Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (PS3 game review)
I haven’t played a Castlevania game since Super Castlevania IV came out for the Super Nintendo many, many years ago (yes, it’s been that long). From the initial screenshots and videos that I saw for the game, at a glance it looked like another God of War clone, but I wanted to give it a shot anyways. Overall, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow may not be as polished as a God of War game, but it’s still a fun, whip wielding adventure.
First off, it should be noted that this new Castlevania game is being presented as a reboot of the franchise, and as such, its plot has no relation to any previous Castlevania game. Lords of Shadow follows the journey of Gabriel Belmont, a member of a holy fighting force called the Brotherhood of Light. In the game, a spell has been cast that has prevented the souls of the dead from ascending into Heaven, including the soul of Gabriel Belmont’s wife, Marie. Gabriel’s quest is to defeat the aforementioned Lords of Shadow and obtain an artifact known as the God Mask, which he intends to use to resurrect his deceased wife.
The main weapon you’ll be using in this game is Gabriel’s Combat Cross, which is actually a powerful chain whip. As you progress through the game, you’ll earn experience points which will allow you to unlock new combo moves and other abilities. There are also several secondary weapons you’ll encounter, such as holy water, throwing knives, and a crystal that can summon a powerful demon. Lords of Shadow also incorporates a magic system consisting of Light magic and Shadow magic, with Light magic allowing you to regain health when attacking an enemy, and Shadow magic allowing you to deal extra damage.
The combat in Lords of Shadow is definitely the game’s high point. When the Combat Cross strikes an enemy, there’s a real sense of weight and impact. Also, the need to switch back and forth between light and shadow magic during hectic battles (particularly boss battles) adds a bit a strategic depth that you wouldn’t expect from a typical hack-and-slash game. I also appreciate the fact that, unlike many games of its kind, Lords of Shadow has (for the most part) gotten rid of standard quick time events. Instead of pressing a specific button, most of these events just require you to press any button when two white circles intersect. Interspersed within the game are also a few interesting puzzle sequences that give you extra experience points if you solve them, but the game gives you the option to skip the puzzle should you want to (although no experience points would be earned).
The art direction in Lords of Shadow is appropriately dark and gothic, featuring many nicely rendered landscapes and buildings that give an impressive sense of scale. The voice acting is very well done thanks to great performances by Robert Carlyle (who voices Gabriel), and Patrick Stewart (who voice’s Gabriel’s comrade Zobek). I also loved the booming orchestral music of this game, and without giving too much away, there is one level that plays an interesting rendition of the original Castlevania theme song.
Still, there are a few issues that need to be addressed for any future instalments. One of the main issues I had was the fact that even though Lords of Shadow is a fairly linear game, there were a few occasion where I got a bit lost as to where to go next. A map or some sort of guide feature would have helped to alleviate this. Also, this game involves a lot of jumping and wall climbing, but sometimes it’s hard to tell what ledge you can grab on to or not, which has lead to a few deaths. The game also allows you to deflect certain enemy attacks, if you hit the block button at the same time they attack. This allows you to stun an enemy for a short period of time to get in a few hits. But this mechanic seems to be a little broken since on many occasions, when I press block during an enemy strike, there is no deflection at all.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow does a good job of rebooting the franchise, yet still maintaining the atmosphere of the old games. Relative to other games in the genre, Lords of Shadow isn’t really breaking any new ground, but it was still an enjoyable experience. Fans of the franchise, as well as those who enjoyed games like God of War should give Lords of Shadow a look.
I give Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 4/5 stars.
Halo: Reach (Xbox 360 quick game review):
As the final Halo game to be released by Bungie, the developers have made a real effort to try and make this the best Halo game ever. While it won’t revolutionize the FPS genre, or change the minds of those who never liked the series, Halo: Reach is still a great shooter that fans of the franchise (such as myself) will enjoy. This game is a prequel to the first Halo game, and it has you joining a team of Spartan super-soldiers in defence of the planet Reach. One of the main new additions to this game is the inclusion of various armour power-ups that can give abilities such as sprinting, invisibility, and jet packs. Personally, I found invisibility to be the most useful, giving you time to fall back from a big firefight and heal up.
Multiplayer also has a few new modes, my favourite being Infection, which pits one team of Spartans against a team of “zombie” Spartans. There are only a couple of real gripes I have with the game. The first is that I wish the game gave you the ability to control your teammates in some way, since they weren’t very useful for much other than distracting the enemy. Also, the much touted space combat section was pretty fun, but it was over a bit too quickly. Overall, I enjoyed Halo: Reach, and I look forward to seeing what Bungie puts out next.
I give Halo: Reach 4.5/5 stars.
Dead Rising 2 (Xbox 360 quick game review):
The first Dead Rising wasn’t too bad, but I didn’t think it was that great either. Still, I decided to give the sequel a shot. In Dead Rising 2, you play as Chuck Greene, and (just like in the first game) you have to survive for 72 hours in the Vegas like Fortune City until help arrives. One of the first things I noticed about Dead Rising 2 is that the AI of NPCs you encounter has improved a bit. They are less prone to getting caught by zombies when you’re leading them to safety, which is a big help considering that many of the people that need rescuing are far away from your safe house.
A new and really fun feature of Dead Rising 2 is the ability to combine certain items into powerful combo weapons. Seriously, nothing beats tearing through a crowd of zombies using boxing gloves with bowie knives attached like Wolverine claws. However, aside from the above mentioned items, the game hasn’t done much to really improve itself. Running back and forth rescuing people is still a tedious task, although encounters with various psychopaths (i.e. bosses) help to break up the monotony. Overall, Dead Rising 2 had its moments, but I would wait until the price dropped a bit before buying it.
I give Dead Rising 2 3.5/5 stars.
Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty (PC Game review)
It’s been more than a decade since the first Starcraft came out, and after selling millions of copies and taking over South Korea, we finally have a sequel to one of the best PC games of all time. But was this really long wait actually worth it? Honestly, I was wondering this myself. But once I started up the first mission, all my doubts went away, and I found myself immersed in one of the best games of the last few years.
Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty takes place four years after the end of the Brood War campaign, and follows the exploits of Jim Raynor in his attempts to overthrow Arcturus Mengsk, the Emperor of the Terran Dominion. Unlike the original Starcraft which featured three campaigns (one for the Terrans, Zerg, and Protoss), Wings of Liberty only has a campaign for the Terrans. When I first heard about this, I was admittedly a little upset. But after playing through the campaign, I found it more than satisfactory. In fact, it was absolutely fantastic. The new Terran campaign itself is as long as the all three of the original Starcraft campaigns combined. Also, the missions in Wings of Liberty are some of the most creative and diverse that I’ve seen in a real-time strategy game. For example, there was one mission taking place on a lava world that had you collecting resources, while at the same time forcing you to move your units when the lava rose, as well as fending off enemy attacks. It was hectic, challenging, and fun at the same time, as were all the missions in this game.
One of the main changes in the single player campaign portion is the fact that you do not advance linearly from mission to mission. Instead, Jim Raynor’s battlecruiser, the Hyperion, acts as a central hub location where you can choose which missions you wish to tackle. Completing a mission will net you cash which you can use to upgrade your units. Also, each mission usually contains bonus objectives, which if completed, will give you Zerg or Protoss research points, which allow you to research new technologies to combat both species. In between missions you can also explore the Hyperion, interacting with other crew members and hearing their thoughts. Personally, my favourite thing to do is listening to the propaganda news reports that paints all of Jim Raynor’s actions after every mission as evil.
Now, for those familiar with the first Starcraft, when you play against the computer or against an online opponent, you’ll notice that the core gameplay itself has remained largely the same. You will still be gathering resources, and pumping out units to destroy your opponent’s base. Of course, the main thing that set Starcraft apart from other real-time strategy games is still intact, and that’s the extremely distinct play styles of the three races, and it can take quite some time to learn the nuances of each. Starcraft 2 also brings along a bevy of new units, my favourite being the Terran Thor, and Protoss Void Ray, and the Zerg Corruptor. I should note one change to the gameplay that may seem small, but it can have a huge impact on a match, and that is the ability for some units to go up and down ledges. In the first game, ledges were insurmountable walls that you could only go around, or fly over in a transport. However, units such as the Terran Reaper can easily jump over these ledges and decimate an undefended base.
Multiplayer matches are also as fun and challenging as ever. You have your standard modes, including 1 vs. 1, all the way up to 4 vs. 4. As in many other multiplayer RTS games, when it comes to playing 2 vs. 2 or more people, it is crucial that you and your teammate(s) work together really well. If one of your teammates have no idea what to do, then your team can be easily overwhelmed by an opposing team who does. Prior to getting deep into the multiplayer, you’ll do a series of matches that will determine what “league” you should belong to (e.g. Bronze league, Silver league, etc.). Depending on how well you play, you’ll gain points that will allow you to increase your rank, and possibly change to a higher league. All of this definitely adds to the already competitive nature of Starcraft 2.
Since this is a Blizzard game, you know it’s going to look awesome. As usual, the cinematic cutscenes are absolutely fantastic. The production values on these cutscenes look so high, that I wouldn’t be surprised if Blizzard produces its own Starcraft movie one of these days. The in-game graphics are also great, and give the series a big facelift, while maintaining the feel of the original game. Lastly, the voice acting in Starcraft 2 is top notch, thanks to returning voice actors like Robert Clotworthy, who reprises his role as Jim Raynor, and other talents such as Tricia Helfer, and Michael Dorn.
It’s been 12 years since the release of the original Starcraft. Despite this lengthy wait, the developers at Blizzard have used the time to make what I consider to be one of the best games of the year. I am absolutely looking forward to see what the future Zerg and Protoss campaigns will be like. If you’re a fan of Starcraft (or of strategy games in general) you must not miss out on playing this game.
I give Starcraft 2, 5/5 stars.
Mafia 2 (PS3 game review):
I remember loving the original Mafia when it came out for the PC many years ago. Its great graphics, strong story, and excellent voice acting made it a top notch experience. Now, after years of development, a sequel has finally been released. After completing the game however, my feelings on this sequel are mixed. Maybe it’s because my tastes have evolved over the years, but frankly, while Mafia 2 is a solid game, it just wasn’t as good as I thought it would be.
The plot of Mafia 2 spans the 1940’s and 1950’s, and is set in the fictional city of Empire Bay. The story focuses on Vito Scaletta (a veteran of the Second World War), and his ascent up the ranks of the Mafia. Joining you in your journey is Joe Barbaro, Vito’s long time friend, and the one who helps to get Vito into the Mafia. Throughout the game you’ll be taking on many missions ranging from stealing cars, breaking into government offices, and of course, killing people who get in your way.
Mafia 2’s core gameplay is that of a third person shooter. You’ll get access to many weapons of the era, including the Colt 1911, MP 40 submachine gun, and the signature Thompson sub machine gun. You’ll be able to take cover during shoot-outs, and regenerate your health when bullets aren’t hitting you. Although Mafia 2 appears to be an “open world” game in the vein of Grand Theft Auto, it is actually pretty linear. There are a couple of things you can do on the side that are not a part of the main story (e.g. stealing cars and selling them for cash), but I was hoping for more meaty side quests, such as taking a hit out on somebody, or maybe even intimidating businesses into giving them your money in exchange for “protection”.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind if a game is linear, but when the city is so huge and detailed, it just feels like there should be more that you can do in it. Oh, and one gameplay mechanic that I was hoping would be taken out this sequel is the need to obey traffic rules. It is not as strict as the first game (since you can now run red lights), but you can still get chased down for speeding. Now, while this may be more “realistic” it definitely does not make it more “fun” for me.
The main thing that kept me playing this game, and arguably its strongest feature, is the great story accompanied with really well done voice acting. The story is filled with plenty of blood and acts of betrayal, and the voices of the actors really feel authentic (particularly with the accents). I also liked that the game added radio stations with music from that time. It’s fun driving around listening to “Tequila” by The Champs, while on your way to take out some mobsters. Graphically, the game looks nice with well detailed vehicles and buildings. However, I am aware that the PS3 version is not as graphically up to par with the 360 and PC versions, with things such as missing grass effects, although it didn’t really bother me too much.
Overall, Mafia 2 is a good game, but it feels like so much more could be done with it. I do not regret buying it, but after being in development for six years or so, I was hoping that the developers could have made more of an effort to try and give you more do to in Empire Bay. Still, here’s hoping for another sequel to this series.
I give Mafia 2 3.5/5 stars.
Duke Nukem Finally?
Last year, I made a blog entry regarding the closure of 3D Realms, and the apparent demise of Duke Nukem Forever. Now, as you've almost certainly heard, Duke Nukem Forever is still alive and well, and in the hands of Borderlands developer Gearbox, with an expected release sometime next year. Truthfully, as much as it amazes me that a single game has taken this long to make (and it's still not finished yet), I am still very interested in playing it. Do I think it's going to be the best game ever? Probably not. But I'm still curious at how the game will turn out out, and I'm hoping that it will at least be a decent shooter. This game has been in development for so long, and now it appears that we're approaching that light at the end of the tunnel. Here's hoping that we all finally get to play it.
Shadow Complex (Xbox 360 quick game review):
A lot of praise has been heaped up Shadow Complex by critics and regular gamers alike, so I decided to give it a shot when it went on sale on Xbox Live a while ago. The gameplay is quite similar to the Metroid games on the NES and SNES, taking place in one really large map filled with enemies and bosses to fight, and plenty of power-ups to collect. Fans of that type of old-school gaming will eat this up. As for me, suffice it to say, it isn’t the mind-blowing experience some people say it is, but it’s a good side-scrolling shooter nonetheless.
I give Shadow Complex 4/5 stars.
Darksiders (PS3 game review):
There are those who’ve called Darksiders a Legend of Zelda clone. This is of course false: It’s a God of War AND Legend of Zelda clone. But is that a bad thing? Absolutely not. Darksiders maybe not be the most original game on the market, but it’s still a very well made action-adventure game that fans of the genre will enjoy.
The story of Darksiders places you in the role of War, one of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. War has been accused of prematurely starting the Apocalypse on Earth by a group called The Charred Council, but is given a chance to clear his name by finding those responsible. The gameworld is divided up into several different areas, including a spider-infested city, and a massive desert inhabited by giant sandworms. Each area is filled with plenty of unique enemies for you to eviscerate with your arsenal of weapons, as well as many puzzles to solve, although to be honest, the puzzle sequences felt a little unnecessary to me. Some of the puzzles were okay, but I was much more interested in slicing through enemies than trying to hit two switches at the same time to make a door open.
At the beginning of War’s quest for justice/revenge, he is only equipped with the Chaoseater, War’s large, two-handed sword. However, the Chaoseater is able to level up and become stronger the more enemies are killed by it. As the game progresses, War will also come across other weapons. One of my personal favourite weapons in Darksiders is a four-bladed boomerang called the Crossblade, which is capable of striking multiple targets. These weapons are also needed to access new areas in order to move the game forward. Also, at the end of most areas, there is a boss that you have to fight. Most of these fights are fun to play, but they often boil down to pattern memorization in order to defeat them.
The first time I looked at screenshots and concept art for Darksiders, it instantly reminded of World of Warcraft, particularly with the character design. Some may not like this artistic style, but I think it befits the game’s post-apocalyptic setting. I also have to say that the voice acting in this game is pretty well done, with the stand out being Mark Hamill as the “Watcher” who follows War on his journey. As for the soundtrack to the game: it adequately matches the game’s atmosphere, but is nothing too memorable.
In the end, Darksiders doesn’t do anything revolutionary, but it’s an enjoyable action-adventure romp. If reports that a sequel shall be made prove true, I’d definitely be interested in trying it out.
I give Darksiders 4/5 stars.
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