system Index F-L
Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer
Grade: B-
Publisher: 2K Games (2007)
Reviewed: 2007/7/17
Rating: Teen (fantasy violence)

screenshotFantastic 4 plays how a superhero game should play, with non-stop action, brisk pacing, ample destruction, and emphasis on teamwork. You only control one hero at a time, but can toggle between all four using the directional pad. Unfortunately, the action gets off to a slow start with a painfully long first stage set in an alien headquarters under a volcano. Its purpose is to help you learn the moves, but the never-ending, claustrophobic hallways are just too much.

If you can get through that however, the game really picks up steam as you return to New York to battle in the streets and on rooftops. Later our heroes leave the Earth to visit an old Soviet space station that's now infested by apes. Not only does the space station have a convincingly antiquated, cold war appearance, but the manner in which the apes amble around looks pretty creepy!

Fantastic 4's control scheme maps perfectly to the PS3 controller. The four face buttons provide basic moves, and these are toggled into special moves using R2 or team moves using L2. It's nice how your attack options are displayed with colorful icons on the screen, making it clear which ones are available. It's great fun to experiment, and once you get the hang of the devastating team attacks, you'll be using them at every opportunity. The game only offers two or three different enemy types per stage, but the variety of attacks keeps things fresh.

I especially like how you must utilize a special power of a specific hero to solve each puzzle. For example, the Human Torch can melt walls of ice, and Mr. Fantastic can stretch to reach levers on the ceiling. The camera is controlled with the right thumbstick, and while it's fine with one player, it can be very problematic with multiple players. There are a few Human Torch flying stages that use the motion controls of the PS3 controller, but they're not so hot.

Fantastic 4's graphics are about average - nothing spectacular but sharp and clean. The sound effects are crisp but suffer from uneven volume. You'll want to turn down the sound when you hear the loud crumbling rocks, but then you can't hear the dialogue! Likewise there are some minor graphic and control glitches here and there. Fantastic 4 isn't a groundbreaking title, but if you're in the mood for some superhero action, it's more than respectable. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

If you like this game, try: Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer (Xbox 360)
Mr. Driller (Dreamcast)
X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse (Super Nintendo)
Astro War (Atari 2600)
Astro Battle (Bally Astrocade)

Final Fantasy XIII
Grade: B
Publisher: Square Enix (2010)
Reviewed: 2015/11/27
Rating: Teen

screenshotContributed by ptdebate of the RPG Crew.
I have mixed feelings about Final Fantasy XIII (FF13). This RPG thrusts you into the middle of a breathtaking sci-fi adventure but severely constrains exploration of the attractive scenery. The game's breakneck forward momentum makes good narrative sense -- protagonist Lightning and her friends are on the run from a tyrannical government that labels them terrorists -- but linear design has never been seen to this degree in a role-playing game.

More reminiscent of Call of Duty 4 than Morrowind, FF13 might actually be a godsend for those who don't have the time or patience for more meandering adventures. Lightning, a thick-skinned renegade, is joined in her struggle by Sazh, jokester and concerned father; Vanille, wacky Australian narrator with a dark secret; Fang, a short-tempered amazon; Hope, a whiny kid; and Snow, a self-assured loser. The ensemble keeps things interesting but an excess of jargon-laden dialogue is guaranteed to induce yawns. Moments of comic relief include Lightning knocking Snow in his ass when he acts pompous. Did I mention Snow is trying to get with Lightning's sister? Bad idea.

The voice acting and facial animation are top-quality and serve the underlying drama well. The graphics are truly stunning -- six years after the game's initial release I've still never seen anything quite like it. High-quality sound and art direction have always characterized the series, but FF13 takes it to a whole new level. Fans of cutting-edge graphics may want to pick up the PC version, where the added horsepower reveals a world of textural detail that you'll barely see on PS3 or 360.

Gameplay is quick and intuitive but leads you by the hand for a little too long. The game's systems don't start firing on all cylinders until about ten hours in. There's plenty to see although hardcore Final Fantasy fans will come away wishing there had been more to do than march forward, fight a battle, and view a cutscene. You typically start a battle with one fighter, a healer, and a magic user, strategically switching roles as circumstances demand. Boss battles can be furiously difficult if you don't master strategies, upgrade weapons, and level up your team's abilities intelligently.

Unlike most modern big-budget titles, the game was released bug-free at launch, and hasn't received a single update since. Final Fantasy XIII is an RPG that rewards commitment and mastery with beautiful sights and top-notch gameplay, and that's not a bad deal. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

If you like this game, try: Final Fantasy XIII-2 (Guest Review) (Playstation 3)
Final Fantasy VII (Guest Review) (Playstation)
Fear Effect (Playstation)
Call of Duty 2 (Xbox 360)
Final Fantasy XV (Guest Review) (Xbox One)

Final Fantasy XIII-2
Grade: A-
Publisher: Square Enix (2012)
Reviewed: 2016/1/29
Rating: Teen

screenshotContributed by ptdebate of the RPG Crew.
Sequels in video games have gotten so out of hand, even sequels have sequels. Final Fantasy XIII-2 picks up three years after the events of the original. You play the role of Serah, sister of Lightning from XIII, joining time traveler Noel in a journey to stop the renegade immortal Caius. Caius is perhaps the first Final Fantasy villain I found myself rooting for. He seeks not to destroy the world, but to stop time so to save a seeress named Yeul from death. It's up to you to decide whether he succeeds or fails.

Historia Crux is the central hub, connecting all of the places and time periods Serah and Noel can visit. Exploration plays a big role and your choices at story junctions branch into multiple outcomes. The art direction is superb with charming, treasure-laden locations such as beachside villages, dense forests, and a futuristic metropolis.

For battles, the Paradigm Shift system has returned from XIII, whereby your three characters switch battle roles on the fly. The third slot however is now occupied by a tamed monster. Executing a "Feral Link" during battle allows you to recruit monsters and train them up to be formidable allies. Every battle is a spectacle with massive bolts of elemental magic that collide with enemies in terrific explosions. Pulse-pounding bass intermingles with soaring violin melodies to complement the glorious destruction. There are however some annoying spots where you'll grow weary of battles due to high enemy encounter rates or sudden spikes in difficulty.

These issues are exacerbated by the fact that it's far more difficult to evade encounters than it was in XIII. Fortunately fan feedback from XIII led to an easy option that smoothes over these rough patches. There are eight secret "paradox endings" which illustrate the familiar trope of time travel inadvertently wreaking havoc on reality. The "true" ending is fraught with tragedy and leads directly into the final part of the trilogy. Expertly crafted, FFXIII-2 builds upon what was good about the original while taking the series in exciting new directions. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

If you like this game, try: Final Fantasy XIII (Guest Review) (Playstation 3)
Final Fantasy (Guest Review) (NES)
Final Fantasy VII (Guest Review) (Playstation)
Final Fantasy XV (Guest Review) (Xbox One)
Journey to Silius (NES)

Ghostbusters: The Video Game
Grade: B+
Publisher: Atari (2009)
Reviewed: 2009/6/27
Rating: Teen (comic mischief, fantasy violence, mild language)

screenshotLeveraging the actors from the original films and boasting sky-high production values, Ghostbusters: The Video Game perfectly embodies the humor and tone of the films. The voices and likenesses of the original actors are used effectively, as is the playful musical score and distinctive sound effects. Hell, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis even wrote the damn story! I'm not normally a big proponent of elaborate storylines and cut-scenes in video games, but these held my attention. The stiff, animated characters can't deliver lines with perfect comedic timing, but some of the dialogue will make you smile.

In many ways, this feels like a sequel to the films. All the memorable locations have been recreated including the converted firehouse, the Sedgewick hotel, and public library. There's a new graveyard stage that looks utterly spectacular. The characters resemble the original actors but are rendered in a stylized manner so they don't look too freaky. The detail in the environments is amazing, and nearly everything is destructible. Destroying furniture and leveling tombstones with your proton pack is a joy. You can upgrade your arsenal with new weapons as you progress, including one that sprays green slime.

Each ghost has its own backstory, and they are so intricately rendered that there were times when I wished I could pause the action and examine them up close. When scouting a new location, you're prompted to equip your Ecto-goggles which provide infrared vision and highlight supernatural activity. Once you've rooted the spooks out, the battle begins as you unleash your proto stream. After wearing the ghosts down, you must wrangle them over an open trap as they slowly get sucked in. It's especially fun and satisfying to see them desperately try to claw their way out. Less fun is hosing down the endless, swarming minions in the form of flying books, floating skulls, and spiders.

You'll fight alongside all the original Ghostbusters including everyone's favorite "the black guy", but in this game you are the "go-to" guy. I like how the characters can revive each other - it adds a nice teamwork element. Ghostbusters is a very linear game that clocks in at around 5-7 hours. That may sound short, but there's a lot less filler than most adventures, and it's one heck of a ride!

What's not to like? Well, the installation process takes so long (a few days I think), I feared that Ghostbuster logo would be permanently burned into my plasma TV. Whenever you fire the game up, prepare to sift through an unprecedented number of animated logos (enough already!). While fighting ghosts, you're often blindsided because the ghouls tend to reappear all over the place. The game is not glitch free, and I actually had to restart it at one point. The game saves frequently, but I never spotted an indicator, which made me extremely nervous about quitting a partway through a level. How hard is it to display "saving" on the screen anyway??

The game has a multi-player mode, but it's on-line only (boo!). I can nitpick, but at its core the game succeeds in fleshing out the Ghostbusters world and immersing you in it. Movie-licensed games don't have the best track record, but Ghostbusters: The Video Game is consistently enjoyable. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

If you like this game, try: Ghostbusters: The Video Game (Playstation 2)
Ghostbusters: The Video Game (Wii)
Ghostbusters (NES)
Ghostbusters 2 (NES)
Lego Harry Potter Years 5-7 (Xbox 360)

God of War 3
Grade: A-
Publisher: Sony (2010)
Reviewed: 2010/5/16
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, nudity, strong language, strong sexual content)

screenshotLiving up to the legacy of the original God of War games is no small feat, and the God of War 3 development team seems to have taken a "more of everything" approach. There's no shortage of jaw-dropping moments as Kratos journeys through hell and back on his quest to destroy Zeus. Immense titans serve as moving levels as you battle on the outside and inside of their bodies. The marble temples look magnificent and always seem to be situated on the edge of a perilous cliff. When Kratos encounters the giant Hephaestus crafting weapons in his lair, all you can do is gawk in amazement. There's no way to fully absorb the game's visual splendor.

God of War 3 (GoW3) offers a potent mix of combat, puzzles, and exploration. Kratos easily latches onto ledges, grapples on posts, glides on wings, and climbs walls (but not wooden scaffolding for some reason). Once again he swings chains to obliterate mythical beasts that materialize around him, but his new "Cestus" fists are even more destructive. Kratos has a slew of new abilities including the power to flash blinding light, run along walls, shoot blazing arrows, and summon souls to fight for him. He can even climb on the back of a three-headed dog and direct its fire-breathing attacks at other foes.

Consequently, the control scheme is overloaded, employing just about every button combination you can think of. It gets confusing, and you end up wasting a magic attack when you're just trying to open a chest. Some of the puzzles reminded me of Portal, and a particularly ill-conceived music puzzle has "Guitar Hero" written all over it. The flying stages have a Star Wars: The Arcade Game (1983) vibe as you weave around obstacles while traveling at high speeds.

Judged on technical and artistic merits, GoW3 is a monumental achievement. As a video game however, it's less than the sum of its parts. The game's cinematic style proves both an asset and liability. In the opening sequence you battle Poseidon on a colossal rock titan climbing Mount Olympus. The swinging camera angles and dramatic cut scenes are visually compelling, but your interaction is largely limited to quick-button prompts (not unlike Dragon's Lair). I had no idea what was going on half the time, but these scenes are fun and exciting nonetheless.

Throughout the game you're led around with visual cues and deliberate camera angles to keep you on your linear path. I haven't run into so many invisible walls since Crash Bandicoot One. Still, the pacing is good and checkpoints are frequent and well-placed. The level of violence and sexual content push the envelope, and frankly I would have preferred a PG-13 experience. The nipple-rendering technology is clearly state-of-the-art, but the bedroom scenes push the limits of good taste.

Likewise the violence can be downright gruesome. It's good that I don't place much value on story, because this one never made much sense to me. Despite these minor issues, God of War 3 is a wild ride with almost zero filler. Leaving nothing on the table, God of War 3 serves as a fitting conclusion to this extraordinary series. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

If you like this game, try: Space Ace (CD) (Jaguar)
Crash of the Titans (Xbox 360)
God of War: Chains of Olympus (PSP)
Dragon's Lair II: Timewarp (Philips CD-i)
God of War 2 (Playstation 2)

God of War: Ascension
Grade: B
Publisher: Sony (2013)
Reviewed: 2020/4/5
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, nudity, sexual content)

screenshotThe first three God of War games pushed the Playstation hardware to the limit, rendering amazing scenes of a Greek god pummeling gargantuan titans over crumbling ancient cities. This fourth chapter didn't merit a number but still seems pretty epic. Yes, certain bosses and puzzles come off as God of War outtakes, but the overall package still maintains the extravagant standards set by the series.

Kratos' ability to sling his chains has an elemental twist this time, punctuating each slicing attack with ice, fire, and lightning flourishes. There are gory fatalities galore as you punish fiends by ripping open their jaws or beating them with their own limbs. The brisk pacing makes it hard to take in the lush scenery plush with beautiful lighting and excellent water effects. The legions you battle include bug-men, bug-dogs, goat-boys, minotaurs, elephant dudes, and some crazy spider lady.

Occasionally you'll camp out on a monster's head, guiding it to attack other creatures. You'll think it's cool when you're controlling a cyclops, but it's downright monumental when you're commanding a beast the size of a building. There are some truly over-the-top bosses like a lobster coming out of a walrus coming out of a giant hand. I don't even know what the [expletive] I'm looking at. Many boss battles boil down to reacting to button prompts, and it becomes exhausting after a while. When you see "saving..." in the corner you know victory is at hand.

Still, it's very easy to lose track of yourself especially when the camera pulls far out. The smaller bosses tend to be more enjoyable. I like how when fighting the snake-goat-wolf I would first cut off his tail and later rip off his horns, giving the battle a sense of progression. Between battles you'll find yourself manipulating gigantic mechanical contraptions to access hard-to-reach places. Ascension also features ice sliding, a snake-shaped monorail, and Alien-inspired eggs to destroy. It may not be as cohesive as its predecessors but even a second-rate God of War game is a sight to behold. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

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Gran Turismo 5 XL Edition
Grade: B-
Publisher: Sony (2010)
Reviewed: 2013/6/22
Rating: Everyone (mild lyrics)

screenshotGran Turismo 5 has a long, sordid history. A "Prologue" edition was released in 2007 to tide fans over until the developers could incorporate damage modeling. The full-blown edition wasn't released until 2010, and it still didn't have the damage modeling. When popped in this disc I was informed that the game requires a "2200 MB partition" which took 20 minutes to create. My patience was rewarded with a spectacular video walking the cars through all facets of their assembly process. I was then prompted if I wanted to load the entire 8 GB game to the hard disk, along with the ominous warning "it will take a while". I declined since my hard disk was pretty full. Wouldn't you know, it prompts me about that every time I play?

The game itself has frequent loads, but nothing extreme. Gran Turismo 5 (GT5) is made by car aficionados for car aficionados. Visually it looks exquisite with glossy menu tiles, sexy car images, and smooth screen transitions. Jazzy piano music conveys a sense of sophistication and class. GT5 has so much content you could pretty much play it for the rest of your life. The arcade mode is tempting, but the proper way to enjoy this game is to work your way through GT mode. The menu presents you with a mosaic of panels with options like "A-Spec events", Dealerships, Tuning Shop, Car Maintenance, License Test, etc. You can forgo those tedious "license challenges" (thank goodness), and the beginner-level races aren't bad, offering a diverse set of courses that wind their way through urban and country locations.

The normal tracks are a little boring, but the off road tracks feature gorgeous mountain views and snow-scapes. The curvy tracks demand precision driving, although the "guide line" helps a lot. In addition to conventional races, B-spec challenges let you watch the race while advising a driver with commands. It's not something I would have asked for, but it's kind of interesting.

Like all GT games, half the fun is buying and upgrading cars. Many GT events aren't available unless you have the right type of car, and collecting cars is time consuming. Even my friend Brent who loves this game admits there is some grinding involved. I can appreciate the elegance of Gran Turismo 5, but only car nuts will savor all it has to offer. If cars are your thing feel free to bump up the grade by a letter. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Grand Theft Auto IV
Grade: A
Publisher: Rockstar (2008)
Reviewed: 2008/7/6
Rating: Mature (blood, intense violence, partial nudity, strong language, sexual content, drugs and alcohol)

screenshotWhat more can I say about this amazing game that I haven't already stated in my Xbox 360 review? Quite a bit really! Like previous Grand Theft Auto adventures, the world is your playground. You can carjack any nearby vehicle, careen through traffic at break-neck speeds, and go on bloody killing sprees. If you drive your car off a bridge and into the river (something you're quite likely to do), you can calmly exit your car and swim to shore. The game doesn't penalize you for acting crazy, so do whatever your psychotic heart desires.

Simply exploring the meticulously crafted, bustling world of Liberty City will keep you entertained for hours. Based on New York, the streets look incredible, with varying traffic patterns, pedestrians, planes in the sky, and trash on the sidewalks. Weather conditions change constantly, and when the sun sets the orange skyline looks gorgeous. Even the finer details are impressive. When you plow into a newspaper stand, papers fly all over the place, and crashing into a gas station results in a huge explosion. Carjack victims will sometimes hang onto their doors as you drag them down the street.

When careening down the highway the sense of speed is heightened by effective blurring techniques. Crashes have real impact, and the damage modeling is convincing. Of course, to make progress in the game you'll have to stop goofing off and start completing missions. These often involve driving people around, "sending messages" to deadbeats, or killing people outright. Things rarely go as planned, so most missions end with chaotic police chases. Not all missions are particularly fun, but they're more forgiving that those in previous GTA games, and the controls are better.

In terms of sexual content, there are lap dancing strippers and car-rocking hookers, but the sexual content is not explicit. The language on the other hand is very strong - much like you'd hear in a mob flick like Goodfellas.

This PS3 version is practically identical to the Xbox 360 edition. I've heard people say the PS3 graphics are slightly better, but I don't see it. The graphics are certainly darker in this version, so I had to adjust the brightness via the options menu. The PS3 version has longer load times, but they are still quite reasonable. The control scheme is the same, but when it comes to driving cars, I prefer the 360 triggers over the rounded PS3 shoulder buttons. Either way you really can't lose because GTA4 is one quality title that really gives you your money's worth. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Heavenly Sword
Grade: A
Publisher: Sony (2007)
Reviewed: 2008/1/11
Rating: Teen (blood, suggestive themes, language, violence)

screenshotComparisons to God of War are inevitable, but Heavenly Sword holds its ground, dishing out its own creative brand of medieval violence. After a lousy initial impression, the game gradually gains traction, proving itself to be as captivating as it is beautiful. Its swordplay offers surprising depth and originality, and the storyline is loaded with colorful characters. With apologies to Laura Croft, protagonist Nariko has got to be the most gorgeous character ever rendered in a video game.

The memorable cast of villains includes the maniacal Flying Fox, the slinky, reptilian Whiptail, and the obese, slow-witted Roach. The developers employed motion-captured faces to animate character expressions, and it pays off handsomely, giving the cut-scenes heightened emotional impact. Some characters are subject to outrageous overacting, but it's all in good fun. Nariko's sidekick Kai looks like Bjork but acts like Golem. If Flying Fox is trying to be irritating with his stilted dialogue, well, it's working!

Heavenly Sword's fighting system uses the shoulder buttons to toggle between three styles: fast (the default), range (chains), and power. Combinations of buttons are used to unleash God of War-caliber carnage on converging gangs of barbarians. One boldly original feature is automatic blocking, which allows you to execute devastating counters with good timing. Some battles can be lengthy, but you can shorten them substantially by "finishing off" enemies via the square button. Pivotal moments in the story are played out with "quick response" sequences that prompt you to press buttons while a cut scene is in progress. These can be pretty intense!

Target shooting is another major part of the game. Kai is armed with a bow, and using an innovative "after-touch" mechanism, you guide your slow-motion arrow in-flight using the Six-Axis motion control! Although difficult at first, this feature proves supremely satisfying in advanced stages - especially when firing massive cannonballs into invading troops, sending bodies flying in all directions. Heavenly Sword's awesome graphics feature magnificent temples situated over soaring waterfalls, and the art direction is nothing less than spectacular.

It's hard to find fault with the game, but the melodramatic acting and long-winded dialogue may test your patience at times. The game is ideal in terms of length (under ten hours), and it held my attention from start to end. For PS3 owners hungry for some intense action, playing Heavenly Sword will be time well spent. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Heavy Rain
Grade: B-
Publisher: Sony (2010)
Reviewed: 2010/8/17
Rating: Mature (blood, intense violence, nudity, sexual content, strong language, use of drugs)

screenshotThis ambitious title attempts to blur the line between movie and video game, and it's at least partly successful. In Heavy Rain's opening sequence you play the role of a guy getting out of bed and performing mundane chores like getting dressed and brushing his teeth. Once you get past the introductory stage however, things get dark in a hurry. The narrative is a twisted tale that swirls around an "origami" serial killer on the loose.

The story is heavily influenced by films like Seven, Saw, and Silence of the Lambs. You play the roles of four characters with intersecting storylines, each of which is somewhat suspicious. Heavy Rain does a brilliant job of creating atmosphere. The relentless rain, melancholy piano music, and dreary industrial scenery immerse you in a bleak, desperate world. The subject matter is adult in nature, featuring strong language, brutal gore, and more nudity than I've ever seen in a video game.

So how in the hell do you play this thing anyway? Well, Heavy Rain is like a semi-interactive movie. You can roam around certain areas, but your movements are constrained (sometimes by invisible walls) and actions can only be performed when an icon appears next to an object. The developers tried to incorporate intuitive controls, so you'll press down on the right thumbstick to sit in a chair, or make a curling motion to turn a handle. Motion controls are used sparingly but effectively.

During dialogue-heavy scenes you don't choose your exact words but instead select the tone of your responses. That's pretty clever, but the action sequences are the highlight of the game. In a style of play that can be traced all the way back to Dragon's Lair (1983), the player must react quickly to a series of visible prompts. This interactive element heightens the excitement of watching your character fight for her life, run from the law, or swerve through traffic during a high-speed car chase.

Unfortunately, when the action subsides Heavy Rain can be excruciatingly boring. You're often forced to perform menial chores like paging through evidence, treating a wound, and even changing a baby's diaper! These time-consuming tasks seem to serve no purpose other than to artificially extend the length of the game. Still, I enjoyed Heavy Rain's cinematic style. The acting is convincing enough, conveying substantial emotion without going overboard. The character models are incredibly detailed, although their movements look a little stiff. The load screens show remarkable close-ups of the characters' faces, and you can even see their pores!

Heavy Rain can feel like a lengthy movie in dire need of an editor, and frankly there were many times when I just wanted it to end. But I'm glad I stuck it out. Heavy Rain isn't consistently entertaining, but there are parts of this game that will remain with me for quite some time. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds
Grade: A
Publisher: Sony (2008)
Reviewed: 2008/5/26
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThis is simply the best golf game I have ever played in my life. The graphics are gorgeous, the control is perfect, and the action moves along at a brisk pace. What else could you want? Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds makes those Tiger Woods games look like crap! The game takes a few minutes to "install" initially (typical for a PS3 game), but this minimizes the load times, so it's well worth it.

Hot Shot's anime style has changed little over the years, but it has become more polished. Not only do the courses look more attractive than those in Tiger Woods, but they even look more realistic! The grass actually looks like grass, believe it or not! The likeable cast of characters are less freaky than those in previous Hot Shots games, and include a few cuties. Some critics complain that the series needs to "evolve" more, but that would be a huge mistake. The game's three-press swing meter is still the best there is. It's intuitive, responsive, and incredibly fun. I love how you can apply some serious backspin that literally burns up the green!

Hot Shots does offer a new "advanced shot" control option to appease sourpuss critics, which drops the meter in favor of hitting buttons in time with your players' movements. That totally sucks, so stick with the traditional style. Out of Bound's presentation is first rate, with inviting scenery, exciting camera angles, and pleasant background music. The golfer reactions are somewhat repetitive, but you can always bypass those.

One thing that annoyed me about this and other Hot Shots games is the fact that there are only two golfers and one course available at first. That stinks, but I have to admit that unlocking stuff (via the "challenge mode") is a labor of love. Each challenge is a short match (usually 9 holes). Some challenges incorporate special conditions, but they don't go overboard with the gimmicks. After playing Hot Shots Out of Bounds, you'll want to throw all of your other golf games in the garbage. Out of bounds? Nah, this is right on target. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

House of the Dead Overkill: Extended Cut
Grade: D
Publisher: Sega (2012)
Reviewed: 2012/3/29
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, partial nudity, sexual themes, strong language)

screenshotI've always loved the House of the Dead series, but Overkill's new "style" is a major turn-off. Its grind-house visuals feature purposely-grungy "film" quality, disturbing plot twists, and excessively profane dialog. It's hard to believe this game originally appeared on the family-friendly Wii. The story and dialogue are offensive at best, obscene at worst, and you cannot skip the lengthy cut scenes. The insensitive "cripple" references and gratuitous objectification of women are supposed to parody the exploitation flicks of the 1970's, but there's nothing funny about this.

The main characters are the straight-laced "Agent G" and an F-bomb-dropping Samuel Jackson wannabe. Overkill's chapters play like short B-movies, taking you through a hospital, train, and carnival just to name a few locations. The scenery is rich and swinging camera angles really put you in the middle of the action. When a crazed zombie nurse comes running down the hall at full speed, it's alarming! I also like how you can shoot special items to trigger slow-motion or unlock hidden features. You'll want to save your reloads for lulls in the action, and execute head-shots to conserve ammo.

The stages are nicely paced but the boss encounters are long, repetitive, and often excruciating. Most of these beasts are truly disgusting, and the "screamer" girl in the hospital will send chills down your spine. Overkill's controls are lousy. Not only do you need to calibrate your gun before each game, but the reticule tends to drift. The motion prompts used in the Wii version have been replaced with cheesy "shoot the target" sequences. If you have the sharp shooter gun you can use the pump-action grip to reload, which is nice.

Fans of the Wii version will probably get a kick out of the new stages, which include a strip club and meat-packing facility. The game's high score screen can only be accessed on-line, which is monumentally stupid. Who is mandating this garbage?! Off-line players are left to collect knick-knacks like concept art, audio clips, and 3D models. Overkill is disappointing. As a big fan of House of the Dead, it hurts to see the series take such an ugly turn. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

Ketsui (Japan)
Grade: B-
Publisher: 5pb (2013)
Reviewed: 2014/4/25

screenshotThis region-free Japanese import is an arcade-perfect 2002 vertical shooter by acclaimed developer Cave. It's nothing revolutionary, but if you're a bullet hell enthusiast playing Ketsui can be an intoxicating experience. Like most arcade adaptations, the action is limited to the middle third of the screen. Oh how I love me some 2D graphics, and Ketsui looks pretty spectacular.

In the first stage you fly over a well-fortified city with high-rise buildings, and you'll wish you could enjoy the scenery. Not a chance. Once the rapid-fire mayhem begins your senses are assailed by swarming enemies, waves of missiles, sweet explosion effects, and point values that wash across the screen. I love how explosions erupt in bright orange and then bloom into black clouds. You have four ships to select from, but they're all equipped with the same weapons. Holding X gives you rapid-fire with lock-on, and as you amass firepower you'll lock onto several enemies with multiple "streams". The right trigger gives you a rapid-fire "spread" weapon that provides better mobility but far less points.

I haven't been able to figure out if I have a shield or if the collision detection is just really, really forgiving. Some incoming missiles are pink and others are blue, but I don't know what the difference is, and I can't read the manual. Times like this I really wish I was Japanese.

The later stages aren't as good as the first, and I didn't care for the one with the harbor filled with orange Kool-aid. When you die, the "game over" screen unleashes an excruciating scream that I find absolutely hilarious. Ketsei is tough, but the allure of ranking into the "top 5 scores" screen (with initials) is too irresistible to ignore. Ever since my friend Scott nabbed the top score, I can't even walk past my PS3 without playing a few games of this. I wouldn't recommend Ketsui to casual gamers, but if you think you might like this, you probably will. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Killzone 3
Grade: C-
Publisher: Sony (2011)
Reviewed: 2012/3/29
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)

screenshotIn Killzone 3 you're a member of a space marine squad shooting your way through post-apocalyptic ruins to defeat the dreaded "Helghast" army. These guys have glowing red eyes, so you know they're bad. The first-person shooting action is similar to Gears of War. As you forge your way through war-torn cities and exotic jungles you'll snipe snipers, man turrets, plant explosives, and blow up everything. Shooting down a ship causes fiery wreckage to rain all over the place, and it's a beautiful sight.

The spectacular graphics, booming audio, and fluid animation give a great first impression, but glitches soon begin to crop up with alarming frequency. I was tempted to look past hiccups in the sound and frame-rate, but then I started noticing things like transparent body parts and mechs walking on thin air. In one area I used my melee attack to break through a series of boards, and the wood wouldn't shatter until a full second after I struck it! One particularly nasty bug forced me to watch a cut-scene frame-by-frame, and it was hard to bear as the audio cut in and out. I actually thought my PS3 was broken until I saw other people complaining about the same issue on-line.

Killzone's control scheme suffers from a serious identity crisis. Mine was packaged with the "sharp shooter" gun which houses both Move controllers. Using this gun is probably the worst possible way to play this game (with the possible exception of being blindfolded). Its sheer bulk prevents you from turning quickly, and pressing buttons located on top of the gun is awkward. I quickly ditched it in favor of using the Move controllers "normally" (one in each hand). It was a marginal improvement but I found the reticule to be sensitive and jumpy. You do get the benefit of a nifty auto-aim feature (a la Call of Duty), but that kind of defeats the "point to shoot" idea, doesn't it? The normal controller is the way to go, but constantly pressing the right thumbstick can be annoying.

There's a multiplayer mode for on-line gamers and a "Bot Zone" that allows off-line players to enjoy a similar type of action. There's also a two-player co-op option. All in all, Killzone 3 is mediocre. It has its moments of excitement and visual splendor, but the game lacks polish and I never felt comfortable with the controls. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
Grade: A
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2012)
Reviewed: 2018/5/14
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, suggestive themes, intense violence)

screenshotReview contributed by DaHeckIzDat of the RPG Crew and edited by the VGC.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is so underrated it's criminal. Certain open-world action RPGs pride themselves on realistic graphics, yet Kingdom embraces an exaggerated style with bright colors and fantastic creatures. More importantly it plays like an action game should. You are a nameless hero resurrected to fight an evil fairy army that's determined to wipe out all mortal life. With the other residents of Amalur controlled by the "puppet strings of fate", you are the one person capable of actually choosing your destiny.

The engaging storyline was penned by none other than award-winning fantasy author R.A. Salvatore. As you explore the colorful world of Amalur you'll collect a wide assortment of weapons including exotic armaments like chakrams, warhammers, and faeblades. You can map any two weapons to the square and triangle buttons to easily switch between them. The combat is so fun, fluid, and flashy you'll have no desire to return to The Elder Scrolls' brand of clunky arm-waving. One downside is that nearly every enemy can be beaten with similar attack, dodge, attack, dodge patterns. The sidequests are of the kill and fetch variety, but the quirky characters you'll encounter make them worthwhile.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a refreshing change of pace in a genre that's become almost as stale as the first-person shooter. It's a shame that this hidden gem didn't receive the proper recognition, as its developer went bankrupt after its release, dashing any hopes for a sequel. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Grade: D
Publisher: Sony (2007)
Reviewed: 2007/10/10
Rating: Teen (blood and gore, violence)

screenshotI've always professed an unconditional love for dragons in video games, dating all the way back to Adventure and Dragonfire on the Atari 2600. Lair, however, put that devotion to the test. In terms of graphics, audio, and art direction, Lair is a masterpiece. Cinematic cut-scenes convey a dramatic story about two warring medieval armies. Lair's scenery features majestic towers rising over soaring waterfalls and immense bridges crossing turbulent waters. The dragons look amazing, as do the multitudes of soldiers fighting on the ground below. The game makes you feel like you're in a freakin' Lord of the Rings movie for Pete's sake! The frame rate does take a hit on occasion, but in general the amount of activity on the screen at any given time is impressive. A sweeping orchestrated score gives the game an epic flair, and the voice acting is superb.

Lair would have made an awesome demo, but Sony had to ruin everything by turning it into a game! It's not very fun, and I was usually relieved when each mission came to an end. You're forced to use the six-axis motion controls, and frankly I'm not a fan. Guiding your dragon with any precision is difficult enough, but having to shake the controller like a [expletive] jackhammer to perform maneuvers like lifting large objects or destroying cannons is as clumsy as it is cheesy. The cheaply constructed PS3 controller felt like it would break in my clutches, and it even flew out of my friend's hand a few times! The control scheme is inordinately complex and counter-intuitive, with a move list that spans several pages of the manual. Targeting is no problem thanks to a handy lock-on mechanism, but the camera is crazy. It's always swinging around to show you the carnage you've unleashed, but that totally throws off your steering!

The missions are confusing, and I spent far too much time wondering what was going on or what I was supposed to do. It's difficult to tell the good guys from the bad - especially when the dragons all look the same! Even when the game prompts you with exact buttons to hit, you're often left wondering what just transpired. In one sequence I was told to attack a rhino by shaking the controller up and down. One second it looked like that rhino was having his way with my dragon on the ground, and the next moment I was dropping his rhino ass out of the sky. Did I miss something?

Sometimes you'll be flying around with your fire-breathing snout up your butt, only to have the game announce "Mission Completed", without you having any clue why or how. I also hate how you're forced to sit through the endless animations when first starting up the game, including a THX cartoon! On a positive note, the game contains some nice bonus artwork, "making of" documentaries, and trailers. PS3 fans may find Lair worthwhile on the strength of its extraordinary production values, but somebody needs to remind Sony that gameplay is important too! They forgot! © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

Little Big Planet
Grade: B
Publisher: Sony (2008)
Reviewed: 2009/8/29
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThere was a ton of hype surrounding this game dating back to the PS3 launch, and while it was a sweetheart of the critics, its impact on the gaming masses was less pronounced. Little Big Planet tries to be the end-all, be-all of platform games, and it certainly looks the part! The graphics are artistic, the stages inventive, and there are customization options out the wazoo.

Your character is a cute little fellow who looks like he's been sewn together with fabric and buttons. In addition to platform running and jumping, he can hang onto things, pull levers, and drag objects around (all via the R1 button). The action is basically 2D, but your ability to move between multiple "planes'' gives the stages a sense of depth. The arts-and-crafts style scenery looks amazing. Everything is photo-realistic, with animals and contraptions cobbled together with materials like wood, metal, cardboard, and fabric.

The stages reflect a wide variety of cultures, with my personal favorite being the imaginative Voodoo wedding stage. Your goal is to not only reach the end of each stage, but also to collect hundreds of objects along the way. There are opportunities to ride on animals and cars, and careening through a cave in a runaway mine cart is quite a rush! The diverse musical score is often outstanding but sometimes exceptionally bad.

You can play through the story mode alone or with up to three friends! Not many platform games support four players like this! The fact that you can create and share your own custom stages gives Little Big Planet boundless replay value. So why am I not loving it? Well, it takes a while for the game to gain traction, as the early stages tend to be very easy and generic. When the difficulty finally kicks in (around Mexico), you'll experience the same kind of frustrations you find in any platform game, including hard-to-see hazards and irritating stage designs. Moving between planes can be confusing, and the "soft" jumping controls lack precision.

Finally, the game goes overboard with the concept of collecting stickers and customizing your character. While some gamers will embrace these concepts, most will find them unnecessary at best and annoying at worst. Even so, Little Big Planet is hard to dislike. It's not revolutionary, but it is a well-crafted family game that fills a gaping hole in the PS3 library. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

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