Latest Game and Movie Reviews (Live Update)

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DS Tokyo Beat Down 7.1
Xbox 360 Fracture 8.0
MOVIE The Unborn 0
PC Left 4 Dead 8.7
Xbox 360 Mirror's Edge 8.5
MOVIE Dead Space Downfall 3.5
MOVIE The Day the Earth Stood Still 0.5
PSP Super Stardust Portable 9.7  CHOICE PICK
PSP Need for Speed Undercover 2.8
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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Game Review 22 - Lego Star Wars 2:The Original Trilogy

Lego Star Wars 2: The Original Trilogy tells the tale of Star Wars Episode 4 through Episode 6 with a slight twist – with Lego bricks. Almost everything in this game has been given the Lego treatment. Character models look adorable and vehicles found in the Star Wars films have been faithfully recreated using Lego bricks. Bearing in mind the Lego feel of the game, do not go in expecting cutting-edge graphics. In fact, the game has none of that. Everything looks straight out of a cartoon that everyone can relate with and that is great, meaning that it is suitable for all, including kids and non-fans of Star Wars like me. System requirements are kept to the lowest (the game only needs 256MB of RAM!), so there is no reason for you not to be able to enjoy this game.

Outside the visuals, Lego Star Wars 2: The Original Trilogy does have other plus points. Although characters do not actually speak, there is a pleasant sense of humor added to the game. For example, during level 1 of Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope, you open a door to find stormtroopers in a bath tub. It is this type of humor that makes Lego Star Wars 2: The Original Trilogy all the more enjoyable.

The second thing I want to point out is how the game manages to integrate puzzles into the gameplay so successfully. Puzzles pop out in the most unthinkable manner that you will not even realize that it is there! The nice thing is that the game also allows you to play as different characters throughout the entire single-player mission. At some point of time, you may be forced to change characters in order to progress further into the game, but that is just the game’s way of allowing you to experience with different characters.

Surprisingly, for a game that seems so promising in the first place, it made quite a few mistakes here and there. The first flaw you will notice in the game is the almost complete lack of save points. You cannot save in between a level and that proved frustrating for me. As I was wading through a level, I was forced to quit the game when dinner arrived. The addition of mid-level save points will certainly be welcomed. I understand that the lack of mid-level save points may be due to the fact that your character never dies. A full health character has 4 hearts representing its longevity at the top of the screen and once all the hearts have been depleted, the character simply falls apart into broken Lego blocks. If this happens, your character will automatically respawn. True, it takes a little challenge off the game, and there are little consequences of dying in the game – the only things you loose are the collectible Lego studs, which can be used to unlock items, but let’s face it: Lego Star Wars 2: The Original Trilogy was intended for use with the entire family, not just for the typical gamer.

The other serious mistake the game made: The TOTAL lack of online support. Nope, do not expect any form of online multiplayer in this game. If you want online multiplayer, my suggestion is to give this game a miss altogether. However, you can invite a friend over and play multiplayer co-op via one keyboard. How is this possible? The game is built in such a way that there are 2 sets of controls that can be fully customized at any given point of time in the game. At all times during the game, there will always be at least 2 characters on screen, so don’t worry, your friend will not wrestle control of your character away from you. At any time in the game, he/she will be able to drop out of the game without interrupting it. You can see this as a good point, but for me, this is a big leap backwards from online multiplayer. Do note that gameplay can get repetitive over time (though there are some cool vehicles to ride), so your friend can do some help to make gameplay fresher.

As if that is not bad enough, I encountered another problem with the game. Getting stuck in one particular level is a commodity in this game. Providing an objective point on a mini-map like what Call of Duty 3 did may be better. Often, objectives are hard to spot, translating into pure frustration.

As I mentioned earlier, system requirements are kept to the minimum for this game. What is puzzling though is that the action seems to freeze for a few moments during some levels. An ideal solution to this problem may be the release of a patch to fix the bug as soon as possible.

Overall, Lego Star Wars 2: The Original Trilogy is a good attempt by the developers, but this game is marred too far by a couple of fatal mistakes to give a high score. Read: Blemishes (and very serious ones as well) outnumber plus points. The word “boring” comes the mind after quite a while. Move on, people, this game is average at best.

Overall score: 7.2/10

Good points:
Great sense of humor, Adorable character models, low system requirement, clever integration of puzzles into gameplay, tons of unlockables
Bad points: Almost complete lack of save points, TOTAL lack of online support, repetitive gameplay, difficult-to-see objectives, occasional freezing

Sunday, November 26, 2006

PS3 Launch Games vs. Wii Launch Games

Whose launch line-up was better? The PS3's or the Wii's? Read on to find out.

PS3 Launch Games

While the PS3 is indeed a powerful console, the launch line-up was not. A few games that were slated for release on launch day got pushed back to 2007, including Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Vegas, Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion and F.E.A.R. The PS3 launch line-up consisted mostly of sports games from EA Sports with a few other games being ports of games already on other platforms like the Xbox 360 and the other last-gen consoles. What is inexcusable is that the PS3 version of Tony Hawk’s Project 8 excludes online multiplayer. In a nutshell, the PS3 launch line-up was average at best. The only launch game that stands out is shooter Resistance: Fall of Man. Blessed with a 40-player multiplayer, a creative storyline and cutting-edge graphics, the game will keep PS3 owners occupied for quite a while.

Wii Launch Games

The Wii, no doubt, launched with a bang with Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess leading a pack of winning games like Rayman Raving Rabbids and Trauma Center: Second Opinion. The Wii got off to a good start, but the launch line-up, like the PS3’s, was also marred by ports of games that are already on other platforms. Call of Duty 3 received a nasty visual downgrade and worst of all, provided no online play, a feature that is present in other versions of Call of Duty 3. In fact, none of the Wii launch games support online play. However, the fact that almost a dozen Virtual Console games were up for download on launch day compensated for the lack of online play from the launch games. Generally speaking, the Wii launch line-up was slightly better than the PS3’s. Wii Sports is even included in the package.

Winner: Wii

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Christmas Gift Ideas:A Kid's World

Get some games for your kids this Christmas! Powerplay lists down some of the more suitable games.

Viva Piñata (Xbox 360)
Let the kids’ creative juices flow! In this game, players have the ability to create a living garden ecosystem that can attract and host 60 species of wild piñatas. Explore the colorful and brilliant world of Viva Piñata where you will be constantly challenged to maintain your ecosystem so that the Piñatas do not leave your garden. With a generous amount of customizable elements to choose from, gameplay will never cease to be dull. Take the game to Xbox Live and interact, trade or play with other players, making for hours of fun for people of all ages.

Rayman Raving Rabbids (Wii)
Rayman makes a return this Christmas with more promised action and wackiness! With collection of over 40 mini-games, you can never get enough of Rayman. Crazy bunnies have invaded the Earth and Rayman has been locked up. Complete a series of hilarious mini-games to entertain the bunnies and earn objects that Rayman can use to get out of his cell. The use of the Wii-mote provides more fun that is well-tailored for the entire family to enjoy.

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team (DS)
Can’t get enough of Pokemon on television? Then take on this new Pokemon game! As the name implies, there will be many dungeons for you to explore. Along the way, you will also encounter several of your favorite characters from the Pokemon universe that you may invite to join your rescue team. Engage in good old turn-based combats with some other fierce Pokemon as you attempt to find your way to the next dungeon in a bid to save numerous of those lost friends out there!

Cars (PC, Xbox, Xbox 360, Wii, GC, PS2, PSP, DS, GBA)
No matter how much your copy of the DVD of Cars has to offer, nothing beats taking control Lightning McQueen. Environments and characters from the film are recreated in this game, with players having the choice of 10 playable characters, further complemented by 30 races and fun mini-games. With vibrant and colorful graphics as well as new control schemes for the Wii version of the game, kids are going to find Cars enjoyable.

Winx Club: The Quest for the Codex (GBA)
From the hit animated cartoon series comes this game. Interaction with characters seen in the cartoon series will no doubt be encountered and players get to control anyone of their favorite characters. With a library of extensive mini-games and collectible items, this game will keep players occupied for quite a long time to come with unlockable outfits for each fairy to boot.

Other choices: SpongeBob Squarepants: Creature from the Krusty Krab (PC, Wii, GC, PS2, DS, GBA), Open Season (PC, Xbox 360, Xbox, Wii, GC, PS2, PSP, DS, GBA), Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz (Wii), Nicktoons: Battle for Volcano Island (GBA), Yoshi Island DS (DS)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Gaming Guide 4: Gears of War - Boss Battles

Survive the boss battles in Gears of War! Read on to find out how.

Act 1: Ashes

Berserker is the boss you will have to face at the end of Act 1. It will appear by smashing down the wall at the end of the corridor. At this point of time, enter the door on the right side of the corridor and you will realize that you are in a big room with many pillars. Hit the ‘Y’ button and the game will tell you that there is a smashable door at the far end of the room. Make your way towards it and station yourself in its foreground and turn to face the Berserker. Fire at it to attract its attention and it will come running towards you. Just as it is about to bang into you, dodge out of the way. This results in the door being smashed and you will be able to proceed to the next room. There are 3 of such rooms in total including the one mentioned above. Repeat the above strategy for the other 2 rooms (with each further one getting smaller in size) and you will emerge into an open field. Use the Hammer of Dawn that you should already be equipped with earlier and fry the Berserker thrice for it to drop dead. After that, the ending cut scene will appear. Congratulations, you have just completed Act 1!

Act 3: Belly of the Beast

Corpser is the second boss you will be facing in Gears of War, appearing before the end of Act 3. You will discover that there is a rocky platform with molten flowing through it. Walk on it and once you are halfway through, a cut scene will start, showing a Corpser emerge from the cave above. Ultimately, the way to silence the Corpser is not to kill it with your weapons, but to shoot it back to a detachable metal platform further down. The shotgun is your best bet for this boss battle. Shoot the belly of the Corpser and its mouth will open. Quickly shoot its mouth with your shotgun once it is opened. Upon accomplishing the 2 actions, the Corpser will retreat, inching its way nearer to the detachable metal platform. You will have to repeat the above mentioned step a number of times for the Corpser to be fully on the metal platform. Once on it, the game will inform you that there are 2 other smashable smaller metal platforms holding on to the big one and that you need to use your weapon to destroy them. Once destroyed, the Corpser will fall into the molten pit and you will win. Note that wretches will appear during the battle to hamper your efforts. Keep your fingers crossed that your partner, Dom, does not get downed by the wretches so that they will all concentrate on him instead of you. If Dom is downed, revive him quickly and continue your assault on the Corpser. Do not stay too far away from the Corpser or else it will emit a toxic breath that will injure you; stay close and blast it using the said steps.

General RAAM
Act 5: Desperation

General RAAM is the end boss of the game, but that does not mean it is more difficult to handle than earlier bosses. The best and most suitable weapons for this battle are the Sniper rifle, the torque bow and grenades. General RAAM has kryll surrounding its body and when they are around his body, he is invulnerable to your sniping. Only when the kryll are away from General RAAM’s body will you be able to shoot him using the sniper rifle. Once in a while, General RAAM will send its kryll to get you. The lights at the bottom of the train are the ones that will save you from the kryll, so be sure to stay in them at all times. You can also discharge the kryll from General RAAM’s body by shooting a torque arrow into its body or by hurling a grenade near him. Any explosive weapon will frighten the kryll off General RAAM’s body and since it moves slowly, you should have no problem landing a grenade at its feet. Just be careful of the chain gun rounds General RAAM will aim at you in order to silence you. If you have to move because General RAAM is approaching you and endangering your life, always do a roadie run (done by holding down the ‘A’ button) to a light source before the kryll get to you. Dom will probably die before you finish General RAAM, but do not bother reviving him unless he is at a light source. A succession of torque arrow shots, grenade throws that land at its feet and sniper rifle headshot rounds (a perfect reload is a must as you deal extra damage with it, and so is the headshot) within 4 to 6 times will take down General RAAM for good. You have to achieve this without any misses in between to prevent General RAAM from reaching your cover, forcing you to flee for the other side (which can be suicidal). Try this boss battle a few times to get familiar with it first. After killing General RAAM, enjoy the awesome cut scene – which brings me to the next statement: The ending hints you to you that there will be a sequel. Insane mode is unlocked.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Game Review 21:Battlefield 2142

After the success of Battlefield 2, EA decided to release Battlefield 2142. Battlefield 2142 is not a sequel to any Battlefield game, though; it consists only of multiplayer. Single-player only acts as practice sessions for you before you take on real players. Having said that, do not expect any campaign from Battlefield 2142.

If there is anything that can describe Battlefield 2142 shortly, this is it: It feels almost like Counter Strike. The multiplayer action is tense, though not as addicting as Counter Strike’s. Battlefield 2142 consists mainly of two modes of play, namely Conquest mode, which was retained from Battlefield 2, and a new Titan mode, which can be quite interesting. Titan mode requires the enemy’s airborne warship to be destroyed to win the battle. You can accomplish this by securing missile silos on the map, which when taken control will launch anti-titan missiles at intervals. After a while, your enemy’s titan shield will drop and eventually be taken away, making the titan more vulnerable to attacks. There is another way to destroy the titan, though. You may also board an air transport and land on the enemy’s titan and work towards the center of it to destroy its core reactor. There is a video in the game menu that will guide you on how to attain success in the Titan mode. Either way, the game promotes heavy teamwork.

One particular failing of Battlefield 2142 I want to point out is its graphics. If a game has been released with this kind of graphics 2 years ago, it would be easier to forgive, but now? After experiencing the amazing beauty of F.E.A.R. and FarCry on PC, it is hard to go back to Battlefield 2142. Graphics seem somewhat unpolished and colors look dull. The developers could have done more by adding more colors to make the environments look more vibrant. Even explosions are not any better. Graphical effects are average at best. The sound in this game would not win any award as well. It has been done better before in many games including the ever immersive Call of Duty 2. You just do not get the feeling of being in the game when you play Battlefield 2142.

However, despite some of its shortcomings, Battlefield 2142 is still a solid multiplayer game. There are a wide variety of futuristic vehicles to ride, including hover tanks and weapons to wield. Vehicles controls could use some practice as they may be difficult to control at first, especially aerial ones. Your soldier will die within a few shots so you will have to be on your toes to survive. Moreover, more items may eventually get unlocked once you progressed through the various ranks, prompting you to clock more hours with the game. Battlefield 2142 does succeed in brining back the ‘Counter Strike feel’ I have been missing for quite a long time, but with limited maps whose numbers do not exceed a dozen, I must say that you may grow out of this game in a few weeks or months time. Buy Battlefield 2142 for its solid multiplayer, but just do not come in expecting much because the game is more or less an average one with some nice additions here and there.

Overall score: 7.9/10

Good points: Solid multiplayer action, new Titan mode, tons of unlockable items
Bad points: Poor graphics and average sound, may feel dull after a few months as maps are less than a dozen, no single player campaign (seriously, including this would be nice).

Friday, November 17, 2006

Game Review 20:Call of Duty 3

(First play-through) It is time to return to World War 2 again with Call of Duty 3 this year-end. Being the successor to last year’s Call of Duty 2 that was the number 1 selling launch game for the Xbox 360, I expected Call of Duty 3 to follow in the footsteps of Call of Duty 2 – cinematic, good graphics, sound and intense. So did Call of Duty 3 accomplish that?

Firstly, I must say that the graphics of Call of Duty 3 has been vastly improved from Call of Duty 2. Colors look more vibrant and the water looks real. The environments are painted in stunning details and parts of some structures like walls can be broken down with grenade blasts. Call of Duty 3 does retain the rich sounds from Call of Duty 2. Yes, the sound will make you feel as if you are in the war itself. The cracking of gunfire surrounds you all the time, making the game feel real. The music is better, providing a suitable atmosphere for the gameplay.

However, do note that there are a few changes from Call of Duty 2. New gameplay elements like snatching a weapon from the enemy or repelling an enemy who is trying to strangle you with his weapon. You will have a chance to row boats and drive jeeps as well. Or you can sit on a friendly tank and use your binoculars to direct fire. All these add variety to the gameplay, but I cannot help but think whether all these are necessary or not – for the Xbox 360, at least. While these new gameplay elements act as mini-games, they are clearly built for other versions of Call of Duty 3. For example, to row the boat, you need to half-rotate the right analog stick on your Xbox 360. Obviously, this gameplay element is built around the Wii-mote (Call of Duty 3 is on the Wii too). Snatching the weapon from your enemy or wrestling your enemy requires you to press the left trigger and right trigger buttons of the Xbox 360 controller alternatively and as quickly as possible. Again, this new gameplay element was obviously built for the PS3 SIXAXIS controller or the Wii-mote, both of which have motion-sensitivity. These gameplay elements do not translate well on the Xbox 360, becoming a mindless affair of button mashing. The developers, Treyarch, could have omitted these for the Xbox 360 version. Of course, allowing you to ride more vehicles is enjoyable. Also, you can now have a new style of throwing grenades. You can hold the grenade for a few seconds and ‘cook’ it before throwing it or hurl it straight away. It is fun, but why am I not getting the ‘wow’ factor that I was heavily felt in Call of Duty 2?

There are 14 chapters in total, but I have only played the first 5 chapters. As far as the 5 chapters go, I can tell that each chapter is comparatively short. The game has 4 difficult settings, namely Easy, Normal (the default difficulty setting), Hard and Veteran. I tried the Normal setting, which was also what I did when I played Call of Duty 2 last year. Then, I discovered Call of Duty 3’s fatal mistake. Enemies perish too easily. Try it. 3 to 4 bullets would be enough, which is unlike Call of Duty 2 that I feel provided more challenge. I found myself rushing from room to room in enemy-invaded houses downing enemies by the triple at once. Call of Duty 3 was played straight after I completed Gears of War and I clearly felt the great divide between Call of Duty 3 and Gears of War: the A.I. Well, yeah, the A.I.-controlled enemies are stupid, real stupid. While they are hiding in cover and with you shooting them while they are doing just that, do not expect any reaction. They will just happily let you drill them to their graves. And they would not even know you are advancing towards them and are slow to react even if they know. This is a serious flaw that any game can make: an A.I. that well, is stupid. Enemies DO NOT run when a grenade land at their feet, unlike (as I say, I played this game straight after completing Gears of War) Gears of War whose enemies will escape from their cover if a grenade lands nearby.

The gameplay here has a standard template as well. Basically, it just run, hide, shoot, next objective with a few cut scenes here and there and no humor whatsoever that was so ever present in Call of Duty 2. Perhaps it is because the development of Call of Duty 3 has changed hands from Infinity Ward, which developed Call of Duty 2 to Treyarch, which developed Call of Duty 2: Big Red One for current-gen console (PS2, Xbox, GC) last year. An agreement has been reached by both parties that each odd-numbered sequel of Call of Duty will be developed by Treyarch and each even-numbered Call of Duty 2 sequel be developed by Infinity Ward. But that is not the main concern here. The way the game plays is worrying – because it is dull, though it offers several authentic WW2 weapons for the taking. The gameplay is boring, at least up to chapter 5. Every mission looks the same to me; there is no variation. During the course of 14 missions, you will get to play an American, British, Canadian and Polish soldiers. But hey, how come each mission is still almost the same thing? That is not helped by the fact that the game is too easy on Normal setting. Very soon, the game will settle into a monotony of shooting enemies who like to come up to you, clear out the house (or secure the house), destroy this gun, that gun, oh come on, within my 3 and a half hours of play to complete the first 5 missions, the game drove me to a headache, forcing me to halt the game and take a painkiller and start writing this review. Some missions take place at night and visibility is extremely poor. At times, I cannot even tell that there is an opening in the wall or whether where my platoon mates have gone (seriously, they need to get their brains examined for abandoning you).

As I have only cruised through the first 5 chapters of the game, I cannot give the game an overall score yet. Perhaps, and I really hope that the game will improve beyond the first 5 chapters. More variety, more vehicles to ride, better game design that offers more variations from the run-gun-hide-clear-house-destroy-gun formula. As of now, I feel that Call of Duty 2 is better. But wait, let me finish the game first and let me evaluate it as a whole. Note that this (first play-through) review does not represent the quality of the entire game.

Overall score: Unfinished; score pending
Good points (up to chapter 5): Good graphics, sound, many vehicles to ride, many authentic WW2 weapons
Bad points (up to chapter 5): Dull gameplay with little variation, lack of humor that was so ever present in Call of Duty 2, feels like port of the Wii and PS3 version with mini-games that were clearly built for the motion-sensitive controllers of the said consoles

* Due to occupancy of my time slots with other games, the full review of this game will be delayed till December.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Game Review 19:Gears of War

Before the release of this much-anticipated game, Gears of War received endless compliments for its gameplay and graphics, so much so that it has been frequently compared to Halo, with many people believing to be the next Halo. So, is Gears of War any good? Does it deliver the goods. Well, yes, it does, but Gears of War does not employ the run-gun-shoot formula of Halo. Instead, there is a heavy emphasis on taking cover, be it behind cement barriers, burnt cars, wooden pillars or even sofas. Standing out in the open will turn your screen red in no time.

For a start, the graphics and sound in Gears of War are first-rate. The power of the Xbox 360 has enabled the developers, Epic Games, to create a game that would never have been possible on the original Xbox. The graphics look life-like with vibrant colors. The enemies in this game, which are the locust, are well-detailed, with faces so unsightly that no one in this world can rival. Blood splatter on the screen when you chain-saw an enemy or when you get shot, making the game more realistic. The sound is not neglected either. In-game music provides a suitable atmosphere for the game, making it more intensifying; it gives you a sense of desperation. Different types of locusts make different noises. Wretches, the weakest of the locusts, may look harmless, but the noise that they emit is hair-raising. Gears of War went closely to replicating the experience of Doom 3 in one Act (one chapter, in other words).

The second aspect I want to touch on about the game is the A.I. (artificial intelligence). There is no doubt that the A.I. is an integral part of the game. A poor A.I. will ruin the game. Gears of War does not disappoint in this area. In fact, the A.I. here is one of the best I have seen so far in games. When I say A.I., I am referring to the Locusts, not your A.I. partner that will fight alongside at all times (there may be 3 other soldiers fighting alongside you at times). On casual mode, your A.I. partner does not do much to help you; you will have to do most of the work yourself. On hardcore setting, your A.I. partner, instead, possesses an irritating gung-ho attitude towards combat. While you are progressing gradually step by step to corner the Locusts, Dom, your A.I. partner will rush forward, getting himself killed, which isn’t what you will be wanting because once all your A.I. partner is injured, the Locusts will focus solely on you. You can revive him, though. Fortunately, someone can take over from the A.I. if you are playing over Xbox Live or you can select the split-screen option. Talking about A.I., it is also time to evaluate the difficulty of the game. Gears of War is easy to get into; it has a gentle learning curve. At the start of the first Act, you can choose either to go right into combat or to go through the tutorials first. You are advised to ditch the casual setting altogether. It is too simple and achievement points are low. Enemies go down easily upon request of your weapons, but on hardcore setting, more shots are required to down the enemy. The hardcore setting is challenging, but at times, it may get frustrating if you keep on dying in one particular mission. The game is very difficult, but yep, you should try hardcore. That is what the game is all about. You have to complete the game on hardcore setting to unlock the ‘Insane’ setting.

Okay, now to the controls and the gameplay. Controls are intuitive, with the ‘A’ button being used to do most of the things like ducking behind cover, doing a run, perform S.W.A.T. moves like rolling on the ground, or to jump over the cover. While you may find yourself getting sucked into cover at times while running, the controls have been kept simple, much to my delight. The pace of the game in the first Act may be a little slow – and dull, but be patient, once you get through the first Act, the pace of the game gradually speeds up, and then – Gears of War shows its true colors! What a masterpiece it is! Do not rate Gears of War based on the boring first Act; rate it as a whole. Within the campaign mode, numerous cut scenes appear and they prove to be a breather in between missions. If there is anything I can say, the cut scenes are equally stunning. There are quite a few variations of the Locust, namely the drones (standard Locust soldiers you will encounter throughout the game), the upgraded version of drones, Thereon Guards (Locust soldiers which shoot explosive arrows and appear during and after Act 3). As mentioned earlier, the Wretches, the weakest of enemies, but they have a different type: Lamented wretches, creatures which explode on impact like a grenade (beware the blast radius!). Boomers, who hold boomshot, a type of rocker launcher, only it is not called rocket launcher. Well, the others are up to you to find out for yourself. There are a great variety of weapons at your disposal as well – about 9 of them in total. Like in Halo, you can only carry 2 at one time, excluding your pistol and hand grenade.

To put it simply, Gears of War is a brilliant game. You will have to play it yourself to find out what a masterpiece it is. Buy it. Now. The A.I.-controlled enemies are clever, one of the cleverest, and the higher difficulty settings will have you begging for mercy. You should finish the game in approximately 15 hours on hardcore setting (including repeated fights when you perish). You can change the difficulty setting at any time in the game. Checkpoints are generally close to each other and the absence of a health bar levels the difficulty. Overall, Gears of War is an extremely good game. The ‘Halo’ of 2006 is here. Go get it and play it while waiting for the real Halo next year. Simply amazing.

Overall score: 10/10 (Number 7 overall ranking in my top 10 games of all times)

Good points: Gentle learning curve, intuitive controls, nice graphics and sound, intensifying gameplay, smart A.I. enemies. (A sequel is in the works)
Bad points: Relatively stupid A.I. partner (but they help you kill enemies sometimes). Very difficult (if you count that as a bad point; for me, it’s challenging).

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Game Review 18:Need for Speed Carbon (Collector's Edition)

EA’s long running series, Need for Speed, returns this year on all major platforms, this time being Need for Speed Carbon. Need for Speed Carbon has made some changes to the previous game in the series, Need for Speed Most Wanted, some bad, some good. We will discuss about the good points first. The first change you will notice upon starting to play Need for Speed Carbon is that it has vastly improved graphics. It is visually stunning, cars are highly detailed, texts are clearer, and the overall image polished and more pleasant to the eyes. The second change you will notice are the icons representing race events on your minimap. They are now represented by stars of various colors. Thirdly, all the races take place in the night. Of course, the previous two changes do little to affect gameplay. The major ones include extra car classes, the ability to hire crew, the storyline, and the gameplay. Need for Speed Carbon allows you to choose from 3 car classes: Muscle, Exotic and Tuner. Each class of cars has its own strengths and weaknesses, so you will have to buy wisely. Need for Speed Carbon also introduces one new gameplay element: Crew, which will aid you in winning races. As you progress further into the game, more racers will offer to join your crew. There are many types of crew members: Drafters, blockers, scouts and so on. Each of your crew member is unique, some offering discounts on car parts, while others give you more points when you win. This is a nice addition, by the fact that your crew member (only one can be in the race with you) helps you all the time. Be it offering encouraging words when you are lagging behind, or helping you boost your speed, or helping you knock opponents’ cars away, and at times, your crew member will help you win the race as well. It takes either you or your appointed crew member coming in first place in a race to win it. In other words, even if you are in last place, and that your crew member takes the number 1 position, you win the race as well. Needless to say, the storyline varies from the one in Need for Speed Most Wanted. In Need for Speed Most Wanted, the game requires you to climb up the blacklist and there are a total of 16 levels and 15 bosses. Not so in Need for Speed Carbon. The game involves you conquering territories from rivals. You do this by beating bosses of each territory (there are a total of 4). Good news! Because Need of Speed Carbon does away with the irritating bounty system (a system where you gather points by evading the police and winning races). Instead, each territory is divided into 4 to 5 parts, with each area containing 3 to 4 racing events. Win 2 of these events and that particular area is yours. Once you have conquered all the areas, the boss will challenge you. In a way, it makes the game simpler. Need for Speed Carbon also places less focus on cop chases. Yep, you will not be seeing the cops often. In Need for Speed Most Wanted, cop chases were necessary to gather bounty, but all is different in this game now (although Sergeant Cross still has a place in the storyline). And even if you are being chased by cops, your crew member will divert their attention to themselves, so you have a greater chance to evading the cops. Wait, there is one last major addition. 2 new race events are available: Drift racing and canyon racing. Drift racing is kind of lame, and it is difficult to win too. Canyon racing is included in each boss battle and can be quite challenging as well. Nevertheless, you should have no problems winning the canyon races. In the first lap, you stay behind your opponent’s car and keep as close to them as possible to earn points. Overtake them and hold it there for 10 seconds and you will win. In the second lap, the opponent’s car will follow behind and you will have to make sure that you are far in front of the opponent to chalk up maximum points. The idea is original, innovative and most important of all, enjoyable.

Now, for the bad points. As I emphasized earlier, cop chases are rare and the bounty system are gone. This takes the flavor out of the game, a flavor present in Need for Speed Most Wanted. It makes the game so much easier. For hardcore gamers looking for challenging (or hard) games, nope, Need for Speed Carbon is not going to be much of a challenge to you. Let’s put it in this way: It is easy and you will find yourself conquering areas quickly. There are fewer areas to travel through as well (or at least I feel). The place feels small, and I feel that Need for Speed Most Wanted is better in terms of offering content. Yep, content – single-player content, to be exact. Need for Speed Carbon is lacking in this aspect, with the multiplayer saving Need for Speed Carbon from getting an average score. There is a new mode. The last person to reach the finish line becomes the cop. Kind of like a cat and mouse game.

Overall, Need for Speed Carbon looks ‘hipper’ and ‘cooler’ with the music and the introductory cut scenes introducing each new crew member. It has got that ‘baby-ish’ sound when playing the clip and I feel that it is hilarious. Look (or hear) out for that. However, if you are looking for the Need for Speed Most Wanted experience with all those Hollywood-like cop chases, Need for Speed Carbon isn’t it. Move on. Even the destructible objects and cooldown places have been reduced. Need for Speed Carbon is not about cops; it is about taking territories and engaging your crew for some aid. Yes, Need for Speed Carbon retains the intriguing storyline, which I cannot find in any other racing game. Racing games do not need storylines, but Need for Speed Most Wanted and Need for Speed Carbon (the only 2 Need for Speed games I have played) have them, which is a bonus, and also the reason why I gave Need for Speed Most Wanted a 9.8 score. It is special. The Collector’s Edition comes with an extra DVD, featuring behind the scenes and all those stuff.

Overall score: 9.6/10

Good points: No bounty system, less repetitive than Need for Speed Most Wanted, music is hip and cool, stunning graphics, new race events, and new multiplayer race mode
Bad points: Too easy, and lesser content than Need for Speed Most Wanted

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