Sunday, September 30, 2007

Halo 3 Review (360)

Title: Halo 3
Developer: Bungie
Publisher: Microsoft
Platform: Xbox 360

My Recommendation: Must Own

It should come as no surprise that I recommend this as a Must Own, however there are some caveats. For those only wanting to go through the campaign and not dabble in the multiplayer options, this is purely a game you should rent. It shouldn't take you very long to beat the campaign and then you have the final chapter of the series. If you are into multiplayer and being able to build your own "items" into a given map, this game tops them all and for that it becomes a Must Own.

The campaign itself is well done with a couple sections here and there that I really didn't care for. I've never been a big fan of the Flood and any section revolving around them goes into the "I just want to get through this section" mode instead of the "man, am I having fun trying to think ahead of all these enemies. With the Flood there is no strategy, they are a legion that just keeps coming after you. They have no tactics or anything, they just want to overwhelm you.

Any section revolving around the Covenant is really good. This makes up the majority of the game with the Flood being the pain in the ass toward the end. The enemy AI is really good and grenades almost become useless against the Covenant because they are so smart. There are a variety of Brutes and Grunts you will go through, some with stretches of invulnerability attached to them or a strategic weak point to take them out.

The weapons are nice here as well. I'm happy to say the Assault Gun is back after it was forgotten about in Halo 2. In fact there are many sections where a friend actually throws you the Assault Rifle in a cutscene. It is funny that it was gone for a game and now it is the main basic weapon in Halo 3. The coolest additions to the weapons are the Gravity Hammer and the Laser gun. The laser comes in handy in at least two sections of the game, one of which is a little to cheap if you ask me.

The story overall is done well. Anyone who hasn't played the other 2 games is going to be really lost, especially about the whole Gravemind aspect of the game. The Gravemind is around in this game and you see his tentacles, but (SPOILER!!!!!) you never go against him face to, uh, face.

There are a few boss battles in the game, but nothing to write home about. The first appearance of the Scarab is awe inspiring, but once you encounter them here and there through the rest of the game they don't seem as cool. The boss battle toward the end of the game is a very weak one with the aforementioned laser gun, which is too bad because it involves a character that is a central character to the series itself.

The nicest thing about the storyline is this: (BE PREPARED FOR SPOILERS):

At the end of Halo 3 you come to the realization with the final mission title of "Full Circle" that the series has done just that. You blow up the rebuilding Halo from the first game, you take out at least a sizable chunk of the Flood (if not all of them) and after the credits have rolled you see that the Master Chief and Cortana made it through the portal still alive. The Chief goes into a cryotube and tells Cortana, "Wake me when you need me." That is exactly how the Chief started Halo: being pulled from a cryotube.

Do I think this is the end of the Halo series? I doubt it. Bungie is in a dangerous position. They have to create a new IP that people are going to jump on. If they can't do that I have to believe there will be a Halo 4 in the future. The door is left open for a Wing Commander like rebirth. The Covenant could decide they want to attack again, there could be internal struggles on Earth or there could be an all-new threat. Not killing off Master Chief leaves the door open for him to come out of the cryotube once again.

The multiplayer aspects of the game is where the real meat is. I've only played a little bit online, but I also realize the broad range of games you can play online. There is also the Forge mode where you can drop items into the maps of the game. You can't change the map terrain, but you can create an all-new experience to play with your friends online. Much like Halo 2, chances are multiplayer is going to help Halo 3 live for years and I can only guess that Bungie has a lot of downloadable content coming.

In the end, you really can't say no to Halo 3 if you are into online multiplayer at all. If you only want to play the campaign and see the end of the story I say you should rent the game. It should only take you at most a few days to finish the fight. If this is the end of Halo, it went out on a high note.

The big question is whether it is the best 360 game out there? From a multiplayer perspective probably. From a graphical, story and overall perspective, probably not.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Review: Heavenly Sword (PS3)

Title: Heavenly Sword
Developer: Ninja Theory
Publisher: SCE Europe
Platform: PS3

My Recommendation: Rent It

I'm not reviewing this game for Gameshark (although my Warhawk Review is now up), so I thought I would give a review of this game on my blog instead.

Heavenly Sword is a beautiful game that is hindered by its length and the borrowing of many aspects from the God of War games. Many people will say the game goes beyond a straight GoW clone, but I think it borrows a little too heavily on it to really stand out as something different. It is obvious that Ninja Theory put a good amount of time into both the game graphics and all of the cutscenes that make up the story. The story doesn't necessarily grab you, but watching the cutscenes is just a sight to behold.

Much like God of War the main character dies at the beginning of the game and you go back in time 5 days and play through what leads up to Nariko facing off against thousands of enemies. The 5 days make up the first 5 chapters of the game, with the sixth chapter being the final boss fight. Nariko is put in a sort of hub where the Heavenly Sword comes out of the ground in 6 different places which correspond to the 6 chapters. There are then circles on those swords that point out how many missions there are in each chapter. Some chapters have a lot of missions, some have very few.

A majority of the game is spent with Nariko taking on an overwhelming number of enemies. In many ways it is far bigger in battle concept than God of War, but Nariko has far less combos and tricks than Kratos has. Nariko cannot jump, which makes things a little interesting. She has three stances she can fight from that all use the Heavenly Sword. The first stance is the speed one which is just used by pressing the Square and Triangle buttons. The range stance is accessed by pressing the L1 button along with using Square and Triangle. The power stance is accessed by pressing the R1 button along with using Square and Triangle. Most of the time you will be using the speed and power stance, but the range stance comes into great use on at least two bosses.

As you go through the missions you can get a total of 3 glyphs by doing things within the mission. As far as I know there is no way of knowing exactly what you have to do in order to get those glyphs other than the bar at the bottom of the screen that increases as you do things. Supposedly getting all the glyphs is one of the reasons to replay this game, but I honestly saw no need to go back and do it all over again.

The funny part is that the best sections of this game is when you take over as Kai (Nariko's cat-like friend) or if Nariko has a long-range weapon to fire/throw. As you fire off the weapon and hold down the Square key you can use the Sixaxis controller to guide the shot toward your intended target. This helps immensely when Kai is shooting her arrows ("twing-twang" as she calls it) or when Nariko is taking down enemies storming the fort. Aiming arrows at enemies clear across the screen was just awesome and I almost wish there was more of this game type than of Nariko running around swinging the Heavenly Sword around.

In the end I found myself going through the motions in order to get to the end of the game. The long-range things were a welcome change of pace, but I honestly found no reason to use combo attacks versus button mashing in the Nariko vs. an overwhelming army sections. The only place combos help a lot are the boss battles when you are able to pull one off.

Heavenly Sword also borrows from God of War with the "press a button at the right time" gameplay. It doesn't happen very often and the buttons pop up very quickly. I had many times where I had to replay a section because the buttons popping up caught me off-guard. In the GoW series I never felt surprised by when the buttons came up to press, but here is a different story.

The boss battles are interesting as well. They all have weak points and have a cycle of moves that they make. The final battle is the best of them all, but it can also be very frustrating. I have heard people being able to beat the boss just mashing on buttons, but I found that to be impossible. Instead there was a way to deflect some things back to the boss and that helps a lot. The boss battles are not as interesting as, say, Metal Gear Solid, but they are somewhat memorable.

In the end I can only recommend that you rent this game. I'm glad I rented this game. If I added up the amount of time I spent on the game, I'd say it was 5-6 hours. I'm of the belief that length doesn't necessarily hinder a game. I use ICO as my example of an extraordinary game that was extremely short (4 or less hours). With ICO I replayed it multiple times, in the case of Heavenly Sword I don't see myself playing it again other than to show it off to people that want to see nice high-def graphics, but then I'd have to rent it again.

Heavenly Sword is a really good game, but it's only worth a rental because of its length and the heavy borrowing from the longer (and better) God of War games. Don't buy the game because you can literally beat it in a day, but renting it should satisfy your need for a really good exclusive PS3 game.