Recent Microsoft Xbox Posts

May 31, 2006

Xbox Review: Jaws Unleashed

One of the numerous games stuck in "development hell" for years, Jaws Unleashed finally makes it into a barely finished (and "finished" depends on your personal definition) $30 release published by Majesco. It's a game that seems to have the right pieces in place, like developer Appaloosa Interactive who crafted the memorable Ecco the Dolphin games. It also has a giant shark that eats people.

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May 17, 2006

Xbox Review: King of Fighters - NeoWave

While there are those out there who feel differently, people fear change. They hate it so much they're willing to deal with the status quo no matter how dull it's become just to avoid having to start over. Why else would fans of the King of Fighters franchise stick with it year in and year out?

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March 19, 2006

Xbox Review: Sid Meier's Pirates!

1. A loose approximation of what a stylized pirate might utter.
2. An onomatopoeic representation of the (somewhat) voice acting in Sid Meier's Pirates! Live the Life. Sid Meier is a name that most gamers will recognize as the famed creator of the Civilization series, one of the few game designers to gain public recognition for his works. His fans tend to await each new game announcement with a slavish devotion, usually rewarded by a deep, compelling strategy game.

And sometimes not.

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March 12, 2006

Xbox Review: Black

Things in life I learned from Black:

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March 3, 2006

Xbox Review: Van Helsing

We need lawyers who understand video game programming. People like that would be able to dig into something like Van Helsing and slap a multi-million dollar lawsuit on Vivendi Universal for plagiarism. This is a 100% clone of Devil May Cry in every way, and if one were to look deeper, it wouldn’t be surprising to find lines of code stripped right out of Capcom’s franchise.

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February 27, 2006

Xbox Review: 25 to Life

Controversy sucks. That said, so does 25 to Life. This abysmal, cheap, generic, ugly, and flat out disgusting 3rd person shooter exists solely because Eidos knew it would cause the mainstream media to jump on it. That translates to sales, and the more people that play this one, the fewer gamers we have in the world. They won't stick around after this.

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February 22, 2006

Xbox Review: Outlaw Golf 2

There's one thing you need to be aware of when picking up a copy of Outlaw Golf 2: This is one of the best golf games ever created. Yes, better than Hot Shots, better than Tiger Woods, and better than any other low level contender you can purchase for the Xbox or PS2. It's unthinkable that an offensive, abrasive, and M rated game of golf could be this successful, but it is.

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February 20, 2006

Xbox Review: Arena Football

Letting no football license escape their grasp, EA Sports gives us only the second Arena Football video game, leaving little memory of the Kurt Warner fiasco on the PS One from Midway. This is an oddball game of football, one that doesn't seem to know what it's trying to be, while missing numerous standard features we're accustomed too. It's rushed, sloppy, and limiting, but as an alternative, it's fun.

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January 19, 2006

Xbox Review: Stubbs the Zombie

The first game to use the Halo engine (outside of the Halo series itself of course), Stubbs the Zombie is what happens when a group of game designers spend far too many late nights discussing ideas. It has the sickest, most twisted, and utterly absurd sense of humor you'll find a video game this year, but sadly not the gameplay to back it up. Controlling a zombie, whether he's a chain smoker or not, isn't fun.

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December 19, 2005

Xbox Review: Batman Begins

Batman Begins - a good game? It was bound to happen someday...

Just talking about games such as Batman and Robin, Batman Beyond, Batman Forever or Batman Forever: The Arcade Game with someone who reviews video games should trigger something in their head which will make them talk about how horrendous those games were for months. Batman video games are sort of like president jokes on a late night show to a video game reviewer. Hell - I could probably base an entire stand-up routine derived from those games.

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December 15, 2005

Xbox Review: Half-Life 2

Following up to what many consider to be the greatest first-person shooter ever made, Half-Life 2 is deep, ambitious, and to put it in a single word, incredible. While there's plenty of gunfire to go around, this sequel to the 1998 PC classic features plenty of puzzle solving action. This mostly revolves around the game's most enjoyable aspect: physics.

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November 22, 2005

Xbox Review: Spartan Total Warrior

While obviously somewhat inspired by Koei's Dynasty Warriors series, Spartan Total Warrior starts off as an epic. The battles are bigger, cleaner, and far more packed than the competition, and combat it what the game does best. About halfway through though, it dies a painful, slow, frustrating death, and one that easily could have been avoided.

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November 8, 2005

Blitz: The League Xbox Review

Over the top for no reason other than to be over the top, Blitz: The League is this years sole console alternative to the Madden franchise. It's a familiar game, obviously a basic tweaked NFL Blitz engine. The things that cause the controversy, including fights, endzone celebrations, language, and sending escorts to the opponents hotel rooms, are pointless.

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November 4, 2005

Darkwatch Xbox Review

It's almost impossible to make your first-person shooter stand out on gameplay alone any more. There are not a lot of directions left to take the genre, but Capcom can try all they want if they end up like Darkwatch. Brilliantly combining adult themes, humor, brutal violence, and eerie style, this is one of Capcom's best in years.

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October 31, 2005

Indigo Prophecy Xbox Review

To say Indigo Prophecy is one of the strangest games you'll play this generation isn't a statement that far off base. What little control the player has over the characters is awful because of the camera, yet the concept is so engrossing and so unique, it's a new achievement in video game storytelling. It's a shame it loses focus towards the end and spirals downward rapidly, but it's worth fighting through the quirks to experience all it has to offer.

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October 15, 2005

Sid Meier's Pirates! Xbox Review

I originally played Sid Meier's Pirates (SMP!) almost 20 years ago on a friend's PC and then later Pirates Gold on the Genesis. This year 2K Games has published the updated SMP! for both PC and Xbox. It is amazing how much of the game has stayed the same after all these years.

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October 10, 2005

Tiger Woods '06 Xbox Review

A golfer steps back, looking at a par 3 that will earn him a championship if he can make birdie. He lines up his shot, adjusts for the wind, and begins his back swing. However, this is Tiger Woods '06, and none of that is necessary. Charge the gamebreaker, start your swing, and jam on the A button. Instant hole-in-one.

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September 30, 2005

Burnout Revenge Xbox Review

One tweak is all it took to radically changed the Burnout series. The latest addition in Burnout Revenge, same direction traffic checking, is the wildest transition into new territory for the series since the Crash mode was created in Burnout 2. It's something that may not sit well for those accustomed to dodging every piece of extra traffic, but it becomes a new experience, a completely new game.

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September 21, 2005

Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks Xbox Review

Wisely borrowing gameplay elements from the fan favorite Mortal Kombat II, Shaolin Monks shakes the curse of the first two action titles set in the series universe. Bringing with it almost necessary co-op (err, ko-op as the game of course calls it), this new addition to the line brings new life to the franchise. This is Mortal Kombat II, just with a wild new move set, and the familiar gameplay classic gaming fans have become attached to.

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September 17, 2005

Rogue Ops Xbox Review

Rogue Ops is one of those games that blatantly steals from far better software. It doesn't offer a single idea that's original, and it doesn't perform as well as the games it's trying to emulate. It's a lost budget title, and Splinter Cell has nothing to worry about.

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September 13, 2005

Madden 2006 Xbox Review

Obviously tired of passing in video game football, EA's Madden team introduces cone vision passing in 2006. This new feature stands out as the biggest tweak to the game, and it's one that adds an unnecessary, yet realistic, twist. It's going to be a love it/hate it feature.

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August 29, 2005

Lord of the Rings: The Third Age Xbox review

Tolkein purists, your bane has arrived and its name is LOTR: The Third Age.

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August 28, 2005

The Bard's Tale Xbox review

The best introduction for The Bard’s Tale game comes straight from the introduction portion of the game manual: “[The Bard’s] tenure as a barrel maker came to an abrupt end when his barrel mentor Henry, the proprietor of The Barrel Barn, ran him out of town for producing barrels that shattered with a mere whack of a sword. ‘A key won’t even be safe in these things!’ Henry screamed…” Not exactly your typical RPG character history, but then again The Bard’s Tale is not your typical RPG.

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August 21, 2005

Men of Valor Xbox Review

More so than any other medium, video games have the ability to let players experience something they would otherwise never be a part of. It can put them anywhere, and with Men of Valor, that's Vietnam. In a flood of wartime shooters, Valor stands out for its intense and thought provoking depiction of the war and the issues surrounding it. It's one of today's games that prove what a capable story telling device they are.

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August 20, 2005

Medal of Honor: Rising Sun Xbox Review

Video games are meant to grab a player immediately, draw them in, and then keep them there. That's what the Medal of Honor series has always done well, offering staggering accounts of real World War II events in game form. It's always incredible, and the opening level of MOH: Frontline, still stands as a masterpiece of game aesthetics. That's still true for Rising Sun, opening with the brutal, hard to even watch telling of Pearl Harbor. After that, this is the same game it's been since 1999.

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August 14, 2005

Fable Xbox Review

Keeping promises is tough, especially when you're dealing with a fickle group of video game players. Director Peter Molyneaux has the ideas; there are just times when the technology isn't there to match them. Fable was promised to be so much more, yet when you're done with this 10+ hour adventure, you'll never realize things that were promised were missing.

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August 8, 2005

Destroy All Humans Xbox Review

While nothing will ever replace them, classic sci-fi schlock like Plan 9 from Outer Space has probably inspired more modern cinema and video games than true classics like Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. The parodies are constant, and Destroy All Humans runs with just that. It's been regarded as Grand Theft Auto with an alien, and it's hard to find a better description.

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July 30, 2005

Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath Xbox Review

The brilliance of the original Oddworld, and even the sequels, doesn't really lie in the puzzles or gameplay. It's the world they're inside. It's one of the games that really created an entirely new place to visit, something more games seem to be doing as hardware power can match up with a creator's vision. Lorne Lanning and his team completely redesigned the series in Stranger's Wrath, and created the best game in the series (and one of the best showcases of true video game art in the process).

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Batman Begins Xbox Review

It's nothing new for a licensed title to borrow ideas from other games and end up with a decent core. How Batman Begins was screwed up, borrowing ideas from some of the best games on the market, doesn't really add up. It had all the potential in the world, only to toss it to the way side for better graphics and production values.

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July 8, 2005

Star Wars: Episode III Xbox Review

Out of all the platformers and space shooters over the years with the Star Wars license, there has only been one beat-em-up. It's a shame too, considering that Jedi Power Battles was abysmal, and the film series lends itself to the genre so well. Enter Episode III, a solid, repetitive, old-style movie licensed title with enough basic combat to carry it through about six hours of game time. A little variety would have helped make it an easier ride, but this is an enjoyable way to play through the film.

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June 10, 2005

Jade Empire Xbox Review

In just a few short years, Bioware made a name for themselves simply for producing a critically acclaimed Star Wars game that was far better than anything to come out of Lucasarts in years. Ditching the license, Bioware has crafted Jade Empire, an involving character building action-RPG that may not be as deep as their previous efforts, but it's far more accessible, and arguably, more fun. It's also too easy (and occasionally frustrating for reasons other than difficulty), and you can breeze through it on anything other than the hardest setting.

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May 14, 2005

Spikeout Xbox Review

Sega's Spikeout never pretends to be anything more than update to a seemingly lost genre. It doesn't have a gimmick like the disastrous Rise to Honor on the PS2, choosing to instead put the focus where it belongs. It's a true beat-em-up for the hardcore crowd, and it doesn't need to be anything else.

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April 23, 2005

X2: Wolverine's Revenge Xbox Review

"X-Men 2" was one of those rare movie sequels that turned out (debatably of course) better than the original. The video games didn't fare as well. "Wolverine's Revenge" is a bare bones action beat-em-up with little to offer fans of the comic, the movie, or games in general. It's not a total loss, it's the just the potential was never fully realized.

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April 15, 2005

Inside Pitch 2003 Xbox Review

As sports gamers, we take a lot for granted now. If we don't have real players, teams, stadiums, commentators, or TV endorsements, it's immediately considered flawed. Most people playing these games don't remember when all we had was just the red and blue team in the 80s. That's how games like "Inside Pitch 2003" are shoved to the wayside. Yes, there are better baseball games out there, but it still plays a solid game and this likely could have become a solid series had Microsoft not released their sports division programmers.

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April 14, 2005

Jade Empire First Impressions

I have just spent a few hours playing Jade Empire. I got the Limited Edition, which contains one extra character, one extra fighting style, a G4 video, and a few game demos. I will get to the Limited Edition at a later date.

Suffice it to say that for the same exact price, you get the LE edition. The main reason is for Monk Zeng and his Monk Spade style. The other bells and whistles are just there to sweeten the deal. This LE version of Jade Empire was only pressed once, and you can find it at retailers until supplies run dry. Did I mention it is the same price as the version without all the goodies?

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April 11, 2005

DOOM 3 Collector's Edition Xbox Review

DOOM 3 is finally out on the Xbox! And they actually packed more features then the PC release into the Collector's Edition for the Xbox. In this case, it really is worth the extra $10.00. Sure you get some frilly videos, but you also get Ultimate DOOM and DOOM II to play on your Xbox to boot! Oh and then there is Xbox Live, I almost forgot that.

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March 19, 2005

Tao Feng XBox Review

When John Tobias teamed with Ed Boon for "Mortal Kombat," the fighting game arena was different. It was a small, blossoming genre with little competition. Having left Midway to create his own company, Studio Gigante, Tobias came back with another original fighter, this one caught in a sea of them. That's why "Tao Feng" fails.

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February 21, 2005

MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf XBox Review

It's understandable that the true die-hard "Mech Warrior" fans have shunned the series' major change on the XBox. The game has pretty much been stripped clean to work in a console environment and optimized for fast paced online play. For the rest of us, it works. This is a blazing hot blast-a-thon all the way through, but it's a shame that it's so geared for online play. Single player has suffered in the process.

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December 16, 2004

Knights of the Old Republic II First Look

Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) was a revolutionary game, but we had no doubts that BioWare could pull it off. I mean it's BioWare! New developer Obsidian takes the reigns for KOTOR 2: The Sith Lords.

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November 1, 2004

Fable was an epic tale

I meant to post this weeks ago, as I beat the game only a week after I offered my first look at this most anticipated of XBox titles.

In all I clocked just over 20 hrs. in game to beat the final boss. This is quite short for an RPG. It might have been short, but it was sweet. There are four endings in the game, and I have seen both of the good endings. I may sometime play the game again as an evil character to see the other two endings, who knows.

Some people have knocked Fable for not being hard core enough of a RPG, but I think it was the right mix of everything. Fable has been one of the best games I have played in a while.

October 23, 2004

Mech Assault XBox Review

Mech games generally fall into 2 categories: The 100-button, bogged down, control freak type and the "blow sh*t up" kind. "Mech Assault" assuredly falls into the latter category, but has a few minor issues that keep it from absolute greatness. However, most people will still keep it around for its enthralling multi-player gameplay.

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WWE RAW 2 XBox review

It's rare when a company actually listens to consumers anymore. Why else do we still get "Tomb Raider" games? Here is a rare case when a company actually took to heart everything that was criticized about the first game (for the record, it was quite the list) and fixed it, but in the process created a whole new list of unforgivable issues that consumers will again have to wait to be fixed in "RAW 3" (if it ever surfaces of course).

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October 17, 2004

Max Payne XBox Review

The stories in video games have always been clichéd, historically speaking. Whether it be the save the damsel in distress or make sure the universe stays in one piece, we've seen it all a million times. When a game centers around the murder of a mans wife and newborn child, gamers take notice, especially when the game plays so well that it grips players in it's plot better than any RPG. Max Payne does just this and takes players through an interactive action movie that's better than, well, most action movies.

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Kabuki Warriors XBox Review

Warning: This review contains useless thoughts and phrases. It also contains numerous segments not even relating to the game being reviewed. You may completely lose interest or fall asleep in that bowl of Frosted Flakes right in front of you if continue reading. You have been warned.

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October 13, 2004

ESPN NBA 2K5 XBox Review

The NBA is a mess. Shooting percentages are at an all-time low, teams are moving, the league has reorganized divisions, and the number of truly talented players is pathetic. Maybe that's why "ESPN NBA 2K5" fails miserably on multiple levels. Actually, it's probably because the game is just a sad representation of the sport.

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October 10, 2004

Halo XBox Review

While some people may consider the Xbox a computer in disguise, it's main function is still a game machine. For a lot of us non-PC gamers, this is a blessing. The FPS genre has always ruled the PC with a few exceptions such as Goldeneye, but Halo has finally bridged the gap and made consoles a major contender in the FPS war.

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September 30, 2004

Dead or Alive 3 XBox Review

I'll get it out of the way right now.... This game is gorgeous. In fact, it's quite possibly the best looking game I've ever seen. Of course, as die-hard gamers, we know that graphics don't make a game. "Dead or Alive 3" stays pretty close to its predecessor's roots and very little has changed in the area of gameplay.

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September 29, 2004

Review: Fable

Peter Molyneux and Lionhead satellite Big Blue Box have finally after more then three years released an amazing action-RPG that deserves your hard earned simolians. If you like your hack and slash with a bit of role playing mixed into the fold, you can't go wrong here.

Fable has been one of the most anticipated games for the XBox. Forget Halo or Halo 2. Fable has (publicly) been around under one name or another since 2001 when it was introduced at E3.

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September 26, 2004

Burnout 3: Takedown XBox Review

Never before in the history of video games has a series improved like Criterion's "Burnout." The original was a nice but unremarkable arcade style racer, while the sequel added in addictive qualities with the spectacular crash junctions. Now published by EA but developed by the same team, "Burnout 3" is the best racer this week, this month, this year, this decade, and possibly of all time.

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September 20, 2004

Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance XBox review

I'm NOT an RPG fan. The occasional one may catch my interest, but they really are few and far between. I'm more of the hack/slash/kill repetitively type. Hence why I'm so infatuated with Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance here on the X-Box. There are a few instances where you'll be annoyed, but most of this 8-hour romp should be a highly enjoyable experience.

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Air Force Delta Storm XBox Review

The Dreamcast had quite a few flight games in its time. Game such as Iron Aces, Aerowings, and it's sequel set a high standard for the console. A little known game called Air Force Delta popped up on the console soon after launch and was largely overlooked. (Honestly though: flight sim, Soul Calibur?) Had more people taken notice, the masses would've found a game strong enough to stand up to Namco's awesome Ace Combat games. Konami has taken the same basic foundation laid down by the first game, juiced up the graphics, added full 5.1 surround sound support, and has created one of the best arcade style flight games ever.

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September 19, 2004

DOA Xtreme Beach Volleyball XBox review

You know what the hardest part of being a game reviewer is? Deciding whether or not you enjoy the game your playing. Not all the time of course, games like Halo make our lives that much easier. It's when a game like Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball come our way. It's not really a game, and it's not even what it claims to be on the box. So, am I actually enjoying myself....or am I being taken in by lots of glitz and glamour?

Volleyball? Yeah, it's here, but it's more of a mini-game. You can gamble, buy gifts, buy swimsuits, and receive a bunch of items you will never (ever) need as far as gameplay is concerned. Actually, when you being to think about it, you don't even have to play volleyball to actually, well, "beat" the game. Then again, there really is no ending, nor is there any point to the proceedings either.

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September 5, 2004

ESPN NHL 2K5 XBox Review

This years round of Sega published ESPN games began with a whimper. Their baseball franchise is quickly falling behind EA's revamped and improved MVP Baseball. Then, with the release of the spectacular ESPN NFL 2K5, things began to take shape. With a slightly tweaked engine and stronger franchise mode, NHL 2K5 is easily one of the most fun and (nearly) flawless digital simulations of a real sport ever produced. With amazing fluidity, NHL 2K5 stuns players upon entering into gameplay. The on-ice action is by far some of the most incredible ever put into a hockey video game. The physics engine literally makes the person behind the controller feel like they are sliding across the ice. The feeling is almost impossible to describe. The puck skids around the ice with realistic results and banging one off the post is just as frustrating here as it is in the real game. Computer AI remains strong, though maybe a bit too aggressive. Attempting to set up an offense inside the zone (which is great thanks to the ability to stop on a dime with a flick of the analog stick) is all but impossible, save for those rare situations. Within a second of securing the puck, opposing players swarm in to try for a steal or body check. Only on the lower difficulty levels does the AI calm down, but it also doesn't produce very much offense leading to lopsided shot statistics. Scoring feels proper (again, thanks to the puck physics) and getting one past the best goalkeepers requires complete skill when the sliders have been properly calibrated. Fighting is greatly improved, though it still feels a little bit floaty and hit detection never seems to be consistent. Like all sports games of the past few years, the right analog stick plays a role on both sides of the puck. On defense, you can execute various hooks, slashes, and trips. Pressing in on the stick and attempt one of these maneuvers results in a viscous shot not only to their ego, but the body as well. Penalties are common with hits like these, so using them with consistency will result in numerous penalty-killing situations. On the offensive end, a wide array of dekes can be performed with a flick of the stick and making opponents bite is a great feeling. Still, moving your thumb off of the buttons (if only for a second) can cause problems. If you've played NFL 2K5 (or even 2K4) with any frequency, the presentation here is a bit disappointing, but this is still the best in the market. The ESPN license is used everywhere, including the excellent commentary from Bill Clement and Gary Thorne. It's hard to explain, but they really sound like they are in a broadcast booth calling the game. Fans in the stadium get a few moments of fame, though compared to the football franchise, their participation is slim and repetitive. Excellent as it was last year, the franchise mode has been upgraded, though not with a major overhaul. The minor leagues now play a large role (you'll hire a coach to deal with them), and you have full control over their lineups allowing you to give more playtime to a potential prospect. Completely new this year are wild mini-games that can eat up a lot of playtime when you have the proper number of players available. One of these also features an analog shot system that will likely become the standard in a few years time. All of this can of course be taken online thanks to the excellent XBox Live support. Minor graphical tweaks have been added, including superb texturing on the jerseys. Player's faces are startling and the fully polygonal crowd is a step-up from the lifeless blobs of most sports games. Slowly throughout the period, the ice will slowly show signs of wear, losing the reflective luster it once had. Animation routines are spectacular, rarely (if ever) looking disjointed. The close-ups of the stadium crowd during cinematics are excellent, sporting a wonderful amount of detail that was missing from the NFL franchise. The sound package has been revamped to include full crowd chants, even for specific players. The echo effect when playing the game with "ESPN Game Sound" on a proper sound system is spectacular, adding to the immersion level of being in the stadium. Customizing stadium music for a ridiculous amount of events is also possible, though the organ music included is pretty strong by itself. The crowd does occasionally drown out the commentators no matter how much you tweak the sliders in the options menu, but this minor problem is hardly an issue considering how strong the rest of this package is. A few minor issues do drop the package down a few notches. Puck physics, as incredible as they may be, do suffer from some glitches. You'll watch in stunned silence as the puck magically swirls in the air after an opponents shot and your helpless goalie smacks it into his net. Players also can have a hard time grabbing the puck from the ice. This leads to some confusion as you assume to have possession, but an opposing player trailing behind you will skate by untouched with the puck leading to a breakaway. Those minor issues are hardly enough to destroy the experience. With a meager $20 price tag, a NHL fan that will likely be denied a season this year has no reason not to pick this title up and simulate this season without collective bargaining. Even if it's not a major improvement over last year, the already solid engine was enough to make this one worthy for any hockey fans collection.

July 26, 2004

ESPN NFL 2k5 X-Box Review, Take Two

For a full review of NFL 2k5 you need to read Matt's review. I just wanted to add my two cents. One of the best things to come out of SEGA is Visual Concepts. This game was good before they added the ESPN trimmings. This year's edition to the 2k franchise is the best yet. Before I go any further, I must say I am quite biased. I don't like Madden (the commentator or the video game). I was always a fan of the Joe Montana series. When NFL 2k came out for the Dreamcast I had it, as well as 2k1, and 2k2 on the DC. I rented Madden 2003 and 2004 and I just prefer the game play and graphics of the 2k series. I would suggest, as Matt prefers as well, the X-Box version of NFL 2k5. The PS2 version requires the hard drive for video during the Boomer half time and post game shows, as well as the weekly SportsCenter shows. Its nice to be able to choose which console to buy a multi-release title for. If you only have a PS2 then don't let the video limitation stop you. They get old fast. But it sure is nice eye candy. I prefer the X-Box version for another reason though. The X-Box controller is such a rip off of the DC controller it is uncanny. The controller is the same, the controls are the same. Its just like playing the game on the DC, with some updates of course. Matt is right, the default difficulty is way too easy. So far I have played a couple games, started a franchise and gone through 4 celebrity challenges in The Crib(tm) and the "Pro" difficulty is good for those of us who are not hard core sports gamers.
Highlights: The practice mode is nice, nothing special but it gets the job done. Having the manual in game is a nice touch. The reference guide is great. X-Box Live was very simple to setup and get going. I got shellacked in my first Live game, but man it was fun. The presentation is complete to a T. I will take Chris Berman, Peter O’Keefe and Dan Stevens any day over John Madden. NFL 2k5 has pushed the bar on what the game should look like. It looks like a NFL telecast, it feels like a NFL telecast, exactly like a football telecast. Visual Concepts and ESPN have done very well this year. I will probably be picking up other 2k5 games because of this, namely NBA 2k5. Passing is a lot better this time around. Complaints: Play by play is a little bit repetitive. I noticed this even after the 1st game I played. This is going to happen in any sports game though. There is a finite amount of space for the amount of play by play voices. The color commentary has gotten better though. The smack talk from your celebrity opponents is really annoying. Let me say that again, your celebrity opponents is really annoying. Those faces they had to make for this game, that is just sad. Not only that but it is overlaid above any on screen graphics, such as the audible window, for example. I noticed the voice sometimes does not match the face. This has happened twice so far. But you know what, without the face pop-ups how would you know you were playing a celebrity opponent? Do we care? There is almost no lip sync on Chris Berman, Suzie Kolber or the player she interviews. The mouth tries to match the vowels. I assume lip sync was low on the "To Do" list. It does not detract from the game too badly. I am getting encroachment penalties from my CPU players too much. I turned down the neutral zone infractions a tad and now I don't get those calls.
I can't wait to see NBA 2k5. If it has the same production values as NFL 2k5, and the same price tag, that purchase will be a no brainer as well.

July 24, 2004

ESPN NFL 2K5 X-Box Review

Madden has always had competitors. In the early 16-bit days, it was Sega and their Joe Montana/NFL series that battled it out every year with EA's juggernaut. The 32-Bit era brought in Sony and their franchise, NFL Gameday. Then the Dreamcast hit the market on 9-9-99 and launched with a revolutionary football game that has caused EA grief ever since. Now the latest version of Visual Concept's series, ESPN NFL 2K5, is here with a measly $20 price tag. Needless to say, this is the best $20 you can spend on the market today. Sega has gone all out this year in the presentation department, but the gameplay has only received minor tweaks in various areas. The running game has been toned down for the better, the passing game has been improved to eliminate the ridiculous number of dropped passes from last year, and runners can no longer turn on a dime. Your DB's can be adjusted on the fly if necessary as can your defensive line and you can now select your end zone celebration after a touchdown. If you have been under the Madden influence for the past five years, you will not just pick this game up and run with it. It will take an adjustment period (and probably the games decent training mode) to get you going. It is necessary to give the game some time to adjust as 2K5 moves faster and is arguably more challenging when on even difficulty levels (Note: Adjust the difficulty immediately if you have experience with this series. The default is far too forgiving). The feature set remains largely the same. "The Crib" has been expanded upon with countless new items and a new celebrity feature. This allows you to walk into your crib and answer the phone to accept a challenge from people like Carmen Electra, Steve-O, and Funkmaster Flex. Winning against their unfairly overpowered super-teams gives you points and can unlock more items. However, the horrendously annoying voice-overs during the game from the "stars" is so annoying, making it through a game will be a test of patience. Of course, you can ignore this all together and head on-line for full X-Box Live support. First-person football has been tweaked to make it more accessible, but trying to see your receivers is still difficult. The running game is still a blast however. Thankfully, you can switch out of this mode with a quick press of the left analog stick to pull the camera back to the classic view most people will be used to. The franchise mode has of course been expanded upon, but with slightly mixed results. The new option, called weekly prep, is novel, but it's grinding length and infinite menus just make you want to get to the game itself. You can set up various training schedules for each position, make your players watch game films, and even have them take more alternative routes like yoga. This will take at least a half-hour and there is nothing interactive about it since you just wade through text. Thankfully, you can turn this off before you begin your franchise, so this is not a big deal. Visual Concepts has added the ability to offer signing bonuses to your draft picks or free agents, a nice way to avoid salary cap trouble. Players can be placed on the injured reserves should the dreaded season ending injury happen. You'll also receive E-mail from the higher-ups each week, giving you information on how badly you played and information from around the league just like last year. You can even participate in some of last year's games with the ESPN 25th Anniversary mode. This will drop you into memorable clutch situations like the Heidi Bowl, The Catch, The Drive, and more. There are, of course, 25 in total. You can also create your own scenario as well. But, even with all of this new stuff, the V.I.P. system is by far the most revolutionary part of the game. By setting up a V.I.P. file, the game will track the way you play and record it. Save this to a memory card or your hard drive and you can play against a "ghost" team of yourself (to see what areas of improvement are necessary) or give your card to a friend and have them take you on without you even being there. What's so amazing is that this feature works with stunning accuracy. I tend to run to the weak side more than anywhere else and after playing a game against myself with this system, the computer copied my style perfectly. It even ran some of the plays I tend to run on a regular basis. Really impressive and this is a feature that must be tried out. Now, what separates ESPN from the other football game on the market this year is the simply awe-inspiring presentation. Remember in Madden 97 on the PS One how Jim Brown was "in the studio" each week, full-motion video style? Take that same concept and multiply it times ten. A virtual Chris Berman opens each game and introduces Sportscenter each week. He will also meet you at the half and post game. Suzie Kolber will actually interview the player of the game in real-time once the final second has ticked off the clock and the cinemas during the game are just unbeatable. VC has claimed that 200 of them have been crammed onto the disc and that statement certainly has merit. Fans tailgate, find their seats, players kick over coolers after a bad play, the cart comes out for really nasty injuries, coaches yell at players after a bad set, etc. It's endless and though it is just eye-candy, it really adds to the overall feel of the game. Though not built from the ground up, the graphics engine here is by far the best ever conceived in a football game. Every detail is simply beautiful here. The bump-mapping used on the players gives the graphics additional depth and about 80% of the player faces are accurate. New animations have been added, but some have been used since the series' inaugural edition and probably should be retired. Also, the virtual Chris Berman and player interviews have no lip-synching whatsoever, but for a first time attempt, credit is still due in large. The game also runs in 480p so HDTV owners will definitely have the opportunity to appreciate the finer details. Peter O'Keefe and Dan Stevens return again as the best video game play-by-play guys in the business, but maybe it is time to introduce some real ESPN announcers to the series. Regardless, these two guys spout off banter between plays, joke with each other, and call the game flawlessly, rarely falling behind. Sideline chatter is nice too though you won't actually learn anything by listening in. The 5.1 surround support included here is also phenomenal and you will be reminded of it every game, at the half, by the announcers. But, what good is sound if you can't control it? 2K5 lets you actually control your stadium music by clipping your songs from the hard drive and blasting them through the stadium speakers for specific plays, of course selected by you. This is a feature more sports games should immediately copy. If you're brand loyal to the Madden series, it's time to snap out of it. Sega along with Visual Concepts have crafted not only the best looking, sounding, awe-inspiring, feature filled football game of all time, but the best playing one as well. It's even crazier that this game is only $20. DO NOT let the price fool you into thinking this is bargain basement junk. This is a title that should be in your collection immediately with no excuses. Final note: PS2 owners need a hard drive for the full experience. Halftime and post-game highlights will be reduced to still pics without it. Slowdown is also a small issue and the graphics have been knocked down a notch, but it never effects gameplay signifigantly. Otherwise, the games are pretty much identical.

July 6, 2004

Rallisport Challenge 2 X-Box Review

Racing games are the standard that new consoles are judged by. There is no other genre that can really show off the graphical prowess of a new system. Enter Rallisport Challenge, a first party title from Microsoft Game Studios. The game blew people away with scenery like no other game before it. Shame about the slippery controls though. Now we have the sequel that betters the original in practically every regard. Yes, even the graphics. Rallisport Challenge 2 offers up a wide variety of play modes, including much anticipated X-Box Live support. The career mode challenges players in various forms of racing from rally (duh), hill climb, rally cross, ice racing, and the wild crossover. Each of the 90+ courses (some simply do branch off in various areas so the number is not exact) will make an appearance through your career. You'll start in the amateur class and work your way up, unlocking various tracks and cars along the way. Should you not feel like jumping into a career mode, you can jump into any one of the various game modes mentioned above, but only unlocked courses and cars will be available. You can also challenge other players via split screen (2-4) or go all out with the system link (up to 16). X-Box Live support includes tournaments and season play through the XSN service. Playing the first game and then plopping this game in reveals a revelation: The original has some of the slipperiest controls of all time. Most people may not have realized then (I didn't), but playing this new version proves it. The controls are so much tighter, that anyone can pick this game up and play it even if they know nothing about cars (I don't). Taking tight corners still requires skill (as does powersliding), but playing through the amateur ranks should teach you everything you need to know. Thankfully, it is not completely necessary to tweak your car. Car nuts will most likely have a bit more fun (and an easier time on the track) once they have their settings down, but those of us who don't know how to use a clutch will be just fine. The options for tweaking your cars are a bit limited as well, but this is a series that leans toward the arcade style of play anyway. Rallisport really pushes the hardware and really makes a case as to why a next generation of consoles is not needed next year. From the giant forests to the spiraling mountains, everything is modeled with care. The real-time reflection of background objects on the cars is flawless and the lighting easily eclipses that of the first game. Weather effects are jaw dropping, as are the particle effects. This is also a perfect HDTV showcase game. The cars themselves take severe damage and every mistake you made will show through at the finish line. Taking on other cars also provides plenty of opportunity for fantastic damage, though the cars occasionally have flighty physics resembling pinballs more than 1,000 pound super cars. The game's graphics may be the some of the best ever, but the music is not. The grating techno music never seems appropriate and can kill your concentration. Thankfully, the custom soundtrack option the X-Box is so well known for can be used here during the races, though not on the initial menu (not a problem since your only there for seconds at a time). Your co-driver comes through nice and clear however, offering up sound advice on upcoming hazards. The full 5.1 Surround support really livens things up as well. The rain effect is particularly special. This is a series that will likely be with us for some time. Those who prefer deeper sims will likely be more happy with the latest edition of the Colin McRae series (bargain priced at $19.99 which is a steal), but those of us who just want to hit the track and win a few races will be better off staying right here. Your hardware will certainly receive a workout and it will likely take quite some time until the career mode is completely finished and everything has been unlocked. This is a must own for racing fans.

June 22, 2004

Chronicles of Riddick X-Box Review

Very few games come out of nowhere and absolutely stun the gaming industry. In this age of commercial hype and the internet, it's even more uncommon. Then you have the Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, one of those games that blindsided everybody with immense graphical prowess and unique non-run-and-gun gameplay. It's not perfect, but it is certainly turned out better than anyone could have imagined. Players take control of Richard Riddick, voiced by Vin Diesel. His goal is obvious from the title: Escape the triple-maximum security prison anyway possible. However, this is not just an ordinary jail. You're actually allowed to roam throughout the yards, talking to various inmates. You'll be able to take on various side quests by talking to the right people. Step out of line and either a guard or the security system will gun you down. This is why stealth is so important. Fairly early in the game, Riddick will earn his famous "eye-shine" ability from Pitch Black, the movie that first introduced the character. Once this is done, turning off (or shooting) the lights will prove to be no problem for the anti-hero. A simple click of the right analog stick allows you to see everything clearly. However, should a light be turned on, prepare to be blinded. Ducking down in the dark makes you virtually invisible to guards and should you play everything right, this will allow you to "stealth kill." You can snap the guard's neck, stab him in the throat, or perform various other grisly killings once you're in position. You can even drop down on top of the guards and take them out. Should the kill fail or you get caught, it is extremely hard to survive a straight on battle against an assault rifle, so finding another place to hide is almost a necessity. Of course, you can always turn the enemies weapons against them with a tap of the left trigger. The first-person view that makes up most of the game will switch into 3rd person when climbing ladders, when you need to lift yourself up onto boxes, and to shimmy across some pipes. This makes climbing ladders so easy and controllable it is actually revolutionary. You'll never fall down a ladder simply because you thought you were holding on. More FPS games need to do this or find a way to make it easier. You'll actually spend a good part of this roughly 10-hour romp without a gun. You'll be forced to look for shivs, screwdrivers, pipes, and other makeshift weapons to survive. Of course, you can almost always avoid confrontations if you're stealthy enough. Should you get stuck and be forced to fight, the excellent first-person fighting engine is better than most stand-alone fighting games. Using a combination of the right trigger and left analog stick, you can perform various bloody combos with either a weapon or just your fists. Better be sure that no one else is around to hear the fight, as guards are quick to respond. Human guards are of course not the only enemy you'll come across. All the cameras in the prison are equipped with heavy firepower and once into the pit early on in the game, you'll be stuck fending off a race of disgusting little people who explode when shot. Guards are also equipped with heavily armored mini-mechs that can only be taken down when their weak spot is found. Late in the game you'll be up against another set of creatures along with guards, but revealing their identity would be spoiling some of the fun. Chronicles is an immersive experience, made so much better by the little touches. There is no display to tell you how much ammo you have (that is always seen on the gun itself) and your life bar only appears when it is affected. Guards and inmates carry on conversations and listening carefully will reveal some very funny stuff. Vin Diesel lends his own static acting to the game along with Ron Pearlman and rapper Xzibit. Language here is coarse and is definitely not for the younger set. The games new graphical engine employs "normal mapping," a way to dress low-polygon models in highly detailed textures to make them look better than a character with a high polygon count. This keeps the framerate high and the game running smoothly. The lighting here is fantastic, though there are times when it really is too dark. The surroundings look utterly amazing, easily on par with the hyped Doom 3 which comes out later this year. However, some of the graphics are way off the mark. The game hardly uses any anti-aliasing and some rooms look like their running on the PS-One. Everything gets blurry and jagged and some of the character models have trouble staying together. The realtime cinemas are the worst of the package. They end up being a blurry mess of pixels and hardly fit with the rest of the game. Some of this will not be noticeable unless your playing the game on a HDTV in progressive scan that really shows the lower resolutions used. Other people may not have a problem with this. To make up for some of the graphical mishaps is the sound. As mentioned before, the voice acting is just superb. The soundtrack only kicks in when the action does giving the action scenes a boost of adrenaline. Gunfire is spectacular, especially in full 5.1 surround. You'll hear bullets ricochet off walls and enemies yelling from all angles. When you're in stealth mode and a guard is close, your heart will begin to beat and become louder the closer he gets. This really increases the tension during these moments. This is one of the best sound presentations on the market today. The game does suffer from a few major problems that may turn off some people. The most obvious is a complete lack of any multi-player modes. Though the game is X-Box Live aware, don't make any plans of joining the community in Riddick deathmacthes. This obviously cuts down on the replay value considerably and the only real reason to go back is to pick up packs of cigarettes, which unlock various features. These can be obtained by completing side missions or simply looking around in odd places. The save system is also a bit ridiculous and will frustrate some people when they figure it out the first time. The game is auto-saved at 36 various checkpoints throughout the game. Though "saving" may appear at the top of the screen, this is only saving a spot for you to return to should you die. Moving into a new checkpoint is the only way to save the game. You'll usually know when this happens as a cinema leads the way into the new section. Some of these areas are quite large so this can get irritating. Overall, this is a wholly unique shooter with great production values and immersive story. This is easily one of the best movie licensed titles in a long time and will likely be the best one of this console generation. Any fan of first-person shooters needs to play this game and if you enjoy games like Splinter Cell for their stealth gameplay, this is also a must-play. The lack of any real replay value is obviously going to make or break your decision on a purchase though.

June 18, 2004

Red Dead Revolver X-Box Review

Those who lived through the 16-bit era will likely remember a game by Konami called "Sunset Riders." This superb 2-D shooter was set in the Wild West with a tongue-in-cheek style that brought back memories of spaghetti westerns. Though from a completely different company, Red Dead Revolver from Rockstar actually has a lot in common with Konami's old-school classic, just with a new-school, 3-D twist. The game puts players in control of Red; a child turned bounty hunter after the murder of his parents. He wanders around the west, taking jobs to wipe out criminals for money, all the while trying to extract revenge from those who made the mistake of killing his family. You'll meet some allies along the way and occasionally control a few of them, but the main focus of the game is on Red. This 3rd person action-shooter does almost everything right. Originally developed by Capcom but dropped for financial reasons, Rockstar picked it up and released it to the public. Each of the stages are usually confined to a small town (basically an arena), though a few will let you flex your platforming muscles. Enemies will relentlessly attack from every angle and your keen reflexes are the only things that will keep you alive. Thankfully, the camera is rarely out of place and will hardly ever be a problem for players. Red will be able to purchase other weapons between stages to add to his arsenal, though only a few can be carried into the actual gameplay segments. Every weapon has various attributes and they can all be upgraded as well. In a few stages, you may find various turrets to fire from and ride horseback a few times as well. Shooting is a bit tough to get used to, mostly thanks to the clunky control system. To draw your weapon, it is necessary to hold down the left trigger while moving and aiming with both analog sticks while firing with the right trigger. It's very hard to get used to and even more complicated when switching weapons. This can be done either with a tap of the white button or d-pad. Jumping, melee attacks, and reloading are all mapped to the face buttons as well. There is a lot to do and it will take some time to master. Should the action get too heavy, you have the ability to enter into "dead eye" mode which is an improvised bullet-time. Once you have clicked in the right analog stick, the entire game slows down while you aim at various points on the enemy's body. Press the fire button and you fire off a rapid array of bullets to all the marked points. This is a very fast way to dispatch the bandits but you only have a limited amount of dead eye to use. Running and gunning is not the only aspect of the game. Good 'ol fashioned duels have been included as well. These keen tests of wits and nerves are certainly fun. You'll unlock more of these segments as the game goes on and these can be played like mini-games from the main menu. You can also purchase journal entries that will give you more characters and weapons in the multi-player mode. Speaking of multi-player, the three modes are all worthy for 4-players, though if you want to go on X-Box Live, you will be certainly disappointed. It is not supported. You can challenge another player in a quick-draw duel, fight to collect the required bounty cash, and a timed death match to see who can simply accumulate the most money. There are also two card games you may find strangely addictive. This game is also available on the PS2 and it shows. It seems like nothing has been done to make the game stand out on the X-Box other than progressive scan support. Textures are blurry, character models break up at the seams, and color is limited (though this is for effect). The blood is a nice touch, but it just doesn't seem to fit with the rest of the package. The cinemas are real nice and made to seem like old, beat-up film footage complete with scratches. The loading screens are impressive as well, but the overall package is severely lacking. Voice work here is also disappointing, especially early on. However, the near-perfect soundtrack makes up for everything. A mix of 70's style music and classic cowboy themes, it's a perfect fit for this somewhat campy western shooter. Gunfire is clear with a nice "boom" and the dying characters spout off some great quotes before finally dropping. Those with 5.1 surround support will get an even better experience since they can pick out their opponents just by listening. The game does suffer from a stack of technical problems as well. The AI is downright dumb as times (especially a few of the bosses), which will lower the challenge level significantly. A few levels, specifically the train robbery, have enemies that literally just fly into the air when attempting to jump onto the speeding cars from horseback. You'll never see them again. The game will also be seen as repetitive to many people as well. The few stages that mix things up hardly help the redundancy of the shooting stages. Red Dead Revolver is a perfect flashback to simpler era in the game industry. Sure it's in 3-D and the controls are a bit more complicated, but the game certainly owes a lot to the action shooters of the past. Anyone who grew up on games like Contra or the above mentioned Sunset Riders will certainly have a blast here throughout the entire game. Those people who have never played these games will still have fun as well. This is, at the very least, an absolute rental if not an outright purchase.

May 28, 2004

Metal Slug 3 X-Box Review

SNK's Neo Geo home and arcade console will gracefully leave gamers this July with the release of Samurai Shodown V Special, a sequel to my personal favorite game of all time. The latest game in the series and final game to ever appear on the console will run gamers over $350. That's three hundred and fifty dollars. One game....$350. This is why itís just awesome to get ports like this on cheaper and much more affordable consoles, stuff normal mainstream gamers can afford. Metal Slug 3 is widely regarded as the best of the series, and though I'm not sure I completely agree with that, it's still one of the greatest action games ever conceived. Shame the port has some issues that keep from complete greatness. Metal Slug is an ADD patient's dream. Golden rule: If you go a minute without something blowing up, youíre doing something wrong. This is the ultimate twitch video game allowing you select from 4 separate characters (though all with the same abilities) and blast your way through five levels of absolute mayhem (with or without friend). Along the way you'll fight giant crabs, aliens, enemy soldiers, machines that fill up the screen, and zombies all in glorious 2-D. No need to worry about an inconsistent camera here. The game's title comes from various machines you can enter into during the gameplay. From submarines to planes (a few exclusive to this port), you'll pilot it all. Oh, you may also come across an elephant or ostrich with guns attached to it. Yeah, it's goofy, but the sense of humor programmed into this one is uncanny. Power-ups come in various forms and are usually received from rescued hostages. You'll get a nice variety of weapons from rapid-fire machine guns, shotguns, and flamethrowers. There are plenty of other extras as well, such as gold and food. Eat too much and you'll not only slow down, but also become grossly overweight in the process. It can be frustrating, but when it's this funny, you probably won't care. Though you'll certainly hear plenty of people talking about how this one looks outdated, these people simply can't appreciate the work that goes into something like this. An entire review could easily be written simply about the stunning variety and small details crammed into this one. By far the best looking animation is when you turn into a zombie (by getting puked on of course). Press the bomb button and watch your player regurgitate and entire bodies worth of blood. The animation rivals the best 3-D games can offer, only here every single frame was drawn by hand. Though you'll only have a few opportunities, try and take it slow through a few segments and just watch everything that goes on in one screen and then you'll understand why this is such a lost art. Sadly (though it certainly wasn't expected), the game doesn't run in progressive scan for HDTV owners. The music here is superb, remixed from the original Neo Geo tracks and a few new ones tossed in as well. The classic Metal Slug theme is alive and well, coming through gloriously thanks to the added digital power of the 'Box. The explosions could rip a sub-woofer apart and the hilarious cries of dying enemies are priceless. All the sound effects are crystal clear so you'll experience every single blast from your gun in full. There are a few extras to add life to your purchase, though not too much to keep inside the console for an extended period. A few extra modes including a cool mass attack on the good guys is a blast since you play from the enemies perspective. There's also an innovative take on the "overweight" problem mentioned before. Youíre in a race to garble down food to become the fattest player of the group. Also, one you've completed them, each level can be tackled individually. The game is, of course, not perfect. The difficulty level will overwhelm many players, especially those unaccustomed to 2-D gameplay. Nearly all the slowdown from the Neo Geo rendition has been removed meaning your reaction times need to be super sharp. Those more used to the series will probably find this one a bit easier, though due to a design issue, still harder than the original. Continuing means you go all the way back to the start of the stage.....ALL the way back. I'm not a total expert, but I'm pretty sure this game features the longest final level of any video game ever created. Running through it without stopping will take at least 20-25 minutes at best. Imagine dying at the final screen only to be sent back to the starting line. It's utterly infuriating and though it was probably a change made to extend the life of the game, it comes off as an annoyance (and certainly not a small one). The arcade game let you pick up right were you died so a change is probably better for the home market, but sending the player even halfway back would be at least be acceptable. The X-Box Live component is pretty much wasted here with only scoreboard support. Nope, you have no chance of playing through the game with some kid in Brazil online. The only other minor issues involve the control. The X-Box doesn't exactly have the greatest D-pad in the world so you may make a few unintended moves once in a while. Also, while it's a series trademark, not being able to shoot diagonally is annoying. Oh, and would it kill someone to toss in some auto-fire support? I'm getting carpal tunnel twenty years earlier than intended. Metal Slug is, for all intents and purposes, the ultimate action-shooter. The entire series is pretty much flawless. Though there are some issues here, this is a great introduction to the beloved series and you'll lose almost nothing in the port (and at only a quarter of the price). I see little reason why they couldn't have included some of the other games in the series on this disc (including the most recent 5th sequel) since there has to be plenty of room left. Hopefully, SNK Playmore has even bigger plans for these games and may be released at a later date. Until then, kiddies, prepare for a very harsh history lesson about a time when games were simpler and a whole lot more enjoyable to just about anyone.

May 26, 2004

NHL Hitz Pro X-Box review

Midway has done a fantastic job with their arcade-style hockey franchise, upgrading it every year with outstanding results. This year, the game has been re-worked extensively adding full 5-on-5 gameplay with a full set of NHL rules. This is a scary thought to those who enjoyed the fast paced, rule free gameplay the series is famous for. Never fear since Midway has appealed to every possible crowd and making what is, quite possibly, the best hockey game of all time. NHL Hitz Pro is jammed with various modes, so many that it very well may take a few days to try them all out. First is the season mode, the usual 82 game NHL season. You can play through this with multiple players, having someone take control of every team in the league. Create-a-player, trades, free agents, salary caps, and loads of stat tracking are available. The franchise mode is a bit different than what most people may think. Instead of taking your team through multiple seasons, you'll create an entirely new team and take them onto the ice against other fantasy teams. You'll earn power-ups to make your team play better by completing pre-determined tasks assigned to you before the game gets underway. Win enough games and you'll roll right into the NHL. Then you can play an entire season with your new team. If the controls bother you, take a shot at the excellent training mode that features Scotty Bowman and some other NHL stars (in video form) teaching you about the game. If the actual ice isn't your style, try street hockey, roller blades and all. Sadly, you can only select from 2 teams in this mode, but slapping a ball into a telephone booth is still fun. You can also check out some DVD style extras as well. Every aspect of the game can be edited to your liking. Not a big of fan of penalties? Turn 'em off. Think that goalie is just TOO good? Tone down his A.I. Don't like the opposing team poke checking you? Turn it down. There is very little in the game that can't be edited to your liking. Shockingly, turning down the speed a notch and turning on the rules gives you a simply superb game of real hockey with only the checking being a bit over the top. It's far more appealing than any of EA's recent efforts. The smooth analog controls give the precision you need to pull of some spectacular moves. Excellent dekes, stick checks, shot blocks, and checks are all available when needed. You can also control were your shot goes into the net, but if this is too complicated, make it automatic. It's in the options menu. On the ice, you'll be treated to some superb visuals and animation. The fine details are numerous from the water bottle that can be knocked off the net to the great scoreboard displays. Cinemas occur after every stoppage a play, something this generation of consoles has done so well. A lot of the animation is new so watching a guy get blasted through the glass has never looked more painful. Oh, and for HDTV owners, the entire package runs in progressive scan. Of course, I can't forget the fully polygonal crowd who will do the wave when you pause. They look great during the cinematics as well. They do cause a bit of a hit in the framerate and it causes you some grief, turn them off. It's all in the options. Tim Kitzrow is back this year for some play-by-play along with color commentator Harry Teinowitz. Their pre-game commentary is by far the funniest in the industry and the in game comments are great too. The arena music that plays is fully customizable which means that yes, your custom soundtracks can blare over the PA system during the game. Though it doesn't say so on the box, rest assured the entire game runs in full 5.1 Dolby Surround thanks to the X-Box. You simply haven't lived until you've heard organ music in full-on surround sound. Of course, if you don't like any of this, turn it off in the options menu. I don't know if there is a group of people out there who won't simply fall in love with this game. Anything about the game you don't like can simply be changed. Midway wasted nothing and pulled out all the stops to create the ultimate game of hockey. The only things missing are a full franchise mode and some type of season for that really cool game of roller hockey. This is a must own game and one that will age extremely well. Note: If you want online play, head over to the PS2. No online for the big black box.

March 5, 2004

Beyond Good and Evil X-Box Review

Very few games can combine so many different genres and still be succesful. Even fewer games can cram multiple genres together and become one of the most memorable games of an entire generation. Enter: Beyond Good & Evil. The brainchild from the same man who brought us the Rayman series, BG&E is one of the most spectacular looking, sounding, and playing video games of not only this generation of consoles, but could very well be a benchmark for future consoles as well. Beyond Good & Evil tells the story of Jade, a photographer/reporter for hire. Living with her Uncle Pey'j (a pig...yes, pig), Jade gets crossed up in a mystery surrounding a war affecting not only her world, but also the people trying to protect it. It's not a story filled with very many twists or turns, but there are moments that may come as a surprise. Jade will be tossed into numerous situations ranging from stealth, space combat, picture taking (!), racing, and straight out action. That's were the game shines. Each segment of the game, whether it be the boat races early on or the massive Star Wars-esque space battle near the finale, would be a great game on it's own. The stealth segments are simplified compared to the complicated schemes of say, Splinter Cell, but this gives them a feel of other more classic games in the genre. Jade has no night vision, can't distract guards, and certainly won't be sniping anybody. It's a refreshing change of pace from the "realisitc" stuff clogging the market. The simplistic AI may cause some people to shove this to the wayside, but the ones included here are much more gripping and tension filled than any other Metal Gear clone. Puzzles also make an appearance, but very few are challenging enough to stop a die-hard puzzle fanatic. This keeps the game moving briskly along throughout it's entire 10+ hour running time, never dragging itself down in complicated junk. Fighting segments are also in the same vein: Simple and easy to master. In fact, it's probably the best as far as beat-em-up games are concerned this entire generation. It's spectacular to watch Jade flail about taking out various undead creatures performing moves that would probably take 15 buttons presses in another game. As sort of a side game, their are 150 different species of animals scattered throughout the land. Taking a picture with Jades camera of each one earns cash. There are a numerous places to buy items across the games map and some of these are integral in completeing the game. Pearls are another (and rare) form of currency accepted by the Mammago garage which can help increase your vehicles attributes. The majority of the game has Jade teamed up with a partner who can help her out in certain situations. Uncle Pey'j helps out for the first half and then players are introduced to Double H, a hilarious take on generic heroes. Controlling them is context sensitive, but never requires anything more than pressing the "B" button. You can also ask them questions which adds to the storyline or may help you along if your stuck. Helping boost the game up even higher is it's intense cinematic feel. The entire game is letterboxed (though not in widescreen?) and every 3-D gaming graphical trick is used somewhere. Lighting effects are unparralleled, the textures never appear blocky or blurry, and the performances by the character models really heightens the atmosphere. The entire planet is fully realized down to the smallest of details and the productions values must've been incredible. Regardless of the cost, it was all worth it when it was finally put on the disc. As with the graphics, the sound is also spectacular. The voice acting gets special mention as it's some of the best heard to date. Full 5.1 sound support means you can hear everything coming at you from every angle and the fight sequences are inredibly immersive with the right equipment. Music, while fairly sparse, is always welcome. The theme in the Akuda bar is addictive and you can't help but groove along with it. Is 10 hours too short for a game of this type? After growing up in a generation of games where the average actioner lasted no more than an hour, not at all. The only real problem is the length of the side games (like the boat racing and space battle) which are more of a tease than anything. Lucasarts could learn a few things about how to make a Star Wars flight sim just by playing this one. The only other minor quibble is the camera which can prove to be bothersome once in a while, but almost never in a life or death scenario. It's also a shame that after the cliffhanger ending we may never get a sequel since the game sold so poorly across all platforms. Beyond Good & Evil is one of those games so good, you'll rant and rave about it to everyone you know until they either buy it or you drive them criminally insane. It harkens back to a day in video games when you'd replay a game countless times simply because it's fun, not because your forced to collect crystal #374,987 to get a "real" ending. It's simplicty at it's finest and a very drab, dark world if we are never treated to a sequel.

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