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Posted : 11 years, 6 months ago on 1 December 2008 10:04 (A review of Legendary)

"Legendary's" quality as a video game is in no way related to its namesake. Quite the contrary. Despite being released during 2008’s big holiday shopping season when SO many great games are being issued, "Legendary" is nothing more than a budget title masquerading as a top-tier shooter (and it will run you about $60 for a purchase to boot). Whoever at publisher Gamecock had the bright idea of charging the same amount of money for this as Activision did the likes of "Call of Duty: World at War" should be canned immediately.

And I'm sure you've read the negative reviews as well. Of these negative reviews, IGN's is probably the most biting in that it awarded Spark Unlimited's mythological shooter a jaw-dropping 2.5 out of 10. To my knowledge, no gaming publication has given "Legendary" anything above a 7 and that really isn't good news for Spark, who's last FPS endeavor was the much-maligned "Turning Point: Fall of Liberty" (and for the record, it wasn't that bad). It just goes to show you that a cool concept and promising game play footage don't necessarily bring good reviews.

But is it really THAT bad? Is "Legendary" actually so bad it's virtually unplayable (hell, IGN gave glitchy travesty "Hour of Victory" a five-point-something)? Is "Legendary" as unwelcome as, say, "25 to Life" and... gulp... "E.T."?!? This, of course, is only relevant if you believe IGN themselves are still relevant (har har). I will tell you this much, though; "Turning Point" was no trend-setter, but it was a decent generic FPS and nothing more. Spark Unlimited made very clear that "Turning Point" was to be very old school and "twitch"-oriented. It succeeded at being that for the most part, but its shoddy visuals, poor programming, and hideous textures got in the way of what was otherwise a fairly run-of-the-mill, kinda-sorta fun action title. It had some impressive set pieces even if the budget allowed for very few of them. The same can’t be said for “Legendary” simply because it tries harder and reaches farther. But it is, again, for the “twitch-centric” gamer who has been craving a distinctively routine shooter with a nice chocolate coat, but no cherry on top of the metaphorical sundae.

“Legendary,” both in scope and execution, is the “spiritual successor that could” to “Turning Point.” It doesn’t hold a candle to the big hits we’ve already played this season, but the game’s focus on epic set pieces and immense battles means that, despite shallow game play, it will hit harder with FPS fans than Spark’s previous offering. I can’t say that there is much to do throughout “Legendary” other than kill a handful of different, cool mythological beasties in only a number of interesting ways, but these beasts are thrown at the gamer in such large quantities and presented with such flair – such as Werewolves crawling on walls and ceilings as they come at you and huge Griffons swooping down from above for a little “snack” - that it’s hard not to get wrapped up in “Legendary’s” flawless execution.

Despite a budget that doesn’t even begin to dent that of heavy-hitters like “Gears of War 2,” you may find yourself surprised at some of the spectacles you will be witness to. One highlight is that of a giant scrap-metal Golem stomping through New York City’s famed Times Square and literally smashing it to pieces. Defeating the thing isn’t as epic as I would have liked, but going through this process presents an amazing sequence where the Golem punches its giant hand through a deteriorating skyscraper – with resultant debris falling around you - with the hopes of eliminating your character. Another fantastic set piece is when the gamer, as Deckard, takes on a Kraken in London. Bringing it down is rather simple, yet satisfying, but the pay-off is an in-game cut scene having said Kraken bring down Big Ben in a glorious display of lighting.

That is really what “Legendary” is all about: presentation. Game play is nothing we haven’t seen from the FPS genre since the corridor shooter craze of the early/mid ‘90s with “Wolfenstein 3D,” “Doom,” and “Quake,” thus meaning that enemies are largely unintelligent and, to disguise their lack of intelligence, there are quite a few presented to the player during what seems like every moment of game play. Some creatures are defeated by way of strategy (the Kraken and Golem, for example) while others just require you to keep pumping hot lead into them until they keel over (here’s looking at you Minotaur and Griffon). I suppose if you were looking for a mythological FPS with an arching story and huge reveals you may find yourself massively disappointed, but “Legendary” does a fantastic job of setting its purpose up well from the start. This is not of the “Half-Life” mold of gaming; “Legendary” is strictly point-and-shoot and the developers made sure we feel like bad asses doing it. Bringing down cool creatures and witnessing the ensuing aftermath is spectacular fun.

Even with the maligned Animus feature presented – wherein you collect the essence of destroyed creatures to power up the signet on your arm that replenishes health, fills up Animus devices, or gives you the ability to perform an Animus Blast which stuns nearby creatures – being DESERVEDLY maligned, “Legendary” is a fun no-brainer for the action enthusiast that has finished “Gears 2” for the umpteenth time and wants themselves an old school-er with a highly interesting concept.

Even with its subpar budget and that underlying sense of “the concept could have been worked into something so much more,” at least “Legendary’s” visuals don’t suffer as much as that of “Turning Point’s.” They are both powered by the same engine (Unreal Engine 3), but “Legendary’s” texture work is working at a much higher resolution. Lighting is marvelous and many of the environments, particularly in London, are brilliantly designed and detailed. Human models could be better as they look more like lifeless mannequins than real people, but the various creatures that now inhabit the Earth are top-notch. By no means is “Legendary” a truly fantastic looking game, but it is visually solid and sporting some great art direction as well.

When I scanned through the reviews on “Turning Point,” I half expected the criticism. When I read through the reviews prior to purchasing “Legendary” I just thought to myself, “Wow, is it really that bad?” I will play any game regardless of publications’ views on them, but this I really had to check out for myself just to quell my curiosity. Not only is “Legendary” a great big surprise for me, but it is also a game that I feel is completely and totally undeserving of its negative press. Granted, it really doesn’t deserve anything more than a 7 or 7.5, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I agree with ratings of 5 and below. The game doesn’t break any new ground but “Turning Point” seemed like a big enough warning sign of future products to come from Spark. If anything, “Legendary” is an ambitious “TWITCH” shooter that was unfairly bludgeoned by critics simply because they were not aware of what kind of game it was to be before release. Peculiar how similarly “twitch-centric” games “Painkiller” and its sequels have received rave reviews, but “Legendary” gets shafted. The crazy world we live in.

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Posted : 11 years, 7 months ago on 6 November 2008 03:08 (A review of James Bond 007: Quantum of Solace)

I usually don't have the highest expectations for film-based video games. This year's "The Bourne Conspiracy" was a pleasant exception, though not really a title that one can go back to for a second helping. But I was heavily anticipating Treyarch's "Casino Royale"/"Quantum of Solace" two-fer for some odd reason.

With the success of the company's console-only hit "Call of Duty 3" and the big buzz surrounding their upcoming "Call of Duty 4" semi-sequel - very aptly subtitled "World at War" - one might get the suspicion that all this developer is able to do well is churn out odd-numbered "CoD" sequels. But quite unexpectedly, and correlating with next weekend's release of the new 007 flick "Quantum of Solace," Treyarch's video game tie-in has absolutely nothing to do stylistically with their previous efforts.

This group of talented developers had long since been written off and that is due in large part to the projects they were given. "CoD" fanboys could never muster the courage and admit if one of Treyarch's "Call of Duty" sequels was at all an improvement on Infinity Ward's formula. But if the "Quantum of Solace" video game is any indication of their future work, and that includes the upcoming "World at War," this may be a company to keep an eye on as they continue to grow.

In terms of game play, "... Solace" is linear shooter fare all the way through. Arguably, the most important aspect of any FPS is how its shooting mechanics respond to the player and the world surrounding him/her. Surprisingly refined and intuitive, "... Solace" makes gun battles feel quite intense with large emphasis on the game's wonderful hit detection. More interestingly, explosive objects can be targeted during combat and made to explode if shot, thus sending nearby enemies, debris, and much of the environment itself flying in all directions in glorious slo-mo.

There is an extremely healthy selection of weapons on display also. You will find an assortment of pistols (both semi-automatic and fully automatic), submachine guns, mounted turrets, grenade launchers, assault rifles, shotguns, and high powered rifles. Hand-to-hand takedowns are also something presented here, and however satisfying, there are far too few variations of them, sadly.

A cover system has been integrated into this latest Bond title as well and it is certainly one of the better ones I have used. Pressing A against cover where indicated will dig Bond in, while pushing the left thumbstick away from the cover object will pull him away from it. The system doesn't always respond well as you may find yourself detaching from cover at the worst possible moment, but if an object looks like it could be used as cover, it probably can. Bond isn't very limited in terms of cover opportunities (hell, the game encourages the use of cover) and even though the game is NOT a run-and-gun shooter some sections can be played as such if one so chooses.

"... Solace" also gives the player a couple of small choices to make over a large chunk of the game's single-player mode. A few of the game's missions must be played in what I'd like to call "FPS Mode" with the gun barrel smoking first and questions being asked later, but a large portion of the game lets you decide for yourself how you'd like to proceed; an example being if you would prefer to disable security cameras or work your way around them when they present themselves. Being given a choice - some being whether or not you'd like to sneak up on enemies and eliminate them by way of silent hand-to-hand takedowns or well-placed headshots (a silencer can be toggled for nearly all weapons) - is hugely satisfying. It should also be mentioned that if caught by a patrol or security camera it is NOT game over. Refreshing, to say the least. It also doesn't hurt that the stealth mechanic is one of the most effective I have ever seen built into a game that is, ultimately, geared more towards the gun nuts than the bullet conservatives.

But that is not to say the game is perfect. The powerhouse "CoD 4" engine is backing the visuals here, and though it still looks sharp and runs at phenomenal frames, "... Solace's" visuals offer up far too little in the way of innovation. Graphically, the game is certainly one of the better looking titles released this year thanks to Treyarch's great handle on lighting. Environments are also typically varied as with any Bond game and the engine handles them nicely. Nothing is outright awe-inspiring, but every location feels very real, practical, and above all else, solid.

Aside from Daniel Craig's shockingly lifelike character model, the other models range anywhere from "familiar" to "mediocre." If under the right weather conditions, they can look fairly decent. If they are not, I believe "last-gen" are the words I'm looking for. Explosions appear to be rendered more like big orange smudges than a ball of bursting flames, but the cinematics are top-notch and I doubt we will ever see an in-game render of a movie character that looks as realistic as Craig's Bond model. Level design is sharp and never dull, but you do get the feeling that with the tech Treyarch had to work with, "... Solace" could have been one fantastic looking game.

Surprisingly enough, however, this isn't the mediocre shooter I secretly expected it to be. The recreations of key sequences from "Casino Royale" are a joy to play through (especially the chase through the construction site and the train headed to Hotel Splendide) and the added insight as to what went on BEYOND the movie is fantastic stuff for film buffs. There isn't much from "Quantum of Solace" as Treyarch was probably under agreement not to spoil the film considering it hasn't even been released yet. Most of the game is aimed more towards fans of "... Royale" with the well-intentioned hopes of giving them a deeper glimpse into the involving story. That is appreciated by this critic.

Granted, the game isn't as good looking as screenshots suggest, the visuals are solid nonetheless. AI is also decent, if nothing spectacular; but it is the game's presentation and production values that truly standout. Every action sequence is unforgettable, every chase is replayable, and all of the game's features (like the Quick Time fight sequences and the hacking and balancing mini-games) are so much fun it should be criminal. Truly the best Bond game since "Goldeneye."

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Posted : 11 years, 7 months ago on 4 November 2008 02:42 (A review of Saints Row 2)

I distinctly remember playing the first "Saints Row," finishing it then immediately selling it. I remember thinking of it as a somewhat memorable, if rather unremarkable "GTA" clone that’s only real selling point was its controversial subject matter (the player character being the member of a powerful street gang, trying to take down even more powerful street gangs) as opposed to its admittedly formulaic, been-there-done-that game play.

This brings me right into "Saints Row 2." Now, just because the first "Saints Row" was a "GTA" clone doesn't necessarily make it one of those forgettable retreads (here's looking at you "True Crime: Streets of L.A."). If anything, it was one of the few clones that actually capitalized on "GTA's" open-world game play instead of confining you to it, as well as offering up vast improvements on its structure. For example, if you failed a mission, no longer would the player have to drive all the way back to the mission start from a hospital/checkpoint; the game would simply ask if you wanted to retry the mission.

Granted, much of the first "Saints Row" borrows quite a bit (what seems to be purposely) from the extremely successful "GTA: San Andreas," what with its character customization, ability to buy clothes and jewelry, and "San Andreas'" innate trademark of pimping cars. "Saints Row's" customizability was just much richer, deeper, and expansive, however.

This sequel is a game that I REALLY was not looking forward to. As I said, the first is solid, if lacking originality, and being released during the holiday shopping season - when big titles like "Far Cry 2," the excellent "Fallout 3," "Call of Duty: World at War," "Mirror's Edge," and the long-awaited "Gears of War 2" are hitting shelves - "Saints Row 2" just didn't have the urgency and importance of those heavy-hitters. On the contrary, even if the first "Saints Row" was more challenging, this second trip to the Saints' 'hood is more outrageous and three times as satisfying.

Of course, when a "Grand Theft Auto" sequel is released the same year as any other open-world crime sim, the development team(s) should already be well aware of the stiff competition and immediate comparisons that will be made. Technically, "GTA IV" is leaps & bounds ahead of the "Saints Row 2" tech. As a matter of fact, "Saints Row 2" lacks the graphical improvements you would expect and probably hope for from a sequel three years in the making. Quite frankly, this sequel looks no different than its predecessor. Maybe a higher polygon count, some better shading and a realistic real-time shadow system, but everything else is perfectly last-gen. That speaks volumes considering the original was a 360 launch title and looks dreadfully similar to this title.

The game is so fast-paced and so harried, though, that the poor graphics quickly become an afterthought. After playing "GTA IV" for months on end, I became quite accustomed to vehicles that felt "heavier" and had some semblance of physics. At first, "Saints Row 2's" car controls feel a bit clunky. You can't help but think that they feel far too loose. But as you progress throughout the single-player mode, you'll notice that pulling off hairpin turns and squeezing through gridlocked traffic is not the problem it was in Rockstar's recent masterpiece. There's also the ability to toggle cruise control which works brilliantly in sections where you must drive and shoot simultaneously.

As a whole, there is a much bigger difference between the "Saints Row" series than there is just about any other open-world franchise now that this sequel has tried to successfully move these games away from "GTA" territory and into something far more original. Developers Volition Inc. must have worn a smug little grin on their faces throughout the entire creative process as this is easily one of the most demented sandbox games I have ever played. Over the course of a 25-35 hour game, you will play through missions under the influence of narcotics, toss the homeless into drug shacks, and spray feces onto government buildings and much, much more. "Saints Row 2" aims to hit below the belt and it could care less what the rules are for this particular subgenre. Humor is omnipresent and is one of the game's most appealing facets.

Although those looking for a challenge certainly won't find one. On the easiest difficulty, one could breeze through this in about a week or two of casual play, higher difficulties would probably warrant a few more days. But it’s really all of the variety that is impressive. Where "GTA" was happy enough to give you a bunch of assassination missions and a couple of chases, "Saints Row 2" isn't afraid to throw in everything along WITH the kitchen sink. Some of it is incredibly ridiculous and many of the tasks your character sets out to accomplish are not particularly ones I can imagine hardened street thugs doing (like tracking down nuclear waste and filling a rival gang leader's tattoo needle with it), but these missions are fun nonetheless. They are varied and each section quite extensive; no two missions play the same.

Character customization has been ported over from the previous "Saints Row" as well, only heavily expanded and much more in-depth (your character, which is the same character you create from the first, can now be given one of six voices, for example). Other customization options include crib customization (a fantastic addition), gang customization, and of course, the ability to collect currency and spend it on better clothing and higher quality jewelry to "decorate" your avatar. There are always side-tasks for you to accomplish and, yes, there is still the pesky annoyance of having to fill up your respect meter before you go through the game's main missions, but minor gripes aside, Volition have made a whole lot of something out of a whole lot of nothing.

Criticizing "Saint's Row 2" is fruitless. The developers, I'm sure, are aware of its shortcomings as the game seems to celebrate them. You could very easily call its engine "out of date" and "lacking polish" or say that its core content is crude and offensive, but this franchise was never about superior graphical representation. It has always placed firm emphasis on the game play, no matter if its ideas and ideals are directly stolen from the "GTA" series. "Saints Row 2" continues that trend, minus the overt "GTA" references. By no means is it as rewarding and as downright fun to play as this year's "Grand Theft Auto" sequel, but it fixes, adds, deletes, and completely reworks the original title's game play into a must-play sequel that no one really cared about. A superb soundtrack and fantastic locales don't hurt, either. Its ridiculousness is all part of its charm and, although you don't normally see hardened thugs duking it out with Japanese samurai or painting the town brown, this over-the-top sandbox game makes no concessions to the politically correct crowd.

Bottom line, if you enjoyed the first, you'll love the second. This is by all means a true sequel in every sense of the word. Everything that made the first "Saints Row" enjoyable is back and improved ten-fold. The changes and additions are remarkable and make this the full, complete game that the first should have been.

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Posted : 11 years, 7 months ago on 28 October 2008 12:24 (A review of Saw V)

After viewing "Saw V" and walking out of the theater, then to my car, I noticed something very peculiar. I wasn't thinking about it. Every "Saw" film before it left me thinking about its ending and the events prior to it. Next to the first, "Saw V" is easily the weakest of the series.

Killing off your main villain in a more realistic horror franchise, then attempting to churn out more sequels seriously degrades the quality of the films. At least that's the secret "Saw V" let's us in on. They couldn't really bring Jigsaw back as a zombie-esque slasher maniac, ala Jason Voorhees, and we couldn't find out later that one John Kramer is aligned with some underground cult, carrying a curse that mysteriously gives him invulnerabiliy. Therefore most of the movie is presented in flashbacks in order to give the ol' Jigster proper screentime - also revealing how Detective Mark Hoffman became the key apprentice he was revealed to be at the end of "Saw IV" - and I REALLY appreciated all of the high-concept plot and big reveals. But Patrick Melton & Marcus Dunstan's script ("Feast 1 & 2") left little room for anything else.

With that said, the main game being played in "Saw V" is a major disappointment. As far as I'm concerned, it brings nothing to the film and, comparably, nothing new to the franchise as a whole. It is simply an excuse to kill off a number of mind-numbingly stupid people in increasingly grisly ways. That being said, "Saw V" also marks the one film in the franchise where the series' trademark traps, deaths, and torture devices truly begin to jump the shark. Not only is everything less imaginative, but it's also far less graphic than much of "Saw's III" and "IV." Horror sequels are supposed to up the ante - violence and gore included - and "V" rests firmly on its laurels.

Then again, it was great to see Tobin Bell as Jigsaw once again and, as always, he does not disappoint. He isn't on-screen enough, but when he is the man doesn't disappoint. Costas Mandylor, as Mark Hoffman, gets a much jucier role this time around and he doesn't waste it. I found myself rooting for Scott Patterson's Agent Strahm, but no one else in the cast really made much of an impact on me.

I even found myself jonesing for "Saw's 2, 3 & 4" director Darren Lynn Bousman's kinetic visual style. Not that David Hackl is talentless behind the lens, mind you, but the film just feels so lifeless; kind of like "Saw Sequel 101." Darren brought so much life to the franchise and truly made it his own, and Hackl is simply too point-and-shoot. I never thought the words "Saw sequel" and "generic direction" would fit firmly into the same sentence.

Even with all of the mediocre crap, "Saw V" is OK for what it is; a torture flick just in time for Halloween. It is definitely the weakest of the "Saw" films since the original. The gore is way too low (perhaps much of it was cut for an R rating?), much of the flick too inept to be considered anything more than just a decent time at the movies, and the ending is piss-poor. But that's not what "Saw" is. For the record, it should have ended at "III."

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Posted : 11 years, 7 months ago on 24 October 2008 03:27 (A review of Far Cry 2)

It's been about a year now since I played a shooter on the Xbox 360 that I felt deserved some kind of "... of the Year" nomination. The last FPS that really floored me was 2007's "Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare." Take that as something of a compliment to the game because I'm going to let you in a on a little secret: I am not a "CoD 4" fanboy.

Moreover, this has been a pretty listless year for first-person shooters. "Battlefield: Bad Company" was a fantastic exception, what with its dry humor, superb action, and top-of-the-line visuals. But as summer came to a close and we fast-approach the holiday shopping season, UBISoft Montreal's big-budget, no-holds-barred, go anywhere/do anything sequel (in name only) to CryTek's beautiful "Far Cry" of 2003 marks not only the time of year where FPS titles rule the market, but also marks one of the few - perhaps only - times a game (SPECIFICALLY a first-person shooter) has allowed the player this much freedom.

Sure, the respective development teams behind recent open-world games like "Grand Theft Auto IV," "Saints Row 2," and the aforementioned "Bad Company" have allowed you to play their games how you saw fit from a somewhat generalized perspective, the key variables were always the same. You really could not progress unless you did what the game wanted you to do in each specific way it wanted you to do it. In the case of "Far Cry 2" you will notice that everything is brutally open-ended. If you see a guard post you don't want to deal with at the moment, you can very well sneak/drive/swim around it, or just tackle the problem head on.

Enemy AI is non-regimented as well, meaning it is programmed to do one thing and one thing only: react to the player accordingly. I have been witness to many moments where enemy NPCs will talk amongst each other, trying to figure out where I am if I cannot be found after a firefight. Once I am spotted and if I happen to take cover in a tiny little shanty, they may try their best with bullets for a bit. Then one communicates with the other, "I'm tossing a grenade," and sure enough, one of those little green buggers lands at my feet in order to flush me out.

I feel I should mention, though, that "Far Cry 2" is more akin to the recent "Mercenaries 2" than the first "Far Cry." You select from one of 9 different mercenaries at the beginning of the game, each with their own strengths, weaknesses, and unique appearances. The other 8 mercs show up later in the game as Buddies. These are characters that you can align yourself with but must be very cautious of as they can turn on you at any given moment. Choices must be made concerning your Buddies as well. I've faced a situation where one came to my aid in a firefight and was gunned down moments later. I was then given a choice. Do I inject him with the serum that refills MY health when in a pinch, to revive him and put him back in the fight, or do I shoot my fellow merc in the head, effectively putting him out of his misery? It may save you some health in the process, but remember that they can no longer come to your aid in battle or offer you missions later in the game.

It's these kinds of realistic decisions that you must make, even if the game doesn't REALLY have a plot (other than to eliminate the game's main antagonist, arms dealer "The Jackal") that makes it worth playing. Even the game’s small nuances, like being able to interact with your avatar when health is low, are remarkably impressive. Digging bullets out of your body, extinguishing flames on your person, popping busted bones and joints back into place, etc... It all adds to the experience. Although I have yet to see all of these animations, UBISoft has stated that there are well over 30 of them.

Much like the great “Half-Life” and its kin, “Far Cry 2” is played entirely from a first-person perspective. By never taking you out of this POV the gamer really gets the chance to live the environments, locations, vehicles, weapons, and characters. For example, going from the front seat of a truck and fluidly climbing onto the mounted machine gun, then watching the screen jerk as you fire it, feeling the controller shake as you do so is absolutely incredible. Fire realistically propagates with the wind and leaves charred shrubs and burnt grass in its wake. This is a game that is all about immersion and, even if there are some things that don't quite click, they are easily forgiven.

I guess the game's biggest flaw, as I mentioned above, is that it is pretty much plot-less. There are no big twists or revelations, there are virtually no cut-scenes, and for a gamer like me that favors big plot-oriented gamers over any others, this is a bit of an issue. "Far Cry 2" tends to become repetitive if played for too long, sure, but the shootouts are spectacular and its various effects are top-notch. Setting one of your enemy's ablaze with a flamethrower/Molotov Cocktail, then watching him writhe in pain in a patch of dead grass as he consequently starts a huge brush fire is mesmerizing. "Far Cry 2" isn't so much about plot (or lack thereof), it's about the action and the experience, and both are wonderfully executed.

Even from a technical standpoint, "Far Cry 2" will stand as one of the best looking Xbox 360 games released this year. The title is so far ahead of most of the competition that few will probably notice its few minor visual hiccups. It is absolutely stunning to take a moment and simply observe your surroundings. Quick strolls through various jungles in-between tasks will offer up several dazzling effects; one of them being sunlight cutting through the large trees above and projecting light onto the shrubs below in real-time. Shading is incredible, and the rising/setting Sun, which does both in real-time, is something that I can only describe as mesmerizing. The rocky plateaus look amazing and the dense bloom effect creates this sense of tangibility within the stark African landscape. I doubt few wouldn't get caught up in watching a gust of wind realistically blow the plant life around as leaves and dead grass swirls around your merc's POV. Granted, some of the textures tend to look a bit lifeless and character models could be improved slightly, but this is general nitpicking that simply doesn't do "Far Cry 2's" visuals proper justice.

As far as I’m concerned, this is THE action game of 2008. Who cares if there are only a couple of different drivable vehicle models only made to look so by way of different paint jobs? Who cares that there really isn't much storytelling going on besides “do X for (insert Buddies name here)”? Who cares if the enemies seem to take WAY too many rounds before finally dropping for good? Nitpicking aside, this is one of the most rewarding, intense, graphically impressive, and aurally exceptional games I’ve ever played. The PC crowd may have had their second-coming with a little game called “Crysis” last year, but in so many ways non-CryTek involvement has made “Far Cry 2” the ambitious little sequel that could, and you know what… it excels in every way imaginable: from vehicle controls to intense firefights & insane physics. Let “Crysis” steer others towards purchasing a machine upwards of $2,000, us console gamers will enjoy one of the best sequels no one ever saw coming.

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Posted : 11 years, 7 months ago on 10 October 2008 02:43 (A review of Feast II: Sloppy Seconds (Unrated))

The first "Feast" is a prime example of cult horror film-making done right. No less crude and outlandish than the movies it culls inspiration from, but it bent and ultimately re-wrote the rules of contemporary horror in the way it saw fit... whether you liked it or not.

A few years later comes its sequel, "Feast II: Sloppy Seconds" and sloppy it is. No less gory than its predecessor and much more over-the-top (any film that has an infant getting thrown into the air and splatting onto the hard pavement beneath it MUST be), "Feast II" takes something of a new approach to the flourishing franchise. Where the original was claustrophobic (maybe too much so) and more reliant on comedy than horror, "Sloppy Seconds" feels much more like a '70s horror throwback with just enough of the original's smart genre jabs thrown in for good measure.

I've read quite a few negative reviews on "Feast II" thus far and I can certainly understand the criticism. Whereas the original was generally fast-paced and very "Alien-like" in that in remained in one general location with a group of soon-to-be victims, this sequel moves a bit slower and is so far removed from "confined" that it would do the picture a disservice to even compare its few claustrophobic moments with those found in the original. Not to mention Wes Craven, Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck are no longer producing and it had no Project Greenlight backing whatsoever. As should be expected, the sets look a little cheap, there is more off-screen gore thanks to a drop in budget, and the FX aren't always up to snuff.

But with a sharp grindhouse feel and body parts, arterial spray, bodily fluids, and shredded babies to spare, "Feast II" manages to be more than the sum of its parts. It was great to see director John Gulager's wife, Diane Goldner, return as the twin sister of Harley Mom from the first film, Biker Queen. She gets to display her acting chops far beyond anything given to her in the first and I found her quite likeable as an anti-hero of sorts. Other stand-outs include Carl "Anthony" Payne ("Cockroach" from "The Cosby Show") and a reprisal from Jenny Wade as Honey Pie.

Of course, it goes without saying that if you found the first film upsetting in any shape, way or form - in particular the "face-rape" sequence involving Harley Mom - the entirety of "Sloppy Seconds" is something you will want to steer clear of altogether. We're talking beasty urine, creature vomit/human vomit, feces, and, of course, the quintessential gore needed to make a film of this ilk complete.

Perhaps a little too concerned with shocking instead of delivering on the goods the first promised, this is still a swift one-two punch that contemporary horror needs. Not quite as good as the original, but just as ridiculous (if not more so) and much broader, “Feast II” won’t please everyone, and probably no one but those who have their roots firmly planted in early grindhouse cinema. All in all, however, “Feast II” is an admirable sequel.

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Posted : 11 years, 8 months ago on 7 October 2008 01:12 (A review of Postal (Unrated))

I'm still sitting here in complete & utter awe. It has happened; Uwe Boll has finally made a good film. "Postal" isn't necessarily a “good film” in the traditional sense, but by Bollian standards, it's far above anything else he has directed/produced thus far.

Culling inspiration from and paying homage to - but not really adapting – the videogame "Postal" or its sick sequel, this film is more an exercise in extremely crude humor wrapped in a nice religious/political satire than it is one man's quest to go about his daily activities while keeping his own sanity in the process, ala the videogames (namely the second). Zack Ward plays Postal Dude and the only connection this has to the videogames is Ward's character’s alias and the mail truck he drives (get it, a POSTAL truck) stocked with one of the film's big plot devices.

But aside from that, as well as the fact that Dude never really goes postal as the character did in the games, this is a fairly faithful videogame adaptation. Taliban threat? Check. Tons of crude, offensive humor? Check. A shitload of profanity? Check. Senseless violence? Check, check and triple check. A plot that is thinly held together by some semblance of a "story" in order to insult everyone from the morbidly obese, Middle-Eastern folks and African-Americans, all the way down to Germans, concentration camp victims, the vertically challenged, the mentally challenged, religious fanatics, and even Uwe Boll himself? Check a million times over. I'm not sure if Uwe intended for this film to be as satirically broad it is, but by doing so, it makes sure to offend SOMEONE, at least. Whether you are offended or just laughing heartily along with it, Mr. Boll has assured one or the other.

Whether or not you agree with "Postal's" brand of "I don't give a fuck" humor is really what keeps the film from reaching any other audience than those interested in an especially black comedy with tons of marginally dissected social issues and C-grade gunfights interspersed for good measure. I'm sure a lot of potential viewers will look at the back of the DVD box and see that Uwe directed this and immediately steer clear of it. That shouldn't be their fear here. Whether or not they can appreciate dreadfully bleak gallows humor is. If you are into that sort of thing and like it to have literally no care or concern for anyone's feelings, “Postal” is wholeheartedly recommended. Granted, there is very little plot to speak of and none of the cast are really acting outside of just playing weird caricatures of the groups they are mimicking, it makes for a fun, fast, wildly comedic ride nonetheless.

In fact, the picture is so cheesy and so inept in nearly every way that you have to ask yourself occasionally; is this intentional or is Uwe really this bad a director? Whatever the answer to that question is, it helps "Postal" out tremendously. Its source material is no less outlandish than the movie, but it’s great potential for an irreverent big-screen comedy is undeniable. Strangely enough, I thought Boll did a fantastic job with the script and also in bringing the game world to life. The actors ham it up as they should (especially the inimitable Dave Foley and the charismatic Zack Ward), but Boll deserves special commendation for simply picking on anyone and everyone and not being afraid to get picked on himself.

The political satire is sharp and the other forms of satire so broad and overly generalized that they are just as effective. I loved watching the not-so-subtle hinting that Dubya and Osama were in cahoots and that during those infamous events of 9/11 the terrorists were actually re-routing the hijacked aircraft for the Bahamas because they were only guaranteed 12 virgins after their martyrdom, only to have the flight disrupted by the passengers. Offensive? You bet. But also damn hilarious.

For those interested in Boll's more experimental approach to cinema (never thought I'd say that) which means, of course, he is less focused on big angles, sets, and set pieces, this is perfect viewing for all of us yearning for that "one good movie" Uwe never could seem to make. Loaded with tons of crude humor and even some great political insight, “Postal” is much more than it appears to be on the surface. If anything, it proves that the man has a few more tricks up his sleeve and, perhaps, we may have written him off a bit too soon. Some intelligent, thought-provoking movie-making going on here from the man dubbed "The new Ed Wood." Surprising, ain't it?

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Posted : 11 years, 8 months ago on 3 October 2008 05:41 (A review of Alone in the Dark )

"Alone in the Dark" really is a hard sell. I'm sure you've heard all about its weaknesses and maybe even some of its strengths. Inherent in those strengths and weaknesses there are bound to be, of course, many detractors. The game is by no means a masterpiece and I figured I'd get that out of the way immediately.

I think what I should say right off the bat is that this iteration of "Alone in the Dark" is a very different animal - perhaps an altogether different species - than past games in the series. Whereas the first few "AitD" (for brevity's sake, please) entries were slow, methodical survival-horror titles that placed firm focus on scares over neat special FX and vast level design, developer Eden Games have seemingly moved the games away from the spooky settings of the previous games and gone for more of an action-oriented approach that does, indeed, work.

There are even a number of superb creative ideas on display here. Being able to look inside of your coat innards to view your inventory and, in real-time no less, assemble together makeshift flamethrowers and Molotov Cocktails, as well as heal yourself with healing sprays and bandages, for example. The player can even hotwire cars, change seat positions in vehicles, and rewire circuitry and pretty much anything that has multiple sets of wires. Breaking down doors or shooting out locks is also something you will find yourself doing quite often. A lot of the puzzles require a decent amount of thinking but are never too difficult. Assembling together objects and finding ways into new areas is common and it will give you a great sense of immersion.

However, seeing that this game encourages combat over running AWAY from the various creatures that inhabit this universe (ala the "Silent Hill" series), it comes as quite a shock that the combat is too hard to get the hang of (and you never do, really) and it never feels at all satisfying. Switching between first and third-person points-of-view by pressing Y is frustrating as neither view controls fluidly and some actions can only be performed when in a specific POV. Third person movement is clunky and uneven, and the melee combat is no better. Having to charge up your swing with the right thumb stick, then complete it by pushing it in the opposite direction in which you charged it is commendable in terms of adding that extra level of immersion, but far too often the push that should result in completion of the swing is unresponsive.

Driving segments are also a major pain. Thanks to poor car handling and vehicles that are way too light and, without exaggeration, turn and stop on a FUCKING DIME, they are probably the biggest contender for "Alone's..." most mediocre game play facet. A driving sequence that takes place through the outskirts of a crumbling Central Park should have been gripping and intense but because of whacky vehicle handling simply becomes an exercise in frustration.

But I will say this much for the game, even if its firearm, melee combat, and vehicle segments are nothing special; it has one of the best opening acts of any game to date. Having to find your way out of a "possessed," burning building while it comes down around you, replete with slow-motion, creatures on the loose, and some great gore & puzzles sure makes "AitD" seem a hundred times better than it actually is. Hell, even the second chapter gives you that whole "hey, this might actually be pretty good" vibe. But as the game wears on into the 4th and 5th chapters respectively and the world opens up a bit more, the game starts to fall apart at the seams.

Graphically, however, "AitD" is quite impressive. Character models look splendid and facial animations are pitch-perfect. Things get a little rough when it comes to cut-scenes as character movements tend to look a bit jerky, but everything from the environments, lighting, character models, and various effects are top-notch. Sure, there are better looking games available for the 360, but for a series of games that has never really offered up prime visuals, this is rather refreshing.

I wish I could say more positive things about the game to warrant the slight recommendation and three star rating. "Alone..." is actually quite fascinating despite its numerous flaws and many frustrations. Apart from some OK voice acting, an intriguing plot, great visuals, and an "I just want to keep playing despite all of the bullshit" feel oozing from its every orifice, it otherwise squanders all of its promise. Of course, you won't find many survival-horror games on the 360 so that may give you some incentive to at least give this a rent. But, then again, "Silent Hill: Homecoming" was just released and it is, by my calculations, about 1,002 times better than this. Despite the lack of horror and an overreliance on melee combat and various other game play mechanics to enhance the experience, "AitD" is nothing more than a mildly above average game that could have been so much better.

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Posted : 11 years, 9 months ago on 7 September 2008 03:22 (A review of Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas 2)

The key to the successful creation of any sequel is making sure that it's bigger and better than its predecessor. Standing neck-a-neck to UbiSoft's tactical action-shooter "Rainbow Six: Vegas" is no easy task, so perhaps the only game that could do it is its own sequel.

Trimming the fat from the previous game and incorporating a bunch of new features makes this a far leaner, much more fun experience; a cinematic feel, more forgiving difficulty, as well as the fantastic new A.C.E.S. system doesn't hurt, either. The few who enjoyed the post-process filter in 2006's original "Vegas" may be disappointed to find that it has been all but removed from this installment. Environments can be rather bland at times, but the improved architecture, character models, and bump-mapping is welcome for a sequel that changes very little else graphically.

Although "Vegas 2" is not a graphical powerhouse and its visuals are not representative of the game’s overall quality, it is, more or less, the game play that will keep you coming back for more. A system in which XP (Experience Points) is accumulated by performing certain types of kills (headshots, kills through cover, team-assisted kills, long-range/short-range kills, and eliminating certain enemy types) enables you to unlock different types of skills throughout the single-player campaign. This system, called A.C.E.S., will unlock weapons, armor, and clothing based on how you perform in the battlefield and which types of kills you seem to prefer. It helps in making sure you have the right equipment and weapons for your preferred method of play at all times.

Granted, it would have been nice to have every weapon available to you at the start of the game, the A.C.E.S. system gives you a reason to play differently, adapt, replay, and try new things more often. There is also the abiility to dress you and your two-man squad up according to the scenario or, moreover, just how you see fit. Everything that a special ops team of this sort would need - like protective eyewear, body armor, pads for the knees and shoulders, and even face masks to conceal ones identity - are thrown in. And it doesn't stop there, you can also choose from a number of pre-determined color types - including camo - for almost every piece of equipment to best suit your environment.

Other than those (fairly big) differences, not much has changed over the two year period. Thankfully, this second trip to "Vegas" is significantly easier than the first, and the graphics, though nothing that will deter current visual heavyweights, are certainly no slouch. You will probably notice after the first two chapters that there is very little of that familiar "Vegas" feel here, however. A lot of the combat scenarios you enter into take place in more off-beat Vegas locations rather than in the never-ending run of casinos you encountered in the first. I appreciated the change in scenery and I also enjoyed the new-found space between my enemies, myself, and my squad. There are far more cover opportunities and gun battles don't feel as confined. You may even encounter scenarios where you can send your squad through the top floor of a building and have them eliminate resistance from above while you take out what's left from the bottom. These new avenues of game play have helped an already excellent game become that much more involving.

Special mention must be made to "Vegas 2's" in-game music. Where it was considerably sparse in the first, here it is omnipresent. It sounds as if culled straight out of any number of Hollywood-ized, military-styled action films and that alone elevates these somewhat simple combat scenarios of either infiltration or assault to a true shock of the nerves. The music is so good, in fact, a separate soundtrack could have been included as a bonus.

Even if not much has changed from predecessor to sequel - and even if this really is only more of a leaner version of the first "Vegas" - it happens to be a more significantly enjoyable game because of the small fix-ups and new game play additions/enhancements mentioned. Novice players can jump right in thanks to the relatively tame difficult, and "Vegas 2's" highly cinematic feel should make action junkies feel right at home. It should also be mentioned that the game tells its story without cut-scenes; in other words, everything in-game HAPPENS in-game. A cut-scene or two would have been nice just to better portray that cinematic feel, but the game as i has a highly compelling, even addictive single-player campaign that I have yet to put down. Damn you UbiSoft, give me my life back!

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Posted : 11 years, 9 months ago on 30 August 2008 10:23 (A review of Phantasmagoria)

Despite being the brainchild of acclaimed game developer Roberta Williams, "Phantasmagoria" is not a re-invigoration of the point-and-click adventure genre, nor does it innovate those tried and true methods (like her highly celebrated "King's Quest" series before it).

Instead, Phantasmagoria offers to gamers - mostly the uninitiated and inexperienced - a game that is relatively painless, generally creepy, and unforgivably short. Not to mention "Phantasmagoria" also has its fair share of gore (which probably hit a lot harder in 1995 than it does now, over a decade later). Granted, Roberta Williams' first horror outing is by no means the epic it could have and should have been; it was, however, one of the many games at the time of its release to weave various FMV sequences in and out of its substandard mouse-based game play.

But there is a rewarding adventure game hidden beneath this 7-disc experience, of which those 7 discs amasses an amazing amount of FMV footage. Even with the "interactive movie" boom in full swing by 1995 and "Phantasmagoria" being one of its most successful spawn, a company known for its brilliant adventure games, LucasArts, had currently released two highly cinematic adventure titles that same year, but they were adventure games none the less. Instead of forgoing the game play in favor of grandiose cut scenes and overbearing, filmic narration, LucasArts' two titles - "Grim Fandango" and "Full Throttle," respectively - have become classics of the genre. "Phantasmagoria" hasn't fared as well with either critics or fans.

"Phantasmagoria's" FMV sequences are, in a word, excessive. But beyond any of that there is, as I stated, a rewarding experience that lie buried beneath them. With only one cursor at your disposal (it highlights objects of interest and usually starts another FMV sequence to accompany the clicking), an eyeball icon to closely examine an object, and an on-screen hint system - which is made available by clicking on its skull head avatar - this is a very simple, easy-to-use game. Even if this doesn't sound particularly deep (and it isn't), it's a refreshing change of pace from Sierra's more decidedly complex "Gabriel Knight" games. Admittedly, the FMV sequences are probably the biggest reason you'll play this, atrocious acting hampers their appeal. It is only when the great B actor Robert Miano is on-screen (as Zoltan "Carno" Carnovasch) that things get a bit more lively.

Then there's the game's purely average visual design. The marriage of live actors and pre-rendered backgrounds simply doesn't meld, but they seem to work better in the FMV movies. Thankfully, composer Mark Seibert's musical arrangements are absolutely astounding. They enhance the mood suitably & subtly and both pronounce a scene's atmosphere, as well as announce a specific character, with class and a real sense of dread.

But this game should not to be mistaken for a particular artsy affair. If anything, it is the equivalent of a C horror film, replete with bad acting, bad special FX, forgettable characters and over-the-top gore. Though that is not to say it's a bad thing. Some of the best horror movies are certainly the cheesiest. "Phantasmagoria" is no different. It is by no means a classic game, but its trash level and entertaining game play, over-the-top gore and admittedly enthralling FMV sequences make this something of a must-play for "interactive film" fans.

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