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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Friday, November 30, 2007

Game Review:Mario Party DS

The acme of party indulgence.

There isn’t a time when a Mario game disappointed me. There isn’t a time when I didn’t enjoy a Mario game tremendously. Previous Mario games that I have played before reflect these statements well – Mario Kart DS, Mario and Luigi: Partners in Time and New Super Mario Bros. Enter my fourth Mario game, Mario Party DS, which is another one of those archetypal Mario games. Inevitable venial faults aside, Mario Party DS is one brilliantly constructed game.

As it name suggests, Mario Party DS is a mini-game compilation. But to say that it is merely a mini-game compilation would be to undermine its overwhelming content. In fact, Mario Party DS is a triple catch – sure, it is a mini-game compilation, but it is also a virtual board game and a puzzle game! A mindless mish-mash package of sorts this isn’t for everything integrated so beautifully together. The first components of the game that you will probably encounter would be the virtual board game and mini-games since those are the crux of the story mode, which you have to go through first before other modes are unlocked.

The story mode starts off when Mario and his chums receive an invitation to Bowser’s castle for a feast. True to Bowser’s evil nature, Mario and his pals are caged up and shrunk by him upon arrival at his castle and our little heroes will now have to participate in a series of 5 board games in order to obtain all the star crystals and defeat Bowser. The board game tournaments take place in a variety of locales, from a music room to Kamek’s opulent library. I would relate the board games in Mario Party DS more to a traditional game of Snakes and Ladders, which means that it is a game of chance. Of course, the board games aren’t replicating Snakes and Ladders entirely as there are also additions of Mario-themed elements like coin and stars collection, not counting alternative paths which can be taken at specific points. The objective of the board games isn’t to a race to the finishing point, but to gather as many stars as possible. At every 4 turns (there are 40 turns in all, 10 for each player), you will have to play a mini-game, but more on the mini-games later. It’s a refreshing concept, but perhaps the more important thing is that this board game component is a blast to play. As mentioned, it is a game of chance, but that’s what makes this component so good. Given the vast number of permutations which the elements of a particular board game can be placed, you will never know what you will get in your next dice roll. The next hexagon that you land on may turn the favor in your odds, but if you’re unfortunate, you may land on one that produces inimical results. For example, if your opponent has 4 stars and you have only 2, and if you land on a duel hexagon, you can challenge that opponent to a mini-game battle and decide on the stakes. Let’s say the stakes decided are 2 stars. If you win, great – you will steal 2 stars from your opponent and are now in the running for a win. Power-ups like triple dice and warping abilities can also be obtained by chance or purchased with coins, adding to the overall enjoyment factor of the board game as a whole. However played, there seems to be sense of thrill that accompanies the board game component of Mario Party DS and I love every bit of it.

Completing the story mode fully with one character would unlock almost all the other modes and one of them is the mini-game mode. Let’s be ingenuous here: Most mini-game compilations on DS are wont to be comprised of 75% unimaginative and stupid mini-games. But for Mario Party DS, you can throw that mentioned statement out of your mind. I am quite surprised that 90% of the mini-games in the game are pretty good, and take this: Mario Party DS has 70 mini-games to select from, which would easily put other mini-game compilations to shame. These mini-games employ a solid variety of control mechanics, ranging from tradition d-pad and button control to tapping, sliding and tracing on the touch-screen to microphone-blowing. Diversity in the mini-games won’t go unnoticed as well: surfing on bars of soap while trying to oust your opponent from the sink, trying to take photographs of your opponents in a 3D maze, jumping over objects that come down from a conveyor belt, capturing goombas by circling them, just to name a few. Mini-games are categorized into various groups like 2 vs. 2, battle, 1 vs. 3 and duel, giving further variety to the games, which are in equal parts wacky and creative. On a sidenote, the developers have also thoughtfully included the option of omitting mini-games that require the usage of the microphone from the mini-game line-up should you feel the need to not make yourself look like a fool on that train ride.

The A.I. can be vaguely inconsistent, though. This is apparent in the 2 vs. 2 mini-games, where teamwork is required. For some mini-games, the A.I. could be helpful – say, the soil digging mini-game where both you and your teammate must dig through a length of soil as fast as possible and be the first to reach the finishing point. On the other hand, in another kart-racing mini-game where you take either side of the wheels and your teammate controls the other half, it is near impossible to win simply because the A.I. controlled teammate is a dumbass. An ideal way to ensure a better playing experience would to enjoy the game with other humans. Unfortunately, online play is mysteriously unsupported.

Get over those and what you will find beyond the story mode and mini-game mode are the party mode, which allows you to play on any of the 5 board games that have been unlocked in the story mode, step-it-up mode, which should be the preferable choice if you want some competitive mini-game progression system or the similar, battle cup, score scuffle, boss bash, rocket rascals (which I didn’t manage to unlock prior to writing this review), puzzle mode and a gallery where you can view all your unlockables. Speaking of unlockables, there are a ton of them like badges, boss trophies, board components to be had and some require you to replay the game more than once, which in a way, extends the replayability of the game. Puzzle mode consists of 5 puzzle games. One of them is a Mario take on Tetris, while another one resembles puzzle bobble. Ultimately, all of them are considerably fun - with unlockables to go with as well.

As expected of any Mario game, the graphics generally have that convivial feel to them, but it could use some improvements as some items still appear as big unsightly blobs of pixels. The sound is great, suiting every part of the game really well and I find the character voice samples especially nice.

Final Comments
A nondescript package at first glance, but a few minutes with Mario Party DS proves otherwise. Essentially a wholesome 3-in-1 game that consists of a virtual board game, mini-game compilation and puzzle game, it is guaranteed that the time with Mario Party DS would be well-spent. The board game component possesses fathomless charisma, and the mini-games exude creativity rarely seen in the similar elsewhere. Alternatively, partake in the puzzle games if you want a fun diversion. A handful of modes and heaps of unlockables wrap up the awesome game. The graphics and slightly inconsistent A.I. are questionable, though, and the lack of online multiplayer hurts.


The Good:
- A virtual board game, a mini-game compilation and a puzzle game in one!
- Thrilling board game component
- Healthy number of mini-games
- Most mini-games are great, with a ton of creativity and diversity in them
- Puzzles games are a fun diversion
- A buffet of unlockables!
- Sound is superb

The Bad:
- Questionable slightly inconsistent A.I.
- Graphics need some work
- Online multiplayer nowhere to be found

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Achievement Unlocked! Episode 3

This episode is especially dedicated to the best and worst in DS in 2007. Enjoy!


The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass^ A new and refreshing way to play Zelda.

We knew Phantom Hourglass would be a hit, didn’t we? It turned out that the game isn’t only a hit, but also one that exceeded all expectations – one that is truly the BEST DS game of 2007. Without a vestige of doubt, Phantom Hourglass is second to none and that can be seen in its design and its music. I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that the game was treading on a knife-edge when you first started playing the game because for sure, the all touch-screen controls would need some getting used to. But it will take you just under a minute to discover that the control scheme is nothing but an act of genius for everything’s so intuitive and responsive – which comes the question: Wouldn’t it be awesome if touch-screen controls for all DS games could be this good?

Phantom Hourglass is one of those puzzle-heavy action games that you rarely find in the market. There’s a simple reason to it, though: Fusing puzzles into the action with fluidity isn’t an easy job and few developers have done it right, but it just happens that Phantom Hourglass is one of those games that nailed that down perfectly. An applaud it deserves.

To top it all off, the game has a wide variety of cool weapons and it has got a great musical score that is both catchy and memorable. The game is also brimming with content. What better way to invest your money in a DS game than purchase Phantom Hourglass? Find out more by heading over to the full review here.


Need for Speed Pro Street^ Smoke never looked so beautiful.

By now, you should know that the DS isn’t built for intensive 3D graphics. But that doesn’t preclude developers from pushing the DS to its limit – from showing us what the DS is really capable of. Certainly, it is more than just plain reverie as there is an almost imperceptible presence of pixellation when you’re playing the game. The environments are nothing short of spectacular and so are the cars. The developers even attempted to produce some kind of basic reflection on the cars’ windows and windscreens. It is amazing, really. A console level production is what this is known as. On a sidenote, this game’s pretty difficult and I have serious trouble completing it.


Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword^ Eye-pleasing, totally.

As 2007 nears its end, I found myself wondering a few weeks ago: Where is Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword? Isn’t it arriving this year? Duh! It has been delayed to 2008, so don’t bother looking for it on the store shelves this holiday. But at least, there’s something really big to look forward to for DS next year. Dragon Sword utilizes beautiful pre-rendered backgrounds for graphics and full touch-screen controls.


WWE SmackDown! Vs. Raw 2008^ Looks are deceiving.

WWE SmackDown! Vs. Raw 2008 just got smacked down by the one of the most retarded gameplay ever to appear in a DS game. If you are true WWE gaming fan, STAY AWAY from this game. Run very far away. This isn’t WWE in any way – rather, this is a TURN-BASED wrestling game – well, in a way. You see, for WWE DS, THQ decided to opt for a full touch-screen control scheme and I can tell you it sucks. Really, like TOTALLY. And forget about moving around the ring, because the game doesn’t allow you to do so. At anytime during your turn (note the word turn, because it’s turned-based!), you will be presented with 3 icons for 3 specific moves. Tap on any of the icons and you will be required to perform some swipes and turns on the touch-screen. Well, easier said than done. Smaller moves like a punch or kick are simple to execute and with a pace that is quick too. The problem is … … you can’t win matches by using smaller moves all the time and that’s why the bigger moves are there. These moves require more complex actions that take a longer time to perform and it just isn’t fair that the A.I. always outpace you into executing the moves (that is, a counter-attack). Call it cheap, dirty, whatever. The end result will mostly be a defeat for you. Well, there are some nice touches in the game like authentic entrance music for each superstar, but then again, would you like a WWE game with no in-match commentary, that has a lesser selection of wrestlers than its console counterparts, and a shallow season mode? Perhaps the most important question is: Would you like to play a TURN-BASED WWE game that is fatally broken in EVERY WAY POSSIBLE save for the entrance music? For this, WWE for the DS receives the most disappointing DS game of 2007 award (well, sort of) and the first red score from me this year (but I have not written the full review yet).

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Game Review:Rayman Raving Rabbids 2

Rayman nowhere to be seen.

Earlier this year, Ubisoft released Rayman Raving Rabbids on the DS. Though of the same name as the Wii and Xbox 360 renditions, Ubisoft decided to tweak the modus operandi by introducing some really cool and creative platforming levels which made great use of the various DS features. In between the solid platforming action were some entertaining mini-games. The result was a slick and enjoyable package that is the quintessential of good DS games. In less than a year, Rayman Raving Rabbids 2 landed – this time on the Wii and DS simultaneously. However, gone are the platforming levels and instead what you have in Rayman Raving Rabbids 2 for the DS is a mini-game compilation that is more reminiscent of the Wii version. But is that necessarily a boon?

Basically, the structure of the game is similar to that of the Wii edition. The evil Rabbids have invaded the Earth and they can be found scattered throughout the world. Each part of the world, say Asia or Latina (there are 6 parts in the game), has 6 mini-games attached to it and depending on how well you do in each mini-game, the game will reward you points. There is a certain number of points that needs to be reached in each part of the world, with some requiring more points and some less demanding. After you have accumulated all the points required for a particular part of the world, more parts of the world will be subsequently unlocked.

The core gameplay component is considerably shallow, to say the least. Often, you would find yourself repeating the same mini-games over and over again in order to clock ample points to progress through the game. This also leads us to another fact that the number of mini-games in the game just isn’t enough. Are they any fun, then? While there is certainly no dissension that all the mini-games in Rayman Raving Rabbids 2 utilize the unique functionalities of the DS well, some of these mini-games are distinctively prosaic. For instance, in one particular mini-game, you are presented a shape on the top screen. The objective is to draw the exact same shape on the lower screen. Fortunately, these mini-games represent only a fraction of all the mini-games in the package, so it is not so aggravating. Otherwise, the other mini-games are all pretty alright. There are some outstanding ones, though. Take for example, the music mini-game that resembles Guitar Hero. There are 4 speakers lined up horizontally at the bottom of the lower screen. As the circles come down, you will have to tap on the appropriate speakers where the circles land. The music is ear-pleasing, and as it proceeds, the pace at which the circles drop and the number of circles dropping at the same time becomes quicker and more respectively. This calls for some really intense gameplay that requires full attention and prompt response.

Rayman Raving Rabbids 2 attempts to add more depth to the core gameplay by introducing what is known as the score mode. In this mode, you can try to earn a trophy for yourself by beating the preset high scores for each mini-game. For sure, this is a welcomed addition which increases the replayability of the game. That being said, you can still steam roll the entire game (adventure mode as demonstrated in the previous paragraph and score mode) in under 3 hours. It’s short, but at least it’s better than the 2 hours long Dynasty Warriors DS. Along with the single-player, you’ve got multiplayer, but online play is lacking.

Along your way in the adventure mode and score mode, you will be able to unlock more costumes to customize your Rabbid. These costumes are incredibly varied, from a Brazil shirt to a Chinese traditional costume to a tie. Also unlockable are headdresses, which include wigs, hats, military helmets, to name a few. You can select what objects you want your Rabbid to hold in its hand as well, among which a mobile phone, camera, lollipop, magic wand and so on and so forth. Besides these unlockables, the game gives you the ability to color your Rabbid, as well as choose the background it is in and color that too. Want a green military Rabbid? It is possible.

Final Comments
Rayman Raving Rabbids 2 abolishes the great platforming action from Rayman Raving Rabbids for the DS in favor of a mini-game compilation that is more like the Wii version. However you look, Rayman Raving Rabbids 2 trys to instill a sense of humor into its gameplay and customizable options and that’s partially why the game stands out from the rest of the mini-game compilations on DS. The Rabbids are totally hilarious, and I can’t help it but adore them. All the mini-games take advantage of the DS unique functions well, and most of them are enjoyable, with some outstanding ones in the lot. Score mode adds more depth to an otherwise shallow game, but again, this is a mini-game compilation. The unlockables are great things to be had.


The Good:
- All mini-games make use of the DS’s unique functions well
- Most mini-games are enjoyable, with some outstanding ones
- Score mode adds more depth
- Level of customization is great
- Sense of humor throughout

The Bad:
- Shallow game
- Number of mini-games isn’t enough
- Short game
- No online play

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Game Review:The Orange Box

5 great ingredients for an outstanding dish.

You know you are having a good deal when you are paying for 5 games with the price of 1. No, it isn’t some dream you’re having because such a brilliant package does indeed exist. For your money’s worth (and mine), The Orange Box packs in the original Half-Life 2 that was released 3 years ago on PC and 2 years ago on Xbox, its 2 expansions – Episode One and Episode Two, first-person puzzle game Portal, with multiplayer game Team Fortress 2 wrapping up the package. A haphazardly-planned package this isn’t for it contains 5 outstanding games, including Half-Life 2, which is the BEST game I have played to date.

The Orange Box impresses on first sight. Before you even decide on what to start playing with (yes, there is no order as to which game you must play first), you will be facing the slickest menu interface yet ever since Colin Mcrae DiRT, providing easy access to any of the 5 components. At any time during a game, The Orange Box will also allow you to bring up Valve’s self-developed achievement list, which shows you more details about the achievements available, say the number of achievements already unlocked or the progression of a particular achievement. Let’s say a certain achievement requires you to kill a number of a specific kind of enemy, and if you have already reached a third of the given quota, the game will notify you of your progression or you can simply bring up the achievement list to check for yourself how many more enemies you have to kill before you are able to unlock the achievement. For sure, that’s a nice touch, and all the more pleasing to achievement addicts.


Let’s get started with the first game in the package, shall we? Half-Life 2 is the direct follow-up to 1998’s hit game Half-Life, where a scientist by the name of Gordon Freeman accidentally opened up a portal between an alien world called Xen and the Earth at Black Mesa, a research faculty, while at work. In Half-Life 2, you are again being put into the shoes of Gordon and sent to City 17, where it became known that the world has been overtaken by an extradimesional military force simply acknowledged by the name of the Combine. Don’t fret if you can’t see the connection there between the premises because despite having played all Half-Life games before, I can’t see that too. But some of the aliens from Xen are in City 17 as well, so you can be sure that in some way or other, the plots in both games are inter-connected.

Like the original Half-Life, Half-Life 2 fuses lots of element seamlessly into each other. There also seems to be a fathomless charm to keep you feeling compelled to continue playing the game. Throughout the epic adventure that will probably last you 18 hours or so, fatigue is nowhere to be felt. That’s not surprising, really, because the fact stands that Half-Life 2 offers an incredible amount of diversity in its missions. You will be challenged to evade the antlions in a mission that is essentially a self-contained puzzle. You will be fighting in a zombie-infested mine. You will enter an eerie town where the game suddenly resembles a survival horror game in the shoes of Resident Evil. You will have massive vehicular sections where both your driving and survival skills will be subjected to the acid test. In fact, the list just goes on and on - you will be hard-pressed to ever find a chapter that you won’t like. Each mission has been designed excellently with the intent to provide thought-provoking puzzles, intense action and moments of contemplation, and that’s discounting exploration.

Perhaps one of the more impressive aspects of Half-Life 2 is its physics-based gameplay, made possible by the Gravity Gun, on which the entire world of the game has been built around. It is innovative, to say the least. You will never see grenades the same way again after playing the game. With the Gravity Gun, you can snatch grenades out of the air and hurl them back at your enemies who threw them at you first. With it, there is a better way to save ammo by pounding a zombie with a wooden bed repeatedly. With it, you can hold a barrel in front of you to protect yourself from auto-turret fire. The possibilities are truly endless and it is this physics-based gameplay which has totally reinvented the world of Half-Life. And if for whatever reason the Gravity Gun isn’t your thing, there are a handful of other brilliant weapons at your disposal.

Half-Life 2 is a tour de force, and rightfully so. It is one game that cannot be simply expressed in words – it is one game that you MUST experience for yourself. And yes, if I must mention it again, Half-Life 2 is BEST game I have played to date.

The second game that you will come across in The Orange Box is Half-Life 2: Episode One. The game was released on PC in 2006, but if you are purely a Xbox 360 or Xbox gamer, this would be a fresh experience for you. Episode One tells a contiguous story to that of Half-Life 2’s (which you would tell by now, ended on a cliffhanger), but for the most part, Episode One is considerably different from its predecessor in many ways. For one, you now fight alongside a partner, Alyx Vance, who often made cameo appearances in Half-Life 2.

The pace of the game is also much slower (and boring) as compared to Half-Life 2 and that’s partly due to the fact that for exactly half of the entire game, which is very short at about 4 hours, you will be wielding the Gravity Gun and only the Gravity Gun. Now, I aren’t saying that the Gravity Gun’s one uninteresting piece of weapon, but for the first half of the game, there isn’t really much combat – all you will be doing actually is snatching energy balls out from their flow to insert them into another place. It doesn’t help that the missions aren’t any much varied either. If you are expecting vehicular sections in Episode One, you’re out of luck. There is also only a single new enemy variation and no new weapons to toy with. Considering that Episode One is a third of what is supposed to be Half-Life 3 (which has been broken up into Episodes One, Two and Three), it is hard to forgive the lack of the aforementioned.

The story in Episode One is pretty shallow as well. Basically, all you know is that some monolithic building known as the Citadel is going to explode and take down the whole city with it and that you’re going to have to escape it. It’s just another one of those generic storylines belted out by any other game in the market today. It’s very straight-forward and the unlike Half-Life 2, there is no mystery to it or whatsoever.

Overall, I feel that Episode One is disappointing, a shadow of what Half-Life 2 is. Coincidentally, it is also the weakest link among the 5 games in The Orange Box. But if it means that Episode One needs to be had because it is essentially a bridge from Half-Life 2 to the goodness of Episode Two, I will accept it.

Episode Two picks up where Episode One left off when Alyx and Gordon escaped from the exploding City 17 in a train. Of course, things never go well and that’s why the train crashed. Right from the start, you will notice that Episode Two improves on both Half-Life 2 and Episode One in a couple of ways. The graphics are better, for sure. They look sharper and more polished and the lighting effects impressive.

And after hours spent on the streets of City 17, you are finally in a new environment – well, which means you now have new areas and locales to explore. Besides, the familiar diversity of the missions present in Half-Life 2 has returned, and that includes huge vehicular sections. In one moment, you could be fighting in the antlion’s nests, and the next moment, you could be up against a Combine chopper. Episode Two also feels like it’s part of what is Half-Life 3 by having 2 new enemies in the game, namely toxic antlion, which is a variation of an antlion that spits poison at you and Hunter, which is a smaller version of a Strider – meaning it’s dangerous and challenging. And there is a new weapon as well, but pity that the weapon only appears towards the end of the game and will only be used in a particular mission. In addition, Episode Two is longer at about 7 hours. While it’s short, the experience as a whole is certainly very satisfying.

If you can recall from a few paragraphs back, I mentioned that the story in Episode One is shallow. Well, no more in Episode Two. Instead, what you now have is a more sophiscated and mysterious story that may induce moments of pondering. Without doubt, the pacing of the game is better than Episode One. A massive battle awaits you at the ending of the game (and I mean really massive) and just as I thought that the credits were about to roll out after I have defeated all the enemies, the climax in the story kicked in. Told through the gameplay and a cut-scene, the ending is one of the most emotional in videogame history and one that is on par with that of Halo 3, such that you can actually feel for the characters. It will leave you screaming, “OMG! I can’t wait for Episode Three!” And that’s what I did.


There is a hidden rule that says multiplayer shooters don’t need deathmatches to be good and that’s very true in the case of Team Fortress 2. In fact, Team Fortress 2 is one of the finest multiplayer shooters ever produced on Xbox 360. What sets it out from the me-too crowd of shooters are its unique class-based gameplay with an emphasis on teamwork and objective-based maps and coupled with the surprisingly refreshing and pleasant cartoonish visual style, Team Fortress 2 has just the right mix of ingredients.

Before entering any multiplayer match, you will be able to select your desirable class from a total of 9 classes. These classes are incredibly varied, with each taking different strategies to the battlefield. Some are built for combat like The Heavy. While he’s slow, his health is high and he carries a chain gun around, dishing out almost instant death to anyone unfortunate enough to walk into the line of sight. And there’s the Engineer, which is a support class. While you wouldn’t want him on the frontlines, he is useful because he can build teleporters and turrets. For those who just want to hang out in the far corner and put a bullet through the heads of others, there’s the sniper class. Between the stealthy Spy and the flame-thrower equipped Pyro and the other classes, there is bound to be a class that you will like. I like the way Valve has designed the classes such that none of them is particularly powerful nor weak. That’s when teamwork comes into crucial play. In order for success to preveal, members of a team must work with each other to complement the strengths of each class.

As mentioned earlier, there is no deathmatch in Team Fortress 2. In its place are several objectives like Control Points, Territorial Control and Capture the Briefcase (which is the game’s version of Capture the Flag). 4 maps are made around Control Points, 1 fixed with Territorial Control and the remaining 1 attached with Capture the Briefcase. The problem is that each map has a pre-defined match type and these cannot be swapped, seriously limiting the variety of ways in which multiplayer matches can be played. For example, 2 Forts is a Capture the Briefcase map, so you can’t play a Control Points match in 2 Forts. Simple as that. 6 isn’t a big number either, but I believe there would be more downloadable maps coming in the future.

Despite its shortcomings, Team Fortress 2 is an entertaining game nonetheless and one that will keep you playing for a while.

Final Comments
The Orange Box packs in more value than imaginable. And in it are 5 great games that everyone should check out. In Half-Life 2, The Orange Box possesses one the BEST games of all time. Episode One and Two expand on the Half-Life universe by continuing the tale from Half-Life 2. While Episode One may be a little disappointing, Episode Two compensates for that by improving on both its predecessors in a couple of ways. Play all three together for a really really epic adventure. First-person puzzler Portal and a unique and enjoyable multiplayer game Team Fortress 2 add in more content and replayability into The Orange Box.

* This review was done without the full completion of Portal.

Individual scores:
Half-Life 2 – 10/10
Half-Life 2: Episode One – 7.9/10
Half-Life 2: Episode Two – 9.7/10
Portal: Uncompleted
Team Fortress 2: 9.0/10

TOTAL SCORE: 9.7/10 (not the average)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Game Review - Call of Duty 4:Modern Warfare

Should you heed the call?

The DS line-up this year has been nothing short of surprises, from the arrival of Resident Evil-esque Dementium: The Ward, to WWE’s debut on the handheld, to the return of classics like Contra 4 and Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3. Perhaps none is more shocking than Activison’s Call of Duty 4. In Call of Duty, Activison has crafted a game that possesses one of the most engaging gameplay and one of ineffable aural immersion. If you have been harboring any doubts about Call of Duty 4 for the DS, rest assured you are the not the only one because I had my doubts as well. But to say that Call of Duty 4 is not going to function on the DS is erroneous, for Activison has shown that the game is indeed accomplishable on the handheld, but to what extent?

For DS owners who have never played any of the prior Call of Duty games before, here’s your chance. What you are getting in Call of Duty 4 for DS is essentially a shrinked-down version of its console counterpart, but to merely dismiss the idea of shrinked-down as dumped-down is an understatement because the game still offers most of what the console Call of Duty 4 is getting. The musical splendor will probably be the first one to get noticed for it is easily one the best aspects of the game. There is nothing quite like manning the machine gun turret of a helicopter, and just as you are about to start punishing your enemies with it, the inspiring military tunes kick in. Soaking in the atmosphere, an adrenaline shot is what you will get. The experience is truly immersive, demonstrating how important the music is to the overall game. And if the music isn’t going to set you on fire, surely the voice-overs would. As in Brothers in Arms DS, there is a ton of voice-overs in the game and they are just fantastic. What’s a military shooter without immaculate voice-overs, anyways?

Being a military shooter, there is no doubt you’re going to be seeing lots of explosions and smoke in the game – and logically, there would be rows upon rows of decrepit buildings and some massive amounts of rubble. Call of Duty 4 for DS makes use of fully-modeled 3D environments to tell the vast environments with anomalous results. Now, here comes the difficult part. Depending on your circumstances, you may either think that the visuals in Call of Duty 4 are stunning or that the graphics average on the line of mediocrity. For one, if you have been playing mostly casual games on the handheld, the graphics in the game may come upon as ones of unprecedented beauty. On the other hand, if you are a veteran of DS games like I am, you’re going to be downright disappointed. If Call of Duty 4 for DS was released 2 years ago, I would have no qualms praising its visuals, but when you have got developers producing PSP-like visuals on the DS these past 2 years, the graphics in Call of Duty 4 is passable at best as compared to others that came before it. In terms of realistic graphics, Nintendo’s own Metroid Prime: Hunters is simply gorgeous. Movie tie-in TMNT, which came out in the first half of this year, made me forget that I was playing on my DS, and not the PSP. Race Driver, too, pushed the DS to its limit and so did Dementium: The Ward. For closer comparison, I booted up the old copy of Brother in Arms DS, another military shooter like Call of Duty 4, and clearly, the visuals in Call of Duty 4 pales in comparison to those of Brothers in Arms DS. Character models are good, buildings and skies are alright, but explosions and smoke are utterly unconvincing, especially the latter. For sure, they could use some improvements for the DS is capable of more. The frame rate holds up well, though.

On a sidenote, the game seems very ‘dark’. In other words, if you are going to be playing this game outdoors during daytime, you may not be able to see the screen at all, and of course, you won’t know what’s even going on in the game. It’s okay when you’re indoors, say in a bus, train or building, but you really need a DS Lite to adjust the brightness of the screen if you are thinking of playing the game outdoors; the old original DS just won’t cut it.

So okay, you wouldn’t expect the game to be on par with its console counterpart in the graphics department, would you? But while the graphics suffer, the missions don’t. It is nothing but the truth that Call of Duty 4 for DS is of almost console level production and the mission structure proves that. I admit that I have yet to play the console version of Call of Duty 4 (I’m getting the Xbox 360 version after completing this review!), but credits must be due in the diversity present in the missions in the game. During the course of the campaign, you will get to man machine gun turrets of trucks and helicopters, as well as those in the nests, provide air support in a night operation, stomp into an enemy building using night vision and sneak around a building while avoiding a sniper. Weapon variety is clearly in the game as well – shotguns, rifles, pistols, grenades, machine guns, sub-machine guns, you name it. The game even attempts to mimic a mini-game from Call of Duty 3 where an enemy soldier will suddenly appear out of nowhere to engage you in melee combat and you are made to perform specific button and analog stick presses and turns. In the case of this game, you will have to swipe your stylus diagonally across the touch-screen as quickly as possible. Similarly, detonating and disarming a bomb or nuke isn’t just a matter of one button press or anything, but a matter of quick response and skill. Test yourself with the mini-games that will be initiated when you detonate or disarm bombs and nukes. And if an effort was made to scrimp on memory space in the DS game card, it isn’t evident from the length of the campaign. The game is long, to say the least, with each mission providing an hour or so of content.

For a handheld that’s so well-suited for a FPS, you would think that controls for Call of Duty 4 are going to be perfect, right? Well, surprise, wrong! Okay, before you decide to just stop reading here and ignore Call of Duty 4 altogether, I must say that the level of precision offered by the touch-screen-based aiming is superb. However, to enter iron sights, you need to double-tap on the touch-screen and that causes trouble. You see, to look and aim, you move your stylus around the touch-screen and often, the game misinterprets this action as one to get into iron sights, especially when you accidentally nudge your hand on a same spot more than once. I find this problem seriously annoying and it is certain that correction is needed. A solution would be to assign iron sights to a simple button tap on any one of the many buttons on the DS. Reversing utilizes the down button on the d-pad, but crouching requires a double-tap (again) on the same button. Boy, there were just so many instances when I was unavailing in my attempt to crouch! The developers sure have an obsession with double-tap controls.

Call of Duty 4 has a few more issues, though. During my time with the game, I noticed that several enemies spawned in illogically. Picture this scenario: I went into a room. Dead end, right? As I was about to mosey along, an enemy suddenly ran out from a dead end and started shooting at me behind some crates. This clearly contradicts the level of immersion that the game has been assaying to create all along. Also, there seems to be a lack of balance between firepower in the game. In one situation, I killed an enemy within a few shots to his body. A few minutes later, the same type of enemy appeared and even after I unloaded a full clip of bullets through his body using the same weapon, he still stood undead. The same thing applies to headshots. While I could silence an enemy with 2 to 3 shots in an instance, I had to put 12 bullets through the head of the same kind of enemy in another instance before he fell dead. Perhaps the developers could explain these almost game-breaking flaws?

Final Comments
An unexpected game on an unexpected platform, but do consider that Call of Duty 4 has passed the debut test. The pocket-sized Call of Duty 4 is great, providing the same level of aural immersion as you get on the console. The military tunes are well-picked and voice-overs done with finesse. The visuals could use some improvements, though, as it looks only passable at best when compared to other recent DS titles. Relief comes in the form of mission diversity, weapon variety, fun mini-games and the length of the game. Controls are a little wonky, though there is precision in the aiming. Illogical enemy spawns and lack of balance between firepower hurt the level of immersion that the game has been setting out to achieve throughout.

Multiplayer is present in the game, but I was horrified by the absence of online play. Fortunately, single-card play is available. A decent number of maps and modes add more replayability to the game.


The Good:
- Immersive aural experience
- Fantastic voice-overs
- Missions are diverse
- Variety present in weapons
- Fun mini-games
- Lengthy game by DS standards

The Bad:
- Graphics are passable at best
- Game is a little ‘dark’, deeming outdoor play impossible unless you have a DS Lite
- Controls are a little wonky, though aiming precision is fine
- Enemies spawn illogically
- Lack in balance in firepower
- Wha?! No Online!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Games of 2007: #1 - #5

Good ‘ol 2007 is coming to an end real soon and this is the time of the year to reflect on what has happened these past months. Indubitably, 2007 is one hell of a great year in gaming. Now, let me recall all the games (starting from #1 to #5) that I have played this year. I shall let the memories flow.

#1. DEAD OR ALIVE 4 (XBOX 360)

They never stop fighting, do they?

2007 went off to a sluggish start with no big games in sight. Now, that would be a great opportunity to flip through the back catalog and that I did – so here’s what I found for a time filler! The game in question is Dead or Alive 4 and having played its predecessor, Dead or Alive 3, before, I more or less knew what to expect from the 4th game. Basically, Dead or Alive 4 features the entire cast of fighters available in Dead or Alive 3 and puts in a few more. The most surprise inclusion in the game is unlockable character Master Chief (or as some people put it: his look-alike) from the Halo series. The many modes are still there, namely vs. mode, story mode, survival mode and time attack mode. Pardon me if I have misnamed some of the modes or if some weren’t included in the list – well, it can be hard to remember things from more than 6 months back and I hardly play Dead or Alive 4 nowadays. The story mode is still as rewarding, but just don’t expect elaborate storylines for most individual characters. All in all, Dead or Alive 4 is a great game and it retains the feel of the previous entrants in the franchise, so if you have never liked any of the Dead or Alive games, you are wont to ignore Dead or Alive 4 too.

THE SCORE: 8.7/10


Everyone loves a MechDonald's.

Lost Planet was already in my to-get list even before its release and being the first noteworthy game arriving in 2007, it did not disappoint me. Combining on-foot action and mech combat in one game isn’t easy, but Lost Planet did it excellently. Having said that, fans of Microsoft’s MechWarrior franchise would like this game. There is also something unique about Lost Planet in that if forces you to stay on the move throughout the game in order to survive. You see, in the game, the world is so cold that warmth is required at all times so that your health bar won’t deplete. Warmth, or T-ENG, as it is known in the game, can be gathered in a variety of ways, be it destroying fuel tanks or killing enemies. The warmth will continue to disperse every second in the game, so of course, you would need to replenish it constantly. Given this, the pace at which the action is proceeding in the game will be considerably quicker than in other games, so be on your toes! The uniquity doesn’t end with the warmth gathering component, though, as you will also have a grappling hook at your disposal in the game – a great tool of getting to hard-to-reach places. The variety of weapons in the game is also rather impressive. Overall, Lost Planet is an entertaining game. Multiplayer provides more mayhem.

THE SCORE: 9.3/10


A mystery here somewhere.

There was a palpable glee in my eyes as I inserted my first DS game card of the year into my DS. As a teenager who was weaned on R.L. Stine’s books (I love his books!) in the halcyon days of my childhood, I feel that story development is a very integral part of a game, where applicable, and fortunately, Hotel Dusk: Room 215 managed to nail that down. Never mind the fact that this is a point-and-click adventure game, a genre which my already-played games library would normally be destitute of, because the story’s so solid, so intriguing and so engrossing. And what’s a good story without a few twists and turns in it? It is amazing how Hotel Dusk manages to just grip you from the first few chapters onwards and never let go. The appropriate music complements your stay in Hotel Dusk. Jump right into this interactive mystery novel now and experience it for yourself.
THE SCORE: 9.7/10

Bumper karts.

This game can be easily mistaken for the BEST DS game of all time, Mario Kart DS, if you don’t take a proper look – what with the cutesy characters on the game box. But a Mario Kart DS imitator this isn’t as you will be able to race not only in karts, but also hovercrafts and airplanes in the game. And if you are too used to playing Mario Kart DS, be glad that there are power-ups in this game as well. Overall, the mini-games in the game are relatively fun, though the touch-based controls may misinterpret your actions at times. Vehicle customization options are a nice touch, but they don’t go too deep. The visuals could use some improvement.

THE SCORE: 8.5/10


A car's as light as a feather.

Free roaming environments - those 3 words. For someone who had never played sandbox-styled games like Saints Row and Grand Theft Auto before, Crackdown was a fresh experience for me. Crackdown takes place in a fictitious city called Pacific City, which is controlled by 3 major gangs. Your job is simple – take down the gang leaders of each gang and bring peace to the city. Being a cop with superhuman powers, this task isn’t really exacting. You have the ability to jump high and far and that you must do throughout the game. Collecting orbs that can be found scattered around the city gives your character more strength and skills, which makes the game more satisfying. Killing your enemy with one kick? Oh, great. Side missions litter the city, offering you a breather from the main game and well, they are enjoyable. Explosions effects are a treat to the eyes, but when it comes to the music, Crackdown has nothing to speak of.

THE SCORE: 8.2/10

Look out for games #6 to #10 soon.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Game Review - Bleach:The Blade of Fate

Behold the brillance.

It has been ages since the DS last seen a respectable fighting game, which if you don’t already know, is Guilty Gear: Dust Strikers. This year, another fighting game makes its entrance onto the venerable handheld. Bleach: The Blade of Fate has already been released in Japan for over a year, but I haven’t played that before since I am not conversant with the language, so of course, I am glad that Sega finally translated Bleach into English and brought the game here. Prior to playing Bleach, I did not have any knowledge of it since I don’t watch Anime programs, but what I do know is that Bleach: The Blade of Fate is one enjoyable game whose game card you will keep in your DS for a while. Yes, it is the DS’s best fighting game, but that’s no surprise either.

One would be quick to sideline a fighting game if one isn’t a hardcore fighting fan or one isn’t fond of complicated button presses traditional of typical fighters, but know you must – Bleach isn’t your stereotypical fighter. What you get in Bleach, instead, is a slight twist of the overused formula, which offers a refreshing experience for both hardcore players and newbies alike. Like others before it, Bleach allows you to beat it out with a maximum of 3 other opponents together, which can either be controller by the A.I. or other humans in multiplayer. But what you don’t get are the annoying multiple platforms that have become a common sight in DS fighting games of late, annoying because they tend to impede the flow the game in that there is essentially no midair combat as the only result derivable from jumping in these games is the elevation of your character to the upper platform. Of course, while battling it out with 3 other opponents on-screen together could be a relish, it could be chaotic at the same time and difficulty in keeping track of the character whom you are playing as may soon ensue. What Bleach does with impressive results is to introduce a background plane in addition to the foreground one. A simple tap of the L button will allow your character to jump from the foreground plane to the background plane and vice versa conveniently. Characters in the background turn slightly opaque, so less confusion would be caused.

Despite being a fighting game fan myself, I must admit that I am strictly a non-believer of complex, sequential or combined button presses and that’s why you will never see me being really good at whatever fighting game I play. But Bleach’s unequivocally about to change all that – thanks to intuitive single-tap touch-screen buttons that let you pull off special moves and combos with unprecedented ease. While I understand that long-time hardcore fighting game fans may deplore this controversial inclusion, there is no denying that Bleach is one game that you can immediately get into, and instantly enjoy the content - coincidentally, that’s also Nintendo’s aim to be easily-accessible with its DS. But do not allow this paragraph to delude you into thinking that Bleach’s as simple as a walk in the park, because skills are still required.

Taking a leaf out of the books of some of the trading card games released for the DS in recent months, Bleach has incorporated its version of the aforementioned, which are known as Spirit Cards, into its main gameplay element, which is the fighting action. These cards offer either an offensive or defensive advantage momentarily, and while newbies and casual players may not really bother about this non-indigenous component since it does not affect the gameplay in a great way, hardcore fighting game fans may find this to be of their liking. In a way, this card playing component also gives more depth to Bleach.

The depth doesn’t end with the card playing though, as you will learn that you can choose your desirable fighter from a parade of over 20 characters. Each character has a plethora of moves at his/her disposal, ranging from simple punches and kicks to the ability to conduct a quick teleport to the ability to make your character semi-invisible, making him/her invincible during that brief period of time. For a select few characters, there will also be specific moves that can be launched while in midair. All said and done, personal strengths and weaknesses will remain with each character, and it’s nice to see the balance there.

No longer than a minute will you take to discern that Bleach doesn’t stop rewarding players who win – via unlockables, of course. And with immense amounts of them to go with. And what better and faster way to unlock bonus items than with the story mode? In story mode, almost every other character will be served with one episode (storyline), with an additional last episode stringing all the plots of all the other episodes to form one satisfying, huge story. Perhaps the only thing I do not like about the story mode is the insane amount of prattling going on among the characters, which can be skipped if you just want to start the fighting as quickly as possible, but I would prefer you go through all the dialogues first before fighting, because that’s what the story mode’s all about. In fact, you would be missing a lot of what the story mode has to offer if you skip those dialogues. Along your lengthy stay in the story mode, you would be able to unlock tons of items, including more Spirit Cards, character costume colors and fighting arena backdrops, to name a few. During which, you will also be able to attain cash rewards and purchase more bonus items like character and event graphic arts, the music samples played in the game and character sounds. Am I missing out something? Oh yes, I am – unlockable characters, lots of them. But some of these characters seem more like an afterthought than a genuine attempt to reward the players because believe me or not, some unlockable characters are close to useless, including one who coughs frequently in a fight, deeming him fully vulnerable to opponents when coughing.

The story mode isn’t the sole endeavor in Bleach, as the game also includes arcade mode, vs. mode, challenge mode, training mode, time attack mode and survival mode, with the latter two being unlockable through the story mode. Single-card multiplayer through download play, multi-card multiplayer, and online multiplayer over Wi-Fi are also supported, so Bleach will last you quite a long time. Fighting records for each character in each mode are available as well. Graphics are top-notch and so are the sounds, including humorous character speech. It is amazing how Bleach has managed to squeeze so much content into a single DS game card, really.

Final Comments
The best DS fighting game this year, and the best overall. And perhaps still the best for the many years after. Bleach: The Blade of Fate is a prime example of how DS fighting games should be made and it deserves to be. Save for some of the unlockable characters, which are poorly-implemented, everything else is done with unerring precision. The fighting mechanism is in its own league, and touch-screen buttons ensure that no one will feel like a fish out of water when playing the game. Spirit Cards add more depth to the fighting action as well. There are many selectable characters and what’s good is that there is balance in their power; no one gets too powerful, nor too useless (at least for the initial batch of fighters before the unlockables arrive when you beat the story mode). The story mode is long, satisfying and rewarding, and so are the many other modes. Xbox 360 achievements-addicts would dig the immense amount of unlockables.


The Good:
- Fighting mechanism is near perfect
- Touch-screen buttons a boon for newbies, but hardcore gamers don’t get left out too
- Spirit Cards add depth
- Lots of playable characters, but there’s balance of power in place
- Huge variety of moves
- Story mode betters the ones provided by most fighters out there
- Modes galore!
- Immense amount of unlockables

The Bad:
- Some of the unlockable characters are close to useless – it makes them feel more like an afterthought

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Game Review:Halo 3

A breath-taking finale to a monolithic trilogy.

Halo burst into the gaming scene with the Xbox in 2001. Halo was visually impressive, musically captivating and its gameplay and controls set a benchmark for console shooters for the many years after. Halo 2 arrived with much anticipation 3 full years later and it brought along with it a huge bag of surprises, including new weapons, new enemies and so on and so forth. As if replicating a sense of déjà vu, Bungie once again delivered a Halo game another 3 years after Halo 2. And thank goodness Bungie has made the wait worthwhile for fans and casual players alike. Halo 3 is definitely meaner, more packed with hunky-dory stuff, and there is no denying that this is one of the best finales to any videogame trilogy anyone could ask for.

If you could remember the events from Halo 2, you must have known that the game ended on a cliffhanger that left everyone tearing out their hair. Fortunately, Bungie decided not to give anyone a heart attack in Halo 3, so you can expect a proper ending and a storyline that more or less explains the events which occurred in the game’s predecessor and one that reveals the aftermath of those. While many players struggled to fathom what the story in Halo 2 was driving at and wondered why they were playing as the Arbiter in the game, there would be none of such instances in Halo 3. The plot is more straight-forward this time, though that does not necessarily be a bad thing as there is still some complexity and charm in it. All chapters will also be dedicated to Master Chief, but the Arbiter does tag along as your partner, which can either be controlled by the A.I. in single-player or your chum in multiplayer co-op. As per tradition, the story is told through cut-scenes of high cinematic competence in the game, and these can get quite moving, especially towards the end of the game, so much so that you can actually feel for the characters. It really is an impressive feat which hasn’t been achieved in many games in recent memory – the power to alter your emotions.

Halo 3 ameliorates on Halo 2 in a great way, but I would go as far as to say that it has entirely eradicated the formula of Halo and Halo 2. Bungie has actually listened to the feedback from players and that it did – correcting the annoyances from Halo 2, but is has also done so much more. In fact, a host of new weapons, new vehicles and new enemies, just to name a few, will make their presence felt during the course of the game.

You would be simpatico with me when I say the A.I. has been vastly tweaked from Halo 2 – in a good way, of course, wouldn't you? I would say that all the difficulty levels have been upped, but wouldn’t writing this be a vague way of showing how amazing Halo 3 is? For the record, I played through Halo 3 on Heroic difficulty, and challenging it is. From the get-go, you will notice that there are different ranks of Brutes present in Halo 3, but the ranks, indicated by the color of the Brutes’ armors, are not solely for display. Instead, different ranks of Brutes have varying combat strategies, with the gold-colored Chieftain Brutes being the most dangerous and you would do well to stay away from them. The Brutes make use of the cover effectively, work in teams to take you down and you will also encounter some who carry jet packs. Get used to having grenades lobbed at you by the Brutes because that will become a norm. Don’t be caught off-guard as well when a Brute suddenly throws up a Bubble Shield while you are shooting at it. Now, what’s this ‘Bubble Shield’, you may question. A first in the Halo trilogy – and they are many other utilities in Halo 3 like the Bubble Shield, including Regenerator, which regenerates the health of those who are within range and deployable cover, which is the blue illuminated shield used by the Convenant in Halo and Halo 2. There are many more of such stuffs, but I wouldn’t want to name them for fear of spoiling your game. When used in multiplayer, these utilities are all the more entertaining. The power of the improved A.I. isn’t confined to the Brutes, though. All the other enemies in the Covenant hierarchy do also make use of cover and reinforcements will be called in at times.

You would agree that Master Chief is now a recognizable figure in the human world, won’t you? Well, apparently the Convenant has recognized the threat that the Master Chief poses to them so it decided to send its fighters to boot camp. The Brutes have grown considerably stronger, as mentioned, and so do the Hunters, the hulking monstrosities, if you recall. A Hunters, or Hunters, rather since they always work in pairs, are now harder to take down partly due to their higher health or strength, whichever more appropriate, and partly because they have taken brain pills – which of course, the end result being smarter. Wanting your weapons to face the back of the Hunters so that you can shoot at their weak spots is now no easy job, considering that they will now always attempt to face you from their front, which is plated with almost inpenetratable armors. Like the Brutes, the Hunters do take advantage of cover too. Good luck on taking them down.

Brush aside the challenge of the Convenant at your own risk, but even if you might, there is a greater evil lurking. The Flood has again appeared in Halo 3 and it further demonstrates how the A.I. has improved. It’s drastic, really. The Flood are no longer the mindless creatures they were once before. Well, they may seem mindless, but you don’t acknowledge the ability to work in groups to defeat you as mindless, do you? To pile a greater challenge on you and provide more intensity in the game, there are now more variations of the Flood. Both Brutes and Elites can now become infected and these varieties of Flood are tougher. Ever seen a flood charging at you with an energy sword or shooting at you with a Brute Shot? There is also a type of Flood which can change into three different kinds of forms. One of the more prominent changes in Halo 3 is that the Flood have been injected with more personality. It isn’t everyday that you hear a Flood speak, but that it happened in Halo 3. Gravemind, the Flood’s leader, will also play a bigger role in the storytelling of the game, where it will often interrupt you in the middle of your game and threaten you. Its goal and that of the Flood as a whole, has been made clearer than in both previous Halo, and deservedly so.

So far, I have been discussing about the enemy A.I., but what about friendly A.I.? For sure, it has improved as well, though not to the extent of the Convenant and the Flood. The Arbiter isn’t just a spectator, and he will stop at nothing to slice your enemies apart with an energy sword. He aids you in your ridding the universe of evil, but I like the way Bungie has balanced the single-player and multiplayer co-op, such that the campaign never gets too simple even with the Arbiter, which is a sure testament of Bungie’s commitment to design the campaign around co-op play. Up to 3 other online players can play the campaign mode with you at the same time, and while that’s a smidgen of irresistible entertainment factor, playing with 3 other players would only be apt if you want to enjoy and play through the Legendary difficulty level; playing with so many other players would push levels Heroic and below to the side of easy.

Arbiter is useful. Are your fellow Marines like the Arbiter too? Yes and no. A pity the friendly Marines A.I. is inconsistent and be warned that they are terrible drivers, so always take the driving seat of any vehicle! They handle the on-vehicles weapons well, though – perhaps even better than you! Moving to on-foot combat, they are nothing more than target practice dummies for the Convenant, but perhaps the making of friendly Marines A.I. to be weak is done on deliberate terms. Maybe to give the Master Chief and the Arbiter more stage space, to make them feel as if they are a bigger part of the story or to make the game more challenging. It could be any one of these reasons, but only Bungie knows.

The more variation, the merrier. That is indeed very true in the case of Halo 3 – the weapons, to be exact. A couple of changes were made to the ones in Halo 2 with some new additions and if you like the Assualt Rifle from the first Halo, you would be glad to hear that that particular weapon is back in Halo 3. Truth be told, this is widest spread of weapons ever to be seen in a Halo game. Fixed turrets can now be uprooted and taken around like you do with an ordinary weapon. Cleverly, the game switches to a third-person view when you wield these weapons (as in Lost Planet) and because these weapons are heavier, the pace of your movement becomes slower. Now, that’s realism at work. Like in Halo 2, some of the weapons may seem a little overpowered, but every weapon has drawbacks, so they all balance themselves out.

Straying not too far from the original Halo and Halo 2, the mission structure in Halo 3 would be familiar to those of you who have experienced any Halo game before. Basically, objectives will be presented progressively and each mission can take about an hour to two to complete. The question you are more interested in would be: Are they fun? What? Are you nuts! Of course they are fun! While Halo has never been known to be an exploration kind of game (ala BioShock), Halo 3 does reward people who dare to travel off the beaten track. If you have played on the Legendary difficulty setting in Halo 2, you would know that there were some well-hidden collectibles known as Skulls in the game, and these have made a return to Halo 3, acquirable even on Normal and Heroic difficulty settings. What these Skulls do is to make the game more challenging and extend the replayability a little.

But the Skulls are just part of something grander. You can expect more vehicular action in Halo 3 than in Halo 2, made more thrilling by the fact that more vehicles have debuted into the world of Master Chief. Scarabs, the gigantic crawling Convenant machines, can now be destroyed and you will see them every few chapters in the game. The Banshees have been taken to the backstage, but you’re still in for a ride if you crave air combat. The Hornet, the UNSC’s (the marines) version of the Banshees, that is. No two missions are ever alike, for one moment you could be engaged in on-foot battle with the Convenant and another moment you could be repelling a Flood manifestation and before you even realize it, you could even be in the driving seat of the Scorpion Tank and obliterating anything foreign in sight. Given this, the linearity and some minor backtracking can somewhat be forgivable since the there’s just so much variety in the missions. All in all, the campaign mode should take you approximately 17 hours to complete and that’s long – by FPS standards.

And even if you have finished the fight, you would still be keeping the Halo 3 disc in your Xbox 360 for a while – all thanks to the multiplayer, which has evolved to become one of the most integral parts of a Halo game. As with the number of weapons available, Halo 3 ships with maps of the highest numerical value of any Halo game ever – well, eleven, to be exact, some old and some new. But whatever it is, there is always a map that will suit your tastes – be it maps with more open areas, but with more confined interior spaces like Snowbound, or maps that promote close quarters combat. Though I did own Halo and Halo 2 before (which have already been traded-in long ago), I did never touched their online components since I did not have a Xbox Live Gold subscription back in the days of my old original Xbox, but what I can tell you after my 6 hours of play testing of Halo 3’s multiplayer is that there are tons of online game modes available in Halo 3 – and that’s discounting the endless number of conditions which can be set for each match, whether it is a Graviton Hammer-only match or whether it is a Rocket Launcher-only match. Having all these different game modes and conditions are welcomed additions, but I am surprised that Halo 3 doesn’t really allow me to choose which multiplayer matches I want to join by game modes. Instead, you will just select a general category in which the different game modes are grouped accordingly and the game puts you into any available match. For sure, this isn’t a game-breaking flaw, but it doesn’t hurt to put in the aforementioned option, does it? Otherwise, the online multiplayer component is just one solid experience and who knows? You would still be toying with Halo 3 on the eve of Xbox 720’s launch a few years later. Talk about longevity! Halo 3’s multiplayer is just incredibly fun and addictive and if you call yourself a gamer, you have to get into the game – like, now.

Besides the addition of new maps and perhaps multiplayer game modes, there is another first in the Halo trilogy, and that’s one that will dwarf any of the previously mentioned additions. Remember the name: Forge. Jump into this mode and the game allows you to alter the placements of the several objects, including weapons, spawn points and vehicles, in a multiplayer map, even when a match is on-going! And you are doing all this as the Monitor (Guilty Spark), so even if you detest Forge for whatever reason, you can comfort yourself with the fact that you’re playing as a character that is neither Master Chief nor the Arbiter. Forge indeed is a fresh concept that I hope forthcoming games will consider picking up.

Online isn’t just for playing, you know. Being online also means that you can share your files and Bungie knows that all too well and what it is assaying to do in Halo 3 is to build up a more robust fan community for the game. Whenever you play Halo 3, the game automatically saves what is being played into the hard drive. But if you’re without a hard drive, tough luck. At anytime, you can assess the stored video clips from the theatre tab in the game. But perhaps what’s more interesting is that like a DVD, you can pause the video clip at any moment, and not only that, you can also move the camera around the scene. These video clips can be shared with anyone who has a copy of Halo 3. Nice touch. Now, you can conduct an exhibition of your Halo 3 skills!

Given the buffet spread of new items in Halo 3, it is easy to miss the improved visuals. But miss I did not – fortunately. Compared to Halo 2, the graphics look sharper and more polished – all thanks to the extra power from under the hood of the Xbox 360. The weapons, the environments, and well, just about everything looks better than before. Explosions are a treat to the eye as well. Halo 3 may be not have reached the standards of Gears of War or Colin Mcrae DiRT yet, but it’s a beautiful game overall.

Sound-wise, the memorable orchestral and its more upbeat variation theme from both Halo and Halo 2 returns, and after all these years, it is still as terrific as ever. One of the reasons why I did not like Halo 2 that much (at least not as much as Halo and Halo 3) was because Bungie decided to tone down the music during most parts of the game and Halo 2 lost some of its ‘Halo impact’ as a result. That isn’t the situation with Halo 3, and I am more than relieved to hear the same adrenaline-pumping music given more airtime during gameplay. Yeah, it is inspiring and just like Half-Life with the Valve music that gives the game a kind of mysterious feel to it, Halo 3 owes part of it success to the music. Bungie has also debuted some new variations of the original theme in Halo 3, and these new variations are just as equally pleasing to the ears and mind as the original. The Halo trilogy has the BEST soundtrack in any videogame. And if you haven’t heard it before, you must hear it.

Final comments
There is still another Halo game on the horizon – Halo Wars, but that’s not a Halo FPS, and neither is it a sequel to Halo 3. I am sad, really. Halo has ended and yes, it has. But the Halo trilogy has ended in the most fashionable way possible – it ended with a bang. Halo 3 is undoubtly one of the best Halo game ever and it deserves to be the best. Bungie has thrown everything inside – new weapons, new enemy variations, new vehicles, new multiplayer maps and new features. The story is more comprehensible, but still as charming as before. The cinematics are really moving and don’t worry if you shed a tear or two. The A.I. has vastly improved, but friendly Marines A.I. leaves much to be desired. The Flood now has more personality and plays a more crucial role in the development of the story. There’s lots of variety in the missions, which helps offset some of the linearity and backtracking. And I have to say that this is vehicular action in FPSes at its zenith.

The multiplayer component is not the crux of Halo 3, but it isn’t neglected. In fact, it is so good that it will keep you occupied with its vast game modes and options until Xbox 720 comes around. Bungie knows that multiplayer isn’t enough and that’s why it has also included Forge, which allows you to rearrange objects in a multiplayer map and the ability to replay saved video clips of you playing the game, and these can be shared with others as well, as long as they have a copy of Halo 3. The visuals may not be the best on the Xbox 360, but they are pleasing nonetheless. And the music is superb! Here’s signing off.


The Good:
- New weapons
- New enemy variations
- New vehicles
- Moving cut-scenes (you may get teary)
- Improved A.I.
- Flood has more personality and plays a more crucial role in the story
- Encourages exploration via collectible Skulls
- Missions are great in variety
- Vehicular action in FPSes at its best
- New multiplayer maps
- Tons of multiplayer game modes and conditions can be set
- Forge allows you to rearrange objects in multiplayer maps
- Recorded video clips of you playing Halo 3 can be viewed at anytime and shared
- Graphics have improved
- BEST soundtrack in any videogame

The Bad:
- Linearity and minor backtracking involved (hugely offset by mission variety)
- Cannot choose which specific multiplayer game mode you want to play in

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