Xbox 360

March 14, 2012

Mass Effect 3 Review

In 2007 Bioware unleashed a gaming phenomenon in Mass Effect, an action RPG in which the choices you made would affect the outcome in future titles. It’s now 2012 and we have the third title in the planed trilogy, Earth is in ruins, the Reapers are spreading galactic extinction, and only Shepard can unite the galaxy under one banner, does your version of him or her have what it takes to “take Earth back”? I must admit, writing this review was a huge undertaking. I have never been so emotionally involved in a medium to the point of despair, feeling a sense of humanity out of digital characters, and to shed tears of sadness. It takes a lot, and I mean a lot, to get me to cry and well, this game accomplished that. Well done Bioware, well done.

 

The game takes place a few months after the conclusion of the Arrival DLC from Mass Effect 2. The Reaper threat is very real as within the first 20 minutes Earth comes under attack and the dark and desperate tone of the game hits hard. Shepard is charged with the daunting task with uniting a feuding galaxy against a common enemy. What unfolds over the next 30+ hours, including side quest, is a brilliant story, which is well written and has superb voice acting; Hollywood should be taking notes here. There is a real sense of emotion and humanity with these characters. There is a particular part in the middle of the game that shows the human side or influence if you will, in each of the species that shows a real connection with your Shepard that has spanned 3 titles. I did have gripes toward the zero hour of the games finale, but they are really small gripes in the grand scale of an amazing tale, and who can argue with a game that has some of the most spectacular space battles of this generation.

 

The tight game play and fantastic cover system return from ME2 with sight improvements. There are now directional arrows for easy cover to cover maneuvers. They have now implemented a weight system and it affects your load out and powers accordingly. Each weapon has its own weight, which can be deterred by upgrading the weapon, add to many weapons to your load out and your powers will recharge at a much slower rate. Equip only one weapon, or below the designated line on the weight gauge and gain a recharge boost. It is a nice implementation; it adds a nice balance to the different classes. Soldiers can carry more and not really worries about powers were as my Vanguard was lightly equipped so I could instantly use my powers again. The conversation system is back and I have mixed feelings about it. While the dialogue is better than ever, there are only two clear cut choices. You either have a heavenly glowing paragon, or a tough as nails, rude renegade. In the previous titles there was a nice middle ground where you weren’t the guy everyone liked yet not the guy everyone wanted to kill. The melee system that was taught over is fine and well as long as you’re not trying to aim a strong attack. The camera backs off to give you the full effect of our force blast or stab but the aiming mechanics go out the window as well; just hope they are right in front and don’t plan on moving. The only other game play gripe I have is the back button functionality (I played the 360 copy since that’s where my Shepard has been since day one). In ME2 it would holster your weapon while not in combat to give you a better view while you searched for objects in the environment and so you did not look so stiff while traversing the terrain. Sadly this has been removed in favor of a quick save feature, which I can see the point of but I just hate the fact Shepard can’t put his gun to his side to pick up an upgrade it looks robotic now.

I have given some serious rage to the Unreal 3 engine in the past; the bugs that are prevalent in most games using the engine, the awful network coding, TEXTURE POPPING, and the slowdown that can occur if it has to stop and think about something. Good news everyone, the game is 90 percent free from all of this. The game is gorgeous and texture pop in is almost nonexistent. The visuals are the best in the series and really convey a war torn galaxy and the skyscraper like Reapers have a huge intimidation factor. The game can feel a little clunky at times, the same problem with the Gears of War series, but when it works its silky smooth. I am proud of Bioware being able to get a working multiplayer going on this engine, they should be commended. Yes, the multiplayer is a version of hip horde mode everyone is doing, but it works and has little connection and lag issues. Gears of War can cripple itself under the weight of its own engine, Mass Effect may not have the glamour textures of GoW but, it runs without a hitch. Speaking of the multiplayer, there were skeptics when this was announced and I was one of them. I am happy to say, it works and works quite well. In the demo that was released, I had easily put 20+ hours with friends and co-editors into the multiplayer and the demo contained a fourth of the content. It is worth checking out and can have a small effect on the single player, but if you don’t the N7 missions take its place.

 

The game is an epic achievement on Bioware’s behalf. The choice and game play designs are top notch and they found a great mix between ME1 and ME2. Despite what I am giving this game it is not perfect. It is receiving this score because the game is a fantastic package. The single player is great, while the story hiccups towards the end, 99 percent of the game outweighs the off-putting 1 percent. Like I stated in the opening paragraph, I have never been so emotionally involved in a game before. I would love to see more of these types of games in the industry, ones with good stories and with more choice, even though there were issues with choice in this entry. Mass Effect 3 is brilliant, and if you have had reservations about jumping on the hype bandwagon, now is the best time to dive in. You can get lost reading the universe’s lore in the codex, scouring the universe to complete side quest, and have a blast with friends in the multiplayer; without a doubt get this game! This maybe good bye to Shepard and crew, but not to the Mass Effect Universe, I am excited to see what becomes of the series next.

 

Editor’s note: I did not get a chance to play the game with a Kinect. I do have one and will update the review if it would change my opinion of the game at all, if not this is our definitive review.

Mass Effect 3 Review

February 3, 2012

Review: Crysis for the Xbox 360

 

 

Adapt.Engage.Survive

Video source: Game Trailers

Story: Tensions between the U.S. and North Korea have reached critical mass as they square off on a small island located in the South China Sea. Why? A team of U.S. archeologists have unearthed an artifact of unknown origin that may pre-date the existence on humans on earth! North Korea moves in and takes control of the dig so the U.S. dispatches an elite Special Forces Unit outfitted with the latest in Nanosuit Technology to assess the situation and try to rescue the trapped archaeologists. The ensuing battles trigger the artifact to come to life releasing a new enemy bent on all our destruction!

 

 

Back in October EA and Crytek re-released the modified and enhanced version of the game that killed your computer Crysis. If you want more info. check out my article HERE. I downloaded Crysis shortly after it was quietly released onto Xbox Live and started playing; I’m only now posting my review due to the glut of  Holiday season game releases, work and well… Skyrim delaying me finishing this excellent campaign.

 

 

Visuals: The first thing I noticed was that for a DLC title this games visually rivals that of any newly released game that hit in the last year! Re-mastered using Cryengine3 this game looks stunning right down to the expression on an enemies’ face while you gab and crush the life out of him! This tropical landscape looks amazing, and if it weren’t for the bad guys bent on my demise would be a great vacation spot. When the game transitions from: tropical to “alien” and then to frozen wasteland the environments really come to life with stunning lighting and water effects, and environmental conditions that change almost on the fly. But, not all is perfect in thelandofCrysis, watching some explosions (BIG BOOM, yes please!) I noticed some pixilation and blocky-ness. Also in dark or low light rooms the gamma is preset way to dark but this just my personal opinion because I love to see as much detail as possible.

 

 

Sound and Musical Score: The sound was re-mastered as well giving complete satisfaction to every pull on my RT trigger button and toss of every grenade. Voice overs were ok but nothing amazing the Korean solders would speak some Korean but mostly English with a generic asian accent. Musical score was as epic as it should have been adding depth to the story and alerting you to upcoming large engagements and story progressions.

 

 

Control Scheme: Controls are tight and well layed out for the most part. The usual button apply LT aim, RT fire, Y change weapon, X reload, A is jump, B is used for menu options like inventory, map and quests, LB and RB are your nanosuit abilities, the BACK button has dual purpose of weapon loadout and map, the start does it’s normal fuction and the D pad does as well. My only real complaint is that there is no way to quickly throw a grenade without equipping it first by going into your inventory or holding Y for the popup menu ala’ portal and Halflife. The down side trying to grab fast-moving enemies or melee’ can be a major chore are times

 

 

 

Gameplay: I tend to play single-player campaigns on harder settings just so I have more of a challenge and, in this time of the six hour story, so the game takes longer to complete. My play-through clocked in somewhere between 8 and 10 hours (on hard difficulty not Delta I’m not man enough of that) so, above average length for the campaign. The game is fairly open world but you are moved in the liner fashion of:  receive a mission, then a secondary  mission, engage, clear, and move on which works well for progression of the story. Now, you think that with all the complaining and since the game was being reworked anyway that, well, maybe Crytek would do something with the freaking A.I. and they didn’t! Sadly the A.I. is just as retarded as in the original PC release leading me to believe that the helmets the solders wore were not to stop bullets but to protect from walking into walls…. I would shoot an explosive barrel next to a group of solders and the few that survived would not react and say “what was that?” or “Is anyone there?” and start skulking around until I was in their line of sight. One final gripe and this is more the aging hardware more that the game but when there was a lot of action on-screen at once the game would drop down to less than 10 FPS it  seemed but this only happened a few times.

 

 

Overall: Crytek has done a awesome job in “enhancing”  Crysis and squeezing some juice out of the ole’ Xbox 360. Cryengine3 looks great and this PC port is a classic that deserves some props! The A.I. maybe still the same but Crysis has very much to offer and for the $19.99 price tag (1600msp) it is so very worth it!

 

 

PROS:

+ looks great Cryengine3 makes this game look fresh and worthy of being compared to full retail releases

+ Sound design and music score are top notch

+ Story is interesting and compelling

+ Controls are tight for the most part

 

Cons:

– Great visuals come at a price of some blocky-ness and pixilation

– Ho-hum voice acting at times

– Truly short-bus A.I.

– Would have liked easier access to grenades and the grab/melee can be very frustrating

 

 

In the Grey Zone:

~ The old Xbox 360 is still breathing but it sometimes drags this title down with its obviously aging hardware

 

January 8, 2012

Gears of War 3: Raam’s Shadow review

Gears of War 3 had a great campaign, thoroughly varied, yet at some points it felt disjointed and headed due south east into the land were Bulletstorm and Halo 3 meet. Epic games came with a remedy for the campaign blues in the form of Raam’s Shadow, the second piece of DLC to hit the early September release. Raam’s Shadow forgets the imulsion bread locust, the “infection” bologna, Queen Mira’s rage inducing rants (for the most part), and gets back to what made the first two games great; urban destruction and human on locust combat. It may clock in at just two hours, but the two hours I had with Raam’s Shadow almost made me forget that Gears 3 had a campaign, it’s that good.

Raam’s Shadow is a prequel of sorts; it takes place in Ilima city just as the locusts are inking the city and the krill are ravaging the remains. You take control of Zeta squad which consist of Mihn Yong Kim from Gears of War, Tai Kaliso from Gears of War 2, Alicia Valera, and Michael Barrick form the GoW comics. Zeta squad is attempting to clear the city as Raam and his forces come carrying the harbinger of DOOM! The story takes both sides, so for the first time in a Gears campaign you play as a locust, Raam specifically or other locust if you are playing co-op. Raam is just too much fun to play as.

The game plays the same as GoW 3 with little variation, there are a few tweaks here and there but nothing that feels like a sequel. Raam, while being awesome, is also somewhat boring to play as. He has is infamous sword and his “krill finger” which just sounds dirty. The “krill finger” is just a point and instakill weapon which just feels boring. The pacing is much better than in the main campaign. Five acts that clock in a little over two hours on normal; raise the difficulty and it can lengthen your play time.  The environment shows off the power of the Unreal 3 engine with collapsing buildings and bridges, with this beautiful architecture on the brink of chaos and decay. I loved the look of the DLC again more so than 3. GoW 2 was as varied as I would have like the series to have gone. Don’t get me wrong Gears 3 is gorgeous but it just didn’t grab me visually like the last two entries in the series.

Raam’s Shadow, while short, is easily worth the $15 price tag. After seeing what Epic put together in this small DLC, I would not object to a prequel to the Gears trilogy. With Gear’s 2 we were given Dark Corners, which felt like it was left on the cutting room floor. Raam’s Shadow gives us a sneak peak at some back story while finally giving the locust some playtime. There is nothing new in terms of game play other than using the locust but I just can’t get over how much more I liked this short stint over an entire campaign. If you have GoW 3 pickup Raam’s Shadow, it’s short, but very enjoyable; and you don’t have to hear Baird complain.

+ Urban setting is back!

+ Playing as Raam is awesome

+ Very composed and better pacing

+ is a great example that a GoW prequel is needed

+Story is less bonkers than GoW3

+ Everybody loves the E-holes!

– is on the short side

– Raam’s weapons are awesome, yet boring from a game play standpoint

November 28, 2011

Need for Speed: The Run Review

Its November again, and we all know what that means for racing fans; another Need for Speed. This year we got something just a bit different. Last year, Criterion gave us a superb game in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. A simple racer full of speed and cop chases that hit you primal racing instincts while making you smile every time you hit the turbo button. EA Black Box finally gets to take the NFS reins again after the horrid NFS Undercover. Could EA Black Box redeem itself with The Run or will we get something more miserable and broken than Undercover? The answer is yes, but not an enthusiastic yes.

Need for Speed: The Run is an unusual experiment. Mix one third action movie, one third racer, and one third action game, bake, and what you have is something that is fun but feels awkward. When was the last time you had quick time events in a racing game? I can’t think of one. What EA Black Box has done is taken the cop chases and racing from Hot Pursuit added a paper thin story, and then laid a few Battlefield 3 quick time events for good measure and you have a game that suffers from an identity crisis. But let’s talk about what it gets right.

The Run’s racing is great. The cars handle like they should, the muscle cars back ends swing out, the AWD supercars handle like butter. The sense of speed is there, but could be better. The cop chases are fun with wild crashes involved. The visuals are brilliant. The game runs on Frostbite 2, which makes the vista and canons of the good old US of A absolutely beautiful. The only complaint I have with the visuals is the same that I have had with the Frostbite engine since its inception; the washed out colors. The orchestrated score gets the heart pounding and keeps the tension up despite the razor thin story elements. Despite the story there are some really outstanding set pieces especially the last leg of the race in New York. As much as it frustrated me I must commend Black Box for the overall designed. The career mode is designed like an action game. You have resets that act as lives, the police road blocks are scripted, you will deal with tad bit of QTE’s and you can only change cars at gas stations spread out over the race, but still at heart it’s a racing game just like any other game in the genre. The car list is impressive but most require a handful of challenges to unlock which can be a pain; and there will be pain.

The first pain to come across is the story. You take control of Jack Rourke a slightly cocky douche that has a debt with some mob and you somehow get pulled into a race across the country for some amount of money to do something andzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz, yea you see where I am going with this. In a game where it’s being sold as a racer with a story, the story shouldn’t suck; which it does. The camera sucks, but this is just a personal gripe. I normally play racers with the camera farthest from the car; this game doesn’t give me that option. We get two bumper cams and an out of car cam that has me eating the bumper at every turn. Despite having some exciting set pieces half of the game consist of riding through some foothills “making up time” which transfers to time trials or in other words, filler. Even with the filler it comes to another problem, it’s short; Call of Duty short. Now this is just the story, there are challenges to keep you going and unlocking cars, but wasn’t the game selling itself on the concept of a story driven racer? So if the length is rubbish and the story is rubbish what are you left with? Some great looking vistas and a good racer that has this craptacular story façade hanging over its head. The multiplayer could have taken some hints from Hot Pursuit as well because The Run is about as fun as having the runs. You get into a lobby with 8 other people and race a series of point to point races; that’s it. Where are the cop chases, exciting one on one racing from the story, and where is does all this lag come from; shoddy multiplayer design that’s where. There is attack helicopters shooting at you during the story, there is Porsche SUVs with gun toting mob thugs hanging out of them during the story that shoot at you, there is the infamous red tint around the screen showing your health during these chases and none of this can be shared with anyone. One last gripe and we shall trot on is the reset system. I like the idea of a story racer where each race is designed to be a level and within that level you only have some many tries to get through it; that is what we call progression and I am a fan of it. What I don’t like is when after your glorious death sequence involving your supercar crushing itself against some $15,000 Dodge hatchback and metal, plastic, and glass shards are thrown throughout the air like confetti, you have to wait at least 5-10 seconds at a black screen with a pulsing rewind button breaking the action of your high speed metal twisting carnage. You have enough time to down a 12 oz. can of Mountain Dew so that you won’t fall asleep at what is essentially a load screen because someone at Black Box took the day off and failed to keep any sense of immersion.

Now, despite my gripes, I did really enjoy the game. The driving was fun, I never had to diddle with customizing cars and making them look “pimp” (I hate pop culture), and there was a real sense of excitement driving at 150+ while helicopters are shooting at you while cops are in pursuit only to switch to a QTE. There is genuine fun to be had with The Run, but the fun is dabbed into the story instead of the story bathing in it. This is worlds better and much cleaner than Black Boxes last effort but my complaints are outweighing the positives. The game is worth playing if you can get it at a good price or even give it a few days rental. The story driven racer is a unique take on a genre that really hasn’t seen innovation in quite some time. It’s a unique experiment that resulted in a stink bomb rather than a crippling explosion. With a few tweaks, a proper title update, and some worthwhile DLC this could be a title I could return to in the future. It’s not a bad game by any means, it just needed less time between the excitement, a story that won’t be blown away by a slight breeze, and a fleshed out multiplayer.

 

+ QTE’s don’t get in the way of the racing

+ There are some truly exciting set pieces

+ The games visual presentation is top notch

+ Mixing a story element into an arcade racer and making it work

– Reset time is irritating

– The story is paper thin

– The main character is flat and annoyingly smug

– The main character wasn’t crushed at the beginning of the game

– Call of Duty like length

 

November 13, 2011

Sonic Generations

It’s official. After years of fumbling around with strange topics and awkward, seemingly untested gameplay, Sega has pulled out a truly excellent Sonic the Hedgehog game. Although short, it’s a sweet ride that hopefully will get the Spin-Dash ball rolling again.

The game follows an incredibly simple storyline. Sonic’s friends are in the process of throwing him a birthday party when a giant monstrosity (which I shall henceforth refer to as the Flying Purple People Eater) appears out of nowhere and creates a vortex which sucks in all of Sonic’s friends. Sonic chases them into what appears to be a giant white limbo. Eventually, he and the rescued Tails note that the areas and enemies are suspiciously familiar. Upon stumbling on versions of themselves from the past, they discover that they’re traveling through time. It sounds kind of silly, but the storyline of this game isn’t the point.

The person really travelling through time is the player. Every level in the game comes from some Sonic game in the past, spanning the whole history of the series from the very first Sonic the Hedgehog to the recent Sonic Colors. You play through each level as both Modern Sonic, who handles like you’ve come to expect from Colors or Unleashed (or, if you’re unfamiliar with those, Sonic Adventures, only with a few new powers and occasionally sidescrolling) and Classic Sonic, who handles the same way he did in the Genesis days. Each level is brilliantly reimagined, ranging from incredibly familiar feels with the “correct” Sonic for the level to fitting and interesting spins with the other Sonic.

Everything about this game is designed to tug at the nostalgia strings. The levels both look and feel familiar, with the same enemies and many of the same recognizable areas as in their original titles. What evoked the most nostalgia from me, however, was the music. Each level features two takes on the original music for that level, ranging from almost-cover reperformances to new and interesting remixes. I took far longer than I should have to beat the game because I probably played my most memorable level, City Escape from Sonic Adventure 2, ten to twelve times before moving on.

Apart from the main story arc and stages (which is, sadly, an incredibly short ride that lasts under 5 hours), the game is full of challenges of all sorts using portions of each stage. Some revolve around other characters, such as having to use a searchlight to find a camouflaged Espio, or running through a level with no rings save for the ones that Cream the Rabbit drops for you. Others involve using specific items from past games to clear stages within a limited time, or racing a doppelganger Sonic. If you really feel like having a nostalgia journey (or you’re too young to have experienced it and want to see what it was like), you’re able to play the original Genesis version of Sonic the Hedgehog after buying a controller in the item shop with points you earn by playing levels.

I loved this game, and without taking anyone else into consideration, I would have given it a 10. However, there are a few drawbacks to Sonic: Generations. As I’ve already said, the game is rather short, but bears the weight of a $50 price tag. That’s $10 less than the usual game price, but still a rather hefty cost for the amount of time you’ll spend with it. Also, some of the dialogue is incredibly childish. I understand the need to be able to market a Rated-E game to children whether it’s nostalgic or not, but a few select lines made me feel like I was watching Nick Jr. or PBS Kids. Lastly, some of  the bosses took a while to beat, not due to difficulty, but due to sheer confusion. The final boss, namely, was so confusingly “simple” that I had to double-check my methods by looking on the internet. Yes, for a Sonic game.

Complaints aside, Sonic Generations is an excellent game for all ages, but most of its effect comes from nostalgic value. If you were ever a Sonic fan, you’ll definitely enjoy this game. It is a massive step in the right direction after Sonic Unleashed (seriously… a werewolf?) and Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 (a game so broken I’ve dubbed it my biggest personal gaming disappointment of all time and considered giving it an AVGN/Spoony-style Let’s Play beatdown.), and proof that Sonic is NOT dead. With Sonic certified “alive”, perhaps all hope is not lost for what could be the greatest Sonic game of a generation, should it come to be: Sonic Adventure 3. Hear me, Sega? Sonic Adventure 3. We want it, preferably with Crush 40 creating the title theme.

 

Pros:

  • Nostalgia
  • Excellent, solid gameplay
  • Nostalgia
  • Quality soundtrack, creative remixes
  • Nostalgia
Cons:
  • Very short for a $50 game
  • Dialogue rather childish at times
  • Not much of a plot to speak of
  • Boss fights can be confusing
  • A bit too reliant on Nostalgia

October 22, 2011

Homefront


Homefront is a THQ brainchild that utilizes the Unreal Engine and shows what beautiful art and performance on lower end machines can do. I fell in love with this game being my first play-through I took my time and listened to everything I could, read every article I could find and all. The campaign for Homefront is by far one of the truly epic. Although excruciatingly short it is absolutely mind blowing. The video in this article is the opening cut scene for the game, watch it to get an idea of where you are starting your mission.

This game is brutal. If you get sick easily, don’t play this as some of it is a bit grotesque for patriots or vets. Though the story makes for a good game it is a bit hard to not imagine it as possible. The game also displays ad space purchasing from TigerDirect.com in a long chapter where you are running through their main facility all you see is the name all over the place.

Graphics – 9

The Unreal Engine has granted THQ the ability to run super high end textures and graphics without the need for huge caches of video memory and thus has let me play at max settings on my system at minimum 20FPS (System specs at the bottom). I, being an Unreal Editor user and map creator myself know from experience how wonderfully you can texture to make the appearance of three dimensional object without the need for fully three dimensional polygons, and this is what help with the ample beauty even on low end machines. THQ could not have done better combining the Unreal Engine with Havoks’ physics engine has given them the ability to out perform and enhance others with a smaller budget in place for the titles.

Playability – 9/4

I gave two ratings for this for one reason, the difference in campaign to multiplayer. The campaign if you couldn’t tell by now has had me enamored. The multiplayer, however, is lacking anything different from the past few CoD releases. To call the multiplayer a MW2 clone would not be a far pull. It is run almost to the T exactly the same with the amount of guns/items even less then half that of CoD. I cannot accept a new release that is a carbon copy on a more popular game without some sort of compensation. The fact that even had a multiplayer at all seemed to be more or less an afterthought. It is so weak in comparison to what was expected after playing through the campaign that I could not even get past level 5. This in turn is why I believe the community has fled. They would have done much better to copy a better platform for multiplayer, say…. Battlefield for example. Either way, the playability in the campaign is awesome. Even on the normal difficulty I died about 50 times before finishing it. The game is not hard to the point that you want to quit but it is also that which makes it a bit odd. I would die only to see the AI to follow the exact same pathing and I could play a scene 10 times and finally find where to hide, how to shoot without ever getting shot. Trial and Error.

Audio – 7

The game is all voice acted and done well with the mouth working in unison with words. It is about as good as expected, though some of the gun sounds are a bit filtered or saturated. They seem to vary gun to gun and have an off queue sound to firing if only by the smallest fraction of a second though that may be my lack of a proper sound card.

All in all the game is a great success and for the price that you would pay at our friends, IntKeys, you can’t pass up this title.  Get a bonus 5% off their already low prices by using the TGB discount code: 224c76cae8

I would recommend it to any FPS fan for nothing more than the storyline. Otherwise, wait for MW3 as the multiplayer is a match to it with a ruined community.

October 21, 2011

Gunnar Optiks: Yellow-Tinted Gaming Glasses

While I typically tend to ignore most of the ads on the side of my Facebook page, I occasionally find one that interests me. That’s how I found out about my now-favorite game store, and it’s also how I first heard about Gunnar Optiks. Gunnar Optiks produces glasses that reduce eye strain and enhance contrast on screens, and are marketed towards both frequent computer users who suffer from various eyestrain related symptoms, and towards the professional gaming community. Two of the gaming models in the Gunnar product lineup are endorsed by MLG, and a few more bear the SteelSeries name.

When I first heard about these, I wondered about them for only a few minutes before I moved on. They bear a pretty hefty price tag for something that may or may not actually help you at all. However, a full year later, curiosity and incredibly sensitive, frequently bloodshot eyes got the best of me. I got the “PPK” model from Best Buy for about $80 on Tuesday.  My opinion of them has fluctuated, but after using them for a few days, I’m happy with my purchase. I’ll talk you through my experience.

One thing to note is that these are not “glasses” in the traditional sense; they’re designed for people with normal vision and are more comparable in function to sunshades. If you use glasses, I might suggest wearing contacts underneath these if you truly feel you need the strain reduction. However, in that case, I’d recommend talking to your optometrist to see if there’s a better solution.

When I first put on the Gunnars, I was quite underwhelmed. They turn everything yellow. That’s pretty much all it looks like they do. Look at a screen, and everything’s yellower than normal. I was fairly disappointed in them within the first hour or so, but I decided to keep them on throughout the day to see how well they worked. It should be noted that an advertised feature of these glasses is screen glare reduction. It does this moderately well, but if your screen is kind of dirty and has an enormous window shining on it like mine does, there’s only so much it can be helped.

I really began to notice a difference on the first night of using the Gunnars. The primary light source in my room is a giant fluorescent bulb built into my desk, less than two feet from my face when I’m using the computer. It’s typically a bright, shiny punch to the eyeballs, but the Gunnars really cut down on the strain that it generally causes. It turns out that these glasses are far more effective at combating strain in settings where your primary light source is fluorescent or incandescent. In daylight, they’re less necessary. When I woke up the next morning after first using the Gunnars, I was incredibly impressed by the lack of redness in my eyes. Typically, they’re bloodshot if I use the computer past midnight.

After a few days of playing all sorts of games with these glasses on, I can attest to their performance enhancing capabilities. However, these aren’t “100 meter dash” glasses, they’re more suited to gaming marathons. Wearing them during a competitive match won’t really do much more than cut a bit of screen glare and possibly increase the contrast a bit. However, if you’re planning on playing a fairly ocular intensive game (such as a first person shooter or a game with a lot of small things on screen to pay attention to) for hours on end, these will definitely save you a lot of headache (literally). Play for five hours straight with a naked eye, and try again the next day with Gunnars; you’ll definitely notice a difference.

While the Gunnars do a pretty good job of performing their advertised functions, they also have to be judged on the same qualities as any other sort of eyewear. They’re still, in essence, a clothing article, so comfort and style come into play. The PPKs are some of the most narrow of the bunch, and they look nice, sleek, and professional. They’re comfortable to wear for long periods of time, and the temples are thin and flat so as to not interfere with headset-wearing. They’ve worked with every headset I’ve tried wearing with them, but there could possibly be an issue with especially large over-the-ear headsets. All of the Gunnar gaming models are designed with headset-wearing in mind, and they come in a variety of styles (especially popular are the MLG Legends, which are an “Aviator” style).

All in all, I feel as though the Gunnar Optiks PPK glasses were a good addition to my set of gaming gear. Those of you who don’t pull long stints ingame and don’t have sensitive eyes or headaches might want to give them a pass, but for me, they’re great performance enhancers. You can order Gunnars online, or buy them at Best Buy and a number of other stores. The Gunnar Optiks website has a handy store locator.

Pros:

  • Comfortable and stylish
  • Good for sensitive eyes, strain-induced headaches, and long gaming sessions
  • Don’t interfere with headset usage
Cons:
  • The yellow tint can sometimes be hard to ignore
  • The beneficial effects aren’t immediately noticeable
  • Not as effective in natural light as in artificial light, however in natural light they are less necessary

 

October 20, 2011

Batman: Arkham City Review

In 2009, developer Rocksteady released something that was unimaginable, a Batman game of our dreams. Arkham Asylum was not only the best Batman game ever made, it was also the best licensed game to date; depending on who you talk to. AA would have been a feat for any developer let alone a relatively unknown dev with only one game under their belt. Despite being the Batman game we deserved, it wasn’t the one we needed right now. AA had its share of flaws but the deep story, unmatched melee mechanics, and superb voice acting and artistic design took the game to new heights. Could the Dark Knight rise again and topple the villainy in Gotham? Could Rocksteady follow up what could have been the shining star in the developers catalog? YES, YES and more YES!

I will get this out of the way now, I love Arkham City in every way a gamer can love a game. To me, this is not just a Batman game, but an experience like no other. AC is now the closest thing we have to being the Dark Knight prowling the streets of Gotham and beating justice into the thugs of the criminal underworld. Arkham City takes place 18 months after the conclusion of AA. With Arkham Island in despair; the city, along with Warden Sharp and Hugo Strange create what is known as Arkham City. Arkham City is a small portion of old Gotham that has been transformed into high security center with an underlying turf war between Gotham’s top villains. The story starts as Bruce Wayne is petitioning to shut down Arkham City as it was the place of his parent’s death, and in his mind, not the answer to Gotham’s problems. That is as far as I am going with the story to avoid spoilers, but do note the story is once again penned by Paul Dini, and pushes the caped crusader to his physical and moral limits.

With the setting being moved more towards the city of Gotham, the visuals have been kicked up to 11. Arkham City is visually striking. The unique art style AA was known for is back and looking better than ever. Hitting the middle between Tim Burton’s dark style and Christopher Nolan’s realistic approach is where AC hits. With iconic places such as Ace Chemicals and the Iceberg Lounge spruce up the imaginative cityscape. All of the character designs are handled with the up most respect; you won’t find any bat nipples here or tight white spandex with question marks sewn into the crotch. The newly introduced characters like Two-Face, the Penguin, and Mr. Freeze are brought to life like never before. AC tops the charts as one of the best looking games available on the consoles.

Anyone that has played Arkham Asylum will feel at home with how Arkham City plays. The combat and movement have been retained but hold new surprises that make you feel even more like the Dark Knight himself. Getting around the much larger world is a breeze thanks to improved gliding and the ability to use a stronger grapple to launch Batman into the night sky without ever touching the ground. The dive mechanic brings new moves to flight and combat as well. Diving at an opponent from the rooftops enables you to grab and drag enemies into others with great force. The” free flow” combat has received a tune up allowing you to take down and counter up to two enemies for maximum skull cracking efficiency. Catwoman does have a few playable sections this time around and she does handle a bit differently than the often delusional Dark Knight. She is quicker in combat and her whip and climbing abilities make traversing the terrain a breeze.

Anyone that knows me knows I love soundtracks and feel they are an intricate part of any media experience. Arkham City is a triple caramel sundae for the ears. The music is finely crafted to make your batman experience have epic movie quality. In all seriousness I plan on purchasing the soundtrack. The voice acting is in realm of its own; so few games have voice acting of this caliber. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprise their roles as Batman and the Joker. As Mark Hamill’s swan song to relinquishing the role of the Joker, there is no finer display of his talents than in this game. Some only recognize his as Luke Skywalker, but anyone a fan of the early 90’s Batman the Animated Series will see him as one of the best Jokers of all-time. Video game voice guru Nolan North (aka Nathan Drake, among many other video game characters) makes his impressive DC debut as the Penguin, among several thugs. The inclusion of using radio frequencies to overhear the thugs banter was ingenious and if you ignore the banter you are missing some of the game’s best lines.

Arkham City is not a perfect game, technically. There are a few glitches here and there but the QA is near flawless. Arkham City not only defines what a Batman game can be but also how you take a great license and makes the most out it. Just as Uncharted 2 has shown us sequels can grow out of the shadow of their predecessors, Arkham City has done the same.  I have never felt so wrapped up in Gotham, the grit of the underworld, the frailty of the symbol, and the mortality of the man. This is the game fans deserve, the game that will save them from the blight of mass produced sequels, this game is Batman.

 

+ Amazing visuals and animation

+ Dark, adult story with plenty of surprises

+ The best voice acting in video games

+ Superb soundtrack

+ Refined controls make combat and gliding a great enjoyment

+ Hours of game to undertake with the story & Riddler challenges

+ 4X the size of its predecessor

+ oozing atmosphere out of every orifice.

–   Stupid things like work and sleep getting in the way of playing this amazing game

? Other games have a lot to prove to contend with Arkham City for GOTY.

 

October 17, 2011

Dead Island

Dead Island Logo

This title has had tons of publicity and hype built via the internet and with a lot of hype comes a lot of high expectations. Dead Island failed in no way to deliver. Dead Island brings all the fun of destroying zombie hordes with the ability to create and modify your own arsenal of weapons and skills. In this review I will be going over the pro, the cons, and the downright awesomeness of this release.

Let’s start with the bad.

Graphically speaking, the terrain is somewhat spectacular, I know that seems like a good, but where the terrain looks good other aspects lack. Primarily the zombies themselves and the vehicles are a bit simple. For a game this far into the graphically amazing generation that we game, this point cannot be overlooked. I believe that the developers had been using a platform with lackluster performance so as to make the game viable on a large array of systems and the only way to keep size small they didn’t want to make a multitude of different texture packages for each individual zombie. More on this in the good section as it ties with a great aspect.

The bad also continues with a bit of a bug PC version wide. The gamma adjustment setting for the game is off by a long shot making people play the game with a severely over saturated effect. Leaving the gamma default makes some parts of the game a bit too dark but quells the saturation effect drastically. This may be a bit of a hindrance for PC folk, however, it does not seem to affect people running Dead Island on consoles as bad.

The last bad is a bit from player error but it should not be this superfluous in a persistent environment. When you throw a weapon at an enemy and the weapon lays on the ground after its usefulness has been employed, if you die… the weapon is lost forever as the area “resets”. In a game where you are able to throw any and everything you can pick up why would you employ this feature? Ok, maybe I am not thinking within normal boundaries here but to be fair one of the Characters is a Thrown Weapons Specialist. If you throw a weapon you maxed out in upgrades and was a very rare find and you happen to back too far away or die, you have just completely lost your primary hardware for defeating enemies. This may not be a big deal in the early game but later it becomes a bit of a big deal as weapons can cost a lot of money.

Now on to the good, and for every bad I can name at least 10 good aspects. That is a pretty good ratio if I do say so. First and foremost, the environment, I find that the world itself is beyond beautiful. There are a ton of winding pathways and back alleys. There is always at least two ways of reaching your destination, if not more. With that being said, you need a great graphics processor to really enjoy the vast beauty that is Dead Island. With max settings the game looks almost like a window to the outside and that alone is worth the investment. Even on the lowest settings the game is graphically very impressive as it only drowns out some foliage and other non action oriented items.

With this world being as big as it is you need a variety of enemies and with Dead Island it is delivered it ways other imagined. In other games where the world is rather large you find that many of the enemies are just a recolored or reskinned hatchling of a low level mob. Not here, there are so many different enemies that just walking through the game you would think it almost a reality to have so many “people” running around. With this aspect comes the fact that you cannot reskin each mob to reflect multiple levels of graphical detail. The rendering is softened by option but it leaves them looking a bit less than premium at max due to this. Either way, this makes you as a player feel much more involved in a real world situation than a repetitive hack n’ slash style genre.

Weapons weapons and more weapons. Have you ever since “Shaun of the Dead” thought of the multitude of ways to destroy a zombie? This game gives you that and so much more. You can pick up almost any item and use it as a weapon against the hordes of murderous brain eaters or even take some of them and give them a bit of a more lethal edge, for example taking a bat and adding nails to the end. If you really don’t care for that why not jump up and drop kick your opponents and then kick their face into the dirt. The ability to decapitate and dismember these piles of meat via anything sharp makes for a fun gathering of friends by the beach. As for guns, yes there are some, why bother grabbing those up except in the event that your sickle should break or your 2×4 piece of lumber snap in half and already have been thrown at the enemy? There are an array of guns though for those wanting to snap off a few well placed shots and see heads explode into a gory mess behind their target.

Characters, the different style of play are not restricted to the chosen character though each have their specialty they can wield anything you want them to. That being said lets have a bit of an idea of each one shall we?
Heroes

  • Sam B as the Tank-class of the group has the ability to sustain heavy damage and handle numerous foes at the same time. His special ability is “Fury,” which is achieved by filling up a bar by killing zombies. He is also an expert in blunt weapon usage. During a Fury attack Sam can one hit kill zombies with his bare hands. The three branches of his skill tree are Fury, Combat, and Survival.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Xian Mei is the assassin of the group with a particular predilection toward bladed weapons. The three branches of her skill tree are Blood Rage, Combat, and Survival. Her special ability is to enter a rage mode to deal extra damage to opponents with her knife.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Logan Carter is the jack of all trades within the team. He specializes in thrown weapons and some blunt weapons. His rage mode allows him to throw an infinite amount of knives at nearby zombies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Purna is the support within the team, and a firearm expert. When her Rage mode is activated Purna has unlimited ammo with her Revolver.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The RPG element is very well done. It is similar to Borderlands in that you level up and select a skill under one of three trees and progress further as you add points to a tree. You can mix and match and make your character completely unique to the style in which you play said character and to me that is a huge plus. Dead Island does not let you get behind whatsoever. When you level the enemies in which you encounter are as well your level and thus makes the game progressively harder whether or not you quest or grind your way to max level.

All in all I give this game a 9. It could not go lower but no higher either as some elements of bugs here or there make the game a bit non user friendly. That being said I would highly recommend getting this title and start your trek across this island full of insane mutilated killer corpses. Pick up a copy for your friend or family member as the game is co-op and makes for an even funner adventure. You can get a PC copy of the game from our friends at IntKeys.com. They are trustworthy and truly top tier for online key purchasing. Use our promo code for an even higher discount: 224c76cae8

October 13, 2011

Forza Motorsports 4 – First Impressions

Forza Motorsports is an Xbox exclusive title and that may push some people away, but personally, I believe that console is where driving sims belong. I have been a HUGE Forza Motorsports fan for many years and went and bought an xbox 360 and a copy of the freshly released Forza Motorsports 4 (rel date 10-11-2011). I will be explaining a first impressions view of the game and some of it’s recent updates.

The first thing out of the box that jumps out is the discs are almost identical to the previous release of FM3. I had to check the box again to make sure that I hadn’t bought the wrong title. Worry not weary travelers it is indeed FM4. Upon loading the game for the first time the opening video displays its most noticeable new feature, Autovista. In the Autovista room you can exploded view the vehicle and look at the interior and exterior similar to that of a 3d tour and spurts of information shine out to tell you information regarding the car that you are exploring. You can even start the engine and hear that lovely roar from inside the cockpit while watching the dash cluster come to life in the car of your dreams in an almost surreal realism.

Autovista is not without it’s faults however. The most notable fault is that there are only a limited selection of cars to autovista. You cannot just generate a vehicle from your garage and explore it as far as I have seen thus far and that is kind of a bummer but it is a step in the right direction. This shows the capability of a graphics system almost ten years of age.

We have in the past seen the drifting community of FM explode in popularity as Forza is the premier in simulation when it comes to slinging your fantasy around a corner sideways at obscene speeds. This community has asked for a lot of improvement in the drifting department and low and behold Turn 10 has brought it to us. We now have not only some of the most wanted drifting machines implemented such as, s13 Nissan 240sx hatchback, but also crews. You can create or join a group of folks and have a club/crew/clan and have a shared garage full of vehicles that are shared among the group for videos or events. This is what I have always had in mind when thinking of clan warfare on the battle of choice and Turn 10 brought it to the forefront of gaming.

Now the fanboy-dom is over. There is never good without bad and here are a few things that I have found and been annoyed with. First off, some of the pre-order freebies were never sent out or were not available to have. Places like Best Buy who had issues with the release left many customers without their precious pre-order freebie of a BMW 1 M series. Now, this may not seem a big deal, but people generally pick up pre-order packages purely for the freebie offered by that place of business and this looks bad on everyones part.

 


Not only that, but there has been this insanely huge issue with Disc 2 not installing or being messed up or not appearing as a disc at all to the console. This problem, I am facing as well, has had some people by the throat as half of the games content is on this disc and requires the installation of the second disc to even access.The graphics don’t seem to have been pushed any further. They are outstanding, shining above and beyond GT5 in every way as far as I can tell, but I was hoping for a bit more polished look at distance. The tracks have the same effect, they seem a bit flat and two dimensional. I understand that there is only so much data a system that is this old can push and I think Turn 10 has pushed this console to the limits and should push to expand to other avenues such as PC and PS3 where their beauty and intricate detail can fully flourish.All in all, the game thus far is amazing, I have found a single bug that may be patched soon as I don’t see this as intended. Once you race a single car to lvl 4 almost every item purchased for that brand is absolutely free. I am driver level 6 with 2 Nissans completely maxed out with all parts purchased. 2 seasons and I have 2 maxed out cars, this is not how Turn 10 intends for this game to played, not in the past, and not now I am sure of it.

I will be doing a full review in a week as I progress through the game I will note any keynote differences and bring them to light with my opinion along for the ride. Check back often as it may come up sooner than anticipated, if I am able to peel myself away from the controller long enough.

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