Sunday, December 30, 2012

Street Fighter X Mega Man Game Review

Well, this is an interesting little treat. Street Fighter X Mega Man is an interesting title as it is a Capcom and fan-made collaboration in honor of Mega Man and Street Fighter’s 25th anniversary. The game originally starting out as Mega Man vs. Street Fighter being made by Seow Zong Hui, Capcom decided to get behind this fan-made game in honor of the 25th anniversary of the two titles. The game was released on the website Capcom Unity FOR FREE. That right there is reason enough to check it out. I can’t help but feel that this is Capcom’s little way of saying sorry for the way they have treated Mega Man and his fan base over the past couple years with the cancelation of Mega Man Legends 3, a Mega Man MMORPG type game, and the slap in the face of putting the bad cover art Mega Man as a character in Capcom X Tekken. But that’s just my speculation. At first, I thought this was some kind of joke or something. I didn’t believe that Capcom was behind this and thought it was just another one of the hundreds of fan mod Mega Man games out there. But that’s enough with the neat little history of this game. How does it play?

STORY: Story… Well… Uh, there isn’t really one at all. While usually I’d flip a table over that, this is made like an NES game and back then story wasn’t all that important. Basically it’s just Mega Man fighting Street Fighter characters and that’s it. The characters that we have are Ryu, Chun-Li, Dhalsim, Rolento, Urien, Blanka, Rose, and Crimson Viper along with some of the more evil SF characters acting as later bosses with M. Bison being the game’s Dr. Wily. A silly little cut scene before the title screen would have been nice just to see how crazy a story there could have been to explain how Mega Man found himself in this situation but story has never really been Mega Man’s strong point. Game play is.

GAMEPLAY: If you’re a veteran of Mega Man games you will be pleased that SFXMM has the same tight controls we all know and love from classic MM games. However, I do highly recommend getting a game controller if you do not already have one. Playing a game like this is nearly impossible on a keyboard unless you’re just that hardcore. I bought an NES style USB game controller off Amazon for a few bucks just for this game so I highly recommend doing something similar if you are going to play this. While the game controls just like Mega Man 4 and after with the sliding and chargeable Mega Buster, they did add in two quick weapon select buttons for you to assign. If you’re using a controller like mine, you’ll discover that you do not have enough buttons for the number of commands that it wants assigned. You can double assign commands and you might want to try attaching it to the pause screen if your controller does not have enough buttons.

Aside from the generally classic controls, it has some very cool stage designs appropriate for each level boss. Dhalsim’s level is like a maze set in an Indian castle. C. Viper’s level has elevators to control and big death beams that chase you kind of like the death beams from Quick Man’s stage in Mega Man 2. Blanka has a jungle/water level, Rose’s level has a segment where you fly on Rush and shoot enemies similar to Tengu Man’s stage from MM8. Some of the stages are rather short or easy while others are longer and more difficult. I did notice an odd but not game breaking glitch with items that randomly appear in walls here and there. The boss fights are another difference you’ll find from classic Mega Man games. The boss characters have power bars that fill up as they take damage like in Street Fighter games. When it’s full, the boss can unleash a super attack. The screen even zooms in on them as they strike a pose letting you know they are going to attack. The bosses themselves are pretty tricky for the most part. You might feel a little under powered compared to the Street Fighter characters with their wide array of moves they execute. Just like the stages, some of them are pretty easy once you figure out their pattern like Blanka and Ryu. If a boss beats you without taking any damage, a PERFECT will appear on the screen. I thought that was pretty funny. Of course, after beating a boss you get their power. The power demonstration screen is pretty funny as is shows Mega Man testing his new power on Dan Hibiki.

The last thing I should mention is that this game does have one big flaw: no form of saving whatsoever. I didn’t expect it to be like most modern games where saves are done automatically after each level. That’s fine but there is no password system either. If you grew up with Mega Man, you know it’s always had a password system. I don’t know why there isn’t and trust me you’ll wish there was. It’s not like this is a long game. It’s about the average length of past Mega Man games. You could probably beat it within an hour max but make sure your screen saver is turned off. If it comes on while you’re playing, it’ll make the screen go black and the only way to fix this is to close the program. Not cool. The creator did say he is working on a patch to fix some of these problems in the near future though so that is some good news and for a free game, you can’t complain too much.

GRAPHICS & SOUND: Ah that good old 8-bit look. Gotta love it. The level designs are nice and colorful with some surprisingly detailed backgrounds here and there. There is one stage with a billboard of a rather busty woman on it. Never thought I’d see that in a Mega Man game.. The animations and attacks from Mega Man and the Street Fighter characters are very good for 8-Bit. Ryu and Chun-Li even talk when delivering their signature moves like ‘Hadoken!’ and ‘Tornado Kick!’ but in little squeaky 8-bit voices. Some might not like that but I thought it was cute. Like most Mega Man games, the music rocks. The levels have some awesome remixes of classic Mega Man songs mixed with Street Fighter themes. One problem though: no Guile in the game so no Guile theme. WTF, man?! Oh well, maybe if they make a sequel..

Overall, for a free game that is only 33Mb, this is a nice little treat for Mega Man and Street Fighter fans though more so for MM fans. But make sure to get game controller. It would be nice to see it for download on an actual game console but then it would most likely cost money. Speaking of which, they have started releasing NES Mega Man games on the 3DS for download. If you’re a fan of these two franchises, SFXMM is worth checking out as it was made of us fans. It has some problems but nothing that affects the actual game play and for a game that is free, you can’t really complain too much.

OVERALL: 3.5/5 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Far Cry 3 Game Review

Ubisoft squeaked in Far Cry 3 at the very end of the year which can be risky for games since the major game release time tends to be between October and November and sometimes the general gamer public might look over something that comes out this close to the years end. However, Ubisoft definitely saved their best for last as Far Cry 3 is hands down the best in the series so far. If you’re not familiar with Far Cry, they are an FPS series that is characterized by its exotic settings with danger all around and with the need for survival. The first Far Cry caught the eyes of many PC gamers for its beautiful graphics and game play in 2004 and was set on a tropical island. I personally did not like it but I think that’s because the version I had was messed up or something because I could never get it to save correctly. Far Cry 2 was released in 2008 and was set in central Africa. It never seemed to be as popular as I felt it should have been and it was and still is one of the most realistic shooters I’ve ever played. It had a very raw feeling and took into account many things other shooters do not, such as keeping your weapon maintained or else it’ll jam on you and rocket launchers with back blast that can hurt you and cause fires. As for Far Cry 3, it once again is set on a tropical island in the Pacific which honestly turned me off to it as it seemed they were going for a pseudo-remake of the first game. Also it being called ‘Skyrim with guns’ has not turning me on to playing it (Sorry Skyrim is overrated) but I was wrong about FC3. While Far Cry 3 doesn’t do anything revolutionary for games, it does a great job with what it has and makes the series stand out more than the previous titles.

STORY: You play as Jason Brody, a rich college graduate from California on the vacation of a life time with his two brothers, girlfriend, and closest friends. As the final part of their trip through Asia, they go skydiving onto an island located somewhere between Indonesia and Australia. When they land on the beach they are horrified to discover that the island is controlled by pirates and they are captured. The pirates and the PMC that handles them are lead by a man named Vaas (pirate leader) and a man named Hoyt (PMC leader). They control human trafficking and drug trading in this part of the world and use these islands as a base of operations. Jason and his older brother try to escape the camp however Jason ends up fleeing into the jungle and is nearly killed. He is saved by a man named Dennis and explains how the island’s natives, the Rakyat, are leading a guerilla war against the pirates and need his help. Jason reluctantly joined as it seems to be the only means to save his friends.

Now I usually try to avoid spoilers in my reviews but I will have to mention some borderline spoiler things here and there. So if you don’t want any spoilers, skip down to the game play section. First of all, Far Cry 3 has hands down the best story and characters of all the Far Cry games. I can’t help but feel there is some social commentary going on here with these privileged white Americans getting thrown into the situation. Jason, while I really didn’t like him at first, changes a lot of over the game and the change is a believable one up until a certain point. Vaas is one of the best villains in a video game this year. He reminds me of the Heath Ledger Joker, when he’s on the screen, you can’t take your eyes off him. Now this game is divided into two halves and I have to say, the first half is stronger than the second. The game starts out strong and ends strong but the 2nd act, it kind of falls flat and feels pretty different from the first half of the game. It doesn’t make it so you will want to stop playing but you’ll definitely notice the change and it makes Jason’s character development feel less believable though this does come to a head at the very end of the game. Also this is when Hoyt becomes the main villain and he’s just not nearly as interesting as Vaas. Jason’s friends are very believable as they react to the situation they are in and you meet some other messed up characters along the way. As I said, the strong characters that this game has sets it apart from the other FC games. I should also mention that there is some very heavy subject matter in this game. In addition to all the usual violence you see in an M Rated FPS game, there are also drugs, human slavery, and implied raped.  

The tropical island setting is used well as for the story and game play and seems to use it better than the first game. While this game tries to be realistic much like Far Cry 2 was, there are some mystical elements to it as well. There are bizarre drug induced segments and boss fights and this subtle Alice in Wonderland motif going on. The game also has a lot of Rambo references. If you’ve seen the 4th movie, you’ll know what I’m talking about. This is a pretty long game, around 20+ hours especially if you try to do all of the side quests, which there are many. As I said, the game has a strong start and finish but the 2nd act is where the game kind of falls flat as it just seems to take on a new tone. Also the game has a very long credit roll at the end. Might be one of the longest credit sequences I have sat through since Metal Gear Solid 4.

GAMEPLAY: Much like Far Cry 2, it’s an open sand box world but because of the island setting, it gives you freedom to REALLY explore everything. The shooting is pretty basic if you’re familiar with most FPS games these days and you have a large variety of weapons to acquire in this game which are all customizable. They range from assault rifles, machine guns, launchers, bow and arrows and flamethrowers. The flamethrower is fun. All the weapons can be customized and are fun to find creative ways to use them which leads to the best part of the game: the assaults. Observing, planning, and making attacks against enemy positions are a lot of fun in this game because you are given complete freedom on how to go about it. You can try storming in with guns blazing but most of the time that will end with you dead. You have to plan your attacks, make use of the environment and the weapons at hand. You can sneak in and disable the alarm and then attack or sneak in and take down enemies one by one with knife (which is a lot of fun to do) or set the camp on fire or shoot open the cage of a predator in the camp and have the animal attack people. There are many possibilities to play with.

Hunting and gathering is another major game play point. Unlike in other games like Red Dead Redemption or Assassin’s Creed 3 where hunting wild life can be done but isn’t needed unless you want to make some extra cash. In Far Cry 3, you must hunt if you want to be able to progress through the game. At the start, you have very little on you and you must craft rucksacks, bandoliers, holsters, wallets ect. If you want to be able to carry more stuff and you will need to be able to do so or else you’re going to have a bad time. Everything requires certain amounts of animal hides to make so it’s a good idea to try and get most of your hunting done as early as you can in the game and be aware, you’re not the only one hunting. Predatory animals will hunt other wild life, humans, and you which add a much more realistic feel to the game’s wild life. You need to watch out for leopards, bears, and tigers on land and watch out for sharks and crocodiles in the water. You can kill these creatures, of course, but they do not go down as easy as many of the human enemies in the game. You also gather plants for making health items, combat and hunting items as well.
Plants and hunting grounds are clearly marked on your map which is handled differently from the previous game. This is where some of the rawness from FC2 is taken away in FC3. In the previous game, your map was literally a map that your character pulled out and looked at while holding a GPS device. In FC3, it’s just a map screen that gets pulled up when you press select. There is nothing wrong with that but the map screen and menu screen for crafting and item management will take you out of the immersive feeling the game is going for. The map itself is easy to read and has easy to use fast travel stations that you unlock by liberating enemy camps across the island so that’s another reason you want to assault enemy positions. Your map is not all there however. You must unlock more sections of the map by finding and climbing radio towers. The more you turn on, the more of the map you see. These are pretty fun as they act as mini plat forming segments and are sort of like climbing vantage points in Assassin’s Creed games. Other side missions include assassinating specific enemies with your knife, hunting animals with a certain weapon, and odd jobs you’ll find from other people on the island. You can also find and collect relics, WWII letters from dead Japanese soldiers, and memory cards that give you drug recipes. You get some exp points from these but not really worth collecting everything unless you’re an achievement hunter.

You level up like you would in an RPG and you do it fairly often. When you do, you gain a skill point which you can spend to unlock new skills and gain more on your arm tattoo. Some of these skills are helpful but some of these are throw aways like faster turret cool down or shooting from zip lines. You’re never really going to use it. You get the most exp points from killing enemies and completing main missions. The game has a much improved money system from the previous game as it uses actual cash instead of diamonds and the money is much more plentiful. There were many times when I had too much money and I had to just spend it on stuff to free up my wallet. Driving vehicles is much more realistic in this game. Take that as a good or bad thing. Some cars have trouble driving on rough terrain and some roll over pretty easily. Thankfully the hang glider is much easier to control in this game and not just a death trap like it was in FC2. The weapon selection inventory is the last thing I’ll hit on. It’s kind of confusing to use as it is never explained and if it is, it’s not explained well. I had to check in the instruction pamphlet. You hold the left bumper to make it appear you use the joystick to select the weapon. However, if you switch between weapons like normal it will go back to whatever weapon was previously selected. It’s kind of confusing to explain but it can be annoying especially in the middle of combat when pulling up the inventory screen isn’t easy to do. While the game play over all is fun, it runs into the similar problem I find with games like Skyrim that there are a limited number of different types of side quests and once you get the hang of how these missions go, it gets kind of repetitive. This is more evident the 2nd half of the game as well.

GRAPHICS: Visually Far Cry 3 is a beautiful game. The landscape, water, people, animals, plants all look amazing and life like. There is nothing here to honestly complain about. However, if you are someone where the best possible graphics are a must, then you should definitely play this game on PC if your computer can handle it. The 360 version looks good but kind of has this weird slight flickering when you’re looking around sometimes. Also the game did freeze on me once but I am using a used game so if you get it new, hopefully you won’t have that issue. Like the games before it in this series, FC3 is very easy on the eyes.

SOUND: All the sounds of the jungle and combat sound great in FC3. The audio is very helpful in hunting animals as you can maybe get the drop on them by hearing animal grunts and growls through the brush. It can also be tip off as you turn around to see a tiger jumping into your face. There is this sound you where whenever you pull up the map or menu screen that sounds like a picture being processed out of a Polaroid camera. It sounds cool at first but considering how often you will be pulling up those screens, it gets annoying after awhile. The music of Far Cry 3 is odd. The main theme is the airy electric rock song that kind of reminds me of the theme from Mirror’s Edge. The majority of the music you hear though is this foreboding, suspense building music you hear when walking around in the jungle or you just hear nothing but the wild life. I’m not saying FC3 has bad music, I’m just saying hearing the good music is fairly rare.  The voice acting is the best in the franchise so far. As I said before, Jason and his friends sound and act believable to people in this situation and the more corrupt characters are also fun to watch and come to hate for being such bastards. Vaas is the one who steals the show however. Like I said, he’s like the Heath Ledger Joker, when he’s on the screen you can’t take your eyes off him because you’re terrified and also mesmerized by his insanity and the crazy things he is saying. Ubisoft knew he was an awesome character and it’s why he’s on the cover of the game. Sadly, he’s only in the first half of the game. Notice a pattern here?

Overall, Far Cry 3 is the best game in the series so far in terms of story, characters, and general survival game play. There are a couple things I wish they had kept from Far Cry 2 but it doesn’t hurt it much. As I’ve said multiple times in this review, the 1st half of the game is stronger than the 2nd. Survival with the elements becomes less of an issue by then and your character’s objectives change but it does start and end strong. If you’re tired of typical CoD like FPS games and like big open world games then you should check this one out. It can be repetitive but it’s the kind of repetitiveness that makes you feel like you’re moving towards a greater goal and it’s rewarding because of that so come take a trip to this island of madness. If you’re going to play one Ubisoft game this year, let it be Far Cry 3, not AC3.

OVERALL: 8.5/10

This is probably my last major game review of 2012. Look out for my picks for games of the year coming up in a couple weeks.  

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Real Super Nitpicky Avengers Review

So I saw The Avengers again the other day and it got me thinking about my ‘super nitpicky’ fake review I did a few months ago. Well, I’ve decided to actually do a real super nitpicky review just for the lulz because there are things here to nitpick over, not too much but there are some things that stuck out to me. Now don’t get me wrong, I love this movie. As we all know, it kicks ass and is one of the few movies I’ve ever seen that really lived up to all the hype around it. Some these are meant to be as nitpicky as I could make them, some are things that should just be mentioned. I’m sure others who are die hard fans of the comics could probably find even more things to nitpick than I can. I’m not exactly super familiar with all the comics this movie is based on but I’m also pulling some common sense cards on this as well. Bottom line, don’t take this too seriously and enjoy this mini-count down. Oh by the way, if you for some reason have not seen this movie, be aware that there are spoilers in this.

5.  Black Widow X Hawkeye
Now this is really just a small thing since it is only a small scene in the movie where Black Widow and Hawkeye actually have a moment. However, I find this to be my least favorite part of the movie. It kind of stops the movie for a moment as it kinda sorta explores their past relationship with each other and the ‘you can tell there are romantic feels for each other.’ Thankfully, this scene is cut short and doesn’t have some lame forced kiss or anything. This might sound like I don’t like romantic scenes and that’s only half true. I like them if they are done well, however, in about 90% of movies they are not and are heavily coated with clichés. This scene was tip toeing in that direction but is short and the action gets going again right after this. I like I said, this is a very small thing that bugged me and I think there is probably going to be more development of the relationship of these two in future movies which would make more sense instead of the 3 minute Disney relationship it could have become with this scene. Also, why does Scarlett Johansson always look like she is lightly blowing when she is trying to look serious?

4. Weapons used in the final battle
Once again we’re back on Black Widow and Hawkeye. One thing that bugged me was the fact that they know they are going into battle with Loki’s forces and Black Widow just brings two pistols… Gee, don’t think you might need something a little more heavy duty when going up against an alien army? Like an assault rifle or machine gun? They just came from a Heli-carrier filled with weapons, she could have picked up something a little more than just two pistols. Also duel wielding doesn’t work so well in real life but it always looks cool so I’ll give it a pass. Hawkeye could have also grabbed something more than just his arrows. Yes, I know archery is his thing but taking a bow and arrow against an invading army with lasers is not the best idea. But hey, he makes it work anyway. What a trooper. Speaking of troopers, Captain America is someone with an even more improbable weapon. Yes, it’s cool how he uses his shield like a boomerang but he could have grabbed some guns before they left for New York! He’s a solider for Christ’s sake! He should know that being properly equipped is one of the most important things you do before going into combat. He should have known that and told Black Widow and Hawkeye to the same! Obviously, none of this really mattered in the end but I still have a bone to pick with Captain America.

3. Captain America’s new armor
This is one that really bugged me before I even saw the movie. They tell Steve Rogers they got him an upgraded uniform from what he had during WWII, yet it looks less safe than what he wore during the war. The armor he had in The First Avenger looked more legit than the PJs they give him in this movie. I was hoping he’d get the Dragon skin style armor from the comics. By the way, Dragon skin is an actual type of body armor that is highly effective I might add. Rogers has super powers but he’s still only human and his body needs protection and a super hero’s outfit should have purpose other than looking spangled. I wouldn’t be making a big deal out of this if they had gone into some detail on just how his new uniform was an upgrade. It looks like it is made out of very soft fabrics. I’m sure it’s more comfy than the leather looking uniform he had during WWII but I don’t think it’ll do much to protect from gun fire. Like I said, I wouldn’t make a big deal if they just EXPLAINED it better! …But at least they didn’t give Hawkeye his comic book outfit. I don’t think that would have translated well to live action…
Much better!

2. Character development
Now you could say that character development wasn’t the point of this film and that the development has been done in the past movies all these characters are from. But there some developments going on, two really.  While you can say that they all developed to work together as a team, the only two that really changed were Tony Stark and Bruce Banner.  Of course, Stark proves that he does what he does not for himself but is willing to sacrifice himself when he nearly dies hurling that nuke into space and Banner realizes that maybe he can live among society again. It also helps that Mark Ruffalo did an amazing performance as the Hulk and has been the best Hulk yet. However, there isn’t really any development in the other characters. Thor is still Thor pretty much. Captain America is still trying to adjust to life in the 21st century. Black Widow and Hawkeye are still assassin people. Yeah, they’re now worldwide known heroes and that’s about it. Obviously, I know that their characters will be developed much more in all of the sequels that are coming up.  However, you cannot deny that Stark and Banner tended to over shadow the other characters when it came to development and at some points, screen time. While I do feel that every character got a good amount of screen time, I would have like to have seen a little more development on a couple other characters like Thor and Captain America.

1. Simple Story
Now I make this my number one point because over the summer many people on the internet lands were trying to compare this to other super hero movies. Namely, The Dark Knight Rises. Comparing this movie to the DKR is rather stupid as the only thing they have in common is that they have characters from comic books in them. That’s where the similarities end. Dark Knight Rises is a whole different animal from The Avengers. But when you look at The Avengers it has a really simple story, as simple as they come really. Bad guy wants to take over the world, super heroes gotta stop him. Almost like this is a comic book or something! GASP! Now there is nothing wrong with a simple story if done right and it is done right here. Another good example of a movie with a simple story that works is Dredd 3D (Check the review I did for that movie.) Anyway, it isn’t the story that makes this movie good, it’s the characters and seeing them interact with each other. It’s like a super hero sitcom… with explosions. The way the characters interact is the saving grace for this movie and what makes it stand out. This movie could have easily sucked had the writing been terrible. I’m generally not a fan of Joss Whedon but he did a good job with the flow of the story and characters. Not to say there isn’t any cheese ball lines but nothing that feels out of place. Loki is the typical wants to take over the world bad guy but Tom Hiddleston’s performance makes him really fun to watch and actually kinda makes me think of a more subdued Mark Hammill Joker at times. Maybe that’s just me… Anyway, there’s nothing wrong with The Avengers’ simple plot. I just wish people wouldn’t go around comparing it to the much more complex Nolan Batman films.  Oh don’t worry, I’ll do a super nitpicky review of the Dark Knight Rises at a later date. 

Super Nitpicky Avengers Review

 (Originally written July 19, 2012)
The Avengers…. Oh boy!



Is one of the best movies I’ve seen since Inglorious Basterds. If you haven’t seen it, go see it. NOW! DROP EVERYTHING YOU’RE DOING! GO SEE IT! IT’S FREAKING EPIC!

Overall: 10/10 FIVE STARS … Whatever, it’s amazing.

It did take me awhile to see it though. Various reasons kept me from seeing till a little over a month after it came out. Now I posted on facebook when I went to see it that I was going to try and hate it and people were like why would you try to do that? At first it was to be all hipster like to be the only person not liking it or giving into the hype as I was honestly having a hard time believe that sooo many people liked this. Really. For weeks I couldn’t get on facebook (and still can’t) without seeing all kinds about how amazing The Avengers was. I was proven wrong though. It really was as good as everyone said. It was so good I willingly saw it twice which is something I rarely do. I think I wanted to find something to hate because I was thinking this movie might be having the same effect that James Cameron’s Avatar had on people. I remember when that movie came out everyone was buzzing about how amazing it was and going to see it multiple times ect. Then after about two months it kinda plateaued and then after it made more money than any other movie and got nominated for a bunch of awards, everyone started to hate it.  I was worried that The Avengers was going to have the same effect Avatar had with a love then hate relationship. But it kicked so many asses, I can’t see that happening. It wasn’t even the action scenes that made this movie good, it was seeing all the super heroes interacting with each other. Mark Ruffalo was the best Hulk to date and look forward to seeing him in future Marvel movies.

All in all, I am definitely buying movie when it comes out on blu-ray and you should too! 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

L.A. Noire Throw Back game review

Due to the lack of new material to review at the moment I thought I would start doing some reviews on some older stuff that may or may not have gotten the recognition it deserved. I’m going to call these ‘Throw Back’ reviews even if some of them won’t be that much of a throw back. For my first throw back review, I’d like to take a look at the game LA Noire which came out all the way back in the spring of 2011 released by Rockstar Games and developed by Team Bondi. Now I didn’t get to play it till earlier this year in 2012 and I found myself regretting not playing this game when it came out because it totally deserved a place on my top 5 games of 2011. At first glance, this game looks like another GTA clone but it is far from it. It is a deep and immersive game that truly makes you feel like a detective in a film-noire crime movie. It received high scores in reviews and rightfully so but I still know lots of people who have never played this, myself almost being one of them. This is one of those games that anyone who considers themselves a gamer needs to experience.

STORY: Set in Los Angeles in 1946, you play mostly as Cole Phelps, a Battle of Okinawa veteran and new beat cop with the LAPD.  Phelps’ keen problem solving skills get him noticed by the police chief and heads of the detective desks in the police department and after while (four missions that act as the game’s tutorial) he is promoted to detective. Throughout the game, you work multiple cases from the traffic desk, homicide desk, vice desk, and arson desk. Not to go into any spoilers but you will deal with murders, insurance frauds, serial killers, the mafia, drug rings, and scandals including Phelps’ hurtles as he rises to become one of the most well known and feared detectives in LA. One of the things that makes this game work is how painstakingly detailed Los Angeles is. Team Bondi put in a lot of hard work to recreate 1946 Los Angeles, not just in physical appearance (you can go anywhere in the city as it was during that time) but also in the social issues that were going on at the time. Racism, sexism, and veterans adjusting to peace time create some of the strongest images I’ve ever seen of post-WWII America and it all just sucks you deeper and deeper into this game. Be warned: the murder scenes in this game are brutally realistic but once again it just adds to the feeling of being a detective. The gameplay, acting, and sound also greatly play into making this game an unforgettable experience.

GAMEPLAY: Like I said before, it looks and generally plays like a GTA game however the best aspects of the gameplay does not focus on running and gunning like most similar games before it. Let me make this clear, if you pick up this game expecting an action game you will be very disappointed. This is a thinker’s game and that’s what makes it so great. You will be rattling your brain trying to put together the clues you’ve gather and trying to figure out who is lying and telling the truth. This is the core of the gameplay and it gets really tricky as the game progresses. Each time you visit a crime scene you will need to make sure to explore every inch of the area and examine everything. You have a notepad in which notes are made through your investigations and you’ll want to use them during questionings and interrogations. The more clues you’ve gathered, the more you’ll have to work with. Interrogations are the other big part of the game and you will be racking your brain with some of these. As you ask your questions, you must determine whether or not they are telling the truth, lying, or give doubt to what they are saying. You’ll probably notice how realistic everyone’s facial animations look in this game. That’s not just to make to game look good, it’s a gameplay mechanic. Part of what you will be using to judge if someone is telling the truth or not is by watching their facial expressions. This gets really tricky but is so satisfying when you’re able to catch someone in their own lie.

Now like I said, getting interrogations to come out the way you want them can be really hard but there is help. You gain intuition points throughout the game by successfully questioning someone and/or getting a good cop grade when completing a case. You can use these during interrogations to take away some of the options to help you deduce if someone is telling the truth or not. I found myself trying to use these as sparingly as possible mainly because, while this gameplay mechanic is challenging, it is very rewarding and fun to try and figure out which, once again, plays into the immersive feel of this game and making you really feel like a detective. Help also comes to you during your investigations in the form of the partners that you get throughout the game. While some are more helpful than others, you can always go talk to them about what you should do next. The game missions are actually very linear however you don’t really notice it since the entire city is there to explore but you will feel driven to go to your next objective and what not which makes the missions feel more open than they really are. There is a lot of replay value to each case as they can have multiple outcomes based on how well you do with your investigation. However, the outcome, no matter how bad, doesn’t really affect the overall story at all which is a shame because this was a game that could have used more than one ending.

Driving is another big part of the game. There are nearly 100 actual car models that would have been on the road in 1946 that you can find and drive. Like in similar games, you’ll want to go as fast as you can all the time and end up crashing into everything because no one else is driving like that. In this game, that’s not the best idea as it can hurt your case performance points though there is a free drive mode where driving like a mad man won’t count against you and it is fun for mindless road rage. Of course, you do find yourself in car chases throughout the game and they can be frustrating at times. Not knowing your way around in a case can lead you into a dead end or getting caught on the corner of a wall or something as your target speeds away that can lead to a failure of the mission and restart at the last check point. However, this is something that is common in open sandbox type games so it’s nothing unique to LA Noire. There are also foot chases where you have to chase down a suspect. This tends to happen a lot and it gets kind of annoying each time it happens. Much like with the car chases, if you get lost and lose your target, its game over. The action segments in general in LA Noire are not handled too well and hard kind of rare for what you’d expect from a game like this. They are there but they are much more spread out throughout the game. The shooting mechanic is pretty bare bones and while it is simple enough, it doesn’t happen so much so I was usually taken back when I had to try and remember how the shooting worked because you just don’t use it that often. There are even some platform action segments which can be pretty difficult as well. This game does let you skip past these action parts if you die too many times but I personally find that kind of cheap though I did find myself using it once. Like I said, action is not what this game excels at, this is thinker’s game and that is what sets LA Noire apart from other similar games and what it does so well and makes this game so memorable.

GRAPHICS: What you will notice that stands out the most is the facial animations for all the characters in this game. MotionScan technology was developed for completely capturing the faces of the game actors, capturing every single movement of someone’s face. What we get is true acting in a video game, not just voice acting over the animation of a game character. Something like this has never really been done before. The sites of Los Angeles such as landmarks and other locations were recreated for this game and look amazing. The crime scenes, apartments and houses are very well furnished and look like someplace someone would actually live instead of just decoration for the game. Like I said the facial animations will steal the show but there is a lot to look at when you’re not too busy with investigations.

SOUND: The music in this game is just great. The jazz and big band type music from the time period makes for a beautiful and fitting soundtrack and is the icing on the cake. The sound effects all sound great and work into the gameplay as well. When doing investigations of crime scenes, as you walk past a clue, a piano chime will play by the object letting you know to check that object out. It helps you inspect things that do not appear as obvious some other things at the crime scene. The voice acting, my god, this is flat out some of the best voice work for a video game I’ve ever heard and works so well with the facial acting. It really feels like you are part of a movie.

Overall, this is a game I feel has sadly become rather underrated since its release.  It truly makes you feel like a detective and really makes you exercise your mind trying to solve these cases, especially if you want to go through and try to get a perfect score on all of these. If you’re only into action with games like this, then I’d recommend Sleeping Dogs or a GTA title then. But if you’re like me, something like this is a great change of pace from just running around and shooting bad guys. The game has dropped in price a lot so it shouldn’t be too hard to find this game for $20 or less if you look hard enough. I highly recommend this game.

OVERALL: 9/10 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Borderlands 2 Game Review

Holy hot damn, this game is good! Borderlands 2 is truly a unique gem in the increasingly popular first person RPG genre.  The game’s style and feel reminds me of a mix of Trigun, Unreal Tournament, and a little bit of Bioshock and Fallout 3. Also it’s funny as hell. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a game like this that has such personality to go with the overall fun factor of the game play. Now this is unusual for me because I usually don’t really care for these massive, open world, first person RPGs like Skyrim or Fallout 3. That is part of the reason I avoided this game for awhile. It took some convincing to finally get around to playing this game and boy was I wrong. The game play is very addictive, the story is simple but good and well-done, the characters are some of the best video game characters I have seen in years, and it puts lots of new spins on the usual FPS conventions. It’s definitely not the deepest RPG experience out there but it doesn’t need to be. Now I have not played the first game but you don’t really have to play the first to understand this game, though it was made me very interesting in playing the original Borderlands now. Review time, go now!

STORY: Set on the planet Pandora (not the one with the blue cats) which holds legends of all kinds of vaults that hold mythical amounts of treasure. Treasure hunters known as Vault Hunters come from all over the galaxy come to this planet seeking a legendary vault hidden within the planet. The planet is controlled by the Hyperion Organization which is under control of Handsome Jack (isn’t that the best name ever?) who has been luring hunters to the planet to kill them off to keep them from getting to the vault so he can keep it for himself and so the company can freely mine Eridium from the planet. Today, four Vault Hunters, Salvador, Maya, Axton, and Zer0 have made it to the planet and discover Handsome Jack’s trap and end up left for dead near the planet’s pole. Pandora itself is a land of danger filled with arctic glaciers, deserts, wastelands, steep valleys, mountains, and volcanoes. In those lands they are filled with native creatures, bandits, psycho paths, killer freaks, robots, and other horrors you must face, plus Handsome Jack as a deadly plan for those on the planet who are trying to resist him.  

You also encounter some strong allies in these borderlands. This game has some of the coolest characters I’ve seen in a video game in awhile. There are characters like Scooter who is your typical redneck mechanic that has some questionable love interests, Dr. Zed your go to person for health with a questionable medical license, Marcus the gun seller who is always trying to make a buck, Miss Moxxi the sexy bar owner, Tiny Tina a mentally unstable 13-year old that is an expert with explosives, and Claptrap. Oh, Claptrap. He’s one of the silliest robots ever in a video game. Handsome Jack makes for one of the best villains I’ve seen in a video game who is just constantly harassing you throughout the game. He’s such a condescending asshole but at the same time he’s hilarious. The cast from the first game also become major characters as the story progresses. I am also happy to see that the characters that you play as are not just silent protagonists like you see in most games like this. While they do not talk directly with NPCs, they do talk and make wise ass remarks during combat. I prefer to have a character with personality than one that just stays silent throughout a game even though they are the hero.  

The game’s story length is surprisingly long. It’s taken me about three weeks to complete but I’ve also been working at the side quests which there very many of. While the main missions are generally interesting and keep the story moving along, the side missions are a lot of fun as well. They range from massive treasure hunts, taking on a town filled with bandits, to something as simple as shooting a guy in the face who literally asked for it. While the game is long and has some epic boss fights, including the last boss, it does have a disappointingly short ending like many games these days and kinds sets it up for another game. BUT it’s not like that’s it, there are still plenty of side missions to do and a few open up to you after you complete the main missions so there is plenty to do after the credits roll.

GAMEPLAY:  If you like shooting and looting then you will love this game because you’re going to be doing it A LOT. This game has soooo many guns. I really have no idea how many guns are in it because I seem to be always discovering new ones. Not only do you have the usual classes of guns such as assault rifles, pistols, sniper rifles, SMGs, and rocket launchers, you also have elemental based guns. They have one of five elemental effects such as electricity, acid, fire, slag (a chemical that causes enemies to take more damage), and explosive. They also take the usual shooter cliché of red explosive barrels and adds in barrels that hold these elements to use strategically during gun fights. I have no idea how they have barrels of electricity but they are fun to shoot. In addition to your guns and grenades, you also have various shields which take another convention of modern shooters and makes it deeper. You can find, buy, or make better shields throughout the game and they all recharge at certain rates. Your shields recharge but your health does not. You’ll need to find health items for that which I rather like because I’m tired of the easy-peasy take cover and you’ll heal right up health system most games these days use. You will find money, ammo, guns, shields, and other goodies all over the place in this game and you will constantly be looting containers. It becomes very addictive. Also when you find new guns, shields, ect, a screen appears that shows the item’s stats and makes it easy to compare with the items you currently have. You can carry a lot on you but over time you’ll find yourself have to decide on dropping or keeping various items throughout the game.

In addition to all of your weapons, each class has their own individual special ability. There are four classes: Gunzerker who can duel-wield weapons of any find, Siren (which is the character I am using) that has a psylock power that lets her hold enemies in the air with psychokinetic abilities, the commando who can deploy turrets, and the assassin who can make decoys of himself. As you level up you can develop these characters as you want and they have their own unique abilities to gain. In addition to that, there is the Badass ranking system (yes, that’s what it is called). There are hundreds of challenges to complete throughout this game and each time one is completed you get a badass token which you can use to improve various aspects of your character such as improving weapon accuracy or melee damage. This game constantly rewards you for your actions and improvement.

The characters are customizable in appearance but not nearly as deep as some first person RPGs. You do unlock different color skins and hair styles throughout the game but that’s it so if you’re looking to make a character that looks like you, you’re going to be disappointed. However, I really don’t mind much since these characters do actually have personality to them unlike in other similar type RPGs. However, another department that really could have used the customization is the weapons. While there are many, being able to add on optics or other attachments would have been nice. If you want an assault rifle with an optic, you pretty much just have to be lucky and find one. Also there are vehicles in the game, well, two to be exact. More vehicles would have been cool to see. Also, enemies have a flying vehicle but you never get to use one. I find that disappointing especially in one mission were it looks like you finally fly one but end up having to blow it up instead, though it leads to some funny dialogue afterwards. However, the biggest complaint I would have about this game is respawning enemies. After awhile, enemies will return to an area after you kill them. I understand it’s to help gain exp for leveling up BUT why do the bosses come back? Especially, if it’s a boss directly tied in with the main story. You do get the same about exp but I’ve never seen a game bring bosses back like that. It makes you think what was the point of fighting them? Anyway, it’s not game breaking and if you want to relive a boss fight you can easily do so.

The final thing I’d like to point out is that this is NOT an easy game. If you are not experiences with FPS games then you might want to take it slow with this. The guns fights you get in this game very chaotic, fast paced, and intense. I’ve played many FPS games before I still find parts where I die over and over again. You respawn at check points, though it does cost money and you’re treated to a wise ass remark from the automated voice from the respawn machine. This game is completely co-op though so if you’re having too much trouble, grab a friend in person or online and you can play the game together!

GRAPHICS: One of the things that make Borderlands’ style is the cell shaded graphics. Nearly the entire game is cell shaded and gives it this comic book/graphic novel look to it. It’s really cool and colorful despite the arid landscapes of Pandora. However, this does come with a price. There is a lot of texture pop-in.  It’s at its worst when loading up a game or loading up a new area and you will be seeing a lot of smaller pop-in throughout the game. I did also notice some frame rate slow down here and there but it was rather rare and not game breaking. I have a feeling this is not as much of an issue on the PC versions of the game. The character models look awesome. Some of the most unique character designs I’ve seen in a game in awhile and excellent personalities to go with them.

SOUND: The sounds of gunfire and explosions will fill your speakers and you play through this game but what really steals the show is the voice acting and dialogue. This is one of those games where you’ll want to go around and talk to everyone just to hear the crazy crap they are going to say. This is bolstered by excellent voice acting which oddly enough has a lot of anime voice actors in it. From the main characters to the crazy psycho babble of the bandits, the voice acting in this game is lots of fun. The music is sadly less memorable. While it is definitely fitting with the sci-fi western setting, it’s just nothing I really care to listen to without the game. It reminds me a lot of the background music for Trigun. Fitting but nothing without its source.  

Overall, I recommend Borderlands 2 as one of the must play games of 2012. This game is so much fun and entertaining to play through. Considering that there are four different classes, it adds even more replay value to the game in addition to the already plentiful amount of side missions. There are already plenty of DLC missions for it as well. I know I’m going to get a lot of hate for this but I think this is the way an FPS/RPG should be done and I strongly prefer it over games like Fallout 3. I recommend this game for anyone who loves FPS games but is tired of Call of Duty or Halo. I also recommend it to fans of Fallout and Elder Scrolls games and action junkies. Even if you aren’t crazy about the game play, you should still be able to find some laughs out of this unique and fun game.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Liberation Maiden Game Review

(Originally written November 17, 2012)
Liberation Maiden is a game I discovered just last night on the 3DS Nintendo market place. It currently holds one of the highest ratings on the market place and was only a little over $7 so I thought I’d check it out. It features flashy anime cut scenes and a girl piloting a giant robot to blow up stuff. Interestingly, it was made by Goichi Suda, the creator of games like Lollipop Chainsaw and No More Heroes. It was developed by Level-5 studios with an all-star production crew or as all-star as you can get for a downloadable title on the 3DS. Liberation Maiden is the first title of 5 downloadable games to come for this mini-series of games.

STORY: Set in a futuristic Japan that has been invaded and taken over by a mysterious enemy. The remains of the Japanese Government elect Shoko Ozora as the 2nd president of New Japan, the first president being her dead father. But being president in New Japan doesn’t mean she sits behind a desk all day! No, she pilots a giant robot and must single handedly liberate Japan from this mysterious enemy. So basically, its cliché anime plot number 26: Young pilot must save the world/country from some unknown enemy invader. While there is more to it than that, that’s the gist of it that we are giving in the story mode. You can unlock more information about the story, characters, and setting in the gallery but that’s only if you want to read text crawls. While the story is nothing special, the lead character Shoko has a charm to her. She’s the typical anime girl in a mecha anime but at least she isn’t whiny or constantly questioning her motives for piloting a giant robot. She does her job proudly and with honor. The only other real character in the game is this guy named Kira who talks to her over the radio. He’s the secretary of defense, I guess? He mainly just tells her what to do, how to do it, and sings her praises once her job is done. At least it’s not someone annoying like a high pitched girl or anything. I have no idea what the invaders are exactly other than they have killed much of the environment in Japan and that by destroying power conduit towers loosens their grip on the country and brings wild life back to the liberated areas. Oh god, there is an environmental message. I think. Anyway, the story is there to just give reason for the game play mostly.

GAMEPLAY: This where Liberation Maiden gets interesting. You only use the joy pad and the L button. Everything else is controlled on the touch screen. I was expecting something like Starfox 64 but it definitely isn’t, however, that isn’t a bad thing. On the touch pad is your map, targeting computer, weapon selection, and a picture of Shoko that reacts to various things but you rarely have time to watch those. The game encourages you to use the stylist but I found it much easier to just use my thumb. If you have small hands, this might be tricky to play. You have two main weapons, energy missiles and a laser. I used the energy missiles most of the time as they lock onto everything and can be charged up. You lock onto targets by moving your thumb over the touch pad and tap it to fire. It seems complicated at first but after a few minutes you get the hang of it. You also have kill-everything –on-screen weapon in the form of an energy spear that blows up everything on the ground but you can only use it every so often.  While the weapons respond surprisingly well, you will probably have trouble locking onto some enemies because of the way you are holding the 3DS and will have to really reach with your thumb for the left side of the touch screen. You can link up chain combos by targeting multiple enemies at once and then blow them all away. It is very satisfying and once you get the hang of it, very fun. However, the stages get rather repetitive. While you do get more objective as the game goes on, your main goal in each stage is to find and destroy these power conduits that rise out of the Earth. Once you destroy the lesser ones, you must destroy the main power conduit for the area which basically acts as a boss battle. The big ones have four different cores to destroy and the last one requires you to go kamikaze into the core, spin around in it using the touch screen and do it fast enough before Shoko’s shields collapse. The last stage does have a real boss battle though.  Now I should probably bring up that this game is very short. You can easily knock it out within an hour or less. There are three difficulty settings and it might take someone a little longer on the higher difficulties but it is still very short. Outside the story mode, there isn’t much besides a stage attack which is just playing through the levels to get a high score or fastest time. This game could have used some kind of multiplayer mode where you battle your robots with friends. Oh well, maybe in the next game.

GRAPHICS: The in-game graphics are generally good even though most would say they are last generation console graphics but this is on a handheld system and a download so I’d say they look pretty damn good. The environments are bright and colorful, the mech looks really good and the explosions and enemy forces look great. But the real eye catcher for this game is the cut scenes. They look beautiful and were animated by studio Bones, best known for the Cowboy Bebop movie, Full Metal Alchemist, Wolf’s Rain, and RahXephon.  Sadly, we only get two of these cut scenes, one at the beginning and end of the game. We also have stills of Shoko and Kira during radio conversations and, thankfully, it’s all spoken dialogue with the text boxes. It’s a bit disappointing to not see any other animated cut scenes like between missions or whatever. Also, despite only having two cut scenes, they do manage to sneak in some fan service of Shoko.

Stay classy, Japan.

SOUND: Sound effects wise, it’s all good. The explosions and weapon sounds are very crisp and loud. The voice acting is not as bad I was expecting. It’s average anime voice acting for something like this and gets the job done. The voice actor for Shoko sounds really familiar but I can’t find who did her voice. Kira’s voice sounds very familiar as well. Also, the only other speaking role in the game is the narrator who talks in-between missions and sums up what is happening with the story so far. If you like J-pop type music, you should be pleased with the soundtrack. The music during the stages are fitting scores and we get some epic J-pop songs during the boss battles. It makes you feel like you’re in a giant robot anime.

Overall, it’s a neat little game though I’m not 100% comfortable with the price for what it is. I’d say it’s better off at $5 but it is pretty new to the market so I’m sure the price will go down in a month or two. If you like mecha anime, I suggest checking it out. As I said before, this is the first of a series of downloadable games and I’d like to see them building on this more and more and hopefully, not the same thing with each title.


Note: I use the 5 point scale for DL games, 10 point scale for full games.    

Call of Duty Black Ops 2 Game Review

(Originally written November 16, 2012)
Another year, another Call of Duty. This franchise has come to define the mega-blockbuster in the video game market over the past decade ever since 2007’s Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare and its 2009 sequel Modern Warfare 2. There have been two primary studios working on these games since 2002: Infinity Ward and Treyarch. Ironically, the quality in the Infinity Ward titles, the original creator of the franchise, has definitely dropped in quality and originality. On the other hand, Treyarch, who had previously been making crappy entries for the series, has surpassed IW and proved they can make quality Call of Duty games with World at War and Black Ops. These two studios working back to back, has made it possible for Call of Duty to be an annual series. Yes, there has been a major Call of Duty game every single year since 2005. I think this is part of the reason that a lot of people have grown tired of the series. CoD has gotten a lot of bad rap over the past couple years in the gaming world because, well, it’s still here! And the reason it is still here is because of the multiplayer. CoD 4’s multiplayer and MW 2’s multiplayer is what has made Call of Duty the mega-blockbuster franchise it is today. Not the stories or anything like that. As a result, the market has become flooded with FPS games that rip off CoD because other game studios want their own mega-blockbuster franchise that makes billions of dollars. Much like Hollywood, instead of coming up with something original, they just copy whatever the most successful thing is.

This is one reason I have come to dislike the Call of Duty series. Now everyone has their own reasons why they like it or not. Mine is what I just talked about and the lack luster stories for the campaign. The Modern Warfare stories were mostly cut and paste, tried too hard to shock you plot points, and almost no character development. Plus everyone kept dying. I know its war and people die but it becomes less and less shocking every time your character dies during a scripted event. Much more care was been given to the multiplayer aspects over the single player until Blacks Ops in 2010.  The story was the best thing about that game and actually had some good plot twists and character development. Not the greatest, but it was something nice to see in a Call of Duty game. Last year Modern Warfare 3 came out and it sucked. A lot. Knowing what I know about Treyarch and having played Black Ops, I had more faith in this title than with MW3 but wasn’t expecting much. What we got though was a lot better than I expected. Black Ops 2 is the way to do a Call of Duty sequel. It does so many things this franchise should have been doing 3 years ago and finally makes it happen and I’ve been ranting long enough, it’s time to get to the review.

STORY: The story takes place half in the year 2025 and half in flash backs during the 1980’s. You primarily play as Alex Mason (during the 80’s) with the CIA and as his son David Mason (in 2025) as a Navy SEAL under JSOC. The story mostly deals with the rise of the game’s villain Raul Menedez, a Nicaraguan terrorist and the leader of a mysterious group with worldwide influence called ‘Cordis Die.’ The missions set in the 80’s are told in flashback by Frank Woods (from the previous game) and primarily deals with how Menedez became the mad man he is in the future and his connection to the main characters. There are even parts of the game where you actually play as Menedez for a little bit to try and feel more of a connection to him. The missions set in the future, you are trying to figure out what, how, and when Menedez is going to do to unleash a massive global attack on the world using drones which characterizes the military of the future. The plot kind of reminds me of the plot to Metal Gear Solid 4 but less complicated.  The future setting for Call of Duty was inevitable and thankfully they don’t go too far into the future. Most of the weapons and technology used in the game is actually based on current prototypes and ideas and it’s really cool to get to use some of this stuff. Now it sounds pretty straight forward like any Call of Duty game but there is one big thing that changes all of that: branching storylines and outcomes. Yes, this CoD has multiple endings and choices that actually matter. There are 5 different endings based on choices you make throughout the campaign. For a game series like this, this is a huge deal and adds a lot of replay value to the campaign. Your decisions affect the character’s fates and development as well and there is quite a bit of character development in the main characters and the villain. There are also some really good twists thrown in throughout the campaign. The story is a lot better than I thought it would be and puts Infinity Ward’s Modern Warfare series to shame. Thankfully, the Russians are not the main enemy you encounter like in every post-WWII CoD game. You do fight them in a couple missions but given the context of those individual missions, it makes sense.  Instead, most of the time you are fighting against PMC and Central American forces but that changes based on the set piece and this game takes place all over the world. From flooded streets of Pakistan, a night club on some super ship in the Cayman Islands, Afghanistan, Panama, and it’s most shown set piece, Los Angeles, the game makes good use of the set pieces to make some memorable levels and of course they are all over the top like a Michael Bay movie with things exploding all over the place and are very fast paced.

The game’s story and levels are paced a lot better than in previous games. Not everyone will agree but most of the Call of Duty games would climax too soon and the rest of the game would just be like hitting a wall for me and just become uninteresting. Like in MW2, the missions after the battle in Washington D.C. were just boring and rather pointless to me and it just feels like a drop off point. The drop off point for me in MW3 was after the Paris missions and that was in the middle of the game. Yeah, I really didn’t like Modern Warfare 3. Black Ops 2 increasingly builds to its climax at the right times and since there are technically two stories going on here, it does this more than once.  It keeps you interested till the end and the branching story paths help that out a lot. Like the first Black Ops, they also have the likenesses of real people in it such as Jonas Savimbi, an Angolan warlord, Panamanian former leader Manuel Noriega, and David Petraeus. I laughed when I saw he was in this. Black Ops 2 has bad timing. The game is still pretty short however, taking about 6 to 7 hours which is sadly average for these kinds of game. There are 4 optional missions called Strike Missions that function very differently from the story missions but do have an overall effect on the story so you probably shouldn’t skip them. I’ll explain them more in the game play.  

GAMEPLAY: If you’ve played these games before, there is nothing new to the basic game controls and they are as smooth as ever. Controlling vehicles which is rare but when you have to do it, it’s not so bad except for when you have to fly an F-22 late in the game. At first, its easy enough till you have to actually fly it at high speeds, and then you are fighting the plane to not crash into building or fly out of the combat zone and cause the mission to fail. This part was done like the Hind flying segment in Black Ops 1 but not done as well or as fun. You also get to control various drones throughout the game like the CLAW which is kind of like an Imperial walker that is about the size of a small car and has a mini gun and grenade launchers on it. You can also fly and command quad rotors which look like those little helicopter hobby toys but have machine guns on them. You get to control most of these during the Strike Force missions. Now these missions are very different from the story missions. They feel more like something from Ghost Recon than Call of Duty. You control infantry, drones, turrets, and a command satellite. You get a full view of the level from the satellite and command your forces to protect or destroy objective points. You can also switch between and play as any of the forces on the ground. This can be tricky as it forces you to multitask and is a definite break away from the traditional CoD game play. Like I said before, these missions are optional but do impact the story so you really should do them and they do get tricky. Sadly, these strike missions are a huge missed opportunity because they are single player only. These would have made for an awesome multiplayer co-op game mode. These types of missions would have lots of fun if they could have tweaked it for more than one person. The AI in these missions and the game in general is no improvement at all from previous games. While it doesn’t bother things much in the regular missions, you will definitely feel the aging AI system in the strike force missions, especially on higher difficulties.

Another new addition to the single player missions is that you get to fully customize your weapon load outs before a mission which is very welcomed. Not only that, the weapon selection screen now has stats for each gun and how the attachments will affect them. There are some awesome new attachments in this game like x-ray optics, an optic that marks enemies for you and laser sights in addition to the classic red dot and ACOG that we are all used to from these games. I like that the ACOGs have a red dot sight on top that you easily switch to be clicking the left joystick. This was an actual suggestion for an optic and control mechanic I submitted for Modern Warfare 2 three years ago. I’m glad someone took this idea. Way to drop the ball, Infinity Ward. Also select fire acts as a feature which hasn’t been seen since the very first Call of Duty on PC back in 2002. You also get some new melee weapons like machetes and stun knuckles that make people throw up. Gross.  The futuristic weapons and attachments are generally fun to use and easy to control. The high degree of customizability just pushes it over the top.  

Of course there are the other two game modes: zombies and the multiplayer. The zombie mode is designed to be like its own independent game this time instead of a mini-game. I really think Treyarch should just make a complete zombie game at this point, separate from Call of Duty. That said the single player mode for it has been scaled down a lot. I discovered I can only play one map by myself; I would have to have other people for the other two maps. Also there is a story for it but I have no idea what it is as it is not explained. I’m in a 50’s style bus station as a guy that says annoying things and there is a bus that you ride in that has a robot bus driver who also says annoying things. What? The zombie mode does have difficulty settings now for the more casual zombie killers as the zombie mode in the past CoD games were rather hard. Finally, we have the multiplayer and sadly, I find it to be the weakest part of the game though there are a couple new things that I like. You can play offline now with bots so no pesky humans to ruin your game. Just kidding. It’s just nice to have a more casual multiplayer experience without having to deal with all the bull on xbox live. However, multiplayer is the BIG selling point of this game and the reason this franchise has been so successful. Well, other than new weapons and equipment, there isn’t really anything new here at all. More of the same. The kill streaks are handled a little differently I noticed. You gain them based on points instead of kills this time around and you can stack them up and switch between which one’s you want to use. This does little to change to over all game play though. It’s just more of the same. I’m sure the really hardcore fans could point out small differences for better or worse but the average player probably won’t notice.  The single player, to me, is the strongest and best part of Black Ops 2.

GRAPHICS: This game looks great for the most part. The future levels look the best with all the fancy computer screens and other sites of the not too distance future. The 1980’s settings are a little less impressive to look at. There is more texture pop-in during these missions and everything just looks drab and dull but once again, the settings during these missions are meant to look drab and dull. Hm. The character models of the main characters look great. They use that really neat facial scan animation that I like that really add emotion to the characters. The characters without this however, look pretty bad. Very stiff and stale but you are most likely shooting them so what do you care? This is generally a good looking game and I didn’t really notice any graphic glitches or anything major but this game is nowhere near as good looking as Halo 4.

SOUND: This game is loud and full of guns and explosions just as you would expect. Thankfully, everything is much easier to hear than in MW3 which had some major audio issues. All the sounds of war sound great. The voice acting is a bit of a different story. It’s really hit and miss. It’s pretty over the top at some points with some, at times, unnecessary swearing. You can tell it’s a Treyarch CoD game with all the hard swearing peppered throughout the script. There are some fairly big Hollywood actors in this game too but their performances are kind of all over the place. They really need to tone it down but I think it’s the best they could do with the script they had to work with. The music is generally fitting. You have lots of electric, fast paced music in the future missions with some dub step here and there. The 80’s missions tend to have music fitting for whatever country it is set in. The soundtrack is much better than the one from MW3 but not anything I’d rush out to download. Speaking of music.. This kind of a spoiler but after you beat the game you are treated to a game rendered concert of Avenged Seven Fold. Why? Because they can, I guess.

Overall, there are a lot of improvements that this series has needed for a long time but is it too late? While I did really like this game, I’m not begging for another CoD game. However, I’m pretty sure there will be a Black Ops 3. For pure curiosity, I probably would play it but this franchise is nearly milked bone dry. I really worry about what Infinity Ward is going to do next. If there is a Modern Warfare 4, no way am I going to even bother with it. Black Ops 2 is a good game if you like to play these games for the single player and want to play through the story to see all the different outcomes and play with all the customizable weapons. If you play CoD just for the multiplayer, you’ll probably be disappointed to a degree. I know most fans already have it. If you don’t like CoD or shooters are all, this won’t change your mind. If you’re on the fence about it, I highly recommend renting it and you can judge for yourself. I really liked this game much to my surprise but if the things I talked about don’t interest you at all, then this game probably isn’t for you. Regardless, if you like Call of Duty or not, these changes are a great addition to the series and a step in the right direction. I’m just giving credit where credit is due and this turned out to be a long review. Thank you for reading!