Playstation 3 Reviews H-L

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.

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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 

Lair
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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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, VG247.com, Moby Games