Xbox 360 Reviews L

Left 4 Dead
Grade: B
Publisher: Valve (2008)
Reviewed: 2009/10/18
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, language)

screenshotIf you're looking for a scary game to play around Halloween, this one would be a fine choice. Left 4 Dead is a first-person shooter with a survival horror theme, but its non-stop action and frantic pace takes the genre to a new level of intensity. You'll forge through spooky locations including apartments, woods, subways, and a train station.

Four separate scenarios are available, and while each is unique, they often tend to reuse certain areas. Zombies roam everywhere, and your team is composed of four characters who must cooperate for the best chance of survival. Although designed for on-line co-op, a two-player split-screen mode is included, and you can also play solo, with the CPU controlling your teammates. As is the case with many modern zombie flicks, these zombies can run like freakin' Adrian Peterson.

Every few minutes all hell breaks loose as a stampeding horde attacks from multiple directions. It's an alarming situation, but it's fun to gun down dozens of creeps at a time. Left 4 Dead has a number of innovative features. The silhouettes of your teammates are visible through walls, making it much easier to keep everybody together. Crouching improves your aim, and painkillers provide temporary health boosts. If you're incapacitated and being revived, you can still aim and shoot - a nice touch! All the weapons are all pretty effective, so you're never stuck with a worthless pea shooter.

Between stages you'll take shelter in "safe houses" where you can heal and reload. While stages are loading, stats are displayed that rank players by categories like "least damage taken" and "headhunter". The zombies come in a remarkable variety, and there are a few super-creeps you'll recognize by their distinctive sound effects. A "boomer" is an overweight ghoul that explodes when shot, and a "hunter" can leap from great distances. A "smoker" will reel you in with its extended tongue, and the "tank" is just one big mountain of muscle.

But the creature that will strike the most fear into your heart is "the witch". This emaciated female just wants to hide and weep, but if you accidentally stumble upon her, you're in for a serious hurting. You'll hear her weeping sounds accompanied by a haunting refrain when she's in close proximity, and together they will make your blood run cold.

Left 4 Dead also features realistic natural sounds like rain and crickets, along with startling creaks and moans. Turn up your surround sound! Does the game have any shortcomings? Well, the environments are not destructible at all. The split-screen mode is hard to set up, and the single-player game offers achievements to unlock, but no scoring. Left 4 Dead does get monotonous after a while, since it's little more than non-stop shooting. It's pretty scary though, and you'll find yourself on edge the entire time. Left 4 Dead is a real treat and a welcome departure from the typical slow, methodical zombie shooters. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Left 4 Dead 2
Grade: B
Publisher: Valve (2009)
Reviewed: 2010/11/9
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, language)

screenshotZombie games are traditionally slow and methodical, but Left 4 Dead carved out its niche with a downright frantic brand of shooting action. This second edition offers more of the same with new weapons (an electric guitar), new creeps (the back-riding "Jockey"), and more ways to play ("realism mode").

Teamwork is key as you forge through a post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested world, and if four players aren't available, the CPU will fill out the party. In addition to mowing down droves of sprinting zombies, you'll encounter specialized creatures like the "Spitter" who spews toxic green goo or the "Charger" who just plows into you. These super-monsters can be a real pain in the ass, yet it's always satisfying to rescue one of your teammates from one. The weeping "witches" are back, but instead of hiding they tend to be wandering out in the open. Try not to disturb them, because these chicks will go premenstrual on your ass!

Left 4 Dead 2 is a fast-moving game, and when a horde converges there's gunfire in every direction. It's hard to avoid friendly fire and not uncommon to hear someone exclaim, "Stop shooting each other!" The interspersed voice dialogue adds flavor ("this is some crazy [expletive]") and is often informative ("we have some pipe bombs over here!") It's easy to heal your companions, and it's also critical to maximize your chances of reaching the next safe house. Between stages a series of "ranking" screens are displayed that add a competitive element.

Technically, Left 4 Dead 2 has some issues. Whether you play split-screen or on-line, the controls are touchy, the collision detection is inexact, and the frame-rate can get a little rough. The graphics are mediocre, and certainly no better than the previous game. It's easy to lose your bearings and rarely obvious what direction you need to go. New locations include a mall, motel, rainy swamp, and carnival, but these are surprisingly bland. I did enjoy the rain effects however, and the New Orleans stage is quite original.

If you're looking for some straight-up shooting action, Left 4 Dead 2 brings the heat. New modes include a versus mode where you play against player-controlled zombies, and a "realism" mode which removes all handholding for maximum difficulty. Does it get tiresome mowing down endless waves of rampaging undead? Yeah, but Left 4 Dead 2 has a nice pick-up-and-play quality that's satisfying in short spurts. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon
Grade: C
Publisher: Activision (2008)
Reviewed: 2013/11/27
Rating: Everyone (fantasy violence)

screenshotI wasn't particularly anxious to revisit the Spyro universe, but Dawn of the Dragon came with some high recommendations. The adventure gets off to a lively start as Spyro and his lady friend Cinder are released from a magical gem by a gang of trolls. The pair find themselves in a cavern fighting a huge lava beast that looks like something from Lord of the Rings.

The production values are high, boasting the celebrity voices of Elijah Wood, Gary Oldman, and Christina Ricci. There's one scene where you glide above a waterfall at night, and it may be the most beautiful sight I've ever witnessed in a video game. The elaborate underground tombs look impressive, but many locations (like the forest) are entirely too dark. The orchestrated music score fills the room, so crank up the stereo.

Dawn of the Dragon emphasizes cooperative play in which both dragons are tethered together. It's a dubious design decision, calling to mind disasters from the past like Knuckles Chaotix (Sega 32X, 1995). Sure enough, my efforts to cooperate with a friend proved awkward and frustrating. Despite its emphasis on coop, the game is best played solo. Also off-putting is how these dragons fight, talk, and generally behave like humans. Spyro pounds his foes with combos, and can even grab and swing them around. At times I felt like I was playing a second-rate God of War clone.

The game is at its best when Spyro utilizes his dragon qualities - namely the ability to fly and breathe fire. Incinerating goblins is probably the highlight of the entire game. The game is at its worst when you die and have to restart from a distant checkpoint. Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon excels in presentation but fails to establish an identity of its own. It feels like a mish-mash of other games - other games you'd rather be playing instead. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Lego Batman
Grade: C-
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2008)
Reviewed: 2008/10/19
Rating: Everyone

screenshotIf you really think about it, Batman offers the perfect theme for a Lego game. Not only does it provide a colorful assortment of villains and environments, but it's ideally suited for Lego's brand of two-player cooperative action. Helping me review this game was my longtime buddy Eric, who actually played a minor role in the most recent Batman film (The Dark Knight).

Lego Batman is an eyeful with its dark cityscapes and colorful enemy lairs, which I found more compelling than the deserts of Indiana Jones Lego or the spaceships of Star Wars Lego. On rare occasions the camera pulls back far enough to expose a misty city skyline which looks amazing. The slick visuals are accompanied by a lush musical score lifted from the first Batman film (1989).

Gameplay features simple combat, platform jumping, and a lot of not-so-obvious puzzles. The Batman and Robin characters can switch outfits during the course of the game, giving them new powers and allowing them to complete each stage in multiple ways. Batman's outfit selection includes suits for heat protection, demolition, and gliding. Robin's include a magnet suit, technology suit (for using robots), and attract suit (for sucking up small Lego pieces). The game's multiple storylines can be played through in parallel, and each has a unique set of villains.

The game certainly delivers in terms of presentation, but the shallow Lego formula is beginning to wear thin. First of all, you get infinite lives, so where's the challenge? Some kind of scoring system or time limit might have made things more interesting. The fighting is very repetitive and you can hit your partner, which is sometimes hard to avoid in the heat of battle. Equally aggravating is how the fixed camera angles make it really hard to judge certain jumps. The driving stages look amazing, but are remarkably devoid of fun.

Lego Batman also has its share of bugs, and it even locked up on me at one point. Finally, the game saves your progress not after you complete a stage, but after you select continue, which makes no sense. I like the premise behind Lego Batman, but the lack of tension and cookie-cutter design make it less than satisfying. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes
Grade: B
Publisher: Warner Bros. (2012)
Reviewed: 2012/8/13
Rating: Everyone 10+

screenshotThis fine sequel is much better than the original, offering imaginative stages, less repetitive fighting, and a lot more variety. You'll explore the sprawling city of Gotham including points of interest like the chemical factory, Arkham Asylum, the zoo, and an amusement park. You can drive vehicles to navigate between locations, and the rainy, gothic scenery looks sensational. The water effects alone are downright spectacular. The cut scenes now contain voice acting which adds a lot of good-natured humor. The jealousy Batman exhibits toward Superman is downright hilarious.

The basic action is pretty much business-as-usual as you bash the scenery for cogs, pull levers to access new areas, and beat up goons. You can now alternate control of Batman and Robin instead of relying on the CPU to control your partner. The puzzles are satisfying, but there are times when you can't seem to pull a switch in plain view. Suits provide special powers like a hazard suit that lets Robin hose down hazardous waste and an electricity suit that lets Batman overcome electrified obstacles. The suits play a vital role but I hate how they can lose their "charge".

The stages are really cool and you never spend too much time in any one place. The camera is fixed (in most cases) so sometimes it's hard to see doorways and objects in the shadows. The new save system seems like an improvement at first, but upon reloading you may find yourself in an unexpected location. Also, the game is not immune to locking up. As the title suggests, you'll get to use other DC characters although Batman is still the star of the show. A big game with a lot of play value, Lego Batman 2 is probably the best Lego title so far. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4
Grade: A-

screenshotI've become pretty jaded of Lego games over the years, but after watching the complete Harry Potter movie series on Blu Ray I thought it was a good time to review this. Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4 is the best Lego game I've ever played. It fully embodies the spirit atmosphere of the movies. Not only does the game faithfully recreate the storylines of the first four films, but it reimagines all the memorable locations in amazing detail!

It's fun to explore cozy pubs, cobblestone shopping districts, the cavernous dining hall, and the shadowy halls of Hogwarts school. The detail is so amazing you'll want to investigate every nook and cranny. You can expect all the magical elements of Hogwarts like living paintings, wandering ghosts, and shifting staircases. These stages make the ones in Lego Star Wars seem sterile and repetitive by comparison.

Lego Harry Potter's gameplay is also more interesting because you learn various spells that let you manipulate everything in your environment. You can make furniture dance, books flap like birds, and have floating swords fight each other. It's fun to watch what happens when you cast spells on random objects. Assembling structures is downright mesmerizing as magic causes pieces to swirl around before falling into place.

Pivotal scenes from the film are conveyed through voiceless cut-scenes and rendered with style and good humor. The momentous orchestrated music not only makes the game feel cinematic, but it's just a pleasure to listen to. The crisp sound effects are excellent as well; I kept thinking that cat meow was my cat!

There are really only a few minor complaints. Sometimes you can't tell if you're using magic wrong or if you just haven't acquired the "right" magic. Some puzzles don't make a lot of sense. The save icon is Harry's disembodied head, but why not just say "saving"? The game includes a colorful, well-written manual that feels more like a relic of a bygone age. Lego Harry Potter is top-notch entertainment, but you probably need to see the films to truly appreciate this. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Lego Harry Potter Years 5-7
Grade: B-
Publisher: Warner Bros (2011)
Reviewed: 2018/4/5
Rating: Everyone 10+

screenshotThere are eight Harry Potter movies in all, so when I saw "Years 5-7" I worried that I was missing something. In fact this edition covers three books and the last four films, since the last book was divided into two movies. The opening stage takes place on a playground during a thunderstorm, the atmosphere is positively electric! No Lego games capture the spirit of their films like these Lego Harry Potter titles.

I was a little concerned the developers might just be going through the motions until I reached the stage where you fly a broom over the Thames river. Holy cow - that has got to be one of the most awe-inspiring sights I have even seen in a video game! It feels like you're along for the ride! The stages follow the films very closely with all the fun characters and memorable locations rendered down to the most subtle detail. You'll use magic to destroy, build, and manipulate the environments. And I never seem to get tired of collecting those "studs" - especially the blue ones. I think it's that tick-tick-tick sound.

There's a lot to explore but if you just want to keep the story going you can just keep heading for the big white arrows. Many areas (like the Hogwarts school) have been recycled from the last game, and I have to admit there were times when the game feels awfully familiar. These stages have been reworked to some extent but a few of their animations are a bit repetitive. Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7 is low on the difficulty scale, but it's the kind of game you can play a little each night and savor for weeks on end. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 player 

Lego Lord of the Rings
Grade: C
Publisher: Warner Bros. (2012)
Reviewed: 2014/1/1
Rating: Everyone 10+ (cartoon violence, comic mischief)

screenshotI enjoy the simple charm of these Lego adventures, but I guess the adage "if you've played one you've played them all" does tend to apply. Lego Lord of the Rings benefits from strong source material, and there's no shortage of that because the game covers the entire trilogy! That's a lot of ground to cover.

The sound effects, musical score, and voice dialogue are lifted directly from the films. The cut-scenes convey the full narrative in a refreshingly succinct manner (like the original films, only this time with editing). The game cleverly reprises all of the memorable locations, characters, and plot twists. The stages where you evade the black rider in the woods do a fine job of conveying suspense as you methodically find ways to distract him.

You toggle between several characters in each scene, each of which has a special ability (Sam can start a fire, Pippen can fish, etc). The "nobody throws a dwarf" joke gets a heck of a lot of mileage. The button-mashing combat is weak but the exploration element is interesting. Some stages are more "open" than others, allowing you to investigate branching paths and hidden areas.

Lego Lord of the Rings is a likeable romp but a few issues keep the fun factor in check. Switching between the characters can be clumsy (especially in scenes with more than eight characters), and it's hard to tell the hobbits apart. In stages like the battle between Gandolf vs Saruman, you feel like you're just going through the motions. The cut-scenes graphics exhibit a surprising amount of jaggies. Upon completing a stage you are informed "there are new characters to buy!", but thank goodness it is not referring to DLC.

The split-screen system could be a bit more polished, but I was amazed how both characters will sometimes play completely separate parallel storylines. I'm a little weary of Lego games, but I have to admit Lego Lord of the Rings is a well-crafted adventure that stays true to the spirit of the films. If you're a die-hard fan, bump up the grade by a letter. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Lego Pirates of the Caribbean
Grade: B-

screenshotJust when I thought the Lego series had run its course, this new pirate edition reinvigorates the franchise. It may be the most compelling Lego adventure yet, spanning all four of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies! The colorful cast of characters, exotic locations, and swashbuckling musical score are lifted straight from the films.

I was bedazzled by the sunny tropical islands, the shadowy pubs, and the fireworks-lit Singapore village. The amazing water and fire effects made me glad I opted for the high-def 360 version. Each film consists of about five lengthy stages of intricate puzzles and shallow sword fighting. The puzzles require a lot of item manipulation and swapping between characters, and they are satisfying to solve. The fighting is weak and often confusing as you simply pound buttons in a mob of people.

The difficulty is low thanks to constant clues and infinite lives, but some puzzles can be frustrating. Why is that crocodile not taking damage when I toss a bomb into his mouth?! The stages are held together by short cut-scenes which are condensed scenes from the films. Each stage features several characters, and you'll need to strategically switch between them to leverage their special abilities. By the end of each stage you may have six or more characters at your disposal, but it turns into a case of "too many chefs in the kitchen".

The controls could be more intuitive, as holding in a button can have a different result than a simple press. The fixed camera angles can be a problem, and sometimes it's hard to see key items in cluttered areas. The two-player split-screen mode dynamically divides the screen based on the location of the characters, which is an interesting concept. Collecting Lego "cogs" is satisfying thanks to those "click" noises, and there's plenty of wanton destruction to be had as you bash crates and furniture, causing hidden cogs to spring forth. Lego Pirates of the Caribbean feels a little convoluted at times, but it's still good clean summertime fun. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy
Grade: B-
Publisher: LucasArts (2006)
Reviewed: 2007/6/19
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThe first Lego Star Wars met with a very warm reception from gamers, and this second edition is just as good if not better. This whimsical platformer has an old-school vibe to it, with simple gameplay, crisp controls, and charming, blocky graphics (intentionally blocky in this case). The game recreates the events of the original trilogy, but a few liberties have been taken. The story has been simplified, additional humor has been incorporated, and Mark Hamill's acting is much improved (sorry, I couldn't resist).

Each stage is a nice combination of combat, exploration, and simple puzzles. There are a lot of items to collect, but gathering them up never feels tedious - partially because they gravitate towards you as you approach them. The environments are highly destructible, and the explosion effects are satisfying. It's also fun to unlock dozens of new controllable characters as the story progresses. You're not likely to get stuck in this game (at least not for long), because key items tend to glow, usually making it obvious what you need to do next.

Heavy emphasis is placed on teamwork, so you'll often need to switch between characters in order to perform tasks like operating machinery, opening doors, or grappling to higher ledges. The two-player co-op mode is enjoyable, although the camera is sometimes an issue. One great new feature is the ability to construct things out of mounds of loose Legos by simply holding in the B button. The dramatic soundtrack is outstanding, with music taken directly from the films.

So what's not to like? Well, the Hoth stages were disappointing with their closed-in snowspeeder stages and squirrelly controls. As you accumulate a group of characters in a stage, switching between them is problematic as they tend to bumble into each other. Finally, Luke's lightsaber isn't nearly as effective as it should be - he should be slicing through these guys like melted butter! Still, if you enjoyed the first game or you're just looking for a light-hearted platformer, Lego Star Wars II is a real treat. NOTE: The original Lego Star Wars game review is available in the Xbox section. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Limbo
Grade: C-
Publisher: PlayDead (2010)
Reviewed: 2011/9/29
Rating: Teen (animated blood, mild violence)

screenshotThis downloadable title seduced impressionable critics on the strength of its surreal visuals, but guess what? Limbo is severely overrated. Its innovative graphic style employs a hazy, black-and-white landscape that effectively conveys a foreboding atmosphere. With giant spiders, dead bodies, flooding chambers, and startling death traps, it looks like a childhood nightmare. The audio is understated so when music kicks in it heightens the tension.

Limbo gets an A+ for style, but gameplay matters too! The action boils down to a linear series of 2D platform puzzles. Most require moving objects into place in a timed sequence, and you'll need to pay close attention for subtle visual clues. The puzzles are imaginative and clever, but solving them can be tedious and frustrating. It's all about trial-and-error, so if you don't execute a sequence of actions perfectly you'll need to start over. Cerebral gamers will be intrigued, but thrill-seekers will be bored.

Would Limbo have been so well received had it been rendered with bright, colorful graphics? I suspect it would have been ignored, or worse yet panned by most critics. Limbo is well constructed and held my attention for a while, but it's not as fun as it looks. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.


Lollipop Chainsaw
Grade: B
Publisher: Warner Bros. (2012)
Reviewed: 2014/11/2
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, drug reference, intense violence, partial nudity, sexual themes, strong language)

screenshotLollipop Chainsaw is an outrageous zombie fighter starring a giddy cheerleader named Juliet. Her town has been overrun by undead, but fortunately she hails from a family of zombie hunters. Juliet may come across as a superficial airhead, but her upbeat personality and fluid grace will win you over. She uses a chainsaw to effortlessly slice and dice zombies while saving innocent bystanders. Early in the game Juliet "saves" her boyfriend Nick from zombie-hood by slicing off his head and carrying it around on her belt. It's a bizarre twist but provides plenty of material for lighthearted humor.

It's great fun to execute crazy combos while vaulting around and beheading multiple zombies at a time. I like the ability to shop for upgrades, but why is everything so expensive?! In addition to hack-n-slash combat, you can fire from a distance with a "chainsaw blaster", although I found the targeting controls frustrating at times. The game makes heavy use of "quick action" scenes where you're prompted to quickly press a series of buttons. These are generally fun but can get tiresome if you need to hit 20 buttons in a row.

Still, I enjoyed the torrid pace of the game. The load screens are frequent but give you a chance to catch your breath. The early stages take place at a high school, but later you visit a farm and shopping center. Lollipop Chainsaw has a fun arcade quality, with gory combos accompanied with fireworks and bedazzling effects. Zombies sparkle as they disintegrate and drop gold coins and stars. Pop music classics like "Mickey" and "You Spin Me Round" kick in at opportune times to take the absurdity to a whole new level.

The game looks like a million bucks and the comic-book style menus are amazing. I found the irreverent tone refreshing but sometimes the game tries too hard, pushing the envelope with bad language, crude humor, and suggestive themes. Still, Lollipop Chainsaw is just plain fun, and it's hard not to get caught up in its unbridled exuberance. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

London 2012
Grade: B+
Publisher: Sega (2012)
Reviewed: 2012/8/13
Rating: Everyone

screenshotAfter the recent Mario and Sonic Olympic debacle, it's good to see Sega redeem themselves with this strong effort. London 2012 packs an amazing cross-section of events including track and field, swimming, diving, shooting, archery, gymnastics, cycling, canoeing, rowing, table tennis, weightlifting, and beach volleyball. The events depicted here look very much like the ones I watched on TV. The venues are gorgeous with waving flags in the stadiums and inviting blue waters in the Aquatic Center. The athletes look sharp and exhibit a lot of subtle mannerisms. The camera angles are excellent, and the underwater view of the swimming competition looks amazing.

The controls are a nice approximation of the athletic movements employed in each sport. The schemes aren't too complex but not overly simple either. When running, you need to tap a button to keep a meter in a "green zone" instead of mindlessly pounding it. With archery, you simply pull back, aim, and release the thumbsticks. Prior to each event you have the option of watching a tutorial which walks you through all the actions. As with any Olympic title worth its weight, up to four players can compete in a list of events of their choosing.

For the single player, a rich campaign mode takes you through ten days of competition - also with selectable events. The campaign takes about two hours to complete, but the sheer variety kept me glued to the screen. Trying to put your country over the top in the medal count makes for a nice challenge. The only problem with the campaign is how you need to compete in qualifying rounds, which really drags things out. I could also live without the constant replays which nobody really needs to see.

Certain events wear out their welcome because they have too many rounds. There are five rounds in archery, six in javelin, and eight lengthy rounds in skeet shooting. Three rounds each would be ideal, especially when competing against two or three friends. A few of the button prompts can get lost in the scenery, but in general London 2012 is very polished and playable. I love the music and the brief load screens are full of eye candy. As the spiritual descendant of Summer Games (1984), London 2012 is really one of the best games of its kind. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth II
Grade: B+
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2008)
Reviewed: 2010/3/27
Rating: Teen (fantasy violence)

screenshotBattle For Middle Earth is a real-time strategy (RTS) game characterized by organizing groups of soldiers and directing them against various invading enemies. You run the show from a high overhead vantage point, so the troops appear very tiny and are somewhat hard to discern. You can either play the role of the good guys (elves, dwarves, humans, ents) or bad guys (orcs, goblins, trolls, dragons). The diverse environments including snowy mountain passes, green pastures, and active volcanoes. The graphical detail is excellent, and it's fun to watch structures being systematically built (or destroyed for that matter).

The user interface is simpler than most RTS games, and that's a good thing. Still, it can be a little awkward having to drag that cursor around with an analog stick. You select objects with the A button and the right trigger brings up your options. Many missions require you to set up a camp and train soldiers before initiating combat. That may seem a little tedious until you realize you'll often need to replenish your troops during the course of a single mission. An ever-present map gives you a good perspective on the world, where you'll typically have to juggle several skirmishes at once. Your goal is to wipe out all enemies, but sometimes you're asked to perform special missions like saving an ally or destroying a key structure.

Battle for Middle Earth is not without its flaws. The game never really explains the basic controls, so you'll need to consult the manual for the specifics about selecting troops. At one point I became frustrated when the game insisted that I "select a fortress build plot", and I had no idea what the hell it was talking about. The game also does a lousy job of conveying the concept of "command points", which are necessary to carry out certain actions. There are sporadic frame-rate issues which cause the action to stutter at times.

Even so, Battle for Middle Earth is addictive, and I enjoyed sending groups of troops all over the place to do my bidding. The stages are reasonable in length (under an hour), and an easy difficulty option lets you progress with minimal pain. Battle For Middle Earth is a satisfying strategy game and a good choice for novice RTS gamers. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Lost Planet 2
Grade: F
Publisher: Capcom (2010)
Reviewed: 2013/7/30
Rating: Teen (Animated Blood, Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence)

screenshotThe first Lost Planet: Extreme Condition (Xbox 360, 2007) was an unexpected hit. Its standard third-person shooting was enhanced with awesome snow environments and an arcade sensibility. Lost Planet 2 replaces those gorgeous snow-scapes with hot, tropical environments. But that's not the only drastic change - the gameplay is now unbearable.

My experience with the split-screen coop mode was so miserable that I ended up shelving the game for three years. Only recently did I summon the intestinal fortitude to try the single-player campaign, and the bad memories immediately flooded back. The scenery looks sharp, but it's surprisingly dark and hard to locate enemies. When a vicious plant beast is bearing down on your soldier, it appears transparent in the foreground, making it hard to tell what the [expletive] is going on! It's hard to locate enemies, or even determine what you're supposed to be shooting at! There are unsightly framerate issues and some of the water effects look terrible. I could accept the idea of constantly replenishing your thermal energy in the original game, but in the jungle heat?! I'm not buying it.

The controls are an absolute nightmare. I've played a lot of shooters in my time, but I've never had so many issues equipping weapons, navigating terrain, or making sense of objectives. There were times when it was clearly impossible to complete a mission, yet the game dragged on nevertheless. The team system is hard to grasp, and I think that's because the game was designed for on-line play, with the campaign tossed in as an afterthought. The cut-scenes will get you psyched up with their fast action and bright orange explosions, but once you start playing you're in for a world of hurt. Lost World 2 is a truly wretched shooter that squanders what once seemed like a promising new franchise. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Lost Planet: Extreme Condition
Grade: B
Publisher: Capcom (2007)
Reviewed: 2007/2/11
Rating: Teen (animated blood, mild language, violence)

screenshotI'm not sure what critics who panned Lost Planet were expecting, but this game delivered exactly what I was looking for: Large scale battles in expansive, snow-covered environments! The premise is familiar: Boy meets girl, girl meets boy, humans colonize bug-infested ice planet, boy is eaten by giant snow-worm. Playing the role of a soldier with only fragments of memory, you'll face off against snow pirates, mech robots, and enormous bugs with glowing orange "thermal cores".

The graphics are sensational. The snowy terrain features fantastic city ruins, vast snowy plains, and majestic rivers of ice floes. Less impressive are the generic interior cave locations. Lost Planet is mainly a third-person shooter, with some weapons so large they need to be dragged along the ground! The rampaging bugs are awesome, and each variety exhibits a unique set of attacks. Some will attempt to steam-roll you, and others use their oversized front legs to pound you into oblivion. The glowing thermal cores give away their weak spots, but those spots aren't always easy to hit! Once dead, the bugs freeze solid, so your next shot shatters their carcass into a thousand pieces (sweet).

High-jumping mechs also play a role in the action, and you'll man them as often as you'll battle them. I love the vibration effects of these things stomping in the snow. Unfortunately, the controls for these mechanical beasts are less than responsive, which is frustrating when you're getting pounded non-stop by rockets. Much has been made of the game's explosion effects, and they are in fact probably the best I've seen. Still, all that smoke and fire tends to obfuscate your vision, making it difficult to tell what's going on.

Lost Planet incorporates a few other interesting elements like grappling hooks that pull you up to high ledges, and data posts that recharge your thermal energy and point you in the right direction. The main problem with the game is its wildly uneven difficulty. Some bosses are so relentlessly hard that you'll want to set the difficulty to easy just to avoid the inevitable frustration. It doesn't help that the collision detection is spotty when facing some of these behemoths.

And where's the split-screen action? Sorry, but if you want to play multiplayer, you'll need to go on-line. Another issue is how you can only save after each mission. Call it frustrating, call it uneven, but you can't deny that Lost Planet is an exciting shooter. The non-stop action and sweeping musical score really got my blood pumping, and I couldn't wait to see what each new mission had in store. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, Amazon.com, Xbox Marketplace, YouTube, Amazon.com, Moby Games