Latest Game and Movie Reviews (Live Update)

* Game Ratings (/10), Movie Ratings (/5)

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, March 31, 2007

Game Preview:Team Fortress 2

Publisher: EA
Developer: Valve
Platform Available: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Release date: Q4 2007

Due to release with all the heavy-hitters in the annual gaming year-end madness, Team Fortress 2 is part of the Half-Life 2: Orange Box (PC, PS3, Xbox 360) and Half-Life 2: Black Box (PC) packages, but is essentially a standalone game. For the uninitiated, Team Fortress 2 is a multiplayer team-based first-person shooter (FPS) that requires players to choose from a variety of pre-defined character classes before working in a team to defeat other teams. Team Fortress 2 is also a unique game by the fact that is takes a more ‘cartoony’ approach with the character designs and the overall environments instead of the high level of realism that Half-Life 2: Episode 2 is portraying. Each class of character also has such a distinct look to it that you will have no difficulty in spotting the class that a particular character is in on the battlefield. The following text will elaborate more on what some of the character classes do best.

Engineer. He who places an automated sentry turret that sprays bullets at any enemy that is unfortunate enough to stray into its path. In addition to the ability to set up the lethal sentry guns and turrets, engineers can also dispense health and ammo and conjure personal teleporters onto the battlefield, giving his team an unlikely advantage. Equipments that are placed strategically could even deal massive damage to opponents, making the engineer one of the most useful character classes in Team Fortress 2. For players who select the engineer, you would be glad to know that the particular character class is also equipped with a shotgun as a primary weapon for close-quarter combat.

Another character class that has the ability to deal a huge amount of damage to opponents is the Pyro. The Pyro is impossible to miss – he is the one wielding one the biggest weapons in the game: The flamethrower, a weapon which does damage that it as enormous as its frame. The Pyro is also armed with the shotgun, and together with the flamethrower, holds one of the best combination of weapons in the game. Ambushing seems to be the word for the Pyro, where corners and tight areas stand out as opportunities for the character class to inflict the maximum amount of casualties to the opposing teams.

Then there is this character class called the Heavy Weapons Guy (image above). As the name already suggests, the character class is nothing short of being intimidating. The Heavy Weapons Guy is the most powerful class in the entire game, but also one whose movement is the slowest. He has a minigun capable of wiping out roomful of enemies by his side and is definitely a big threat. The Heavy Weapons Guy is also the only character class to use his fists in melee combat, further proving how dangerous this class can be even without weapons. As with the Engineer and Pyro, the Heavy Weapons Guy is equipped with the mighty shotgun as well.

Explosions, explosions, and more explosions. The Demoman would love to see that, especially with the weapons that he has at his disposal: a sticky bomb launcher and a grenade launcher. One way to stop an opponent’s progress would be to lay sticky bombs on their path and the Demoman will be able to do just that. And hurling grenades like they are crumpled paper balls will never become easier than if you are doing it as a Demoman. For players looking to create chaos within the other teams and disorganize them, the Demoman is the choice character class.

Introducing the main guy of any team wanting to win a match: the Soldier. The ever devastating rocket launcher that the Soldier holds is an alternative to the Demoman’s arsenal of tactics. The Soldier moves faster than the Heavy Weapons Guy, but has slightly weaker health than him. With the rocket launcher, the Soldier can also disable the automated the sentry guns and turrets set up by the engineer. For close-quarter combat, the Soldier can change over to the shotgun.

So much for the heavy character classes that use brute force to turn the tide on the matches. For players who do not favor fighting head-on with opponents, Team Fortress 2 presents yet another 2 character classes which rely on stealth over pure firepower.

One of those character classes is the Sniper. Fancy shooting someone’s head off from long range? Then the Sniper is for you. Besides the sniper rifle, the Sniper is also armed with a submachine gun, which will come in handy when he is cornered. Another such character class is the Spy (image above). Although lightly-armed, the Spy can still be a threat to the enemy. The Spy has the rare ability to turn himself into any character class and disguise himself to look like the enemy, opening up huge opportunities for him to infiltrate the enemy camp and assassinate opponents. Not only that, he can cloak too, but only for a limited amount of time. One of the ways the Spy can silence an enemy is to creep up behind him and stab him. A stab is a one-hit kill, by the way.

For agile players, you will not feel left out with the Scout character class. He is both lightly-armed and lightly-armored, but he is able to compensate for that with the incredible speed that he possesses. A character that has great aerial maneuverability as well, the Scout has more than ample ability to escape enemy fire and create distraction for his team.

The final character class in Team Fortress 2 is the Medic, which plays a support role. No matter how strong a team is, there will always be times when it is terribly injured and that is when the Medic comes into the picture. In addition to maintaining the health of teammates, the Medic can also boost a team’s offensive capabilities with his bonesaw.

From the looks of the details available so far, Team Fortress 2 sure seems promising. With Valve having guaranteed rich visuals powered by the Source engine, you can be certain the game is going to exude beauty. Look out for more information on the game as it nears its release date.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Game Preview:Halo 2 for PC

Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Hired Gun/ Bungie Software
Platform Available: PC, Xbox
Release date: May 8 2007 (US), June 30 2007 (Europe)

For eager PC gamers who want to experience Halo 2, but do not own an Xbox or Xbox 360 console, the long wait is finally over. Halo 2 for PC is just around the corner and it will be the first PC game to take advantage of Microsoft’s Live Anywhere application with the bundled Windows Live program. Does it feature any new content? Read on to uncover the answer.

To begin with, PC gamers will be glad to know that a whole new range of achievements have been specially created for the PC version of Halo 2. For Xbox owners who have played the game before, but wish to return to it again, that is something to look forward to. For communication purposes, a voice over IP functionality and text chat are supported. However, for whatever reason, co-op play has been omitted all together and despite being the first game to ship with Windows Live, cross-platform gaming will not be possible in Halo 2 for PC. Fortunately, a map editor is on hand to compensate for that. Using the wide variety of textures and skins available, players will be able to create their own maps and share them with others online. Halo 2 for PC will also come with the multiplayer map packs that were released after the Xbox version of Halo 2.

On the graphics front, the PC version, though a port of the Xbox version, has been given more graphical power. It will not be able to compete head-on with Half-Life 2 or upcoming games like Crysis and Unreal Tournament 2007, but overall, it will look more polished and manufacture more eye candy than its Xbox sibling. Given that the game is compatible only with the latest OS, Windows Vista, players should not have a reason to worry about the graphics.

The content of the single-player campaign mode will be exactly the same as in the Xbox version. For players hoping to use a gamepad for the game, the new controls will also be exactly the same as with the old control scheme for the Xbox controller. That’s all for now.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Game Preview:Alien Syndrome

Publisher: Sega
Developer: Totally Games
Platform Available: Wii, PSP
Release date: Q2 2007

The Alien Syndrome franchise celebrates its 20 year-old birthday this year, and in the meantime, Sega is giving this age-old franchise another shot at the gaming market. Alien Syndrome, which is due to hit both the Wii and PSP soon, is a top-down action shooter that puts you into the shoes of Lieutenant Aileen Harding and as her name suggests, she is one tough woman. The game takes place thousands of years into the future and humankind is having the need to explore new planets and to make them inhabitable. The story begins when one terraforming station somewhere out there goes quiet and after repeated failed attempts to communicate with the personnel there, Harding is sent to investigate the mystery. Of course, things always seem to go wrong, and before you know it, Harding starts battling wave after wave of aliens.

There is more depth to the game than meets the eyes as demonstrated by the RPG-like elements. As the game progresses, players will be able to increase the abilities of Harding through the collection of resource points from defeated enemies, which can be used to improve Harding’s strength, speed, accuracy, as well as health. As Harding upgrades, so will her weapons. The single-player campaign consists of 15 levels, all of which are occupied by the enormous variety of enemy types, including 5 bosses and 15 sub-bosses. If you find this intimidating, you have to know that you are not alone in fighting this menace. To aid you, there will be a robot companion that will always be on you side, be it to act as extra firepower or storage for weapons (80 in all), which can be swapped conveniently at anytime, armor and energy. Every weapon requires energy to fire and to make that known, the developers have included an energy bar at the bottom of the screen that depletes whenever energy is used up, but it will replenish itself as well. It is pleasant to hear that Alien Syndrome also supports 4 player single screen co-op, so you can invite your friends over to have a blasting time with the game.

Control-wise, Alien Syndrome certainly makes use of the Wii-mote motion-sensing capabilities, although not to a full extent. Players will use their Wii-mote to point and shoot at enemies, which clearly guarantees some pretty fast run-and-gun action, and utilize the nunchuk attachment to rotate the camera. Controls for moving Harding is assigned to the analog stick on the nunchuk attachment, while other actions like switching weapons and shooting are left to the face buttons and triggers respectively.

In the graphics department, the game has been enhanced for the Wii, with 480p and 16:9 widescreen modes supported.

A Mario and Sonic Gathering

In a surprise move, Sega recently announced that a new game, Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games, is currently in the works for both the Wii and the DS, and should be ready for release this year-end. Sega's effort marks the first time ever that the 2 famous gaming mascots will be together in the same game. The game is being developed by SEGA Japan and supervised by Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Mario.

The game allows players to compete in official Olympic events like swimming, 100m sprint and table tennis. Characters like Luigi and Knuckles can also be selected from the world of Mario and Sonic. More of them will be announced at a later date. It is believed that the game will make full use of the funitionalities of the Wii and the DS and will be easily accessible to people of all ages, more like what Wii Sports has done. More details will be available as the game nears its release date.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Xbox 360 Elite a Reality

Months of rumors and speculation about the imminent release of an upgraded version of the Xbox 360 prove true as Microsoft recently confirmed that the new black Xbox 360 is indeed coming to stores soon. The upgarded version of the Xbox 360, which will be called the Xbox 360 Elite, comes with a 120GB hard disc drive (HDD) and a HDMI port in addition to the standard RGB port found on all Xbox 360 consoles now.

Contents of the Xbox 360 Elite package:
- Xbox 360 Elite console
- A black wireless controller
- A black headset
- A HDMI cable
- A component cable
- Data transfer cable for users to port content from previous HDD to newer HDD
- Free Xbox Live silver membership
- One-month free Xbox Live Gold membership

The Xbox 360 Elite package will be a permanent product, and will replace neither the Core package nor the Premium package of the Xbox 360. The Xbox 360 Elite package will arrive in stores on April 29 in the US and Canada, while dates for the European region, Japan and Asia have not been confirmed yet. Retail price is marked at US$479.99. The bigger 120GB HDD can be purchased separately for US$179.99. Some other Xbox 360 accessories like the Play and Charge Kit and the rechargable battery pack will also be available in black from April 29 onwards.

Uniquely Gaming 2

We take a look at more unique games in this second article. These are the games you do not see often, but are sure to provide a fresh and exciting gaming experience.

You may also be interested in the first article: Uniquely Gaming

flOw (PS3)

At first sight, flOw, which is available now through the PlayStation Store for US$7.99, the game resembles DS’s Electroplankton. Glowing shapes of various sizes dominate the screen, and at the same time, it introduces new meaning to the word ‘beauty’. Gameplay is simplistic and straightforward, making it suitable for everyone, casual gamers included. Using the motion-sensing abilities of the PS3 SIXAXIS controller, you steer your creature towards the other smaller creatures to devour them, thus making your creature bigger. For creatures that are bigger than yours, you can attempt to break them down into smaller chunks first before consuming them. Upon clearing all available lifeform, you will move downwards into the other portions of the environment until you arrive at the bottom, and after which you will unlock a new creature. There are a total of 6 unlockable creatures and the game offers two-player multiplayer as well. Andante music accompanies you during gameplay and makes the game feel more soothing. For PS3 owners seeking to take a breather from those massive action games, flOw is on hand.

Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (DS)

The point-and-click adventure genre has been taking a back seat recently due to the dominating presence of RPGs on the DS. Once in a while, a special game like Hotel Dusk: Room 215 comes along and offers a gaming experience unlike any other. To start with, Hotel Dusk: Room 215 is one of the only few DS games that is played by holding the DS vertically like a book. In fact, this play style suits the game well because this is just how the game plays out – a thrilling mystery novel that well, has you as the lead. Featuring a deep storyline, Hotel Dusk: Room 215 puts you into the shoes of an ex-detective whom has put a task upon himself to solve the mystery of the disappearance of his missing ex-partner in the police force. Wicked twists and turns in the story plot catch you off-guard as you struggle to separate truth from fiction. No prizes for guessing that the intensity of the game increases as you progress through it. In addition, the game is fully presented in beautiful comic-style hand-drawn art. To read the full review of the game on the Powerplay blog, click here.

Kororinpa: Marble Mania (Wii)

Rarely does a game base its gameplay entirely on marbles and balls alone, but that is exactly what Kororinpa: Marble Mania is all about: controlling marbles and balls of different shapes, sizes and colors, each with their own specific properties, be it benefits or disadvantages in the several complex 3D mazes. Players do not gain control of the marbles or balls. Instead, you are given the full control of the environments, tilting the world in appropriate directions, even upside-down, to steer your round object to victory. Once all the 45 levels are completed, the game unlocks all mirrored versions of all the levels for you to attempt again. Split-screen multiplayer is supported as well. For a game that features intuitive motion-sensing controls with the Wii-mote and can be completed within a short period of time, it can be used for short bursts of fun when friends and families gather for some time-out.

Cooking Mama: Cook Off (Wii)

Cooking Mama made its debut on the DS last year and travels to the Wii this year for more cookin’ fun. For gamers who love to pit their skills against others, Cooking Mama: Cook Off has a 2-player vs. mode (split-screen). Featruing international dishes from 10 nations around the globe, the recipes couldn’t be any better. As in the case of the DS game, Cooking Mama: Cook Off utilizes the motion-sensitive Wii-mote to make the best out of the controls, offering casual gamers and hardcore gamers alike a fun way to do virtual cooking. Crack an egg and dicing onions – it is all included. The ‘cartoon-like’ graphics will appeal to people from all walks of life.

Cube (PSP)

The game has not been released yet, but it will be soon – on the 23rd of April. For the PSP, comes another puzzle game that challenges you to use some serious mind work to steer yourself to a win. Among the colorful stages lies dozens of traps and hazards that prevent your cube from reaching the pre-decided point. Fortunately, your cube has an ability to slide around the ‘track’. In other words, if the cube is on the surface, it can slide around it to go onto the underside of the ‘track’. To aid your cube, there are switches in each level that can turn off traps and hazards so you can navigate the cube to the goal. You can also control the camera and have a better view of what lies ahead. There are a total of 9 zones spanning over 138 various levels for you to explore. Beat the time and attain either the gold, silver or bronze award to unlock more content such as bonus levels and music. The word ‘replayability’ is in as the game allows you to create more levels with the handy level editor. Couple that multiplayer for 35 levels and the ability to share your created levels online and what you have here is a wholesome puzzle game.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Q1 2007 Gaming Report Card:Nintendo

Currently, the Nintendo Wii is second in the console market, but that does not halt the Wii from becoming the best-selling home console in the month of February, moving 335,000 units after January’s strong sales of 435,000 units. After an initially slow trickle of games after launch, the speed at which the games for Wii are being put out is picking up. Recent releases include The Godfather: Blackhand Edition, SSX Blur, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07, TMNT and Cooking Mama: Cook Off. The month of March also saw the release of another 2 previously Japan-only games in the US, namely Kororinpa: Marble Mania and Wing Island. During this quarter, Nintendo mentioned that Super Paper Mario, previously slated for release on the GameCube, will now become a Wii-exclusive title. Game publisher, Majesco, also added that it will now focus on Nintendo consoles. Meanwhile, it has been announced that the final version of the Wii Browser will be available for download in April.

Moving away from the Wii, we have the DS Lite, which is the best selling console in February. Perhaps another good news is that the English version of the DS Browser will finally be released in June in the US. However, although one the most highly anticipated DS game, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, is scheduled to release this March, there is still no sign of the game. Also announced for the DS is a new peripheral that is due to release in the last week of April, the official headset for the DS and DS Lite. With the imminent release of Pokemon Diamond and Pearl on April 22 in the US, both of which support online voice chat between players, the headset would certainly be one handy gear. It will retail for US$14.99.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Q1 2007 Gaming Report Card:Sony

The PS3 has finally launched in the Middle East, Europe, Australia, and in some other Asian countries after a long wait. Prior to that, the PS3 has only been officially launched in the US and Japan, partly contributing to the fact that the PS3 still stays rooted to the last position in the console market. However, with a slew of juicy games already released during this period, including MotorStorm, Virtua Fighter 5, Formula One Championship Edition, and massive RPG Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion, and with more exciting ones to come like Lair and Warhawk, the prospects of the PS3 becoming more successful in the future than it is now are gradually growing. However, it must be cautioned that a string of PS3 exclusives has already slipped to the Xbox 360. Recently, Sony Computer Entertainment France president, Georges Fornay, even mentioned that the exclusivity of Final Fantasy 13 is in discussion, providing more doubts as to whether the game will still survive being a PS3-exclusive title before its release.

For the past few months, Sony has been criticized for the PS3’s high price and lack of game titles. However, at the recently concluded Games Developers Conference 07, Sony showed everyone that it still has a trick or two up its sleeve. The result is Home, an online component of the PS3 that is going to give serious competition to Microsoft’s Xbox Live. In a nutshell, Home (image above) is a virtual environment where customized avatars (something like the Wii’s Mii) from PS3 owners all over the world can be spotted roaming. There are various rooms in Home like the Games Space and the Home Theatre (image below). Mini-games can be enjoyed in Games Space and if playing games is not your cup of tea, then the Home Theatre is the place where you can watch videos. You can choose to watch a blu-ray movie or load one from your hard disk, or if you have none, content that you can stream and watch with others in the room is always available from the PlayStation Store. These are just some of the features of Home, which will be ready for download this fall from the PlayStation Store – free of charge.

Perhaps another interesting thing to note is that while the current SIXAXIS controller does not have any vibration feature or so whatever, rumors on the Internet suggest that the aforementioned feature may be included in the SIXAXIS controller sometime in the future.

For the PS3 that has barely reached a year-old, its potentials are massive, but let us not forget its predecessor, the PS2. Unlike the Xbox and GameCube, both of which have already been sent to their demise, the PS2 is still breathing with games, with the one of the recent releases being God of War 2, the follow-up to one the best PS2 games. The PS2 is still commanding an impressive line-up of games this year despite being tagged with the term ‘last-gen’. These forthcoming games include the newly-announced NASCAR 08, Heatseeker (image by the side), Medal of Honor Vanguard, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider Anniversary, just to name a few. The games should keep the PS2 is sight for the next year or so.

On the handheld front, though, things are not looking so rosy for the PSP, which has long been overshadowed by the more technically inferior DS Lite. For the month of February, the DS Lite was the best-selling hardware with 485 000 units sold, compared to 176 000 of units sold for the PSP. Although there are rumors on the Internet that spell the word ‘redesign’ for the PSP, it has been officially confirmed that there are currently no plans for a redesign of the PSP. However, having new colors for the handheld is a possibility.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Q1 2007 Gaming Report Card:Microsoft

In this new quarterly feature, the Powerplay blog will sum up all that has happened in the gaming world in the given quarter of the year. Next's up: Sony's report card and Nintendo's report card.

The big white box has been doing well so far, having maintained its place as the console market leader. As of March 2007, 10,400,000 units of Xbox 360s have been sold. However, Microsoft is not going to rest on its laurels and lately, the Internet has been rife with reports that an upgraded version of Xbox 360 has already been developed and that the new console will go on sale within the next 2 months. This upgraded version of Xbox 360, which is black, boasts a bigger hard drive with 120GB of storage space and HDMI support (image above). Reports also suggest that the new 120GB hard disk will be made for sale separately as well. When Microsoft was contacted, it refused to confirm that the upgraded version of the Xbox 360 will indeed be in stores soon. Meanwhile, Microsoft’s HD DVD drive for the Xbox 360 has just been released and consumers can get it for US$199.

During this period of time, Xbox 360 also received more third-support with some previously PS3-exclusive game titles heading to Microsoft’s console. These include the much-anticipated Devil May Cry 4 and Mercenaries 2: World in Flames. Unfortunately, BioShock (PC, Xbox 360) has been delayed from June to August. BioShock was not the only game affected by delays, as demonstrated by Half-Life 2: Orange Box Edition, which also got pushed back. Nevertheless, there were some good news for the Xbox 360. Unnamed sources hinted that Microsoft may attempt to release Halo 3 earlier than expected, in the month of September. Whether this is true or not remains to be seen, but it has been known that Halo 3 will come in 3 editions, namely your typical Standard edition, the Limited edition and the Legendary edition, which includes a replica of Master Chief’s helmet.

Overall, games were aggressively strutted out for the Xbox 360 during this period of time. A new Capcom intellectual property (IP), Lost Planet: Extreme Condition has successfully made its release on the console. Strategy game BattleStations: Midway, party game Fusion Frenzy 2, first-party title Crackdown, a sequel, Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2, together with movie-based game TMNT, mech game Armored Core 4 and sports game Virtua Tennis 3 all pop out for the Xbox 360. That does not include Def Jam: Icon, NBA Street Homecourt and The Earth Defense Force 2017. For soccer fans, there is also EA’s UEFA Champions League 2006-2007. All in all, there is no doubt that the Xbox 360 has its run of good games during Q1 2007.

On the PC side, it seems that more concrete plans for Live Anywhere, an application that allows both PC gamers and Xbox 360 gamers alike to play games online together, has been revealed. Halo 2 for Windows Vista and Shadowrun will be the first 2 games to take advantage of Live Anywhere, with the earlier releasing on May 8 and the later in June. Gamers can also expect PC games with ‘Games for Windows’ tags at the top of the box to have achievements like those in Xbox 360 games. Silver membership for Windows Live (the PC portion of Live Anywhere) will come bundled free with ‘Games for Windows’ games, but the gold membership for Windows Live will cost as much as the current Xbox Live gold membership (US$49.99). Unfortunately, gamers with only the silver Windows Live membership will not be able to enjoy cross-platform online gaming as it is only supported by the gold membership. Microsoft also plans to release more content for the Marketplace feature of Windows Live gradually, which includes Xbox Live Arcade game Uno.

Reviews of related Q1 2007 Xbox 360 games on the Powerplay blog:
Lost Planet: Extreme Condition
Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2

Armored Core 4 (Coming April)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Game Review:WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw 2007

(First play-through) Being a huge fan of wrestling shows, nothing beats playing a wrestling game. I browsed the shop for one wrestling game that I missed out on buying during last year and the result is WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw 2007. The last and the only other WWE game that was played by me was 2005’s WWE WrestleMania 21 for the Xbox and what a complete nightmare I received from that game! Fortunately, WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2007 does good enough to not repeat the horror show from WrestleMania 21.

For a start, I must say that SvR 2007 is choke-full of modes and features that will keep you going for quite a long time. Perhaps one of the things I like most about the game is the Season mode. With different storylines for each individual superstar, I can just imagine how much single-player content has already gone into the game. The Season mode adds a whole new level of realism to the game with its spot-on representation of WWE events that take your selected superstar from feud to feud. Couple that together with look-alike behind the scenes brawls between superstars and unexpected betrayals that inevitably lead to the twists and turns in the storyline, and what you have is a game that lets you feel the heat and intensity of WWE – minus the pain. I was pleasantly surprised to find that throughout the Season mode for each superstar, there would be points where there would be options for you to choose. For example, a superstar that you just stood up for has betrayed you and your previous opponent sends you a message requesting for alliance with you against the betrayer. After which, you can choose to accept or decline the offer. The game is very faithful to the real WWE and should please most WWE fans, including myself, out there.

The game also pleases me in the controls department. Upon toying with SvR 2007 for a few moments, I quickly came to realize that the controls are very much different from WrestleMania 21 – and it is for the better. My superstar feels simpler to control and the ease of stringing attacks together increases, not to mention the controls being more responsive as well. One of the new features included in SvR 2007 are the environmental hotspots, which again, makes the game more realistic. Your superstar can now inflict damage on his/her opponents by using the various objects scattered around the ring. For example, you can grab the banner from the supporter in the spectator area and use it on your opponents. All these prove fun and satisfying. The other feature that I like about SvR 2007 is the stamina bar, which unfortunately, prevents you from doing more than 3 or 4 attacks in a row, but makes even more parts of the game scream, “Realistic!” Unlike WrestleMania 21, where opponents will be able to get up from the mat promptly after a ferocious string of attacks, SvR 2007 does the obverse. Instead, in SvR 2007, your opponents will be out of stamina after some attacks from your superstar and would actually take some time getting ready again. Similarly, if your superstar performs too many moves at one go, it may drain his/her stamina bar and the said superstar may have to rest first before continuing to attack the opponents. In fact, playing SvR 2007 feels like I am watching a WWE match on the television! Before I forget, the game also allows you to create your own characters as well, but since I have not tried that feature out, I will leave that to the full review.

Moving on to the graphics, the Xbox 360 version does have some eye candy. Take for example, the perspiration that can be spotted on the superstars’ bodies after fighting for a while. Blood drip out when opponents sustain heavy damage as well. Try slamming your opponents’ heads on the side of the ring and notice what happens. However, all these do not give a nod to SvR 2007 being one of the best looking games on Xbox 360. Textures, although considerably better, still look bland. Sound, on the other hand, is appropriate with those rock music blaring through my television’s speakers all the time. Nevertheless, this certainly does not excuse SvR 2007 from those words that the in-game announcers kept on repeating all too often. Seriously, the game needs to have more variety for the words.

The last thing that I want to see is the word ‘loading’, but somehow, SvR 2007 displays that word almost every time I hit the ‘A’ button to proceed to the next screen. Believe it or not, some loading screens actually lead to another loading screen! Overall, the waiting time is still short, but I find it frustrating to encounter so many loading screens.

Please note that these are only my first impressions of the game; I have yet to complete the entire game. For more on WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw 2007, remember to check back soon to the Powerplay blog for a more elaborate review of the game that will expand on the many details (including the other modes besides the Season mode) and options that have just been written.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Game Review:Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2

A perfect combination of action and strategy. Enlistment is a must.

Thrilling previews and trailers of Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 swept across various gaming websites weeks before the actual release of the game. I was eventually lured into getting the game, although Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 is the only other Ghost Recon game that I have played beside the first original Ghost Recon. Ghost Recon, to me, is a game which I dislike, so it was of no surprise that I felt held back when I actually decided to go out and buy the game a few days after its release. If I had any doubts about all the previous Ghost Recon games, they have been thrown out of the window by Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2. In a word, GRAW 2 is good.

General Keating, your commander, urges you to destroy some kind of nuke, while suddenly, the president shows up on your screen and offers you some encouragement. The music intensifies, and your teammates bark at you to get them moving. These are all one part of GRAW 2. The previous moment, you have been surveying the area through the UAV Cypher, some kind of air scout that you can control. All of a sudden, the enemy starts opening fire on you and your teammates and you are forced to take cover behind the walls. Those are another part of GRAW 2. In fact, the game does such an outstanding job of fusing both action and strategy together that the gameplay flows with smoothness and flawlessness. This would not have been possible without one of the greatest feature of GRAW 2, the Cross Com 2.0. Simply speaking, this handy feature allows you to control your friendly units, including soldiers, tanks, choppers and aircrafts from their view. It is intuitive, and most importantly, it does not disrupt the overall intensity of the game. Missions have some variety to offer as well. Although you will be fighting on foot for most part of the game, some missions are entirely chopper-based, which means that you will be on the helicopter controlling the gun and shooting the crap out of everything. The experience is satisfying, especially when you are engaging in a helicopter dogfight, or aiming at an enemy vehicle.

Needless the say, for action and strategy to work hand in hand, an intelligent, if not perfect, A.I. is certainly required. Fortunately, GRAW 2 fulfils the requirement with an enemy A.I. that knows what it should do at any particular time and place. The enemy A.I. makes full use of the cover system well, dodging when necessary, or they will sometimes attempt to move to another position so that they can have a better aim at you and your teammates. However, while the enemy A.I. lends some challenge to the game, friendly A.I. fails to live up to expectations. For example, when I ordered my teammates to regroup at my position after I had planted a C4 explosive on an enemy’s AA Flak Artillery, they still got stuck at the AA’s position and became injured when the AA exploded. Friendly A.I. also has the bad habit of running out into the open and taking enemy fire instead of utilizing the nearby cover. These are minor glitches that ruin an otherwise helpful friendly A.I. that does a fine job of killing enemies and providing distraction for you, although you will still have to finish up most of the job yourself.

Of course, amid all those tension, shooting and stuff, the graphics will never be missed, simply because they are just amazing. Everything is highly detailed and looks realistic. Explosions are magnificent, with massive smoke and fire making their appearance. The camera even does a good job of shaking to add more realism to the situation. At other times, the camera blurs to reflect the intensity. It definitely cannot be denied that GRAW 2 is one of the best looking games on the Xbox 360, on-par with last year’s hit Gears of War. Sound, like the visuals, is first-rate. I am surprised to find that grenade explosions in GRAW 2 sound exactly the same as in reality, a feat that few games have accomplished. In addition, the sound of the weapons firing is appropriate.

My only other complain with GRAW 2 besides the one on the behavior of the friendly A.I. is that the single-player campaign mode is one of the shortest I have ever encountered (and a little too easy). That being said, you will complete the single-player campaign within 6 to 8 hours. Perhaps that is when multiplayer comes into the picture. With 6 specially-designed co-op multiplayer campaigns and additional multiplayer maps, coupled with various modes, GRAW 2 is still going to be relevant even after you have completed the single-player campaign mode. Multiplayer holds lots of variety and greatly increases the replayability value of the game.

Final Comments
GRAW 2 is a game that does almost everything right. Action and strategy are fused together perfectly in the game, providing for one of the smoothest gameplay ever. Also, missions that are entirely chopper-based are exciting and satisfying. The enemy A.I. is clever, but the friendly A.I. falters a little. The visuals in GRAW 2 are amazing, and so is the sound. However, the single-player campaign is over too soon, but the buffet-like multiplayer compensates for the minimum single-player content. Overall, GRAW 2 is one game worth trying even if you do not like tactical shooters. The game is appropriately-paced, which means that is neither fast nor slow, making it suitable for everyone.

Overall score: 9.4/10

What’s good: Action and strategy combine perfectly, Cross Com 2.0 adds convenience to the control of friendly units, helicopter-based missions are exciting, enemy A.I. is brilliant, top-notch graphics and sound, great multiplayer variety

What’s not: Minor glitch that makes friendly A.I. get stuck in areas at times, single-player campaign is extremely short

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Game Review:Supreme Commander

(First play-through) The long-awaited unofficial sequel to 1997’s Total Annihilation, Supreme Commander, has finally arrived, with all the bells and whistles promised by the several promotional videos that were made for download before the release of the game. Total Annihilation was my first ever game played and till these days, I am still playing it regularly and for a game which has been billed as the spiritual successor to Total Annihilation, it had to be something awesome. Supreme Commander achieves that.

As I have touched neither the skirmish nor multiplayer mode of Supreme Commander yet, I shall discuss about the campaign first, which I am still currently going through. Unlike Total Annihilation, where the mission objectives are usually to kill all enemy units, Supreme Commander adopts an interesting mission structure, one that has not even been seen in the previous great RTS game, Company of Heroes. Although the game may look short on the surface with only 6 missions to offer for each faction, the game is actually quite lengthy, with each mission lasting at least 2 hours. There are numerous objectives in each mission, but they do not get revealed all at once; it is only when you have completed the previous objective will the next objective become available. Supreme Commander also introduces what is known as ‘map-expanding’. When you start a mission, the area that you get in the entire battlefield will never be what you will see at the end of the mission. In other words, once you have completed a certain set of objectives, the map will eventually expand, revealing the next enemy base or so. All these provide you a sense of intensity as you never know what the enemy has in hands until the map expands fully. At one moment, all you need to focus on is to rush huge swarms of gunships to obliterate an enemy base to the south, and at the next moment, you need to focus to your east and quickly establish missile defense systems. Supreme Commander also has the habit of introducing new units for you to build once you progress further into a particular mission.

For Total Annihilation veterans, learning to play Supreme Commander could be a breeze because most of controls in Total Annihilation have been brought over to Supreme Commander, but for newbies or casual gamers, unfortunately, the controls may look intimidating at first because it is all relatively complex. I myself encountered some problems with the controls when I first started with the game, what with the right mouse and left mouse button clicks, but after a few sessions with the game, you should be able to get used to the controls. If you are still confused, the tutorial section is on hand to aid you. However, I noticed one glitch after a few sessions with the game and that problem lies with the ‘patrol’ command. When you order a bunch of units to patrol an a route, they will somehow clump together unnecessarily and instead of following the patrol route, they actually travel back to the base first before making another turn. Also, at times, units, for no obvious reason, will suddenly stop in their patrol routes when they spot the enemy and even after destroying the enemy, they continue to stay rooted at the spot instead of progressing along the patrol route. I hope these errors will be fixed in future patches.

Another interesting feature introduced by Supreme Commander is the strategic zoom. You can zoom in simply to admire the beauty of the battlefield or your units or you can zoom out till the entire screen becomes a tactical map, where all the units are represented by various icons. One minor grouse, though: Engineers can be difficult to spot among all your units on the battlefield.

The music, like in Total Annihilation, is simply top-notch and leaves absolutely no room for criticisms. There are tons of unit varieties to construct and the good news is that both your commander and engineers can now capture units. Some units can even upgrade themselves and you get a good mix of powerful experimental units and low-cost but efficient units. All in all, the experience that I have with Supreme Commander so far is just great and it has the makings of a fantastic game.

Check back soon for the full review of Supreme Commander, which will be written once I have completed the whole game.

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