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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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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Game Review 25 - Asphalt:Urban GT 2

Looking at the impressive screenshots of the DS version of Asphalt: Urban GT 2 (it is also available for the PSP), I was lured into purchasing the game. I have to say that I was a little disappointed by the game; I expected more, but Asphalt: Urban GT 2’s shortcomings were hardly enough to thwart the game’s aim of entertaining me.

The most obvious thing you will notice about the game when you first play it would be the visuals. For a DS game, it is amazing, although there are still many visible pixellated structures. The pretty graphics actually made the game more realistic, as opposed to those horribly deformed racing games on the GBA. Colors are vibrant and car models (oh, and by the way, motorbikes are also included in this game) look acceptable. Music in the game is mostly forgettable, with songs that are barely audible or clear – it came out of the DS’s speakers seemingly muffled, but I could understand that the problem may be due to the lack of space in the DS game card.

Initially, Asphalt: Urban GT 2 did not please me due to its controls, but after some while, I got used to it. As a matter of fact, you will never encounter vehicles turning properly around a corner in this game; there is some hidden kind of mechanism in the game that makes your vehicles drift automatically and that is what I loathe. Simply speaking, it takes a lot of challenges away as no skills are needed to drive, as well as to win a race. As if to make matters worse, the CPU is this game just isn’t good enough. In fact, it had me questioning whether there is really an A.I. in this game. The CPU offers absolutely no challenge and you will find yourself getting pole position in every race; attaining otherwise will show how bad a virtual driver you are. Those are the 2 areas that the next Asphalt game needs to improve on.

Fortunately, a couple of things save the game being a bad one. In total, there are 12 tracks, and some of them at really interesting locations to boot. In addition, there are several modes of play including cop chase, where well, you must escape the cops, bandit, where you are the police and must take the bandits’ cars down, elimination, where the last vehicle as every checkpoint gets kicked out of the race, the normal race and last but not least, radar race, where you must pass a checkpoint by a targeted speed. Great variety – for a DS game, and it will actually last you quite a while to complete the game because a career mode (known as Evolution in this game) is also included. Customizable options do not dwell too deep, but there are enough of them to put a smile on your face. The sounds of car engines are realistic as well.

All in all, Asphalt: Urban GT 2 is one DS game that provides moderate fun. In case you are wondering again, I have never played the first Asphalt before. The game is great for any DS owner who likes racing games, and wants one that is portable. However, after you complete the game, you will feel few reasons to come back for more.

Overall score: 7.6/10

What’s good: Pretty visuals, huge variety of tracks with some of them at interesting locations, many modes of play, sounds of car engines are realistic
What’s not: Stupid in-game mechanism that makes vehicles drift automatically, A.I. is hardly present (game is one of the easiest I have ever encountered), mostly forgettable music of low quality, low replayability value

Also on: PSP

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Game Review 24:FlatOut 2

Just over a year after I played Burnout Revenge, I tried the FlatOut 2 demo, which eventually lured me into buying the game. At first, I was rather skeptical about FlatOut 2: Would it be as lame as Burnout Revenge, a game that involves senseless knocks into other vehicles and positioning of your vehicle so that it would cause a major traffic breakdown, if not lamer? After experiencing FlatOut 2 for a few days, I was proved wrong. In fact, FlatOut 2 has provided me with one of the most satisfying gameplay experience to date. In case you are wondering, I have never played the original FlatOut before.

For starters, FlatOut 2 is all about destruction, to the point where the game actually encourages destruction. Tracks consist of tons of destructible objects that are essential ingredients for filling your nitro boost bar. Vehicles deform in a great variety of ways and drivers perform outward flies if their vehicles get a heavy crash. FlatOut 2 does a great job of providing you with a huge number of tracks, be it in the canals, city or forest and special events like stunts, derby matches and special destruction tracks for you to show that you are the ultimate destroyer. Quite simply, FlatOut 2 overwhelms you with so many choices not seen in driving games in recent memory. It will definitely provide endless hours of entertainment. FlatOut 2 is a game that scores high in replayability value, although I have to admit that the career mode is a little short.

FlatOut 2 also allows you to do your destruction in awe, thanks to the amazing visuals. Although things do not blur when you are travelling fast like in Need for Speed Carbon, the structures look realistic and lighting effects are there for you to admire. Colors are generally vibrant as well. The developers must have paid a lot of attention to the music in FlatOut 2 in addition to the graphics. The music is appropriate for every section in the game and well, they are pleasant. An introduction video can be seen before the start of the game and that can be said to be excellent. The interface is interesting and a bonus feature, Making of FlatOut 2, has been loaded onto the DVD to make the game a value buy, and one that is worth every of your dollar.

However, not all is sweet in the game. Perhaps the most serious flaw that can be noticed in FlatOut 2 is the controls. No matter what class or make of vehicle you choose to drive, be it in the derby class, street class or race class of cars, the vehicles handle almost the same. The controls feel loose and touchy, and they may turn unforgiving at times if you are not careful with the arrow keys. The nudge on the right arrow key, for example, may translate into a drastic last-minute-type turn of your vehicle. In a way, this makes drifting a breeze in the game, but it also makes you feel as if the controls need more tweaking, which in fact, it requires. Although FlatOut 2 is not meant to be a simulation racer like the Xbox’s Forza Motorsport, controls still do need to be tightened.

Of course, FlatOut 2 will not be complete without multi-player, and the game provides just that, but how come there isn’t anyone to play with? I wandered into the online play of FlatOut 2, but the game kept on repeating to me that it cannot find anyone for me to race with. Another minor complain is that you cannot change views when you are driving, but that may be due to the want of the developers for you to see the destruction of the exterior of your vehicle. Otherwise, FlatOut 2 is one hell of a fun game. And there isn’t any reason for anyone not to be able to enjoy this game. Requirements are extremely low like in Lego Star Wars 2: The Original Trilogy: You need only 256MB of RAM and a graphics card that has 64MB of video memory to be able to enjoy the game. What’s stopping you? FlatOut 2 is one of the most fun game I have ever encountered, marred only be some errors like poor controls, lack of online players and the inability to change views when driving.

Overall score: 8.7/10

What's good: Destruction, destruction and more destruction! Amazing visuals, appropriate and pleasant music, great variety of tracks and events (high replayability value), interesting interface, excellent introduction video
What's not: Career mode is a little too short, poor controls, lack of online players, inability to change views when driving

Similar: Burnout games

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Games of 2006

This is a brief overview of the games that I have played this year. Overall scores (out of 10) are indicated in bold arial font below the title of the game. The first game played is at the top of the list while the last is at the bottom; games in the list are in order of time played.

Mario Kart DS
Mario Kart DS is my debut game of the year and I was pleased with the game. Not only does Mario Kart DS engage me throughout the year because of its high replayability value (shine runners and balloon battle, Wi-Fi play), it is also enjoyable to hear the adorable voices of Mario and his pals. With numerous power-ups, races are exciting and the overall feel of the game is excellent. There is nothing to criticize about this game.

Mario and Luigi: Partners in Time
As a non-fan of RPGs, this game surprised me with its cute visuals and voices. The game lasts a long 23 hours and the story, although straightforward, constantly succeeds in pushing you deeper into the game. Some puzzle elements in this game give your brain some work to do. With several special attacks on offer, you can get creative with the ways to destroy your enemy. Mario and Luigi: Partners in Time is one fun and challenging game that should never be missed.

Need for Speed Most Wanted
Need for Speed Most Wanted re-enacts the various Hollywood police car chases on your screen. The game is extremely challenging and it provides maximum entertainment. For a racing game, I do not expect any storyline, but Need for Speed Most Wanted astonished me with one that is both engrossing and deep. What holds this game back in attaining a perfect 10 is its repetitive races, but the fun you get out of this game is enough to offset the error in game design.

Resident Evil Deadly Silence
Basically, this game is a rehash of the original Resident Evil 1, but with a slightly different mode that have gameplay elements that make use of the DS special functions like the microphone and the touch-screen. The game is decent, but the fatal mistake that the game makes is its controls. The controls, quite simply, are a mess. In the later stages of the game when more agile enemies appear, the controls become your secondary enemy. They are slow to respond and not up to mark. This game is a huge disappointment. Avoid it.

Guilty Gear Dust Strikers
For the first time, Guilty Gear arrives on the DS, but the addition of the unnecessary platforms (when you hit the up button, you do not actually jump into the air, but instead onto the upper platform and vice versa) and limited moves prove to be the failings of the DS version of Guilty Gear. Otherwise, Guilty Gear DS, well, feels like Guilty Gear games on any other platforms, which is good. Fortunately, the sound and graphics stay true to the traditional version of Guilty Gear.

Black boasts destructible explosive barrels and walls. Dust fly up in the air and you can see that some parts of the wall are chipped off by bullets. Indeed, Black is one of the best looking games on last-gen consoles, but beyond that, Black is nothing more than a linear FPS and mindless shooter. Nevertheless, playing Black is a great way to spend the weekend. A sequel is in the works.

Half-Life 2
Due to many problems concerning Steam while installing Half-Life 2 on my PC, I got the Xbox version. Half-Life 2 is the best game I have ever played. It is not a game that you just shoot and forget. Half-Life 2 has one of deepest and most engaging storyline I have ever encountered in any game. Its wide variety of enemies and weapons make it an even better game. Puzzle elements from the original Half-Life are back as well. You have to play Half-Life 2 yourself to experience its brilliance; there are no other words to describe this masterpiece.

New Super Mario Bros.
New Super Mario Bros. brings you back to the days of Super Mario Bros. but with the newly included power-ups and deformed terrain. The game still features the ever cute voice of Mario, whom you can switch to Luigi to play as. The game may look simple on the outside, but as a matter of fact, it is difficult to the point that you feel like giving up. However, I have grown out of the platformer genre of games and this game does not quite appeal to me. New Super Mario Bros. is still a good buy, though.

MechAssualt: Phantom War
Being a third-person shooter, I did not expect the game to possess perfect controls, but man, I was wrong, very wrong! MechAssualt: Phantom War has one of the best control schemes on a DS. Although the visuals are not cutting-edge, they are one of best for a DS game. The action is intense, and it never gets repetitive. However, the lack of Wi-Fi play is sorely missed.

Need for Speed Carbon
Need for Speed Carbon still has what its predecessor, Most Wanted has: a storyline. New additions include crew members and autosclupt. The flashy cars are back! Unfortunately, the game is incredibly easy and offers lesser content than Most Wanted. That does not mean Carbon is not a worthwhile buy; it still is, but it is too simple and offers no real challenge.

Gears of War
Being the Xbox 360’s flagship game title, Gears of War is supposed to be good and it is. Gears of War, to put it simply, is a unique game that employs the ‘take cover’ strategy. Graphics and sound is first-rate here, cut scenes are stunning. I cannot find any fault with the game. Multiplayer extends its replayability value.

Call of Duty 3
Call of Duty 3 brings back the chaotic feel of WW2 from Call of Duty 2. Where Call of Duty 2 lacks in the music department, Call of Duty 3 reinforces it with a memorable music. However, while Call of Duty 2 offered more gameplay variety and more intense action, Call of Duty 3 offers not a single memorable mission. Compared to Call of Duty 2, Call of Duty 3 is a minor disappointment, but multiplayer keeps its head above water. Although less cinematic now, Call of Duty 3 will still be a nice addition to your games library.

Battlefield 2142
If you like Counter Strike, you will like this game. The new Titan mode is a nice touch, but a limited map count of 10 does little of not making the game boring after a while, by which the gameplay will also become a little stale. Unpolished graphics are mostly dull colors round up what a slightly-above-average game is made of.

Lego Star Wars 2: The Original Trilogy
I was never a fan of Star Wars and neither did this game succeed increase my interest in Star Wars. Beautiful character models and pleasant humor are present, but what is devastating are that the lack of online support, repetitive gameplay, hard-to-see objectives, the almost complete lack of save points and occasional freezing are also present. My advice: Give it a miss. It is not worth your time and money.

Company of Heroes
Instead of making you focus more on the resource gathering, Company of Heroes forces you into the action. Breath-taking cut scenes complete with subtitles make their appearance. The gameplay is severely addicting and you will never want to stop playing it. Missions are varied and accompanied by music that is appropriate for every moment of the game. Graphics are one of the best around and so is the sound, which has been given much attention.

Medieval 2: Total War

Game is unfinished.

FlatOut 2

FlatOut 2 is one of the most satisfying games I have ever played, providing hours and hours of fun with its sheer destruction. There is a great variety of tracks and events for you to wreck havoc as well, increasing the game replayability value. Unfortunately, almost every vehicle handles similarly. Controls feel loose and may be unforgiving at times if you are not careful. FlatOut 2 also lacks online players. However, despite its shortcomings, it is still a very enjoyable game.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Game Review 23:Company of Heroes

You have encountered many FPS games on WW2, but you seldom see RTS games based on WW2. So is Company of Heroes any good to justify the need to go through the events of WW2 again? The answer is yes. Company of Heroes, quite simply, is one excellent game that should never be missed.

From the makers of Warhammer 40K, comes a RTS games unlike any other. The focus is not so much on producing mass amounts of units and flanking them through sheer numbers, but instead, Company of Heroes beams the spotlight on strategic planning and some management skills. There are 3 types of resources in Company of Heroes, namely Manpower, Munitions and Fuel. What is amazing is how Company of Heroes shifts your attention away from the typical resource gathering to the action. This is accomplished through a unique system that requires you to capture the numerous strategic points on the map in order to bump up your resources. Besides, the points have to be linked back to your base for it to be contributing to your resources count. In a way, this makes Company of Heroes a fast-paced game from the start and it is less forgiving on those players who decide to sit back and just defend. It also introduces more ways to defeat the enemy. For example, you can cross into enemy territory to cut off their supply line to weaken the enemy first before attacking it.

Now, to the single-player campaign of Company of Heroes. There are a total of 15 missions in all. These missions offer great variety; objectives can be anything from securing a road to setting up a defensive perimeter to defend a town to destroying a heavily-armored tank. The action engages you from the start to the end, never once letting you go. Yes, I can confidently say that the gameplay (or action) in Company of Heroes is enjoyable and severely addictive. To make it even better, there is a medal and secondary objective(s) that can be earned or completed at every mission, providing more challenge for the hardcore RTS gamers. The normal A.I. in Company of Heroes is comparable to the A.I. on hard difficulty level in any other game as well. At the start of every mission and at the end of it, there are various breath-taking cut scenes, which are made more cinematic by the accompanying subtitles, depicting the sequences of WW2. These act as mini rewards for anyone who has completed a mission, and also as a little history lesson.

Alas, Company of Heroes will not be complete without some of the most amazing graphics in recent memory. Units including tanks and structures are incredibly detailed and you have the option to take a closer look. Environments are completely destructible and they never look the same after a battle. Company of Heroes will push your computer to the limits. In other words, you need a high end gaming machine to experience the full graphical effects of this game.

Sound is the last thing that comes to mind when you play such a compulsive game like Company of Heroes, but that does not mean the developers, Relic Entertainment, has neglected it. In fact, the sound in this game is first-rate. Everything from the crackle of gunfire to the movement of tanks is covered pleasantly. A lot of effort has been put into the sound department. Voice acting sounds realistic. Although some sentences and phrases are repeated a number of times, they are no doubt fun to hear given that no holds barred language is present in this game.

Controls are generally kept simple, with you using your mouse most of the time. The interface is clean and uncluttered. Frantic battles that often take place in skirmish and multiplayer matches make this game worth your attention a lot more even after you have completed the single-player campaign. One gripe with this game are that loading can take quite some time, but for a game this great, I cannot complain. The other thing I want to point out is that skirmish and multiplayer matches take the form of Axis vs. Allies, but your teammates are all displayed in yellow color. More color schemes for different groups will be a nice touch. Overall, Company of Heroes, in a word, is perfect. Yep, no errors other than the really minor ones mentioned above. What Relic Entertainment has created is a masterpiece that everyone should try out even if you are not a fan of WW2 or RTS games. Go get it.

Overall score: 10/10 (new no. 6 on my top 10 games of all time)

Good points: Enjoyable and severely addictive gameplay, breath-taking cut scenes, missions offer great variety and engages you from start to end, fantastic A.I., amazing visuals and sound, skirmish and multiplayer matches extend replayability
Bad points: Relatively long loading times (but you cannot complain for a great game like this), needs more colors for teammates

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