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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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Friday, February 23, 2007

Game Review:Crackdown

Crackdown is the second sandbox-styled game to hit the Xbox 360 after last year’s Saints Row. Being a gamer whom has not been exposed to these types of games before, Crackdown is certainly a fresh experience for me. Promises of open-world freedom, superhuman powers and great explosion effects made me take a rest from the usual FPS and racing games and persuaded me to try my hands on Crackdown. So, how did Crackdown fare as a whole? Read on.

Basically, Crackdown takes place in a fictitious location known as Pacific City, which is currently being controlled by 3 major gangs consisting of 7 gang leaders each. The game puts you into the shoes of a superhuman cop and your main objective is to send all of the 21 gang leaders to their demise so that order is restored to Pacific City. The story is very vague, actually, and it is only told through 2 cut scenes, one before you even started playing the game, and one after you have completed the game. The story is shallow, mostly negligible since Crackdown does little to provide further explanation to the story once the game commences.

As mentioned before, you are in control of a cop with superhuman powers, but it is not something that you start with in the game. In order to gain more power as you progress further into the game, you are required to increase the skills ratings for each attribute of your character, namely strength, driving, firearms, explosives and agility. There are various ways to increase the skills ratings for each attribute. For example, to increase your agility, you need to collect agility orbs or you can choose to kill enemies from a height that is higher than theirs. I find that collecting agility orbs and hidden orbs, which expand your skills ratings for every attribute, can be quite addicting in the game as well. Get past the first few parts of the game and you will find that you will start enjoying the game more. Jumping from roof to roof becomes the norm as your agility skills ratings reach 3 stars. Similarly, you will gain the ability to carry huge vehicles around and hurl them at enemies or kill them each with one kick starting from a skills rating for strength of 3 stars. The overall experience of the game is considerably fun and satisfying, to say the least.

Another thing I like about Crackdown is that you can drive any vehicle that you encounter. Instead of some haphazard development work from the developers, I can actually feel that each vehicle handles differently and uniquely, not to mention appropriately. Music only starts playing when you are in a vehicle, but it is mostly forgettable. With an increased skills rating for driving, Agency vehicles also perform transformations, weapons included.

Crackdown, like any other sandbox-styled games should, also does well to provide you with some interesting side missions that include road races, which simply requires you to drive from one checkpoint to the other and rooftop races, which are similar to road races, except that the checkpoints are not on ground-level. Although they do not in any way contribute to the accomplishment of your main objective, I find them fun to attempt. Either side mission will earn you extra points for the respective attributes.

Crackdown implements something unique known as the supply points as well. These are your respawn points in the game. For example, if you die in the game, you will respawn at one these points – with your weapons all intact and reloaded. Reclaiming more supply points open up several shortcuts in the city, making teleporting from one portion of a city to another a simple affair.

Finally, the explosions in Crackdown are just amazing and spectacular. A grenade thrown near a vehicle may blow it up into the air, with smoke, of course. Pile some vehicles together, and then use a rocket launcher to hit the pile, after which you should enjoy what happens. Your character performs a long distance fly too if he has been hit by a rocket. It all adds up to explosion effects that are almost of Lost Planet: Extreme Condition’s calibre. Besides the explosion effects, you can also admire the water in Crackdown. A large white glimmer or myriads of sparkling diamonds on the surface of the water when it is a sunny day? It is realistic and beautiful.

However, like many other games, Crackdown does have its shortcomings. For a start, I feel that the game is somewhat linear. There seems to be fixed procedure to go about in the game and you will hardly find yourself getting stuck (which means you will never need a game guide): Drive around or just explore. Want to know where a particular gang leader is holed up in? Spot any large or complex building that is out of the ordinary and approach it. Before you know it, an icon representing the gang leader will appear in your HUD. All you need to do now is to track that icon down and kill the gang leader. Silenced the gang leader and you are done? Repeat the above steps. Disappointingly, the core gameplay of Crackdown has been summarized in just one paragraph. The only variety it offers is that you can select the order of the gang leaders whom you want to tackle first and that there are various ways to enter a gang leader’s residence.

Your colleagues (the cops) are also extremely ineffective at stopping the gangs, made balanced only by the relatively brain-dead enemies. Gang leaders pose little challenge; he/she is merely an ordinary hooligan with a bit of extended life and whose presence can be detected by the dozens of thugs surrounding the gang leader.

The sound in the game would not win it any awards because it is quite standard. Expect what you would expect from any typical action shooting game. To make matter worse, the announcer in the game (also your employer) often repeats the same tutorial-like advices throughout the entire game, and some of which are even irrelevant to the current situation.

The game is also a little short – well, if you just want to rush through it without unlocking most of the achievements. Personally, I feel that you can extend the game by finding more agility orbs and hidden orbs or unlock all the supply points in the city to gain more achievements. Other achievements include jumping to the top of a tower and then proceeding with jumping down into the water below, juggling a car in the air with explosives for 7 seconds, killing 5 enemies at one go while airborne, to name a few. Co-op play (no split-screen, though) and time trials, where you try to beat your previous timings for fights with gang leaders, extend its replayability a little.

Final Comments
Although Crackdown disappoints with its shallow story and linear gameplay, it makes up for it with its you-must-increase-it skills ratings system. The enjoyment of the game grows as the skills ratings for each attribute increases. The explosion effects are just great and the water is remarkable. Overall, Crackdown is a fun and satisfying experience, albeit with a few flaws here and there, and ultimately, is a good addition to your Xbox 360 games library.

Overall score: 8.2/10

What’s good: Skills ratings system, each vehicle handles differently and uniquely, side missions are great distractions from the main game, supply points open up shortcuts throughout the city and they store weapons as well, explosions effects are outstanding and the water beautiful, unique ways to gain achievements

What’s not: Shallow story, linear gameplay, gang leaders pose little challenge, brain-dead friendly units and enemies, sound is fair at best, game is short, no split-screen co-op

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Games that Should See a Wii-lease

Which games would really fit the Wii well? Powerplay tracks down 4 of those games and tells you why they should be on the Wii and of course, accesses their chances of arriving on the console.

Fight Night Round 3

^ Screenshot of PS3 version

The game is the third iteration of EA Sports’ Fight Night series and on the PS3 and Xbox 360, Fight Night Round 3 aims to immerse gamers into a thrilling boxing session with photo-realistic graphics. Although the game on Wii would not be as graphics-intensive as the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, it would, nevertheless, be a great experience. It is of no surprise that Nintendo fans have been clamoring for a more in-depth boxing game since Wii Boxing in Wii Sports as the motion-sensitive Wii-mote and its nunchuck attachment would be a perfect match for a boxing game. The official word (as of now) is that Fight Night Round 3 would not be heading to the Wii, but just recently, EA Sports producer Michael Blank said that talks are going on on whether the Wii would get Fight Night Round 3. From reports, he also added that he is sure that something would prevail sometime in the future. This gives way to suggestion that Fight Night Round 3, or even another boxing game, could indeed, eventually appear on the Wii.

Another sword-fighting game

^ Screenshot of Samurai Warriors Wave

So far, there seems to be only one dedicated sword-fighting game announced for the Wii and that is none other than Samurai Warriors Wave, which, unfortunately, has been unreleased outside of Japan. Sure, there are sword-fighting portions in Red Steel (as well as in the upcoming Dragon Quests Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors), but reviews elsewhere suggest a flawed system where movements with the Wii-mote and its nunchuck attachment do little to translate into virtual action in the game. I believe, given the increasing popularity of the Wii, another dedicated sword-fighting game, should be developed for the console. What better way to start with a Star Wars game – with more light sabre sword-fighting parts added in, of course? A shell in the shape of a sword for the Wii-mote should be packaged with the game as well. A rumor sometime back last year may turn this dream true.

A first-person badminton/tennis game

^ Screenshot of Virtua Tennis 3 for the PS3 and Xbox 360

The use of the Wii-mote, in addition to a first-person approach, to a badminton or tennis game on the Wii should provide for one of the most realistic sports game ever. There should also be support for 480p and widescreen so as to enhance the visuals as well. Unlike Wii Tennis in Wii Sports where the game handles the running for the player and where multiplayer is not supported, it is recommended that this new first-person badminton/tennis game include those aforementioned features.


^ Screenshot of Okami for PS2

Like Fight Night Round 3, Okami seems to go hand in hand with the Wii, what with the major usage of the paintbrush in the game. However, unfortunately, unlike those guys over at EA Sports who are most likely going to make Fight Night Round 3 available for the Wii, those officials at Capcom, on the other hand, denied that having any plans for a Wii version of Okami. The developer of Okami, Clover Studios, is ceasing operations soon and Capcom officials have stated that it is unlikely that Okami will see a Wii release. Now, it is your turn to guess: Will Okami ever arrive on the Wii?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Game Review:Diddy Kong Racing DS

After experiencing the goodness of Mario Kart DS last year, I wanted very much to play a similar game again. When Diddy Kong Racing DS was first announced and as more details gradually became available, I had no doubt that the game would be one that would bring back the feel of Mario Kart DS. The question is: Is Diddy Kong Racing DS as wacky, addictive and exciting as Mario Kart DS or perhaps even surpass the benchmark set by Mario Kart DS for racing games on the DS? Diddy Kong Racing DS is basically a port of the N64 game, Diddy Kong Racing, with some new DS-specific features added in. Of course, I have not even started gaming back in those days, so I do not know much before playing the game. Anyway, here is the review.

The first thing you should be informed about is that upon popping the DS game card into the slot, what you will be getting from the entire game is just the tip of the iceberg – most of Diddy Kong Racing DS’s contents are stored away as unlockables, which may be viewed as a boon or bane depending on your opinions. Out of the sheer amount of unlockables, some can be easily unlocked by redeeming them with coins that can be found throughout the game, while others may require more effort, but all in all, you should manage to unlock all of the hidden content eventually.

In an age where it is difficult to make a character racing game on the DS without players drawing comparisons from Mario Kart DS, Diddy Kong Racing DS does well to distinguish itself from Mario Kart DS. For one, there are three classes of playable vehicles, namely kart, aircraft and hovercraft. Each class of vehicle handles uniquely and you need time to get used to each of them. However, I find that the controls for the hovercraft need some extra tweaking from the developers as they feel loose. Second, Diddy Kong Racing DS employs a different formula with its career mode (known as Grand Prix in Mario Kart DS and Adventure in Diddy Kong Racing DS). Diddy Kong Racing DS uses the open-world approach where players need to enter doors to proceed to a race instead of jumping straight into races as seen in Mario Kart DS. Apart from the multi-vehicle system and adventure mode that Diddy Kong Racing DS implements, a handful of mini-games and puzzles have also been added into the mix to further differentiate the game from Mario Kart DS. These are scattered throughout the world and make use of the DS’s touch-screen function. Although I must agree that mini-games and puzzles do indeed add value to a game, they are largely uninteresting and together with somewhat unresponsive touch-screen controls, it is hard to ignore that the game does have flaws. Take, for example, the balloon touch-screen challenge that you are required to do for every track you race on in every world. The game sometimes misinterprets your action, so when you are actually intending to pop a balloon, the game rotates your view instead.

Like Mario Kart DS, Diddy Kong Racing DS has a ton of power-ups for you to use during races. There are 5 types of balloons for you to collect and to upgrade your current power-up, just gather another balloon of the same color so that your power-up becomes more powerful. There are lots of variety in the power-ups, including homing missiles and bubbles that will trap opponents inside for a few seconds. However, if you find yourself lagging behind in the last lap of the race, it would take a miracle for you to gain pole position and that problem lies partly with the power-ups available. Unlike in Mario Kart DS where the devastating spiny blue shells and the bullet bill power-ups are enough to change the fate of the player in the last position at the eleventh hour, Diddy Kong Racing DS does not have power-ups of such effects, contributing to the fact that races in Diddy Kong Racing DS are not tight or in other words, challenging. If you are in the first place in the final lap, you will finish first, no doubt; no power-up will ruin your chances, but if you are in the last place, you will probably finish last as well.

For a character racer, I was pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of vehicle customization options, although none of the options dwell too deep. Unfortunately, differences in vehicle performances are hardly noticeable even after you have outfitted them with better gears. As an N64 port, Diddy Kong Racing DS does not push the DS to its limits as well. The visuals look outdated, as compared to the more graphically impressive Mario Kart DS. Images are more pixellated and the game runs at 30 frames per second, as opposed to 60 frames per second for Mario Kart DS.

Diddy Kong Racing DS, nonetheless, renews its hope to become a great character racer on the DS by introducing an innovative way to earn an instant turbo boost when you dash off the starting line. For example, to get a turbo boost for your kart at launch, you are required to spin a wheel vertically on the touch-screen as quickly as possible. Diddy Kong Racing DS is also properly designed around the DS theme of pick-me-up style, where any player, casual or hardcore alike, can pick up the game easily and just put it down just as easily (think Brain Age). The game saves your progress after every race and that is a nice touch. For most of the times, I play Diddy Kong Racing DS for around 15 minutes before bedtime or when waiting for my PC to boot up.

While single-player disappoints with its dumb mini-games and puzzles, multiplayer fared much better. Over Nintendo Wi-Fi connection, multiplayer races support up to 6 players while local wireless play take the full load of 8 players. Go through the unlockables and you can see a new single-player and a new multiplayer mode that can be obtained using coins. Overall, the multiplayer options in Diddy Kong Racing DS are wonderful.

Final Comments
Diddy Kong Racing DS, to be honest, is one fun game – well, if you exclude the mini-game and puzzle sections. The multiplayer increases the game’s replayability after you have completed the adventure mode, which I feel is a little short even though there are 5 worlds. However, the game has a lot of flaws that mar an otherwise good game. If Diddy Kong Racing DS does away with all those mini-games and puzzles, adds better power-ups, enhances its graphics, and improves on all its other minor shortcomings, it would be as good as Mario Kart DS, if not better.

Overall score: 8.5/10

What’s good: Tons of unlockables, three playable classes of vehicles, open-world approach, innovative method for turbo boost at launch, game saves your progress after every race (suitable for playing on short trips), great multiplayer options

What’s not: Unfun mini-games and puzzles with somewhat unresponsive controls, races are not tight, increases in performances of vehicles are hardly noticeable after customization, dated visuals

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Another Mature-themed Game Heads to the Wii

Another mature-themed (well, most likely) game is making its way to the Wii, joining The Godfather: Blackhand Edition, Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, Scarface: The World is Yours and possibly Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles in the same group.

Manhunt 2 is the sequel to 2003's Manhunt, one of the grossest action game ever. There will be a new lead character and a new storyline in Manhunt 2, which is being developed by Rockstar Toronto.

Manhunt 2 is Rockstar's first Wii game and is also due out on the PS2 and PSP this summer.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

2007's Hottest:The Console War

With all 3 consoles launched, the current-gen console war is finally in full swing. In this special article, each console’s rate of success in 2007 is evaluated.

Current market leader: Xbox 360
Microsoft had a one year headstart with the launch of the Xbox 360 in 2005. Of course, there is no doubt that the Xbox 360 currently has the largest game library with arguably some of the best game titles in it, including Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion, F.E.A.R. and Rainbow Six Vegas, all of which the PS3 has yet to receive. Last year’s hit Gears of War is in favor of Xbox 360’s success and 2007 will be another strong year for the console. Exclusives like Mass Effect, Too Human, Blue Dragon and Eternal Sonata are all arriving on the console this year, together with many triple A titles like Grand Theft Auto 4 and Half-Life 2: Orange Box Edition. Not forgetting the increasingly popular Xbox Live and the forthcoming Live Anywhere application that allows both PC and Xbox 360 gamers to play online together, it would be appropriate to say that the Xbox 360 is going to continue its leadership in the console war this year.

Notable exclusives:

::: Forza Motorsport 2 (Microsoft) :::
Forza Motorsport 2, as the name suggests, is the follow-up to the Xbox’s racing game Forza Motorsport. Boasting more cars (300 of them, to be exact) and tracks (70 in total) than the original did, as well as prettier visuals, enjoyment is guaranteed. There is a new feature where you can watch races, one that is similar to Project Gotham Racing 3’s spectator mode. Forza Motorsport 2 also supports the Xbox 360 Wireless Racing Wheel and is due for release this March in Europe and April elsewhere.

::: BioShock (2K Games) :::
BioShock is console-exclusive to Xbox 360. BioShock takes place in an underwater city and puts you against some of the most terrifying menaces. Let’s see: Children who have a taste for blood and incredibly mutated residents. Um, yep, the game has more to offer. You can even use objects in the environments to deal damage to your enemies. What’s more, weapons can be modified and genetic powers are made available for you.

::: Halo 3 (Microsoft) :::
Bungie, the makers of Halo 3, has been dropping Halo 3 tidbits leading up to this year-end release (that is, if it is not delayed), increasing the hype for the game. The assault rifle from Halo 1 makes its return to Halo 3 and a new light vehicle, the Mongoose, will debut in this game. The story becomes more interesting as the Convenant are now divided and the Elites are known to be fighting alongside the humans. There are now 3 Brute types and new grenade types. Who knows what Bungie might reveal next?

Currently second in the market: Wii
The Wii launched last November with much hype and sold 476 000 units in the US in November alone. Being the most unique of all the consoles, it is not a surprise why many people got it. Game releases are gradually slowing down after the launch, but that is not to suggest that the Wii will not be getting any good game titles this year. New games announced include Godzilla Unleashed and a yet-unnamed WWE game, not forgetting My Sims from EA. There is no denying the fact that the Wii is enjoying a better run than the GameCube with increased third-party support and more mature-themed games like The Godfather: The Blackhand Edition and Scarface: The World is Yours. Prince of Persia: Rivals’ Swords and Sonic and the Secret Rings are just example of increased third-party support. The guess that the Wii will retain its second place position in the console market will more likely be true, given that Nintendo is also releasing a slew of great first-party games like Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Super Mario Galaxy, Battalion Wars 2, Mario Strikers Charged, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Super Paper Mario and Mario Party 8 in this year alone. The Virtual Console and a cheap price point will further strengthen Wii’s position in the console market.

Notable exclusives:

::: SSX Blur (EA) :::
Virtual snowboarding never got easier with SSX Blur. Thanks to the Wii, more-than-ever intuitive controls are on the way. Every movement you make with the Wii-mote translates into tricks and points. Expect a good variety of both racing and freestyle events, as well as skiing challenges. Surprise! SSX Blue will also ship with multiplayer included.

::: Dance Dance Revolution: Hottest Party (Konami) :::
With the movement-based gameplay that the Wii has been trying to promote since its launch, it is only a matter of time before a dancing game comes knocking on the door. And it’s here! Arm yourselves with Wii-motes and their nunchuck attachments, and lay down the dance mats, and you are ready to go! Offering songs over the past four decades for selection, DDR: Hottest Party certainly has something for everyone in your family. Hold on, DDR: Hottest Party will be another Wii game that has some kind of multiplayer aspect.

::: Kororinpa: Marble Mania (Konami) :::
This is a unique game in which players tilt the Wii-mote in order to navigate their balls through numerous 3D mazes. Environments can be tilt in almost any direction, including upside-down. Roll through the mazes and attempt to collect as many gems as possible, not to mention medals to be achieved on every level. Kororinpa: Marble Mania is one casual game that will be easy for anyone to pick up and play.

Currently third in the market: PS3
Sony is no longer the leader in the console market and several factors contribute to that. The severely limited collection of games available on the platform on launch day is miserable, with the only noteworthy game being Resistance: Fall of Man. Production issues also plague the PS3, while the high price point and not-as-good-as-Xbox-Live PlayStation Network do little to entice gamers to buy the PS3. So, will 2007 be a better year for the PS3? PAL gamers will be getting their hands on the PS3 this March and that could see the PS3 enjoying a better sales. Furthermore, more games that were previously only on the Xbox 360 are also arriving on the PS3 soon. The PS3 also has an ace in its blu-ray drive, said to be much better than the Xbox 360’s HD DVD drive and one of the better ones in the market. However, 2007 will not be a year when the PS3 will regain its leadership in the console market. Killer-games like Final Fantasy 13 and Metal Gear Solid 4: Gun of the Patriots are only coming out this year-end and that may see the competition pull away further up front in the coming months. Xbox 360 has a line-up of good titles this year and the PS3 will have a mountain to climb if it wants to regain its leadership. The PlayStation Network also pales in comparison to the Xbox Live Arcade and Virtual Console when it comes to availability of games. More PS3 exclusives are also set to release on the Xbox 360 (think Final Inertia, Virtual Fighter 5, Assassin’s Creed, Bladestorm: The Hundred Years’ War). Expect PS3 to stay rooted to this spot for quite some time.

Notable exclusives:

::: Lair (Sony) :::
Lair is all about dragons. You engage in dogfights with other dragons and their riders (that reminds me of Eragon) in the game, or you can take out the foot soldiers with a breath of fire. A morale meter will be implemented into Lair. Deal more damage to your enemy and its morale meter will fill up, making it weaker. Less complicated flight controls are in with the introduction of tilt controls with the PS3 SIXAXIS controller.

::: MotorStorm (Sony) :::
For one, MotorStorm is sheer beauty. Second, MotorStorm offers you a great variety of vehicles to choose from, including ATVs, bikes, trucks and so forth. Short-cuts are scattered throughout each track. In a game where bigger vehicles have the ability to overpower smaller vehicles and knock them off the tracks, it takes more than pure horsepower to win races. The question is: Can you survive and reach the finish line in pole position?

::: Warhawk (Sony) :::
Due out this June, Warhawk is a game that captures the intensity of combat with an array of aircrafts, vehicles and weapons. Fight against countless enemies with the ever-impressive Warhaw, an aircraft capable of taking part in dogfights at high speeds, yet able to swoop down to ground level to crush land resistance. The battle is coming.

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