missions take place in war-torn urban areas, and from the dusty streets to the graffiti-covered walls, the attention to detail is commendable. You control the exact movements and combat formations of each squad. As a unit, a squad can apply suppressing fire, bound, rush, and employ various other military techniques. The game's tutorial is confusing, but it taught me a heck of a lot about tactical warfare. During actual missions, satisfaction is derived from placing enemies into crossfire and tossing grenades into bunkers. Most of the time however you'll be orchestrating tedious, deliberate movements to keep your troops out of harm's way. This game is really hard to learn. The tutorial runs well over an hour, and even the "basic controls" are daunting. Should you take a break from the game for a few days and then try to jump back into it, you'll be hopelessly lost. I gave Full Spectrum Warrior a good try, but once my "run and gun" mentality kicked in, this game ate me alive. There are a few technical issues as well. When positioning your men with the formation cursor, the cursor often gets lost in the scenery. Although you can refer to an overhead map, it's still extremely easy to become disoriented. And as I mentioned before, FSW is very unforgiving. Still, you have to judge a game for what it is, and Full Spectrum Warrior really does apply proper military tactics to realistic scenarios. In my opinion however, this is more work than fun. Bump up the grade by one letter if strategic simulations are your thing. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Microsoft (2001)
Every system deserves at least one good "party game", but Microsoft tried to force the issue with this contrived, uninspired title. Fuzion Frenzy's four-player tournaments are a series of mini-games chosen at random from dozens of possibilities. If you don't have four players, the CPU will control the remaining characters. Speaking of which, could these characters possibly be more unattractive or unlikable
? The two female characters are butt-ugly
, and the two guys have an irritating "trying too hard to be hip" thing happening. The mini-games exhibit an astounding
lack of imagination. Most involve collecting items, squashing bugs, or carrying orbs back and forth to a goal. The action is fast-paced but the distant, wide-angled camera makes it hard to tell what's going on. Some variations incorporate hazards like timed lasers, spinning fan blades, or dropping floor tiles. But instead of spicing things up, they just add a random element to an otherwise mindless experience. In most games you can attack your opponents via the B button, but it's hard to direct your kicks and punches in the midst of the fracas. The best mini-game in the whole package is "roller balls", but that's just a big Super Monkey Ball (GameCube, 2001) rip-off. Fuzion Frenzy's graphic quality isn't bad, but all the futuristic city locations look the same - pretty boring! This has got to be one of the most unappealing multi-player games I've ever come across. I find it astonishing
that Microsoft felt this deserved a sequel
! © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: SCI Games (2004)
Rating: Teen (alcohol reference, suggestive themes, violence)
I had heard that Galleon was a real turkey, but being a fan of pirate games, I couldn't resist. This was meant to be a revolutionary new adventure from the creator of Tomb Raider, but instead it's a minor disaster. Not only does its gameplay reek, but it even looks rough. You play the role of a dashing swashbuckler in search of a mysterious ship, and as you explore various islands you face all sorts of villains and monsters. The first thing that struck me about Galleon is its unique visual style, with oddly proportioned, lanky bodies and angular facial features. These people look downright freaky! The island scenery looks great from a distance, but up close there's very little to see. But the game's main undoing is its unorthodox controls. Apparently the developers were trying to be creative, but this control scheme is anything but intuitive. Just completing an early "fight training" sequence is a colossal exercise in frustration. The controls are not only confusing, but unresponsive to boot! Performing simple actions like picking a mushroom requires you to carefully position your character, press the B button, and then
press up on the directional pad! What the hell?! At the other extreme, climbing on stuff is too
easy! In fact, it's hard to walk around a simple room without having your pirate climb over every piece of furniture in sight! Simply turning your character's body is so slow
that I couldn't believe my eyes! Adding insult to injury, the game's camera seems to have a mind of its own. While climbing rock walls or swimming underwater (which you're required to do far too often), you're guaranteed to be disoriented most of the time. The save points are poorly spaced. During one infuriating incident, I painstakingly defeated a giant crab monster, then immediately slid through an "exit" chute, only to fly into a torch and die instantly! Speaking of bosses, your combat strategy against them is predictable - jump on their backs and attack their heads. Galleon contains some nice sound effects and music, but otherwise the game is a mess. With lousy controls, freaky graphics, and innumerable glitches, this one should be marooned on a desert island. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows
Publisher: Midway (2005)
Rating: Teen (violence)
As a huge fan of Gauntlet Legends (Dreamcast, 2000), I was glad to see Seven Sorrows deliver the same brand of simple yet fun multiplayer mayhem. Like the original Gauntlet game from the 80's, Seven Sorrows places one to four warriors in a series of medieval locations loaded with monster-generating portals, locked doors, traps, and treasure chests. Critics have criticized its shallow hack-n-slash action, but real Gauntlet fans wouldn't have it any other way. The game supports up to four players at a time, but two is the optimal number when you take into account camera positioning and teamwork considerations. It's generally recommended to pair a "brute strength" warrior with a magic user. Missile, melee, and magic attacks are simple to perform, and it's fun to augment your abilities between stages. The graphics are decent but nothing to write home about. The burning ruins of the first stage might
have been impressive had I not already played God of War (PS2, 2005). The countryside, forest, and pirate village locations are more repetitive than interesting. Still, I was quite impressed by the hideous bosses, which include a huge, twisted scarecrow. I found Seven Sorrows to be an enjoyable romp, but there are definitely some issues. Although most enemies emerge from portals you can destroy, some enter from inaccessible areas, which is annoying. A few visible passages seem to be blocked by an invisible wall. When playing with my friend George, we would constantly confuse each other's characters due to their similar color schemes! Draw-in often rears its ugly head as chests magically appear as you approach them. On the bright side, checkpoints are frequent, and monsters you destroy remain dead after you continue. Four difficulty settings are available, and the well-orchestrated soundtrack provides an epic flair. Certain critics have made the mistake of judging this game in RPG terms, but in fact it's an arcade title with a few RPG elements sprinkled in. In some ways, the game feels like a 3D Golden Axe (Genesis, 1989), which classic gamers would consider to be a major compliment. If you and a friend have a few hours to kill, Gauntlet Seven Sorrows is time well spent. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Goblin Commander: Unleash the Horde
Publisher: Jaleco (2003)
Rating: Teen (blood, violence)
I understand the rationale behind Goblin Commander. For many years real-time strategy (RTS) games have prospered on the PC, but none made a huge splash on the consoles. Two oft-cited reasons are the control scheme (lack of mouse), and the fact that a television (until recently) wasn't capable of generating a sharp, high-resolution display that would expose all the subtle nuances of the visuals. Goblin Commander attempts to address these issues with a simplified control scheme and battles that tend to be limited in scope. The two competing armies are your mining "rock" goblins and chainsaw-toting fire goblins. Once you complete the time-consuming introductory levels, Goblin Commander really kicks into gear. It's engaging enough, although it didn't suck me in like Warcraft, Starcraft, or Command and Conquer. That may have something to do with the mission-based nature of these stages - I prefer to simply wipe out the enemy. Commander's gameplay is far less manufacture-oriented than a game like Warcraft. You do build goblin soldiers, but can only have ten per "clan". By destroying ruins and collecting gold, you upgrade your arsenal and build cannons. One cool feature is your ability to employ giant "titans"; one of which resembles the cave troll from Lord of the Rings. These huge creatures must be controlled directly by you, which is a pain when you need to drag them all the way across the map. Still, they can unleash some serious whup-ass. Commander's graphics are good, and you can easily zoom in or out, although swinging the camera is not permitted. Certain objects become translucent to allow you to see what's happening on the other side, but that can be confusing. I noticed a lot of nifty little detail in the graphics like birds flying overhead and a goblin with a whip riding the back of the troll. The sound effects included humorous screams and thunderous crashes when structures are demolished. Goblin Commander won't become an obsession for most gamers, but it's not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Grabbed By The Ghoulies
Publisher: Microsoft (2004)
Grabbed by the Ghoulies had a lot going for it. First off, it's from Rare - the makers of Donkey Kong Country and Banjo Kazooie (among others). The game has a zany horror theme in the tradition of Zombies Ate My Neighbors (SNES, 1993), and it's one of the few Xbox titles suitable for kids. The premise resolves around a teenager named Cooper whose girlfriend is abducted and carried into an old mansion. The story is conveyed via comic book-style cells, and it's fun to watch them flash by. Ghoulies makes a fine first impression with its slick production values, fast pacing, and good humor. I really like the dance scene with monsters cutting the rug as a mummy works the turntables. The mansion is expansive, but you'll also venture through surrounding areas including a farm and a lighthouse. Ghoulies looks like a generic platformer on the surface, there's no jumping - just lots of fighting. Upon entering each new room the doors are barred shut until you defeat all the creeps therein. The actual "ghoulies" are comical little demon monsters, but you'll also face zombies, mummies, pirates, and vampire chickens
. I love how the pirates repeatedly scream "arrghh" as you pummel them. If you take too long to dispatch the creeps, the grim reaper appears, playing the "Evil Otto" role (Berzerk, Atari 2600). You unleash attacks using the right thumbstick, holding it toward an enemy to unleash a flurry. This ill-advised control scheme feels mushy, inexact, and unsatisfying. It's actually hard to tell when a monster is defeated, so you'll waste a lot of time and energy needlessly pounding on lifeless corpses. Weapons include water guns and fire extinguishers, but these are confusing to use. The more you play Grabbed by the Ghoulies, the less enjoyable it becomes. Advanced stages incorporate arbitrary rules that force you to only attack certain enemies or only use specific weapons. Monsters in advanced stages take too long to beat down, and some are practically impervious to attacks. Even the fun of exploration dissipates as you're forced to backtrack early and often. The camera control is left completely to the player (via the triggers), and it's a real hassle in enclosed areas. Rare dropped the ball with this one. Ill-advised controls and lazy design make Grabbed by the Ghoulies feel like a squandered opportunity. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Guilty Gear X2 Reload
Publisher: Sammy (2004)
Rating: Teen (blood, sexual themes, violence)
Xbox gamers should thank their lucky stars that this kick-ass 2D fighter has arrived on their platform. If you've read my Playstation 2 reviews of the Guilty Gear X games, you already know I'm a huge fan. This is almost exactly the same as Guilty Gear X2 (PS2) except for its on-line capabilities. Personally, I prefer kicking the living [expletive] out of someone in the same room, but that's just me. Reload's 2D sprite visuals are pure eye candy, with crazy characters and gorgeous, surreal backdrops. You won't find this kind of artistic flair from a 3D fighter. The gameplay isn't too shabby either, with easy-to-learn controls and surprising depth. The basic controls mirror the time-tested Street Fighter 2 scheme, except there are four basic attacks: punch, kick, slash, and heavy slash. Don't worry, if you've ever been proficient at any
other 2D fighter, you'll be able to pick up on this one right away. Most characters wield some sort of weapon, but despite brief streaks of red blood, the gore is minimal. Guilty Gear's roster contains characters unlike any you've seen before. Notables include the lanky, bag-headed Faust, the rock star-inspired Axel Low, the hulk-sized Potemkin, a guitar-playing witch named I-No, the hair-whipping Milia Rage, and a possessed body name Zappa. Guilty Gear's unique style combines supernatural elements with the quirky world of anime. The worst part is the guitar rock soundtrack, which all sounds the same to me. The challenge never lets up, thanks to the wealth of playing modes, which include a story, mission, and "metal of millionaire" contest. I was initially disappointed that this Xbox version didn't offer anything new (except on-line play), but then I noticed two additional characters: an old man named Cliff and the heavily armored Justice. If you have the PS2 version don't bother, but Xbox fighting fanatics should snap this one up. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, Gaming Age Online, GameSpot, Xbox Addict