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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, June 29, 2007

Game Review:Brothers in Arms DS

Buy this game, show it off and you will not regret it.

Brothers in Arms DS arrived as a nice surprise package to finally put some WW2 action on the handheld. Prior to that, no one has really expected such games on the DS because these games are usually intensive ones that require a tolerably good hardware to display the gorgeous war environments and to throw up massive explosion effects. Ubisoft’s Gameloft department showed us that yes, a WW2 game on the DS is indeed possible. Though the game has some misses here and there, I was truly impressed by what was done.

One thing to note about the DS rendition of Brothers in Arms is that the view has switched from a first-person view to a third-person one. The cardinal rule to creating a good shooter for the DS is to have controls that are equally good, if not better. Fortunately, the controls in Brother in Arms DS provide good responsiveness and they are intuitive. The game employs a mouse-like control scheme similar to Metroid Prime: Hunters. The touch-screen becomes a virtual mouse pad and by moving the stylus on it, players will be able to navigate their characters as well as aim. The other controls are also mapped appropriately such that you would not have to struggle with it. Press lightly against a barrier or a wall and your character will take cover behind it, much like the cover mechanism that Gears of War implements. Press harder and your character will climb over the obstacle. However, I find the mouse-like touch-screen controls too sensitive, but you will get used to it in time. I would have been nice if a sensitivity adjustment option was added in, but it was not – so it’s not. Taking control of the jeep vehicle in the game also feels like I am trying to control a bull by its horns – it’s difficult. Otherwise, the controls are alright.

As mentioned before, war games usually need to have beautiful environments and amazing explosion effect so as to immerse players in the experience. And since the DS has limited graphical power compared to the PSP, where another 2 war games, namely Medal of Honor Heroes and Call of Duty: Roads to Victory have made their home, I was a little apprehensive about how Brother in Arms DS would turn out. I was relieved by what I saw when I started the game. The visuals are comparable to, and even better at some parts, than the already visually-stunning TMNT DS game, and I love the skies as well, but why did the big fat blobs of pixels show up? Their occasional appearance marred my experience. The worst culprits were the tress and bushes – ugly, a stark contrast to the near-by houses, which did have the ‘wow’ effects.

Where Brothers in Arms DS really excels, though, is in the mission structure. There is great deal of variety in them – from blowing up a bridge to tank-riding missions. The game is constantly packed with action, engaging and extremely enjoyable. Couple that with spoken dialogue that contain a sense of urge and seriousity throughout, you can be forgiven for thinking that you are playing a console game instead of a DS game. Spoken dialogue – how many DS game in recent memory have actually implemented that? Brother in Arms DS not only puts that in, but puts it to excellent use too. The sound is top-notch as well – authentic, in fact. The surrounding gun crackle, your teammates urging you to move on – Gameloft has put in an admirable amount of effort into making the game truly immersive. And while you are not in combat, the game plays out suitable and ambient war tunes to match the mood. Thumbs-up!

To round it off, Brothers in Arms DS has wireless 4-player multiplayer – but wait, hold it! Only offline? Yes, sadly, no online option in any form is supported by the game. Since the single-player game would probably only last you about 4.5 hours, online multiplayer would be a good idea; it would lengthen the game.

Final Comments
Overall, Brothers in Arms DS is an excellent game, albeit with a few issues that can easily be overlooked. The controls are mostly good, but the graphics are inconsistent. Variety is the word for the missions, which totaled 16 spread over 3 campaigns. Spoken dialogue and the effective sound complement the gameplay. However, the single-player game is short – and there is no online multiplayer either – what you have left after the single-player game is a 4P wireless multiplayer. Perhaps it is time to convince your friends to buy the game and then you will be able to play with them. Not a difficult task, considering how good the game is.


The Good:
- Responsive and intuitive controls
- Great variety in mission structure
- Spoken dialogue implemented and put to excellent use
- High quality sound throughout and with ambient war tunes to boot

The Bad
- Inconsistent graphics
- Mouse-like touch-screen control sensitivity unadjustable
- Game is short and no online multiplayer

Friday, June 22, 2007

Game Review:Rayman Raving Rabbids

A raving experience.

A virgin when it comes to playing Rayman games, the funny-looking evil rabbits that were portrayed in various videos of the game eventually led me to Rayman Raving Rabbids. In case you are wondering, the DS version of Rayman Raving Rabbids is significantly different from its console counterparts, which are essentially a collection of mini-games. Being no fan of mini-games packages, which have became so rampant on the DS platform nowadays, just knowing that the DS version packs some platforming levels besides the usual mini-games gave me a compelling reason to jump into the Rayman franchise for the first time. Did the extra platforming levels deliver? Was the inclusion the aforementioned gameplay component for good or for worse?

The answer: It was for good. From top to bottom, the game exudes great creativity. Each ‘mission’ consists of 3 parts, namely the first platforming level that does not make use of the touch-screen in any way and the second platforming level that requires full use of the touch-screen, with a mini-game sandwiched in between the double platforming levels. The second platforming level is unique by the fact that you do not control Rayman’s movements; instead, you need to manipulate the environments to get Rayman to the finishing point. As you progress through the game, you get new abilities, as well as new costumes. Each of these 4 different costumes, when donned by Rayman, gives him special abilities exclusive only to that particular costume. For example, when Rayman is wearing the fire costume, he can slash foes and cut chains that hold up bridges, but he cannot freeze objects. The second platforming level becomes more and more challenging into the game after all 4 costumes are unlocked because quick reflexes are needed to quickly change Rayman into another costume lest you want him to fall to his demise. That is not to say the first platforming level lacks the brilliance of the second platforming level. The costumes are a necessity in these levels as well so that different obstacles can be overcome. There are instances where you are required to go back to a particular stage after you have gained a new ability or costume, and it feels forced at first, but after a while, you will realize that the stages have different paths that lead to different mini-games and second platforming levels. Most of the mini-games are also enjoyable. Short duration they have, but nonetheless, fun breaks that separate the double platforming levels. Incentives such as images of the rabbids and bonus mini-games can be unlocked as you advance further into the game.

Besides the challenges of the platforming levels, I also do like the artistic style of the game. Wacky, funky, funny, call it whatever you want. Unfortunately, big pixels sometimes pop onto the screens when objects appear close-up because of some low resolution textures. That does not suggest that the graphical quality of the game is bad because well, the graphics just do not look bad to me. A couple of licensed music like ‘Pump It’ and ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ can be heard in the game as well and that gives the game more flavor.

Final Comments
Rayman Raving Rabbids puts one satisfying and creative gameplay experience into one competent package. The platforming levels are challenging and brilliant, with the costumes adding spice to the game. The mini-games are mostly enjoyable. The artistic style of the game is nice and the game is graphically appealing, though there may be some low resolution textures lying around, but overall, there’s nothing major to complain about. Perhaps my only gripe is that the controls may get a tad unresponsive at some particular areas, leading to some cheap deaths. If you are looking for a good platforming game, this is it.


The Good:
- Challenging and creative platforming levels
- Mostly enjoyable mini-games
- Nice artistic style
- Licensed music
- Graphically appealing

The Bad
- Some low resolution textures evident
- Unresponsive controls at some particular areas

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Game Review:Forza Motorsport 2

The sequel improves on the original Forza in many ways, but has it hit the perfect note?

The sequel to 2005’s Xbox racing simulation game Forza Motorsport finally skids into stores with much anticipation. Forza Motorsport more or less retains the original feel and flavor of the first game, but meanwhile, developer Turn 10 studios has also added some new and really cool features like the ability to hire a driver to do the racing for you. If you like cars like I do, you will probably like Forza Motorsport 2. You name it! You could find every possible car in the world in the game. So, how did the game stack up?

First things first, the moment you pop the disc into the drive, you should be able to notice how the graphics have been enhanced. The roads look more realistic than ever and the environments have been brushed with more details. Windscreens, windows and the shiny surfaces of cars throw up reflections just like in reality. Unfortunately, the spectators at the roadside still look like lifeless Play-Doh puppets whose movements are controlled by strings. In fact, I find the spectators’ animation to be somewhat stiff; they do not look real. The damage physics of the cars more than compensates for that, though. When your cars flirt with other vehicles or the barriers, parts come off – and they stay there on the road instead of performing some magical disappearance acts. Skid marks can be seen on the roads as well. Drift and you will see smoke emerging from beneath the wheels of your cars. It all makes for an immersive and engrossing driving experience.

Forza Motorsport 2 excels visually, but there is nothing worse than a game that has good graphics, but lacks variety. Fortunately, Forza Motorsport 2 does not disappoint. Cars – you will be spoilt for choice. 300 of them are packed into the game, with 3 more free cars to download if you get the Collector’s Edition. In addition, there are also many tracks to keep you occupied. It is a pity that races do not take place in different weather conditions; all take place during bright, clear, normal daytime conditions. That is not to say the game is not challenging. The suggested line assist has been given one more option: it only appears when you are braking. This is a welcome addition since the first game only gives you the option to either turn the line on or off.
Upgrading you car is a norm in this game, and there are several parts that can be upgraded, from engine, brakes to a lighter car body. For players who like customizing the body of their cars, they would find the game options to be a blessing. A new feature, auction house, not only allows you to sell your cars online, but also buy them from others.

Content-wise, the game is a ‘gargantuan’. It has arcade mode, time trial mode and the main career mode, as well as the solid online multiplayer. Split-screen and system link multiplayer are also supported. The career mode is extremely long. 3 weeks into the game, I have only completed 45% of the career mode. Perhaps that is when another of the new features comes in handy. You can hire drivers to race for you, but there is a catch: They take away at least 55% of your race winnings. Depending on the skill level of the hired driver, the percentage of the race winnings taken will be higher, with the highest being 100%. This feature is especially useful when you do not need any credits (currency in the game) or are racing in the endurance race events, where a single race could take up over an hour. Surprisingly, this is also the area where Forza Motorsport 2 needs improvement: The career mode, while extremely long, is also repetitive. You will find yourself racing on the same old tracks over and over again, and when the credits required to progress to the next level increase significantly in the later stages of the game, the career mode becomes more of a frustrating and repetitive affair than one of a rewarding experience (the game does reward you with discounts on car, car parts, gifts of cars, and unlockables, though). In fact, the only thing that kept me playing at this stage is not the fun factor of the game, but the Xbox 360 achievements, which unfortunately, are also relatively hard to get. Then, the game ends up as boring.

Final Comments
To sum up the new features, there is also Tournament TV, where you can watch Xbox Live races and then, there is the ability to take photos and share them online. Overall, Forza Motorsport 2 is a good game, a better one than the first one, but it could be better. Graphics are amazing and some impressive new features are introduced. There is a ton of variety, be it in the tracks or customization options. The single-player experience is exciting for the first few hours or so, but after which, it gets pretty stale, repetitive, boring and even frustrating! I probably would not finish the entire game. The game has a solid multiplayer component, luckily.

[I bought the Collector's Edition. It comes with 3 bonus cars in the form a redeemable code and a book that details the car manufacturers' history and descriptions of selected cars. The book also gives an insight into the making process of the game, including interviews with the people involved in the project.]


The Good:
- Visually appealing
- Immersive and engrossing driving experience
- Great variety in tracks
- Great variety in cars
- Great variety in customization options
- Great variety in car parts
- Great variety in racing modes
- New and really cool features (e.g. Hire a driver, auction house, take photo)
- Lots of content
- Solid multiplayer component

The Bad
- Spectators look bad
- No different weather conditions
- Single-player experience gets stale, repetitive, boring and frustrating after a while!

If you are looking for easy achievements here, you are in the wrong game

Monday, June 18, 2007

Game Review:TMNT

An admirable effort that is better than the movie. Really.

I have always adored those special turtles for their special abilities and have watched their cartoons when young. So, the question is: Did this game satisfy my want for another turtle adventure? Being a movie tie-in, I was not expecting much from TMNT, but after playing the game, I felt that it was not so bad after all. Read on to uncover more details.

My first impression of TMNT upon booting up the game was ‘wow!’ Graphically speaking, TMNT excels. Environments boast high details and are a pleasure to look at. Animations are smooth and character models look good as well. In fact, it left me wondering whether I was really playing with a DS game.

The game does follows the storyline of the movie very faithfully and you get to play as all the turtles, albeit with turn-taking involved, but gameplay, unfortunately, is considerably limited. The idea behind the main gameplay is to hit the Y button to jump forward, the X button to jump left and the A button to jump right. At times, you would be required to press and hold down the B button to push your turtle off an edge or swing around a beam. All these make for fairly basic gameplay. You do not even need to aim for any platform as that would be done by the game. However, the game compensates for this by giving you rewards if you can leap fast enough from one point to another. There are also other special tokens to be collected throughout each level. The second component of the gameplay is combat. Unfortunately again, combat is also quite basic. Hitting the B button repeatedly would make your turtle do some tricks with its weapon, while the A button is assigned to a special spin attack and a finishing move that can be done at a time specified by the game. The combat would be more exciting had the game made use of the L and R buttons and introduce the ability to build up multiple moves, as well as combo moves. The game would have been a much deeper one if those 2 gameplay components mentioned are corrected to give the player more decisions.

That being said, the game must not be mistaken as a breeze-through. Some levels may actually require retries if you are not careful enough. In the later stages, there will be traps like closing walls, electric shocks and noxious gases that do some massive damage to your turtle, especially the closing walls. Boss fights are challenging – knowing when to attack and when to let go and dodge will prove the difference between life and death for your turtle; quick reflexes are necessary. However, not all levels are as challenging. Instead, I find the game levels to be very unbalanced. While some missions are short and incredibly easy (this also happens at a few levels later in the game), others would not allow progression as easily.

Sound-wise, the music that came through the DS speakers goes hand in hand with the game and its atmosphere. Game duration is an area where the game fails to ace. With each mission lasting less than 15 minutes and with only 15 missions available, I am not wrong to say that it is possible for one to complete the entire game in about 2 hours or less, not putting some retries into account. Yes, TMNT is a very short game, but while it lasts, I find it quite fun to play with even though it may be flawed at some points. Leaping here and there gives me a sense of rush – you know, like Spiderman swinging from building to building. My last gripe with the game: It fails to use the DS’s unique features in any way, but that is okay with me as long as the game is fun.

Final comments
Ubisoft has put in some appluadable efforts into creating the DS version of TMNT instead of just treating as the game as ‘come-on-just-another-movie-game’ project. The graphics are excellent for a DS game, the game is quite challenging as a whole, and the sound is rightfully paired with the game. Moreover, the game follows the movie closely and you get to play as all 4 of the turtles. All those positives, however, are marred by the basic gameplay of TMNT, very unbalanced levels, and a super short game duration. Overall, though, I find TMNT to be a good play.


The Good
- Excellent graphics
- Follows movie faithfully and opportunities to play as all 4 turtles
- Overall, quite a challenging game
- Appropriate sound

The bad
- Fairly basic gameplay
- Very unbalanced levels
- Short game duration – less than 2 hours

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