Friday, March 31, 2006

Upcoming Reviews

My Far Cry Instincts Predator Review recently went up and I wanted you guys to know what else was coming up. Chances are good I will be playing a marathon session of Kingdom Hearts II this weekend. I have yet to play it because I was trying to finish Far Cry before touching this. I should have a KH2 review up at some point and I also hope to get some more Oblivion gametime in and do a review of the PC version of that. I think most people already have that game and think it's great, but I'd like to do a review nonetheless.

Far Cry Instincts Predator Review (360)

I am a big fan of the original Far Cry game on PC and recent news is that UbiSoft has picked up the Intellectual Property on the name Far Cry as well as license to use the CryEngine (version 1, since version 2 is being used in the upcoming Crytek/EA Crysis) platform for any game they make. That's a pretty smart move for UbiSoft, although I hope they bring out more PC releases in the Far Cry universe.

Far Cry Instincts Predator is the Xbox 360 release of both Far Cry Instincts from last year on Xbox (87% cumulative score) and of the same day released Far Cry Instincts Evolution, also on Xbox. Obviously with the 360 game you get improved visuals on both games and it costs you $60 whereas it would now cost you $60 to get both games on Xbox.

The graphics are indeed very nice in this game and although I haven't played Instincts previously on Xbox I have heard that the 360 version basically has better water effects and higher resolution textures (but the same textures) than the Xbox version. Bloom is also in full effect as well as the sun shines off the sand and the draw distance is very far away. There is some small hiccups in framerates, although it only happens when the game is being autosaved. In the end though I find it hard to say the overall graphic presentation is better than the original PC game. This could be due to the fact that UbiSoft has worked on the console games internally and have not used Crytek as the developer, but I'm not sure. Overall though the graphics are quite good, but not up to the levels of, say, Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter.

The gameplay itself is very much hit and miss, but much of my bias may come from having played the PC game well before touching the console versions. Control is just not as smooth with the controller as it would be with a mouse and keyboard and it doesn't even come close to being as smooth as the Halo games for a direct FPS console perspective. The enemy AI is a bit stupid for its own good. Unlike GRAW they will run right for you and won't run away from grenades. The whole sound reaction by the enemy is good, but not nearly as refined as it was on the PC. Early on in the game I felt as if the game was on rails, but then I reached the next level and found that I could go through the jungle instead of just staying on the path all the time. I enjoyed the openness of the PC version and was glad to see it here as well.

Obviously the big draw of the original console game was Jack receiving feral abilities as the game went on. The feral abilities are very cool and bring something extra to these games that was not present on the PC version. The only problem with the feral abilities is that where you gradually acquire them in Instincts you have full use of them from the beginning in Evolution. This also points out another big minus with this game in the fact that you have to go through Instincts before Evolution even opens up for play. Anyone that has played the original game may not want to go through it again in order to play the new game. The new game also is shorter than Instincts and the levels are just not as exciting.

Along with all that you also are able to make maps for multiplayer use as well as play on Xbox Live (with 22 maps right off the bat). I played a couple games and enjoyed them and will probably follow this post up with a more in-depth multiplayer experience post in the coming days. The cool thing about the map editor is you can make a map and put it up online for people to download and play on it. Multiplayer is going to be a huge selling point for this game.

In the end Far Cry Instincts Predator is an easy pickup for anyone with an Xbox 360 that did not play the original game on Xbox. If you did play it on Xbox, you may want to steer away from paying $60 for the original and the shorter Evolution story. I highly recommend this game, but it certainly isn't at the level of recent releases GRAW or Oblivion in the single-player genre, but it is a great multiplayer pickup.

Catch Up

Sorry for having nothing the last few days, work has been hectic, but I have gotten in enough playtime with Far Cry Instincts Evolution to write a review for it and that will be my next post. Also upcoming will be a comic book post about the Marvel and DC big events going on. I was going to do one on Tuesday, but I realized Infinite Crisis #6 got pushed from this week to next, but there is enough going on with One Year Later and the Road to Civil War to warrant a post, possibly later today.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Far Cry Instincts Predator (360)

Well, I was happy to find Far Cry Instincts Predator in my mailbox today. I have yet to play it, but I hope to play it later tonight and get some impressions up. I'm pretty excited about this game, but I know a lot of people will be skittish on this game because it includes the Xbox game (upgraded) and a version of the new regular Xbox game as well made for the 360. I still think it's going to be awesome and if it's anything like the PC version I'm going to love it.

No Kingdom Hearts II until tomorrow, so I have this and Oblivion to play for at least a day before I become sucked in.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Kingdom Hearts II (PS2)

This game also comes out this week and it will grind to a halt both my playing of Oblivion and Far Cry Instincts Predator. You may be saying, "what, are you crazy for stopping Oblivion to play KH2?" Well, there's a variable that becomes important with Kingdom Hearts II and that would be my wife. She loved to watch me play Kingdom Hearts and she also enjoyed playing the game herself until the action parts came off and the controller was handed to me. Since this variable is present, Kingdom Hearts II will become the highest priority game and hopefully I won't have to work too late all week and I can play and enjoy it for long stretches.

Far Cry Instincts Predator (X360)

My copy should show up sometime this week and I'm pretty excited. I am a big Far Cry fan and make no excuses about it. I never picked up or played Far Cry Instincts on Xbox, but now I don't have to since that game is included with the new Evolution storyline in the Xbox 360 version. I plan on having some impressions and maybe a review up, but my next post explains why that may not be possible.


Well, I have to say I am humbled. I was not too excited by Oblivion, spelled out in this thread last month. I was e-mailed by a bunch of people to at least give the game a try. I went out and bought the PC version because I'm in the camp where control just isn't the same on the consoles for a game that is also available on the PC unless it is sports games.

All I can say so far is WOW! I did not enjoy Morrowind at all and I think I'm liking Oblivion more simply because tasks are well explained and you also have access to the quick trip via the map. I am also enjoying going off on my own and doing things outside of the main story, but the main quests are also sucking me in. I don't have a whole lot of hours under my belt because work has been busy and I had a busy weekend, but when I've had a spare moment I've played Oblivion. The graphics are very nice and I will probably tweak them to get somewhat rid of the undetailed horizon shots outside, but overall the graphics are fantastic and the frames only drop when there are a lot of characters on-screen at the same time.

I only have one minus early on and that is that you can become over-encumbered way too easily. I personally was trying to hold onto expensive items so I could sell them to merchants and increase my gold, but many times I had to drop my stuff somewhere, pick up the stuff I want to sell, sell them and then go back and pick up my good stuff and re-equip myself. It is a bit of a chore, but I can understand the encumbrance needs in the game.

So far I agree with all the reviews and would easily put this in the 90s if I still did reviews on that scale. I hope to have a review coming up, but I need a bit more time with the game. From what I have played though I recommend picking the game up and playing it, it really is excellent.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

GRAW Impressions

I haven't had a whole lot of time to play GRAW, but what I have played I've enjoyed. Much like Fight Night Round 3, the game is presented in a 1.85:1 ratio on a standard television, so your whole screen is not used up. The graphics are fantastic and the game itself is fantastic as well. I thank all the people that e-mailed me about how great this game is. I have yet to play online, mostly because of lack of time to play the game. I've been working some long hours lately and haven't found time to sit and play some co-op or whatever online. I can guarantee if the game is this fun alone it will be really fun with other people.

I do have some minuses though, but they should come as no surprise. The sunny exterior is a bit too bright, especially when trying to read text of your next objectives. I like the fact that this is a realistic portrayal of Mexico City (it is the most smog ridden city in the world after all), but maybe they should have changed the text to a different color or something. Maybe this alleviated with an HDTV and I only see the problem on a standard TV though.

The other minus comes as no surprise to anyone who's played the GR games before. Your squadmates are stupid idiots that like to stand in the line of fire and not take cover, even when you point them in the direction of cover. It is nice they have added the ability to heal your teammates, but given that they usually are not behind cover when they die it makes it difficult for you to heal him and not get hit yourself. This of course makes the game more difficult than it should be, but if you're patient you can make it through the single-player portion.

Overall though this game is the best original game on the Xbox 360 hands least until I play Oblivion or Far Cry probably.

Batman Beyond (DVD)

I haven't talked a whole lot about DVDs recently, probably because there hasn't been a release to really talk about (although King Kong comes next week). Some people may know I'm into both comic books and animated series based on comic books. This week we saw the release of Batman Beyond Season 1 and Justice League Season 1. I haven't picked either up yet, but plan on doing so. I'll talk about JL later, but I want to devote a lot of this column to Batman Beyond, possibly the last great Paul Dini/Bruce Timm collaborative effort (Dini only wrote episodes of Justice League after this). I still consider the 90s series Batman: The Animated Series to be one of the best American produced cartoons of all time.

Batman Beyond was set 20 years after Bruce Wayne had last donned the Batman gear. A boy happens upon Bruce Wayne getting beat up by a bunch of thugs and helps him. Bruce asks the kid to take him to Wayne manor, where the boy comes upon the Batcave. His name is Terry McGinnis and his father was recently killed because he was going to spill the beans about Wayne Enterprise's new CEO and his corruptness. Bruce made a new Batman suit, but was not able to use it himself, so Terry takes it to avenge his father's death. Eventually Bruce allows him to become the new Batman to save the corrupt city of Gotham and becomes a mentor for Terry. Bruce is now in his 50s and gets around with the use of a cane, but he can still rumble with the best of them.

The series only lasted 3 seasons (13/26/13 episodes) and the last one was difficult to sit through since there were huge gaps between new episodes. Obviously the second season was the best given it was double the length of the other two seasons. Towards the end of the 3rd season Warner Bros. released the edited version of Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, a movie that was supposed to come out in theaters like Batman: Mask of the Phantasm did in 1993. For some reason Warner decided to send it straight to video. The rumors around the internet by people who had seen the movie had said it was quite adult in nature and rumors began to swirl that the release in 2000 was going to be an edited version. When it finally came out in December, it was indeed the edited version. Those who had seen the unedited version (which now included me) started up petitions for Warner to release the uncut version of the movie. Eventually in 2002 we got the uncut version on DVD and it was fantastic, as detailed in my review of it on DVDTalk (yes, I was a reviewer at DVDTalk before I was a game reviewer). Two years later we started getting WB Animated stuff in proper season sets on DVD.

Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker is a better movie than Mask of the Phantasm to me. The movie explains the last mission Bruce Wayne went on and why his leg is injured. It also delves into Joker torturing Robin (Tim Drake) into telling him that Bruce Wayne is Batman and Joker brainwashing Robin into becoming Joker, Jr. This section of the movie was edited the most in the cut version, the biggest of which was Tim actually shooting the Joker dead for doing what he did to him. In the time of Batman Beyond it seems the Joker is back from the dead and Bruce and Terry try to figure out how he's still alive and stop him. The twist is very cool and I highly recommend you pick this movie up along with the Batman Beyond Season 1 release this week.

Justice League, by contrast, is an altogether okay effort. It does not reach the highs of previous WB Animated series and is just kind of there. It is cool that they collect the whole first season (26 episodes...2 3-part stories, 10 2-part stories) and will make it more easy to watch than it was to see one episode every week. It will also be cool when the second season comes out. Then they went and changed it to Justice League Unlimited and used more standalone stories with other JLA characters along with the main 7 from the previous seasons. I didn't like Unlimited as much and we will soon be at the end of the series on Cartoon Network and I can tell you the series ender leaves things wide open for another story that will probably never come. I certainly recommend the cheaper Batman Beyond season than Justice Leaugue.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

More PS3 Stuff

I'm sure many of you are thinking I'm anti-Sony at this point, but I'm really not. I try to be an equal opportunity game player. I've owned two or more consoles at each major point in gaming post-Atari downfall (NES/Master System, SNES/Genesis, Playstation/N64, Dreamcast/PS2/GameCube/Xbox) and eventually I plan on owning the PS3 and the Revolution more than likely. I'm not sure on the amount of PS2 games I reviewed for Console Gold (now Gaming Trend) versus games I reviewed on Xbox, but I can only guess they are about even if not skewed toward the PS2. With that out of the way, let's get on with the show.

Halo 3 has come up in conversations again in forums I frequent. Yes, Bill Gates once said it would release when the PS3 released, but he later recanted that statement. If I was a betting man I'd say Bungie won't have Halo 3 done in time and polished enough to be released alongside the PS3...but if I was Microsoft/Bungie I would push hard to get Halo 3 done and polished by the time the PS3 comes out in North America.

What leads me to say the game won't be done? Well, Microsoft first unveiled Halo 2 at E3 in 2003 and the game came out a year and a half later. There were plans for it to be out before E3 2004, but that didn't happen (as we all know). Chances are that Halo 3 will have its unveiling at E3 this year, but I don't think it'll be coming in 2006...more than likely we're talking 2007. Who knows though, I could be wrong.

If Halo 3 would magically appear at the release of the PS3 I think it would be a serious blow to Sony. The 360 would have its definitive "killer app" (not to say there isn't now or in the near future going to be a "killer app" on 360) and it would sell systems like gangbusters just like Halo 2 did in 2004. By then 360s should be readily available and Sony would probably be facing an uphill climb.

There is the outside chance that Gears of War could end up being the major game at the holidays for the 360. I can only guess the game will be pushed to there. People say that it is an unproven game, but then so was Halo before it came out on Xbox. There is also a chance that the "big game"(s) haven't even been announced, which I alluded to in my last post.

It will be interesting to see Sony's upcoming announcements on the PS3. I wonder if they will hold off on a final price until the last minute like Microsoft did with the 360. I also wonder if they'll do the 2 SKU thing as well (one with Hard Drive, one without). I am still in the camp that says they will release it at the $499 price point, possibly without the HD (meaning even more $$$ with the HD). That price will be tough to swallow, especially with a possible drop in price of the 360 (if the PS3 comes out I forsee MS trying to capture as much market as it can) and the rumored $199 price of the Revolution.

I still question what type of game lineup Sony will have in North America and Europe outside of ports of games done months earlier (Madden, the rest of the EA Sports lineup, UbiSoft's lineup, etc.). Given that final dev kits will be out in late May/June that doesn't give Japanese developers much time to get a game done and localize it here and in Europe, especially an RPG. Microsoft had mostly North American/European based companies in its launch group (Activision, Electronic Arts, UbiSoft, Microsoft, 2K Games) with a couple Japanese companies (Sega, Namco). I think Microsoft can prosper even without putting a dent in the Japanese market; for Sony I think North America and Europe are just as important as Japan to build their market base.

In the end I'll buy a PS3 eventually...Metal Gear Solid 4 pretty much sews that fact up. Will I be in line in November? Depends on the price. If it's $500 and/or the launch lineup is weak I don't see myself braving the weather again in order to get the newest system. That's just for the console itself, that doesn't take into account the cost of games, extra controllers, accessories, etc. Maybe we'll know more at E3...we can only hope.

Sony Goes Worldwide

Well, Sony is indeed going to attempt a worldwide release of the PS3 in November. It also sounds like a hard drive will be a necessary item, but may not be on the machine when it launches. Um, what? I can't believe Sony would be telling the developers to use the hard drive and then not have the hard drives installed on the PS3 when you buy it. It sounds like the hard drive is the central point for everything: PS3 games, compatibility with PS2/PS1 games, Sony's online component (which will be "free", but we'll see if they also allow something akin to Xbox Live Gold at a premium), etc. They better put the hard drives in with the system or they'll have more problems than Microsoft did with the two SKUs.

They also said that they won't fall into the trap that Microsoft did with manufacturing. They say they'll build 1 million units a month and have 6 million out by March 2007. The problem with this is that they would have to divide that initial 1 million at launch equally between at least Japan and North America and slightly less in Europe. This means that in the end North America will have less units to buy than when the 360 came out and Japan will have the statement is a bit deceiving (big surprise from Sony).

The other news tied to the PS3 is that dev kits will be finalized in May and developers will get them in June/July which creates a situation similar to Microsoft with the 360. I don't know what technology the developers already have available to them for the PS3, but it would be interesting to see if it is at the same level as the 360 developers had at the same moment as well. Things are getting pretty exciting, although I don't know if I'll be waiting outside to get a PS3. Probably depends on price and the games available (I'm going to guess the launch lineup will be weak because there's a lot more Japanese companies to play with when it comes to Sony than with Microsoft...localization will be a factor more than likely).

In other news, the PSP will drop in price by $50 at the end of this month in North America putting it at $199.99 for the basic pack. They will also unleash a firmware upgrade adding more functionality to the PSP as well.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

You Saw This Coming, Right? (Sony)

So, rumors are swirling that Sony will announce tomorrow (well, today in Japan at this time) that the Japanese release of the Playstation 3 will be delayed to November over Blu-Ray copy protection issues. No word of the effect on the North American or European release schedule as of yet.

First off, if Sony does indeed announce at their shindig that this is over Blu-Ray copy protection I have a bridge in New York I'd like to sell you. There could be a myriad of reasons why they are pushing it to the fall and maybe they'll grow some testicles and actually tell us why, but I doubt it.

Chances are if the system is coming out in Japan in November that there won't be a North American release until at least Spring 2007. Yes, Sony could attempt a worldwide release, but they never have in the past and I don't see them sacrificing half the stock to North America and basically thumbing their nose at the Japanese consumer.

Here are Sony's release dates on their other systems:

Japan - December 3, 1994
North America - September 9, 1995
Europe - September 29, 1995

Playstation 2
Japan - March 4, 2000
North America - October 26, 2000
Europe - Not sure

Playstation Portable
Japan - December 12, 2004
North America - March 24, 2005
Europe - September 1, 2005

Given that the PS3 has a lot more parts than the other 3 combined probably, chances are that the releases would be paced more like the PS2 than the PSP between Japan and North America, so we're talking May 2007...right around E3 probably.

Of course, is any of this really a surprise to anyone? Were you really clutching onto the hope that the PS3 would indeed be out this Spring even though little to no games have been shown up to this point? The first clue this week should have come yesterday when it was unveiled that God of War 2 was being worked on for the PS2 (NOT the PS3) with most likely a February 2007 release. Why is this game not leading the charge into the new generation? Think about that for a moment.

Another interesting point in all of this is that some developers may be sitting on done or close to being done games for the PS3. Remember when EA showed off Fight Night Round 3 and pointing out that it was running on PS3 hardware? Chances are good that EA has a pretty much done copy of FN3 ready for the PS3 that they now have to sit on for a year possibly. Same goes for other upcoming EA games like Madden 2007 and probably other developer's games as well.

You may think I'm an anti-Sony person and I'm really not. I just think Sony as a company has been going downhill for a bit now in all aspects of business, not just the gaming division. Who's to say with the delay that Microsoft isn't going to attempt to buy some PS3 exclusives in order to bring them to Xbox 360? Why would developers eat money on games close to being done while waiting for a system to come out?

Microsoft is left with a golden opportunity and I think they've been keeping quiet on games coming out after May. I think they're going to unveil a lot of stuff at E3 this year, stuff we haven't even heard of yet. Chances are there will be lots of 2nd generation games available around the holidays this year and Sony will be left holding its PS2 system for the second holiday in a row. The PS2 has an impressive amount of games in the pipe, but Microsoft and Nintendo could gain a lot of ground if the PS3 doesn't surface until later this year or next year.

We should know more tomorrow about the PS3 and its future, I just hope Sony mans up and tells it like it is instead of hiding behind Blu-Ray copy protection as the reason this delay is happening. They won't of course, but we can always dream, can't we?

Catch Up

Yeah, it's been a week since my last post. I've been pretty busy at work and haven't found the time to sit down and type out a few things. Now I'm back for at least today.

GRAW Update: I've given into the pressure and its on the way to me. I attempted to rent it this weekend and only Hollywood Video had it available, but since I worked late on Friday I missed the one copy they had locally. I had a few e-mailers tell me they liked the game a lot, so I decided I should check it out for myself. I'm not big into the group-based tactical games, but I'll give it a try. Later this month I have the new Far Cry on 360 to look forward to.

Elder Scrolls: Oblivion Update: There is a new video available today for the 1 week countdown. I have to say I am becoming more interested in this game, but I don't know why. I didn't like Morrowind in the slightest, but maybe I didn't give it enough of a chance. Now I sit here wondering if I should pick this game up, but then the question becomes: which system?

Maybe you guys can help me out there. This is my PC system:

3.2 GHz Pentium 4 HT
Radeon X800 Pro 256MB card

Is the game going to run well or should I just give in and get the Xbox 360 version (which, of course, is more expensive)? I played the Xbox version of Morrowind and have to say I didn't like the control of it over the PC version of Morrowind...would that lead me into the direction of the PC? How many mods will be out there that the 360 will most likely miss out on? I have a feeling if I go the path of renting that I'll find myself shut out again at the local video stores. Maybe it's time to try Gamefly? Your e-mails are appreciated on any of those questions or if you want to tell me which version you're getting and why (if you have both choices).

The next post will talk about Sony and the rumors of the impending announcement tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

GRAW Redux

Woke up this morning and found the rumor about a midnight gag order was just that...a rumor. I still hope I'm wrong about all this though.

Update: I see there are at least two online reviews now, both tied to the Fox/IGN machine.

- IGN's Review (9.2)
- Team Xbox's Review (9.0)

I don't take much stock in the main IGN reviews, but I do tend to agree with Team Xbox's assessments on games. I also see via GameRankings that both EGM and Game Informer gave it a 9.5, which means the 3 reviewers at EGM equaled out to that score.

I have to say I am now impressed, although I think the main draw is still with the online component as it always has been with the Ghost Recon games in the past. It does sound as if the graphics take a sizable drop going online though, which is too bad.

Monday, March 06, 2006

RIP Kirby Puckett

As some of you may know, I've lived my whole life up in the frozen north of Minnesota. I grew up cheering for all the sports teams up here and continue to this day. I can honestly say though that there probably isn't another sports person as big as Kirby Puckett around these parts. I'm sure you already know, but Kirby Puckett passed away today after a massive stroke at the young age of 45.

I had the pleasure to both see Kirby play as I was growing up and meet Kirby in person after he was out of baseball. He did a lot of good things up here in the area (he had several charity drives where millions were made) outside of sports, but he quietly relocated to Arizona after he was found innocent of sexual abuse charges and dropped his Vice Presidency in the Twins organization.

All I heard on the talk stations around here was how even early on in his career he made it known that he didn't think he'd live to age 50. Many people in his family died from heart troubles before they hit the age of 50 and Kirby evidently figured he was no different. He didn't help himself much after he was divorced and moved to Arizona. News reports say he was over 300 pounds at one point. 300 pounds on a 5'8" guy is not a good thing. He also was supposedly depressed, althoug he had plans to remarry in June. I don't think he ever got over the stories that tarnished his life after baseball and maybe he felt Minnesotans had abandoned him, but I think that was an incorrect view of the situation. I'm sure he's up in heaven smiling down on a state filled with grief over his death.

There was a local sports writer who went to a Children's Hospital recently and asked 50 sick children who they thought was the best sports player in Minnesota. All 50 children said Kirby Puckett. These are just children that probably never saw Kirby at all (remember, he finished playing 10 years ago), which means that their parents are handing down the legacy of the great Kirby Puckett to their kids and I also hope those children teach their children the same thing.

It's a sad day up here in Puckettland and I can only hope if the state ever does build a new baseball stadium that it will be named after Puckett, the most famous of all sportspeople here in Minnesota...past, present and most likely future.

Touch 'em all Kirby Puckett...touch 'em all...

Where are the GRAW Reviews?

I'm becoming a little hesitant on trying out Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter (or GRAW for short). I have a feeling the game may not be everything people hope it will be. The reason? There's no advance review as of yet and the game ships tomorrow. Generally with high profile games there are reviews before the game is available. With GRAW there are two things to be apprehensive of:

1. The rumored demo never surfaced on Xbox Live Marketplace
2. No reviews yet and the game is shipping/available tomorrow

The first one puts up a red flag. There were rumors (I don't know where they were started) about a demo going up last week for GRAW. To this day there isn't one available on the Marketplace. This could be a sign the game is not all it is cracked up to be. The second one doesn't necessarily put up a red flag, but most sites already have reviews of Burnout Revenge for the 360 shipping tomorrow as well. I would argue GRAW is the bigger release since it is an original property, yet no reviews yet. There are rumors of a midnight (Pacific Time) gag order on reviews, but we shall see.

I hope I'm wrong, but I have a feeling this may not be the game everyone was hoping for. When Rainbow Six: Vegas was unveiled by EGM (via 1Up) yesterday it was also stated that they had a GRAW review in the new issue. Thing is 1Up hasn't posted the EGM review as of yet...conspiracy? Who knows.

I still stand by my statement that the next key game on 360 is Far Cry Instincts Predator coming out later this month. If there are advance reviews (remember, this game comes from Ubisoft much like GRAW) I think it's a good indication Far Cry is all it is cracked up to be.

So, buyer beware on GRAW for the moment. I'd hate for you to shell out $60 on a bad game.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Black (Xbox) - Review

The other game I picked up to rent was Black on the Xbox. I had to take out my Xbox and hook it up again (gotta love that Backwards Compatibility on the 360, eh?) in order to play the game. I didn't have any sort of high hopes for the game at all. I knew the game would look good, but would it blow me away with its gameplay as well? Short answer: not really. If I could say one thing to Criterion it would be that it may be smart to keep working on the Burnout series over an FPS game.

Black is certainly a great looking title for the current generation of machines out there (PS2 and Xbox), but it's tough for anyone that owns the Xbox 360 to readjust to the fact that the game is not going to look as good as something like Perfect Dark Zero (just as a genre comparison) or Call of Duty 2. I personally never noticed any slowdown in the game and with all the lighting effects going on I found that to be pretty surprising. Criterion isn't necessarily known for having awesome graphics (even Burnout Revenge could be seen as less than Need for Speed: Most Wanted graphically on the Xbox for instance) so Black is a nice change of pace in that regard.

Beauty, in many cases, is only skin deep though. That old saying fits Black quite well. The story of Black is very nonsensical and I almost wish they would have done CGI work with it instead of actual people in live action sections. They revolve around the main character (Keller) being chained up and talking to a shadowy government type via a poorly acted interrogation session. Keller describes the last 4 days (the subsequent 8 missions that make up the game) and his hunt for the Seventh Wave group and their leader Lennox. Needless to say once you reach the ending it is quite brief and you wonder why the heck they ever put those cutscenes in.

The gameplay in Black revolves around unending destruction with your weapons. The game is rated M, but surprisingly there is no blood spilled in the game (this is an old EA edict from long ago) so I'm guessing the rating is simply for the extreme killing and violence that goes on. There is an almost unlimited supply of ammo for the AK-47 (the gun you will probably use the most) while the other weapons have ammo here and there and serve their purpose around the area you pick them up in. You can only carry two weapons at one time and you can also get up to 3 health packs that can be used by hitting the d-pad down. Health packs are very important because you often come under overwhelming odds and this game isn't like Halo or Call of Duty 2 where you can hide for a while and rebuild your health meter. Many of the guns are quite cool, but you will find you rely on the AK-47 a lot because of the ammo situation over other guns.

Everything sounds great in Black at the moment, but there are 2 glaring problems with the game:

1. The AI of the enemy borders on the infantile
2. The game is just way too short

The first problem is that the AI is stupid. You will see this in the first mission right off the bat. You turn a corner and see some cover availability. As you run toward the cover you are shot at by someone at the 1 o'clock position. When you reach your cover you crouch. The enemy no longer fires at you. This is weird because the cover you are against can be batted away by an automatic gun if shot enough times. The enemy won't fire until you stand up again and start shooting at them. The only enemies that will continue to shoot at you will be the ones on higher ground. There are also times when you can run up to an enemy and they won't fire at you. They obviously heard you running toward them, but they don't care. You can just unload a clip into them and continue on.

The second problem is that this game is just too short even if you do take the secondary objectives into account (you have to finish a greater number of them as you go through the difficulty levels). It took me 6 hours to plow through this game and that is on the pretty short end for an FPS game nowadays. There are better FPS games out there than Black even on the consoles (Far Cry Instincts and even Killzone come to mind when you think outside of the big ones like Halo) and each one last longer than this one.

In the end Black is a nice little distraction and I would recommend that you rent it because you will beat it within the rental window. There's no reason to drop $40 on this game because you'll have no wish to go through the game again once you beat it the first time.

Fight Night Round 3 (Xbox 360) - Review

Well, I was not lucky enough to find a copy of Fight Night Round 3 on 360 last week to rent, but on Friday there was one available at the local Blockbuster so I picked it up. I won't bore you with many details about the game because my thoughts are much the same as Dubious Quality and Sports Gamer have.

The graphics are fantastic, although I don't have an HDTV as of yet. Even with the 1.85:1 screen on my regular square TV I have to say the graphics are really good. I do feel sorry for anyone with a smaller square television though. The game is presented in 1.85:1 mode and so it doesn't take up the whole screen. Obviously if you have an HDTV your jaw will drop over this game, but a regular TV will work just fine.

After some time with Fight Night Round 3 I'm not sure it is better than last year's iteration. I'm not sure why EA got rid of the ranking system and put in the stupid "popularity bar". You have no clue when you choose a contract that you would be able to vault up the meter unless it actually says, "your popularity will increase with a win" tied to the contract. The mini-games are actually more stupid than last year's ones. You also can now only choose a trainer and you don't pick a cutman and escort(s) like you did last year. They added a Rivals mode as well, although it is poorly implemented. When you start your career the computer will pick your rival and you won't know who it is until you meet him.

Gameplay has been tweaked, for better and worse, since last year. The haymakers take longer to land and to me it seems as if the AI is a bit dumber this time around. I play the Fight Night games mostly by myself and Round 3 has the same problem Round 2 had: after a while it gets boring. Getting out of the amateur ranks goes pretty fast this year, but when you get into the pro ranks you find that it takes a lot of fights to get a championship opportunity. As Dubious Quality (linkes to actual post) pointed out, it took Bill over 30 fights to get a championship bout. There is a way to know when you have a championship bout though as the title icon above the contract will light up although if you don't look right at those icons you wouldn't know. Halving the amount of fights would make this game more appealing to a player that plays alone, although the developer is thinking more fights = more gametime. The game AI isn't good enough to challenge you though and you get bored after a while with winning almost every round and then beating your opponent to a pulp later on.

I would not recommend buying Fight Night Round 3 on Xbox 360 unless you have never played the series or you want great graphics and gameplay. I'd recommend renting it because it isn't worth blowing $60 on. I have yet to play this game online, but I do hear that is one of the saving graces for the game and I wouldn't be surprised about that as long as there is no lag.

I'm not into the whole ratings thing anymore on reviews and I'd rather recommend or not recommend games (to buy or rent) to people instead of give it an arbitrary number. My next review is coming up.