Total Reviews: 43
Average Overall Score Given: 8.06512 / 10
Total Forum Posts: 87

Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two

In my 20 plus years on this earth (okay, okay, more than a few plus) I have been privy to very few epic moments. Sure there are the monumental moments that affect us all and even individuals in my personal life (yes you my darling wife) that have gone on to become outstanding personalities, but I cannot quantify specific moments or events that have earned the epic title. Therefore, it behooves me to think that a game developer would be so bold as to label a sequel as such. Now I know that the title is in reference to the events that take place in the game and that said events were showcased in the original title, however such a bold statement is akin to a nine year old exclaiming that ‘this is the greatest game ever’; absolutely unfounded and without merit.

The original Epic Mickey was introduced in 2010 with exclusive distribution for the WII entertainment system. This title was touted as a more mature take on the famous mouse with darker tones and even darker story. But as the launch date approached the exclusivity of the game with the WII became clear as it was revealed to be a kid’s game with a unique idea.

So here we are in 2012 and Junction Point Studios is sharing the limelight with Blitz Games Studios in order to bring the “Epic” title to a wider gaming audience. Now on the XBOX 360, surely this should have a deeper appeal and open the opportunity to expand the story for more advanced gamers. Sadly however, it seems that this just expands upon the existing story without offering any truly advanced gaming mechanics.

This time round, gamers will see Mickey returning (to the scene of the crime) to Wasteland, joining his past compatriots to repair past damages and to address the seemingly helpful efforts of the ‘Mad Doctor’. Helping Mickey along the way are many of the residents of Wasteland with a great emphasis coming from Oswald the Luck Rabbit. Oswald is the leader of Wasteland and not only helps to guide Mickey through the various environments but also becomes a sort of extra hand in an effort to expand the games functionality. Again Mickey is armed with his paint and thinner to alter his surroundings in order to achieve certain goals. While Oswald provides an electrical jolt or ‘helicopter’ style ears to glide through areas.

The game play itself isn’t entirely unique, the platform gaming style has been around for ages but having the mix of 2D and 3D style platforming makes nice use of the surroundings. As with most games of this fashion the true antagonists are the controls and the camera. In third person mode you use the two control sticks to move and to control a targeting reticule. The targeting reticule shows where your streams of thinner or paint will go but your camera will almost invariably fight you every step of the way. The side scrolling platforming does away with the default camera placement and instead showcases a point of view that leaves many of your targets just off screen. You will, in short order, resort to hastened leaps of faith rather that timed jumps just to keep frustration at bay.

The ‘Power of Two’ in the games title is meant to showcase the co-op aspect of this title and should be as simple as working together for a common goal. Now consider for a moment that my gaming partner was my very capable daughter and that both of us had to endure the incredibly lackluster camera while watching through the traditional split screen mode and I’m sure you can imagine how quickly this reverted to a one person game. In single player mode you are meant to still retain a sense of co-op as many of the tasks require elements from both characters. And it is at this moment that the games horrible AI decides to rear its ugly head. The game clearly needs me to utilize Oswald’s shock feature and he should be running nearby post haste, instead the AI decides that Oswald doesn’t want to be in the same vicinity as Mickey and keeps him just out of reach.

The games visuals and sound are by far the titles saving grace. Personally I caught the Disney magic late in life and still the number of references to the numerous Disney characters, movies, places and things is astounding to encounter in this game. You are instantly transported into the sense of wonder, exploration and adventure and I honestly couldn’t wait to see what reference I would come across next. The environments are well established and utilize the Disney properties only when necessary. Visually the only downfall is the use of the thinner and paint that Mickey wields. Rather than having any substantial impact, these tools can only be utilized in predetermined areas for predetermined goals.

The core sounds are joined with excellent voice acting for all of the characters and even some of the musical numbers show evidence of how much importance sound plays in the game. Sure some of the audible cues for gameplay will grate after a time but the often sweeping score offsets any annoyance I may have felt.

That being said, I can’t help but imagine what the board meeting would have been like after the ‘success’ of Epic Mickey on the WII:

Director A: Well this has gone well even though we created misleading storyboard art and released it to the public as concept drawings.

Director B: I think we could have done better if it had been available on those more mature consoles A: Great idea, let’s do more ‘concept drawings’ and re-release it on other consoles.

Director B: That won’t work, gamers are far too media savy to fall for that one again.

Director A: Well we have to do something to expand this cash Clarabell (Cow, get it…).

Director B: Let’s just change around the environments, make it almost co-op and release it as a whole new title.

Let’s face it, the Disney media empire is here to stay and for the most part they seem to come out on top (except for Eddie Murphy’s Haunted Mansion). The foray into the gaming media has been a long time coming and Mickey deserves to have a firm foothold in the genre. Developers need to accept that it’s time for the mouse to take some risks otherwise they should revert to stamping the games with the Disney Jr. seal and be happy they didn’t release Snow Dogs: the Game.

Overall Score: 6.1 / 10 F1 2012

It should come as no surprise to anyone that knows me that I am able to recall a time when sports games began annual updates to their individual franchise. The jeers and apprehension that came with these annual updates were initially justified as programming moved from using ?fantasy? teams to using current rosters. Unfortunately, it took a few years before the actual enjoyment of these titles would justify buying an entirely new game just to hear new Madden lines or to see new on-ice fight sequences. Of course, just as the NHL and NFL annual offerings became accepted, other sports franchises took on the same business model, it wasn?t long before we would see soccer, tennis and even sport hunting titles trying to create enough substance to get gamers to buy into a new and improved edition.

I suppose that since Nascar has tried annual offerings and since sports fishing seems to have taken a momentary break there just may be room to justify an annual F1 circuit title. Codemasters is giving gamers a 4th annual open wheeled racing experience with the release of F1 2012. Rather than just doing a mediocre update as is typical game developer style, Codemasters has dug deeper into the entire F1 genre to deliver a technically challenging title, while making the entire franchise more accessible to gamers.

Codemasters is in no way new to the industry and their list of titles reads as a cross section of gaming history. Helping to seal their position as the go-to team for open wheeled racing we are introduced (very subtly) to Codemasters Racing. The consistent growth of the franchise under Codemasters watch certainly would seem to hint at a future full of possibilities.

I, personally, have not jumped into the F1 gaming waters since my review of F1 2010 and if you?ve read that review the reasons are quite clear. As stated before I was not a fan of the fine balance between game and realism. I really should have given the 2011 edition a shot as it would seem that the franchise has grown in leaps and bounds by creating an even more realistic racing ?sim? while finding a way to keep casual gamers like myself deeply enthralled in the overall experience.

This year?s iteration once again features a detailed career mode, and yes, once again you start off as the new rookie vying for the top spot among the various F1 teams. The practice sessions still having you trying to memorize the little details to help you jump ahead, the qualifying rounds will still have you watching the clock (and cursing minor mis-steps) and of course, the career races can still be an endless source of frustration (that is unless you can exceed through the practice and qualifying rounds).

But as I stated before, Codemasters Racing is about the total package, not just the final details, but also the overall experience. This time ?round we are introduced to the F1 title by way of a ?Young Driver?s Test?. Presenting itself as a tutorial of sorts, the non-initiated (and just poor skilled drivers like myself) are taken through the details involved with open wheeled racing. Utilizing this familiar style, really drives home some of the more challenging aspects of the game by showing just what it takes to come out on top.

For the purist, the Career mode will have you choosing how many laps to utilize, but with 50 laps, practice sessions and qualifying for each race will take hours; so the prospect of taking on the 20 races it takes to even consider a top spot is incredibly daunting. The developers have chosen to ?dumb? things down by with the inclusion of the Season Challenge. Season Challenge lays out 10 races, each with a unique qualification lap which ghosts your competitors to show how they approached the track, followed by a mere 5 lap race to the finish. If you beat out your challengers you can pick up a place on their team, quickly moving you to the top of the heap. This mode (for me), gave a better sense of accomplishment without delving too deeply into the overall dynamics.

Another challenge is the new Champions mode; this will have you placed in very specific situations from the weather, to your vehicle and your challengers. In each of the races you will need to adapt to the situations at hand, through the course of one race, to be able to show any sort of dominance. While this mode drops you into the action quickly, it also relies on your working knowledge of the F1 driving basics.

F1 2012 features a pretty comprehensive online mode. Complete with co-op career mode, online races and even the familiar split screen mode (which had me flashing back to my Pole Position days). There are a number of online options but many of your competitors online will be more than just casual gamers and some even had me questioning whether or not I was playing a real person and not some ex ?war games? computer with time on its binary. Your best bet is to find a friend to play online and have them tangle up your competitors while you sprint to the finish.

Visually the game is a big step from the offering 2 years ago. The vehicle details fit seamlessly with the environments and the sense of speed is extraordinary. The screen is literally filled with beautiful surroundings; the buildings, the tracks, the walls, even the way the light and water interact put you fully in the moment. Likely the only real complaint is that things pass by so quickly you don?t get much time to enjoy everything happening around you.

The sound development also takes top spot this outing. All racing games try hard to create a digitized realism to immerse you in the game, but F1 2012 mixes many of the subtle noises such as the way the vehicles sounds change as you move around the track as well as how your vehicle sounds as it interacts with the track itself. This isn?t always a good thing for an arcade gamer however, as I would often try to recreate the whooshing sounds with complete disregard for the race at hand.

In all this title certainly helps to justify the inclusion of Racing to the Codemasters development title. The game has everything pretty down pat and delivers a great F1 experience. The only failing I can identify is the lack of a more casual play through. I?d like to see an opportunity to lessen my opponents? skill set and not just improve my weight distribution or monitoring my tires for wear. The development of the flashback ability is welcome, but rewinding time to find a better line through a corner isn?t going to help a guy like myself.

F1 2012 certainly justifies an annual edition with so many improvements to the gaming mechanics but I think it?s time to showcase more vehicle damage and open the game so as to market to individuals that aren?t able to name through the current roster. This game would be scored very well by F1 fans unfortunately I?m not one; however, the game does deliver a satisfying racing experience.

Overall Score: 8.4 / 10 The Amazing Spider-Man

The most commonly held fear in modern society is the fear of spiders. Even the term arachnophobia can create panic among a specific cross section of individuals (mostly spelling bee contestants). And while intensive surveys have identified that 58% of women and 28% of men have deep seated fears of spiders it is generally accepted that anyone with any common sense would prefer not to wake up with a family of arachnid dancing on their forehead!

While I can certainly enjoy the decades of entertainment value that the Spider-man franchise has brought to the world, someone should really look into the psychological impact that is created whenever a new piece of ?Spider? media is released. Consider this; would you enjoy thinking about a 5? 8? spider roaming through your neighborhood, how about the time it takes to clean up those giant webs, I mean sure they dissolve, but do you want to stare out your window as webs slowly evaporate and you can bet that every time you pull out a shoe to ?cleanse? your domicile of these eight legged scourge someone would be right there to educate you on arachnid rights! Hell, the very thought of Spider-man, while incredibly entertaining, has been the exposition for my not getting a place in midtown Manhattan.

So it is with trepidation that I introduce ?The Amazing Spider-man? video game for the Xbox 360. Canadian video game developer Beenox continues to set itself apart from its initial game porting origins by releasing another Spider-man game. Previous titles have included Spider-man: Edge of Time and Spider-man: Shattered Dimensions. It is worth noting that this title is only the eighth title to be developed by this relatively new studio.

When I first heard of this title being developed by the same studio that created the two previous Spider-man titles, I didn?t hold out much hope of returning to the glory days of the Spider-man 2 video game. Even when trailers for the game emerged and many began to speculate where this game may rate, my personal belief was that we were going to be treated to yet another movie tie-in/money grab lackluster game. And just as J. Jonah Jameson?s views are misplaced about ol? webhead, I was way off target on this one!

The game picks up shortly after the end of the Amazing Spider-man theatrical offering and very quickly spoils some major plot points of the movie. Lucky for you I will try to avoid much of that. Let?s just say that in the game Spider-man has to take down a criminal conspiracy, which involves fighting numerous bad guys and fantastic robots, while joining with an old foe, in order to save the girl, all while saving the city of Manhattan. Hope I didn?t give anything away?but realistically, you should have seen the movie by now!

The developers have gone to great lengths to ensure that The Amazing Spider-man is more than the typical movie tie-in; there is a great story being told throughout the course of the game. It could be argued that this entire game is simply setting up the premise to the next movie. In fact, the story has enough twists and turns that it would make for a great full length cartoon. Of course, this is still a video game, so there are a few ?tasks? that you can?t help but shake your head at, but these are simply included to extend gameplay or to introduce abilities and characters.

As with any great game, the playability extends beyond the core storyline. In true spidey fashion, you are tasked with helping out the NYPD deal with the many nefarious elements; taking out muggers, shutting down car chases and even breaking up shootouts. Other side missions include exploring sewers, rescuing ?injured? residents and even returning some inmates to an asylum.

Bringing order to the chaos is a detailed map of the island of Manhattan, which pinpoints all of these different activities, helping you to direct your actions to make the best use of your abilities. But the map is but a shadow of the game play environment. Finally, we have the open world Big Apple that we?ve been clamoring for since Spiderman 2. While not an inch by inch re-creation, your playground is one that showcases the many landmarks of Manhattan and goes to great lengths to immerse you into the scenery. But scale aside; it is the visual impact that lends credence to the scope of the game.

Visually the developers have created a very detailed, open-world environment that has reset the benchmark for all Spider-man games moving forward. The draw distances are near perfect, the light and shadows create stark contrasts and you get a real sense that you are in a living, breathing major metropolis. All of the character animations are on par and of course, spidey looks great taking center stage; even your webbing offers a ?realistic? look to it. Beenox has definitely been doing their homework as they have gone to great lengths to ensure that as Spider-man webs through the city streets you can feel the rush of adrenaline as the cityscape rushes by. Unfortunately, most of the core storyline takes place inside buildings or other confined quarters which doesn?t have the same sort of visual impact as offered ?outside?. The interior set pieces seem cluttered and overly complicated which tends to remind me of some of the previous titles.

I am really torn on my personal opinion of the control system as, early on, they tend to be hit and miss for the most part. Using the right stick for looking around is very sensitive; I found that it took me a couple of hours game time before I really began to take control. The camera does a great job of keeping you on target, except when you are indoors trying to evade attacks, you are then suddenly facing the wrong direction, on the ceiling, and getting hit regardless. Webbing, fighting, dodging, etc. each have their individual button mapping which initially had me underwhelmed, quickly became second nature which allowed me to take in more of the game without worry about what button to hit next.

A huge positive note regarding the controls is the addition of the Web Rush mode. Web Rush allows you to enter a sort of ?bullet time? mode which can be used in two distinct ways. First you can hold down the button, slowing time and allowing you to find your next best option whether; taking to the sky, webbing to a platform or attacking a foe. The other use is a ?quick? Web Rush, as you travel through the game you will see various ghost images of yourself in the distance as you would in the slowed down mode but you need only tap the button to instantly activate these options. At first I was put off by the lack of interactivity to pull off some of the moves but as the motions become more intuitive you can feel the instant gratification of initiating split second acrobatics.

In addition to the notes above I wanted to mention more about the combat system for The Amazing Spider-man. As soon as I encountered my first real melee, I was struck by how similar the style is to the Batman Arkham games. I?m not talking about when I pressed any buttons but even in the way you are placed in the middle of a group of attacking foes. Your attacks are varied when you press the button and a separate button allows you to dodge. You are made aware of when to dodge by the spider sense warning around your head (which I felt the Batman game had ?borrowed? from the Spider-man comics). As you successfully chain combos, other finishing moves are available via another button. Of course, the Beenox developers hinted to this inclusion early on as they were quick to point out the many hours of Batman gameplay they logged to fine tune the Spider-man release. Similarities don?t end there, the stealth attacks from the shadows play a heavy hand here as well; although having the option to encase your enemies in a web cocoon and hang them from the ceiling beats hanging thugs from cement gargoyles any day. All of this creates some straight forward and often easy fight sequences but there is a tremendous amount of enjoyment watching Spider-man rain down vengeance in his own unique style.

The title goes a long way to keep the player immersed in the finer details of the game; the little things like including additional costumes as Easter eggs to seek out and even the inclusion of a ?social media? feed ala Twitter in load screens have you constantly wondering where the game is going to go next or what other surprises are in store. Making a return to the Spider-man gaming world is the ever lovin? Bruce freakin? Campbell. Bruce means almost as much to the Spider-man video games as Peter Parker does, and he offers the kind of diatribes that Bruce is so well known for. This time round, he is the pilot of a large Zeppelin which hovers through the city offering various agility tests. Although we don?t see near enough of this star, I?m glad to see his unique humor has a home once again.

About the only major issue I have with this title is the sound itself. The actors from the movies don?t offer their voices to the game but their replacements do an outstanding job. With this in mind why are there so few recordings of Spider-man as he swings through the air; there are only so many times you can hear him exclaim ?alllriggghttt!!!? before you feeling like telling him to shut up. Of course, this isn?t the actors fault, simply a lack of foresight on the developer?s part. This isn?t the only senseless repetition on the part of sound in the game either, from the music to the bystanders, if you play for any more than an hour at a time you will have a strong sense of déjà vu. Realistically however, I would rather the developer?s treat the sound as an afterthought instead of the visuals or story.

The Spider-man franchise has seen more than its fair share of ups and downs. Beenox itself added two somewhat disappointing games and let?s face it; the Spider-man 3 movie was a supreme disappointment. But in the glow of these fading embers lies a new, Amazing Spider-man which looks to return the entire franchise to its days of glory. The game is absolutely stellar and with minor improvements could easily take on some of the heavy hitters. Truth be told, I am hoping that Beenox gets another kick at the can with a more detailed Manhattan and better sound design before the geniuses decide to add this to the Lego video game repertoire.

Overall Score: 8.8 / 10 Prototype 2

With the sheer volume of video gaming developers, studios, and titles hitting the various consoles; the most common inference that reviewers place to new titles is the fact that game A seems a lot like game B or that parts of game A borrow elements from games B, C and even that awful game D. However, depending on the individual reviewer, this is often misconstrued and even redirected to imply that the game is better or worse simply because of the comparison.

All of this creates the ideal lead into Prototype 2. Sure, I could have given some anecdote as to how I like to glide between buildings during my morning commute, or even referenced the first Prototype title to create a tone for my review...but yet again I would just be putting unfair comparisons in play.

Activision plays a strong role as both publisher of the title and owner of the Radical Entertainment Studio. Prototype 2 is the ?sequel? to Radical Entertainment?s 2009?s release and is only the second title to be released by the developer since Activision acquired the development studio in 2008 (three ?cancelled? titles round out the teams schedules). This title uses the same game engine named the Titanium Engine as used for most of the team?s titles since 2005 including Scarface: The World is Yours and The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction.

For those of you who may have missed (or simply didn?t take a liking to) the original title in 2009, Prototype 2 has a nice way of bringing you up to speed. In the initial game menu there is an option to view a nicely edited video that showcases the infection of New York, Alex Mercer?s genetic mutations and how Alex became the anti-hero while battling the forces of evil. Obviously you don?t need to have prior experience as you aren?t playing as Mr. Mercer this time around. Instead you will be taking on the role of James Heller, who becomes (conveniently) infected by Mercer upon his return to NYZ (New York Zone...damn virus!).

It seems that James has rushed home for the front because of the outbreak and because he is a career military man, James has been actively reassuring his wife and daughter that the government will look after the issues (someone missed the entire premise of the Bourne movies). Handily, James returns home to find his family killed due to complications of the virus and sets off to find those responsible...which creates a great opportunity to bestow upon James all of the horror and flying glory that comes with the specific infection that, it seems, only Alex can provide.

Yes, the initial setup for the story and the character development is convoluted and contrived but at least we don?t have to sit through some lame back-story that shows the development of some whiny kid into the ultimate bad guy (I?m talking to you Anakin). Fortunately, the main story line has a fair amount of intrigue and development that spans a few characters and there are even a few twists thrown in for good measure. There are various side quests that try to add to the story but really just stall out the flow and quickly bring you out of the intrigue and place you squarely into a series of questionable and mundane situations.

So the story, has a chance right...there is a good amount of pacing, mystery and action to carry some entertaining value...but...the entire game feels as though the game developers had no interest in talking to the writers once development was started. You battle through a series of government agents and infected baddies, you covertly acquire the intel to guide you to the next objective, you watch as various residents are bullied and battered into submission and that?s when you...pick up your cell phone for a quick call to your contacts who conveniently know exactly what to do, where to go and what to expect...and of course you do this while casually walking among the denizens of this ravaged city. The stories there but there weren?t writers involved to help guide from one situation to the next and they could have helped to bring the side missions into the whole to create a unified narrative.

The gameplay itself takes you through three regions: Green, Yellow and Red. Each region is accessible only as the story progresses and showcases the degradation and levels of infection while keeping in time with the advancing abilities of our hero, James. The Green region shows low infection areas with check points and some sense of order. The Yellow region showcases areas of rampant infection while residents try to hold onto some stability. The Red region shows us the center of the infection with absolute chaos reigning all around.

Of course as you make your way through you are not without some offensive and defensive abilities. What?s really enjoyable is how these abilities are presented to you. You start the game very well equipped which allows you to immediately feel a sense of power and drives you to jump into virtually any situation. As you complete some missions, garner xp, destroy specific monsters or complete side quests, you will be rewarded with a whole range of powers. Whether upgraded claws, longer glide ranges or the ability to make those around you into bio weapons, each progression fills you with a real feeling of might and you can?t wait to lay waste to everything around you. Add to this the ability to absorb the features of virtually everyone you meet which builds your health bar while allowing you to hide in plain sight and you can?t help but feel invincible.

Lucky for you most of the encounters you?ll experience are against enemies that are relatively easy to destroy because the ability to target any specific enemy is a challenge all its own. By the end of act 2, I fully expected to be awarded an achievement for successfully targeting a couple of enemies in a row. The AI tries to help your targeting by directing you toward your objectives but often you are faced with swarms of infected brutes which require a certain amount of targeting to bring down.

Visually the game is a nice polish over the original offering but you can?t help but feel that you?re using a 2012 template over a 2008 gaming engine. Oh wait, that?s exactly what?s happening!! Graphically, the designers went to great lengths to ensure that most elements had the level of detail, texturing and transition that gamers have come to expect, however the game tends to muddle many of the visuals which provide a really disappointing aspect to some great efforts. The developers have added enough variations of the residents and even the infected to avoid feeling as though you?re constantly running past the same person but I would have appreciated the same effort put into some of the government officers as they are the ones you most find yourself absorbing. There are some great visual representations with the outstanding use of the abilities of James Heller himself. You are given these terrific and powerful weapons but when you see the series of tendrils draw out of yourself, into your target, out again to grab various elements before tearing your enemy apart really showcases your destructive have been able to witness them in a more ?high def? environment would have been a crowning achievement on behalf of the team.

The sound really adds to the environment while playing up the ongoing chaos. All of the voice actors provide an ambiance specific to the surroundings, whether background characters feeling betrayed by those around them, to the government scientist that revel in their own manic power and even the myriad of infected enemies provide precisely what you would expect to hear from mindless minions hell bent on your destruction. The effects are well layered and add to the overall drama rather than take you out of the moment and the background soundtrack helps to maintain a sense of urgency while still allowing you to pick up on the sounds around you.

Early in this review I identified how the lack of originality is so quickly used to critic a game. And I won?t lie to you; Prototype 2 is rife with all kinds of pilfering. From Radical?s own titles like the Hulk and Scarface to other familiar elements, you will find similarities abound. Unlike, many other nameless titles however, Radical actual uses these familiar elements in ways that we would expect and in most cases goes to great lengths to improve upon the original. From its open world, destructive environment, to its covert operations, to the hoards of infected zombies you?ll find yourself wishing you could go back to the original titles and play them out as Radical has developed Prototype.

It may just be the incredibly high expectations we put on game developers today but the game suffers from enough faults to keep it just outside of my top 10 list. But, with just the right amount of game play time, some challenging achievements, tons of ways to create chaos and an outstanding cast, Prototype 2 delivers an enjoyable game and has created a great opportunity to bring together various elements into a cohesive environment.

Overall Score: 8.3 / 10 Kinect Rush: A Disney-Pixar Adventure

Ssooo?..a rat, a spaceman, an elderly gentleman, a racecar and some superheroes want to create a theme park?? Certainly sounds to me like the opening of a lengthy and somewhat convoluted joke! When in reality this is actually the base premise behind Disney?s latest foray into promoting the Xbox?s Kinect peripheral.

While Disney is not new to the Xbox console, the use of the Kinect seems to a fledgling enterprise. Most notably is Kinect Disneyland Adventures. Disneyland Adventures was developed by Frontier Developments, but this latest endeavour has been developed by French game developer Asobo Studio. Asobo Studios has been behind a couple of other Disney/Pixar video game titles such as Ratatouille, Wall-E, Up and Toy Story 3: the Video Game. It is of very little surprise that Asobo is using the characters from these 3 of these titles and adding characters from Cars and The Incredibles to create another opportunity for gamers to dive into some Disney magic.

Kinect Rush: A Disney Pixar Adventure offers gamers the opportunity to not only direct characters but to actually become a unique character within the various Movie worlds. When first launching the title Kinect will scan the individual playing and create an ingame character relevant to the worlds you?ll encounter; a cartoon rat for Ratatouille, a toy robot for Toy Story, a race car for Cars, a Wilderness Explorer for Up and a superhero for The Incredibles. Things really come to life when two people join in split screen play and each have their own individual look and style based on the gamers themselves.

After finding your ?identity? you are able to explore Pixar Park (obvious similarities to the Disneyland Adventures style aside) which creates a central hub from which to access the 5 game worlds. You can also take some time to interact and talk with some of the others that are also browsing Pixar Park; this little addition can help to prepare you to learn how to utilize some of the movement features while unlocking additional gameplay features.

If you are reading this and you have had your Kinect for more than a few months or if you are over the age of 28 (Kinect is awesome at college), you have likely already dismissed this title simply because of the frustration that inevitably follows most Kinect games. If, however, you are looking for a little more playability, if you are a Disney/Pixar fan, or if you are under the age of 17 then there is a lot to appreciate in this game.

Visually, the game really succeeds; Kinect Rush manages to truly create a feeling of being in the movies. The graphics are a huge improvement from what I?ve seen in other licensed titles, so much so that there are times when the line between console game and digital rendering for movie graphics begins to fade. Having your unique playable character, which is created with your actual style, helps to immerse you and really has you wanting to experience more.

The sound goes a long way, along with the graphics to putting you in the movies. Each of the areas includes music and sounds that could have come directly from the individual movies themselves! While many of the iconic voice actors do not reprise their original roles, the voice actors that were chosen could easily replace them for any sequels (I sense an affordable ?The Incredibles 2? in the future, hint, hint).

The gameplay is exactly what you would expect, a series of ?mini-game? style missions. The twist being that it is all done in 3rd person perspective, the ?mini-game? levels can take from 10-20 minutes to complete (depending on your completionist needs), and all of the interaction takes place using the Kinect. You will need to swing your arms like you?re running to move, turn your upper body to turn, jump to?well?jump, reach your arms out to grasp items or swing on ropes and use your arms as though you?re holding a steering wheel in order to drive or fly. As with any half decent Kinect title, you will get a work out from this game (it is surprising how tiring it can be to hold your hands out in front of you for upwards of 10 minutes while you haphazardly steer a plane to its doom).

The controls unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, are where some of the downfalls are found. Certainly I?m not the first to point out that the Kinect does not always work the way we hope it will?(insert any MMA title here!). And while I would like to regurgitate much of the rhetoric that has been touted in the past, I will say this?..Kinect Rush, was the first title to point out that my play area had too much back light. It seems that my open concept living room allows too much lighted space behind me for picking up some of the finer details needed for some interactions. Why this is not identified during the initial setup is beyond me and I?m certain that if more time were spent in helping people setup their Kinect there would be a lot more people enjoying the games.

Before we get too far off track?.I was able to adapt my play area to better fit, although the Kinect still lagged in picking up many of the jumps, turns and finer steering motions. For me, it really took me out of the moment?.for my kids, it would either become very frustrating (to the point of not wanting to play) or very funny (my daughters would see who would crash the most). And although you cannot lose a life or chances to try again, as you can imagine, it wasn?t too long before we were singing that old ?bad peripheral? song again.

The games saving grace, from my kid?s perspective, was the anticipation of experiencing something new. Whether familiar characters, new interactions or opportunities to play as some of the Movie?s titular characters; even after quitting in frustration, the next day my girls would ask to dive back into the game. I however, became quite content to simply let the box collect dust while waiting for my daughters to bring it up again.

All this being said, I cannot score the game poorly; it does what it was designed to do. It helps to recreate the wonder, the fantasy and the enjoyment that everyone has experienced from the original movies. It takes us, as individuals, into a world that many have dreamed of and let?s face it, all of us would like to visit. I am not the games target audience, so it is unfair to judge it based on what I want from a game therefore I will let my daughters give the final score.

Overall Score: 7.7 / 10 Saints Row: The Third

The dictionary defines a game as being 'an amusement or pastime', and video is defined as 'moving images stored as a series of static images' while the term video game (first coined in 1973) is defined as 'any of various games played using a microcomputer '. While all of this, very educational, information is invaluable there is no doubt that the term video game needs to be updated and in my opinion. Video game can be likened to the idiom for playing games 'to act in an evasive, deceitful, manipulative, or trifling manner in dealing with others' (over a virtually anonymous network, of course). And if we were to even consider using the playing games idiom then surely, beside the definition, there would be a photo of the Saints Row: The Third logo.

Saints Row: The Third maintains the collaborative efforts of Volition Inc. and THQ while moving way beyond the foundation of the first two Saints Row titles. Although Volition Inc. saw early success working with Interplay Entertainment on its Decent and Freespace titles, THQ acquired the development team in early 2000. This team up has resulted in 2 of THQ's ongoing titles; the Armageddon series and of course, the Saints Row series among other individual titles.

The Saints Row series has come a long way since the days of being considered a GTA clone. And although some of the initial styling was similar to that other open world title, those that have embraced the Saints Row game play have come to understand that the main difference is that of its outlandish story lines. While most video games today struggle to base themselves in real world situations, the Saints Row series offers up true escapism and entertainment through over the top scenarios.

Saints Row: The Third takes the sense of over the top and outlandish to a whole other level. Finally, the game embraces its own nonsense and throws the player into the role of 'master of mayhem'. There are some out there that may question such a strong claim but this is an open world title where you start the game at near the top of your success. All indications are that the Saints have mastered the sleepy little burg of Stilwater and are, rightly, recognized as the immortal/immoral superstars that they are. Along with the notoriety comes the sponsorships: an Energy Drink, Clothing Line and even Bobble-head dolls. But success is only a personal measure, just because the general population worships you doesn't mean that life is going to be all bank robberies and beaches.

Obviously, I don't want to give away the entire plot or create undue spoilers but, suffice it to say, the Saints run into a type of adversity and before long, find themselves settling into the City of Steelport. But here is where the game signifies the first of many interesting opportunities; you hold onto much of your reputation, you are well armed, you have access to any vehicle you can get your hands on, you have followers and you can buy virtually anything (as long as you have the cash flow), but the current gangs that run Steelport aren't happy about your decision to assert yourself into the local economy.

This isn't to say that you maintain the same level of power during your entire run at dominating the city, but rather it speaks volumes to the amount of mayhem and confusion you can unleash from the very moment you start the main gameplay story. Usually, we are limited in not only our abilities but also our opportunities, to really sink our teeth into these types of games. Gamers are used to facing a type of graduating monitor that keeps us within the core story and limits how far we can take the 'open world' aspect of play.

Now you might expect that the core story would then suffer, if you're allowed to run around doing almost anything. But the story itself helps to direct some of your aggressions in game but also allows the game to achieve the absolute levels of absurdity that is the heart of this title. I'm not saying that having access to remote guided missiles isn't great, I'm just saying that when I was introduced to the SA-3 Airstrike (a laser targeting missile delivery system), I wasn't prepared for the ingenious ways I would use this remarkable tool.

Through your efforts in Steelport, going up against the Syndicate, the Morningstar, the Luchadores, the Deckers, and STAG, you will be given all sorts of stylized and increasingly creative means of interacting with the population and your environment. Helicopters and planes ? great, but the hybrid mode VTOL or the Jet Bike are really great. Fists ? great, but having a giant purple dildo attached to a baseball bat is crazy. Shoulder mounted missile launcher ? great, but having a launcher that delivers an octopus looking mind control amoeba is wacky. Motorcycles ? great, but using a Tron inspired bike to invade a virtual stronghold is insane. Clothing stores ? great, but owning a fetish gallery story full of various wearable (and some unwearable) unmentionables is the epitome of insanity. I think you can see what I'm getting at here. Saints Row: The Third should not be taken seriously, unless your looking for serious fun.

The game does have some interesting game mechanics as well. Your character is 'fully' customizable, from the clothes, to the hair, right down to the shape of your chin. This may not be something new to gaming but the shear scope of the customization is hard to nail down. As you acquire clothing and tattoo stores, your inventory rises dramatically and when you start purchasing the plastic surgery stores, it opens up another dimension all together. With the plastic surgery stores you can change your entire look, your voice, your size, and even your gender can switch back and forth almost at will (not for me, but I'm sure there's a demographic that has been looking for this option for years). As you refine your character, you don't want to throw away the efforts you've put into finding just the right ear shape and THQ has you covered; you can simply upload your character to the Saints Row site for a sort of cloud storage. When you're tired of running the streets as a naked woman, you can upload her and download your old furry outfit, or pimp outfit, or steampunk outfit, and get right back to the zany antics.

Customization doesn't end with body parts either. Using your cell phone you can access the Third Street Gang and outfit them as well. All the outlandish costumes, male or female, what cars they drive, you can even decide what types of taunts they will offer your foes. Buying up outlets of 'Rim Jobs', a mechanics dream (put that together however you wish) allows almost endless changes to any of the automobiles you end up owning. Paint, tires, body work, graphics, underbody lights, its all at your disposal.

The story based game will take a casual gamer well over 16 hours to complete. With the numerous, and equally outlandish, task based missions there are at least 25 hours of game play here. But whats more, is that the developers have structured different parts of the story to play out in different ways, so that when you're done going through, you can go back through the campaign and make other choices to add a few more hours of unique game play.

There are a number of improvements over past Saints Row titles including more cohesive driving and controls, a streamlined story, and the graphics but something that hasn't changed is the dedication to the sound of the game. Once again we see some great voice acting coming through the extensive lineup of characters and the soundtrack is truly incredible. All of your vehicles have access to a series of radio stations, each with their own unique lineup. It seems however that the developers went to great lengths to ensure that the songs are not just fillers or background noise but rather as a part of the game as a whole. Everything from Beethoven to Mozart, Marc Durst to ILS, ABBA to Winger and even Kanye to Alec Baldwin is included to make sure that regardless of the situation you find yourself in there will always be a little music to help set the mood.

In addition to the full campaign mode the developers have include ?Whored Mode?; an obvious play on horde mode but the intention is the same. You stand alone armed with any number of various weaponry while being attacked by any number of various foes for a specific amount of time. Of course, in true Saints Row style the weapons could be a pistol or it could be a massive chain gun or the ever popular giant dildo. And the foes, well they could be rival gang members or they could be a group of zombies, a gang of furries, or even a bunch of 18 foot tall prostitutes. Needless to say, the additional mode presents a great addition to the game.

Although there isn't a specific multiplayer mode, the game includes a great co-op mode. The co-op allows a jump in and jump out feature that works surprisingly well, even when your friend hasn't reached your level in the campaign, the game still allows you to share in the story based gameplay, side missions and even the Whored Mode.

The game isn't without fault. The improved graphics are nice but there were some glitches; people where they simply don't belong, a helicopter wedged through a road, and other wire based graphic errors. Perhaps most frustrating were the times when I would be sent to run down, or hunt down a target, they would show on the map but somehow be within a building that I can't enter or even under a road. As well, I am surprised that with a game so vastly geographic, comparatively there were very few buildings I could actually enter. Obviously these weren't big issues for me but rather minor frustrations.

The game however, never seemed to lose my interest and I was eager to see what else I could discover. At every turn I was surprised and often shocked at how much bigger and bolder everything became as the game progressed. I have no doubt that we will see the return of the Third Street Saints in another title but I have to wonder how far they can still push the envelope. I knew I had hit the limits when I could run around as a well-endowed female wearing a thong and nipple tape, but when I streaked through the streets naked everything was heavily pixalated.

Overall Score: 8.9 / 10 Rage

It seems to me that different entertainment genres go out of their way to recognize the revolutionaries of the media. Let us for a moment consider the following statements; ?Elvis is the King of Rock and Roll?, ?Michael Jackson is the King of Pop?, ?Bill Gates is credited with revolutionizing personal computers?, ?Andy Warhol was the founder of pop culture? and 'James Brown is the Godfather of Soul?. With these monikers in play it surprises me that we have yet to offer the same kind of recognition to the legends of gaming.

So with this in mind I present to you (certainly I'm not the first) the founding fathers of the FPS: Id software. With more than 20 years of gaming behind them, they refuse to revel in past triumphs and instead continually look to enhance the genre they've made so popular. It all started with the PC hit series Commander Keen, although a side scrolling shareware title, it offered the team it's first glimpse into creating a unique gaming engine. From this they started developing new titles, modifying, twisting and fine tuning their efforts to create the classics: Wolfenstien, Doom, and Quake. Any gamer worthy of achievement points recognizes the heritage and any gamer over the age of 35 has spent far too many hours deep within the catacombs of the respective titles.

As stated before Id Software is not a group willing to roll with the tide. Eager to make new waves the team began development of a new engine: the Id Tech 5 (previous engines have since been retroactively titled back to Id Tech 1 with the original Doom engine). Now with more than 4 years of development and the support of publishing juggernaut Bethesda, we are finally able to give into Id's Rage (little play on words for the psychology majors).

The story is a familiar twist on an old favorite. The world is coming to an end, after the global event you emerge into a devastated landscape populated with various miscreants. With this incarnation we see the earth being threatened by an event sized asteroid that looks to wipe out modern civilization. By the year 2025, a group of special capsules are being created, underground, designed to rise up years after the asteroids impact. These capsules, referred to as arks, will house an international cross section of the absolute best and brightest, with the human inhabitants injected with specially designed 'Nanotrites' to create a deep sleep hibernation, with the goal to recreate a fresh utopia from the ashes of devastation. 2029 bears witness to the asteroids impact, of course, the arks are well buried and its cargo is deep in peaceful slumber but the rest of the world prepares for last days. As the earth burns, water turns to vapor and life, seemingly, is all but erased from the planet in a flash of destruction.

Gameplay begins as you awaken from your pod; awake and aware you stumble forward but you can't seem to remember what to do next. The situation is exasperated by the fact that your fellow passengers seem to have succumbed to any number of catastrophic accidents...essentially they're all dead and your equipment is all but destroyed.

Lucky for you, the earth and it's inhabitants weren't completely wiped out. However, you will now have to work out how to progress forward and who to trust, all while dodging nightmarish mutants, lawless bandits and even the established 'Authority'.

Helping you traverse the post apocalyptic landscape are a series of very useful vehicles. The world, while less inhabited, is vast, the landscape is harsh and not everyone you encounter is friendly; without a speedy mode of transportation travelers would fall victim to any number of untimely ends. What the developer has done is built the vehicular transport into the game itself allowing you to use the vehicles in various races within the individual friendly clans. The vehicles, therefore, are more than just wheels and an engine; completing the ?Mad Max? imagery with spiked tires, guns, mines, rockets, an almost endless number of upgrades and yes, even shields but don't forget that your vehicle itself is a great way to bring pain to your enemies (and your race opponents).

As you are directed across the landscape you will encounter friendly clans; these groups of individuals are doing whatever it takes to a garage, build an outpost, build a bar, you know all the makings of civilized society. Of course any of these groups face their own hardships and you seem to have a lot to offer. You will be sent out on any number of errands, from delivering products to finding lost residents, to laying waste to a group of ner' do wells hellbent on eating mankind.

Obviously the game has a number of RPG elements to it. You will encounter a lot of people and many of them have tasks that you can choose to assist with. As you travel around the world some tasks will be necessary to get from one place to another whereas other tasks will be necessary simply to survive. But the gameplay is extended through many of the different branches the tasks offer and with the numerous mini-games found in the clans. These mini-games range from simple five finger filet, to a holographic twist on a game of craps to a futuristic styled, in game, trading card game which allows you to use found cards (showcasing friends and enemies you encounter) along with a 'starter' deck.

At its core however, Rage is a FPS, and there is no doubt it is a FPS from Id software. Once again, with a stroke of luck, the survivors are near geniuses when it comes to creating weapons. There is the traditional pistol and shotgun and even the popular sniper rifle. However each of these throwbacks will have some unique ammunition for you to utilize. On top of old faithfuls (all covered with...) come the over the top weapons, like the striker crossbow using 'mind control bolts or electro bolt, you know, when a traditional arrow just won't do. Or the sentry turrets or sentry bot or the very popular wingsticks, which are essentially 3 blades set together in near boomerang configuration with the sole purpose of decapitating your enemies and then returning to the thrower. Apparently your gloves can withstand the hit but no one has thought to make a turtleneck out of the glove material.

Visually the game has its ups and downs. First and foremost the games visual atmosphere is terrific, with beams of light playing off different materials and you can't help but think 'now this is how I'd lay out a small town, should the world ever be destroyed by an asteroid and I'm left to rebuild'. But it's the array of characters that really showcase the visuals. Many titles will give you a few different character models to shoot at and sometimes they vary the outfit they're wearing but Rage features unique characters for each clan. Within these clans there are different character models and each of these models, even if they look the same will attack, dodge and even die in any number of ways. So even though you're shooting your 50th Shrouded Clan member, his destruction will not be at all predictable. Add to this the fact that even though you may hit him in the same area his reaction and level of 'carnage' will be varied; it may seem like a minor detail but it's a welcome visual addition.

There are a couple of issues with the visuals that are a bit off putting; while the developer has done a terrific job in creating a landscape truly worthy of being named post apocalyptic, the Id Tech 5 engine seems to rely heavily on 'painted' backgrounds. The backgrounds are very detailed and suit the look and feel well but seeing skulls hanging on a string simply scream 'shoot me' and having these same skulls stand motionless as I lay 10 rounds into them immediately takes you out of the game, suspending the enjoyment. As well many of the articles that you scrounge for are found because they are sort of flashing/glowing objects, I understand this is necessary to keep you focused on your task but it seems strange that you have to pick up one small bottle while a vase next to it is completely immobile. Finally it seems strange to me that a game with so much development time and with such attention to development still has so many visual 'pop ins'. Detail in the distance should be muted but having it 'pop in' abruptly just creates confusion.

Rage is easily an 18 hour plus title through the single player campaign stretching out to 20 and more with the many side missions, races and tasks. Interestingly the game is spread out over 3 disks and while the game does suggest you load it onto your hard drive, the load screens only come up as you enter major areas. While the load screens can take some time to establish I was only put out a couple of times, otherwise they offered minor breaks from the onscreen mayhem.

As of this review I have not had the opportunity to really enjoy the multiplayer, that will come next week with the official release. However I will say this, the multiplayer offering seems to cover all of the bases, split-screen and network multiplayer, races and co-op based multiplayer, vehicle customization, leaderboards, private and open matches. It looks like there may be a whole other title, in terms of game play time, just in the multiplayer.

In the end, Rage plays similar to what may be a cross between Red Dead Redemption, Red Faction and a (not red) racing title, but it does so in traditional Id Software style: unique gameplay, tonnes of re-playability, over the top weapons, vehicles and destruction all wrapped up with a story second to none (believe me, there are some twists but the advancement of the story becomes just as intriguing as the gameplay itself).

So that Italian plumber may be a legend unto himself and there may be a raider of tombs that one day acknowledges its foundation but when it comes to the heart and soul of First Person Shooters, it is my opinion that Id Software laid the ground work, established the rules and is continuing to advance the outstanding quality of entertainment for us gamers.

Overall Score: 8.9 / 10 Cars 2: The Video Game

Globally, we have seen an abundance of successful educators, politicians, auditors, intellectuals, scientists, engineers, philanthropists and business leaders. But the one aspect of modern life that seems to elude us is that of the successful secret agent. We struggle to find a new spy hero and it feels like we wait to the last minute before we introduce the next great prodigy.

While by no means a complete list, let?s try to break down the last 60 years; the 1950?s introduced James Bond, the 1960?s gave us Maxwell Smart (Agent 86) and the Mission: Impossible series, the 1970?s saw the arrival of Steve Austin and Lancelot Link, the 80?s had MacGyver and Jason Bourne (in book form at least), the 1990?s were heavily populated with agents and agencies like Austin Powers and Jack Ryan (although he was introduced in book form in the 80?s) and who can forget the Men in Black, all of which leads us to the 2000?s giving us the likes of Alias, 24 and Chuck.

But this is not to be a story of what?s come before, this is an introduction of a new hero, the quintessential spy, the ever resourceful Tow Mater; codename ?Mater?. While his complete back-story is shrouded in mystery, the many tales of his exploits have become the stuff of legends. It is only now with the theatrical release of Cars 2 do we get a glimpse of the shrewd intellect behind the awkward facade.

In order to give us a feel for the life of an international spy, Disney Interactive Studios brings us their latest video game title based upon its Pixar movie namesake. Cars 2: the Video Game is also the latest collaboration, with Disney Interactive, from developer Avalanche Studios. The team has worked together on other Disney Animation based games including Bolt, Chicken Little and Meet the Robinsons but after their success in developing a game for Pixar?s Toy Story 3; the team seemed to be the obvious choice to develop the newest Pixar character based game.

I?m certain that I wasn?t the first to raise their brow and offer a quiet ?meh? to the thought of this title. Let?s face it there are a couple of strikes against it, even before removing the packaging. First up, this is yet another movie tie-in title, in a year of lackluster tie-ins, during a decade of truly awful movie tie-in video games. Secondly, this is a racing title, it seems that from 2008-2010 most developers have turned their sights to creating a racing title?.this could have been a good thing except that many didn?t invest the time and effort necessary to create an enjoyable racing experience. And finally, from the looks of this title coming out of last year?s E3, it seemed that we were going to be forced into a ?Mario Kart? clone.

Thankfully, I was given the task of trying out Cars 2: the Video Game and each of the major concerns I had were quickly dismissed and replaced by an outstanding amount of entertainment. This isn?t to say that there weren?t any issues, but rather that the issues are relatively minor, outmatched by enjoyable gameplay and all wrapped up in a family friendly bow.

Staying true to the movie?s narrative, the video game pits you against an ever expanding list of ?lemons? while Professor Z coordinates his efforts to take down the agents of C.H.R.O.M.E. (Command Headquarters for Recon Operations & Motorized Espionage). Of course, in the world of espionage nothing is as it seems. Common races are warped to create hunter missions, battle races, attack and survival missions. Weapon arsenals such as guns and missiles are augmented to include skateboard inspired homing bombs, satellite lasers and plasma orbs.

You start off by going through a series of tutorial levels dressed up as initial missions. These missions will introduce you to the myriad of matches, weapons and tactics. Some of these tactics will showcase your ability to perform various stunts in order to generate additional turbo, others will teach you how to take out multiple enemies with a double detonation of the satellite laser and other tactics will instruct you on how to spin 180 degrees to shoot back at your trailing competitors. Of all of these tactics the most informative has to be the ability to increase your available turbo, not just because it can be fun going fast but because many of these tactics will also decrease your race times. Jumping various obstacles, smashing signs and performing stunts will also provide insight into many of the games shortcuts. These shortcuts are varied and plentiful, some are hard to find but all of them provide a level of satisfaction when you find them that is sorely lacking in today?s games. Finally we have the drifting ability; this specific action is, to me, the most well developed aspect of the game. You can maintain speed while cutting corners and in many areas, holding a drift through long corners quickly adds to your turbo. As a nod to many younger players, the drifting ability can be switched to automatic; however, this auto drift is somewhat tempermental and only serves to keep an inexperienced player from being in last place every time.

Visually the game, while not up to the movie levels is still very stunning. All of the tracks are well put together and filled with numerous details (watch out for the little flying VW ?beetles?). There are a lot of locations and tracks to keep your field of view entertained. There are also a huge number of playable ?characters? that you will unlock as the game develops ranging from the stars, Mater and Lightning to secondary characters such as Sally, Sarge, Francesco and Finn McMissile to many of the new race car characters featured in the new movie. The race graphics offer a great sense of speed and the inclusion of the weapons adds to the on screen action through well developed visuals to represent the trail of a missile or the huge explosion of fuel tanks.

The sound is also well done, while not outstanding. You are never really drawn to the sounds in game, but they don?t ever take away from the gameplay. This is where the first of the 2 issues I do have with this title come in. The voice actors are tremendous, most are representing their movie counterparts and those that aren?t are not immediately recognizable; the issue however is the lack of sound clips. This is not a short game to play and you will want to play for long periods of time but there are only so many times you can hear Lightning refer to his greatness or hear Mater?s hillbilly comments before you long for the 8-bit notes of old.

Which brings me to the only other sizeable irritation I was able to find in this title; the complete lack of online multiplayer. This game really shines when playing the ?local? co-op or 4 player ?local? freeplay and much like many other race titles there is a great sense of accomplishment when you?re able to overtake your coworkers with the help of a well timed gatling gun round but this is extremely limiting by not having online multiplayer. I have heard a number of reasons why this hasn?t been implemented but none seem to explain this glaring lack of playability. By not having this feature the game loses major points, heck I would have even forgiven the repetitive soundbites for this ability.

This game has taken the longest for me to develop a review for. It has taken me weeks longer than any other game I?ve ever played to go from playing, to analyzing, to writing the review. And while it doesn?t help that the game is released in the summer, the thing that has kept me away from getting the writing done is that my kids have been playing it non-stop for the past couple of weeks! I know what you?re thinking ?how does that keep you from writing??, well I?ll tell you?.it?s not fair that I have to write while my kids play Cars 2:the Video Game alone. I?m a good Dad and I should be there to help them out. I?m only getting this review done now because my 7 and 10 year old daughters are able to soundly beat me in every single game mode.

Overall Score: 8.7 / 10 Red Faction: Armageddon

Let me, for a moment, regale you with a simple tale involving a cousin of mine. It would be safe to assume that this individual may not be the sharpest knife in the block, nor is he the ?inside joke? of the family. He can be seen as quite confident while simultaneously falling over himself to offer assistance where it is not needed. There have been several occasions where he has taken on various careers only to have inadvertently mailed off vast sums of money to Nigerian investors, or invested the family savings in ?solar powered, genetically engineered trees?. His wife and 2 children stand by him while most would not accept his failings. It is most unsettling that this is not the lowest branch on my family tree but I know that Great Grandpa Chayyim O?Lafleur (yes, a proud French, Irishman with a strong Jewish upbringing?.it could happen) must be hanging his head in shame each time ol? Charlie calls up his investor friends over at the Walmart.

Why do I share this tidbit of information? It is only to provide some basis in reality to the plot of the latest Red Faction title. In this newest installment you take on the role of Darius Mason, Grandson to Alec Mason and Samanya, the legendary/heroic revolutionaries of Red Faction: Guerrilla. You see, ol? Darius is having a little bit of difficulty living up to the family name but more on that later.

Video game developer Volition, is working with THQ (parent company and publishing juggernaut) to, once again, bring the human race to Mars. This team has been the force behind the entire Red Faction series as well as the Saints Row series and the much anticipated, inSANE title (2013), amoung others. Interestingly, the team has introduced Syfy Games as a publisher. It seems that Syfy has created a TV movie to bridge the 50 year gap between the Guerrilla and Armageddon stories (tentatively, slated for June 2011 on, you guessed it, the Syfy network). While I question that validity of a ?bridge? movie, it is encouraging to see such confidence in a gaming franchise.

So here we are, 50 years after the events of Red Faction: Guerillas, being introduced to the latest in the Mason family clan. You take on the role of Darius shortly after he ?inadvertently? doomed an entire planet to a life of being preyed upon by native beasts. In the decades following the revolution of the Mars colony, it seems that the Terraformer that had maintained a relatively safe atmosphere was destroyed by an oddly convenient meteor impact. The Terraformer?s destruction drove the colonists underground so as to avoid the violent storms that were now ravaging the surface. It is in this context that we are introduced to Darius; being a contractor he is tricked into reopening a long lost temple thereby releasing the native inhabitants of Mars?needless to say, they?re not in a welcoming mood.

The Marauders have returned to cause havoc, along with the natives, under the direction of a new grand priest and between them create all kinds of opportunities for Darius to fall out of the good graces of his fellow colonists (as if unleashing giant bugs isn?t enough). Being essentially religious soldiers the Marauders are mostly (damn Shiva) cannon fodder, that is except for the incredible machines they?ve been able to create. The Marauders, bug like, vehicles are incredibly powerful and serve as an introduction to some of the games plot points and yes, you will find yourself taking control of some of these units.

Armageddon?s newest enemies, the natives of Mars, are as varied as they are menacing. With names like Creeper, Alpha Creeper and Ravager they attack using claws, teeth, scythe like insect legs and naturally occurring bio-weapon based appendages that spit acid at incredible distance (and accuracy). These of course are only the foot soldiers, there are others that are able to become practically invisible until they are close enough to strike (Wraith), or giant worm-like claws (Monolith)that help to shield the foot soldiers and all the while fire their own form of acid. We also must not forget the giant tentacles (Tentacle) throwing all manner of destruction your way, or the pods that seem to give birth to infestations of aliens, or the bulky beast (Behemoth) that, like an oversized rhino, lives to run you down.

Playing through the game, one can?t help but think ?what the %*#@ are all these, potentially, deadly weapons doing laying around on the ground? or ?wow, I just found a more powerful weapon, this must mean that the enemies are getting easier?. Although, I personally take affront to game developers that introduce new weapons in such a convoluted manner, I cannot fault the Red Faction creators for their vision of futuristic means of death and destruction.

Many of the old standards make their return and are even beneficial for brief periods. Classics like the Rail Gun, Rocket Launcher along with beam and nano based weapons are available. The Sledgehammer makes a triumphant return in the form of the Maul. The Maul is heavily modified to bring down any the biggest of buildings or bugs, the issue however is that you have to be quite close to pull off such destructive capabilities.

There are a lot of old and new weapons to talk about but there are a few that deserve special mention. First up is the Magnet Gun, this is by far, my incapacitator of choice. The implementation is simple; your first shot ?marks? a target and your second shot ?marks? a destination that your target is drawn to. The combinations are very satisfying, have an enemy shoot to the ceiling or walls, have size-able pieces of a structure, headed at high speed, toward an enemy (or another structure with an enemy between them), or have an enemy traveling at top speed toward another enemy.

Next up is the Singularity Cannon; this wonderful device will shoot off a manageable sized and somehow contained black-hole (who comes up with this stuff). It may seem very farfetched but the effect is incredible. This space of nothingness completely and indiscriminately envelopes a space before creating a small explosion as a sort of one/two punch of awesomeness.

And finally we have the Nano Forge. This is not the Nano Forge of the past but rather a customized and modified unit with outstanding capabilities. The most obvious appeal is its ability to direct a wave of energy forward, destroying enemies and structures. Add the availability to augment the unit with additional offensive (Shockwave and Berserk) and defensive (Shell) proficiencies and you have a complete, self contained, lightweight, super powerful, all-in-one piece of combat gear. But the fun doesn?t stop there, remember all of those structures you?ve been blasting to pieces, well some of them are needed to protect you from incoming fire....the Nano Forge was upgraded by Darius? father to offer regeneration abilities! That?s right, simply point and shoot and nano particles will rebuild non-organic matter, better yet utilize the reconstruction grenade to rebuild structures from a distance without you having to stand in the open, fully vulnerable. This may sound like the ultimate piece of engineering but there are limitations; its power reserves are limited and can take time to recharge, so use it wisely.

Which brings us to scavenging; THQ seems to have a fascination with the scavenging idea (much like Volitions need to use Ultor as its nemesis) and Armageddon is the most blatant example. As you destroy different structures (and eventually enemies) you are often awarded by falling pieces of scrap metal. Scattered throughout all environments are additional ?barrels? of scrap and it is all tallied, as you collect it, as a sort of currency. At different points in the game you will come across an interface machine allowing you to ?cash? in the currency in order to purchase upgrades. Only a limited amount of the upgrades are available early on and some require a leveling aspect before accessing the most powerful of the upgrades.

What?s frustrating is that it takes 1000 units to upgrade any one unit and there are no guarantees regarding how much scrap you?ll receive for destroying a structure. So you can spend a lot of time decimating an area to gain 200 units while in other areas you can collect 500 units from a single building. While I?m not necessarily against the currency idea; being taken out of the game and story in order to back track, collect scrap and then find an interface unit seems awfully disjointed to gain upgrades.

The visuals are much darker than previous Red Faction offerings but that?s to be expected since much of the game play takes place underground. There are some improvements here and while there doesn?t seem to be huge leaps forward some of the visuals surrounding the alien bugs are quite ingenious. There is a fantastic sequence when you come across the Wraiths, that can become ?invisible?; they zap in and out of the visual spectrum while inundating your senses with flashes of light and otherworldly fog. As well, whenever you are immersed in darkness the onslaught of bugs will feature their own bioluminsecese, and when any source of light catches them they seem to jump off the screen. The above ground sequences, with the turbulent weather systems present a real sense of chaos visually.

The sound in Armageddon is really a mixed bag. There are intense sequences that the atmosphere and background music really amped up the on screen disarray. However, there were plenty of moments, especially early on, that heavily features a sort of techno based music that became both distracting and annoying. While I can appreciate that games are looking to add new additions to many of the games being presented, the need to offer a 'Video Game Based' soundtrack shouldn't outweigh the needs of the actual game itself.

As a whole, this is the best Red Faction title to date. I missed the 'sandbox' style of Guerrilla but I enjoyed the story focus (and not having to travel from one end of the map to the other) to complete objectives. Using Darius as a sort of fall-guy allowed for a number of humorous numbers and really allowed the character, in the end, to shine. The 'love interest' is underplayed and frivolous, I can only assume that Syfy plans on playing up that aspect. This is a must for any Red Faction fan and a happy addition to most casual gamers but I'm interested to see where the franchise will take us from here.

At the end of the day, ol' Darius turns out to be the one to save the day. Sure he was mislead, easily manipulated and even the focus of a lynch mob but he manages to take down the baddies without anybody witnessing it.....right.....I mean, you can take his word for it, right.....there was an evil mastermind behind everythin

Overall Score: 8.8 / 10 Full House Poker

I, like many others, find myself fascinated with how so many ideas eventually find their way back to their roots. Before you ask, no I'm not referring to the endless pandering presented by many of today's 'reality TV stars; seriously, just because you know the words to a Bon Jovi classic doesn't showcase that you're 'foundation is with the classics'. Not that I watch that sort of thing, I heard about it on the news, or around the office....quit judging me!

Microsoft Game Studios is obviously, closely associated with the Xbox 360 and many of the bigger hits (and a number of misses) across the Microsoft console marketplace. First developed in 2002 to coincide with the original Xbox launch the studio has been busy publishing titles and buying up some top notch development studios. The launch of the 360 Microsoft Game Studios began developing games internally rather than simply adding their brand to titles they published. Most of the internally developed titles were destined for the Xbox Live Arcade marketplace. The biggest surprise for me is that there are very few games, utilizing the 360 Avatar characters, created by this development powerhouse.

It looks like MGS has found a great way to use our pseudo selves while pairing it with a great game. Full House Poker may not sound like a stellar title, lets face it, you're going to play cards. But lets keep in mind that long before video games there were cards. Our ancestors spent countless hours shuffling and dealing cards. Mankind has always created games, with the creation of playing cards it seems inevitable that gambling would soon follow. There is a randomness to poker that maintains the illusion of strategy, mix in the right amount of guile, wit and cheating and you have all the monikers of a modern video game (less the explosions and 68? TV).

Gameplay is straight forward, sit at a table of 6-10 players, ante, bet, raise, fold or bust and repeat. Sure you could win the occasional hand but where's the fun in that. Poker is not new to the digital age and most incarnations have been disappointing at best. Full House Poker however takes advantage of the Xbox avatars by putting the player in the game. You will be able to use your left and right triggers to aggressively or subtly make your moves, like slamming in your big bet or coyly folding. These actions can help (or hinder) your ability to bluff or to establish a method of play.

Of course the single player campaign will have you going up against computer opponents that seem to be there for little more than training for the multiplayer gameplay. The computerized gamblers are very animated in their gestures and they are very eager to have you take them on when they go 'all in' see, they are willing to bet copious amounts even with a Jack high hand. I would have liked to feel a little more competitiveness from them but, again, the game is meant for the multiplayer experience.

You can have a chance to take on these AI competitors one on one by playing through the Pro Takedown mode. Depending on your experience level and the amount of chips you have available you will be able to buy into a round facing off against the likes of Rachel Raise, Lilly Sun and Johnny Spade. Again each of these players are pretty easy to figure out and shouldn't pose too much difficulty, but you will find yourself challenging some of the harder multiplayer aspects, in order to raise your experience faster, just so you can finally take the whole group down.

The multiplayer, taking a hint from many of today's hits, is where the game really stands out. Once again facing off with 6-10 players you can choose to host a session and customize everything from the cards to the table and chairs and your outfit (when you beat the AI in a Pro Tournament Takedown you get the ability to wear their outfit in game). You could instead choose to join a session created by another gamer online, in ranked or unranked games. All of the sessions can award chips and experience, but the ranked sessions will award ranking points based on how many other players you outlast.

Although the multiplayer is a lot of fun, the Texas Heat sessions are a great example of what can happen with a well implemented gaming team. Texas Heat sessions are scheduled tournaments that last approximate 25 minutes. While the focus is on winning at the table there is a greater emphasis placed on garnering experience points. Points are awarded for making smart moves at the table and additional points are awarded, along with chips, at the end of each round, depending on how you performed. You will be placed at one of 3 'diamond' tables based on how well you've done in the past. Score well at the single diamond table and you'll be promoted to the double diamond where your pot starts off bigger and the wins can be large.

Continue to dominate at the double and you're on your way to the triple diamond table, starting off with a $250,000 bankroll and pots in the millions are common. Keep in mind that losing your bankroll will drop you down a level and cost you chips if your at the bottom. All of the multiplayer games will award custom cards, tables and 'names' from time to time by the Texas Heat sessions where some of the more top notch in game awards can be found. The final benefit to the Texas Heat games are having messages pop up displaying how your friends are doing or simply reminding you of how you're doing against the competition. This level of immersion is addictive....the time seems to fly by and you can't help but feel good when you finally pull out a flush.

Many gamers will give this title a pass simply because they aren't comfortable with their own knowledge of the game of poker. But Full House Poker is here to help...there are a lot of tutorials and help available in game and with a click of the left button you can instantly see what type of hand beats what.

I've never been a big gambler and I can say I've found it hard to write this review....not because I don't know what to write but simply because I am continually drawn back to play 'just one more hand'. If there is an improvement I could add is to create some form of real world reward for winning some of the Texas Heat sessions. If you need your games to have bullets and explosions this is not the game for you. But if you enjoy the idea of watching your Xbox doppelganger doing fancy tricks with poker chips, or if you like a game that expands your repertoire, while delivering a unique multiplayer environment, all for only 800 Microsoft points then don't miss out on picking up Full House Poker and go all in!

Overall Score: 8.8 / 10 Majin and The Forsaken Kingdom

What would the Wild West have been like if Sundance had never met Butch Cassidy? What would Bay City have been like if Starsky had not been teamed up with Hutch? What would have happened to Mad Max if Danny Glover hadn?t stepped in? Where would the universe be if Palpatine had not made the fateful encounter with that guy from Jumper? Seriously though, where would any of us be if Doc Brown had not befriended Alex P. Keaton (and you thought the 60?s were messed up in our timeline?)?

Team ups have been the bread and butter of nearly every major media project, most are immensely successful (Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin) while others have produced moments we?d all like to forget (Milli Vanilli). The video game world has its share of stellar teams including Mario and Luigi, Ratchet and Clank and now, Xbox is getting into the action with Tepeu and the Majin with Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom.

Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom (MFK) comes courtesy of Tokyo based game developer Game Republic. Beginning operations in 2003, Game Republic is the brainchild of Yoshiki Okamoto after numerous and successful years spent at both Capcom and Konami. Game Republic has had a strong relationship with Sony and MFK marks only the forth Xbox offering from the studio (other offerings include the lackluster Clash of the Titans, the Japanese launch title Every Party and the upcoming Knights Contract).

The story nor our heroes are entirely unique but the delivery is what makes this title memorable. You play as a young thief that the Majin refers to as Tepeu. The Majin is a powerful, if simple, beast that used to protect the Kingdom but has since lost many of his powers during his many years of captivity. Thus begins our odyssey into this puzzle/platformer; our first task is to find and free the mystical Majin so as to bring brightness back to the Kingdom, that is engulfed in an ever expanding black ooze. When you find the Majin you realize that without his memories he is not much more than a very large oaf. However you quickly realize the advantage his strength can offer the quest, such is the start of an unlikely friendship.

As the Majin begins to regain his memories so to does he regain many of his awe inspiring powers such as the power of lightning, wind and fire among others. Each of the 'element' powers are unlocked in keeping with the overall story and the discovery is much of the reward. As a welcome addition, many of the Majin's strenghts are made available along with stunning 2D graphic storytelling. These stories bring to light the hardships the Majin has had to endure to keep his Kingdom safe and we discover what/how he was able to be trapped deep within the fortress.

While the look and feel of the game will have you wanting to dive in with your sword/magic staff, you will quickly realize that this is actually a cleaver puzzle game. Tepeu can dive in ?staff-a-blazin?? but that will only get you so far. Early on in the game you come to notice that access to many of the goo-imbued baddies (and in turn, completion of your quest) is mired by seemingly impenetrable obstacles. This is where the buddy genre really kicks in! Sure you will utilize the Majin to battle side by side, weakening your opponents until you can attempt one of the team attacks and finally driving the dark enemy from the kingdom. But, figuring out how to direct your new found giant of a partner is where the real teamwork shines.

I get that it would have been a tremendous amount of fun actually controlling the Majin and taking swipes at all of the evil; however, we are simply left with the option of instructing him to complete single tasks that, in turn, combine to complete puzzles. Have him open large doors, arm a catapult, actually feed himself, you know, all the things you expect from a pal. That being said- every friendship has it rough spots and this is no different; just because you want the Majin to come and revive you after you?ve been pummeled, doesn?t mean he?s going to stop trying to beat up the last enemy just to save your sorry #%*. And just because you can run from point to point doesn?t mean that he?ll try to catch up in a timely manner. And everybody has that one friend that can?t seem to follow simple commands. Luckily these issues are limited and most go off without a hitch.

The game is very well put together aesthetically. You will clearly recognize evil and sneaking up behind said baddies has true stealth qualities. The surroundings are lush and many of the puzzles use the visuals nicely to convey senses of urgency or foreboding. The characters are well designed although Tepeu seems to have a number of body image issues. The minor flaws of the main character are overshadowed by the range of motion utilized within the game. Don?t get me wrong here, the range is one thing, the ability to use that range effectively is quite another. While I?d enjoy blaming the harried camera, it is not solely to blame.

Moving Tepeu through the different areas, especially during some puzzles and combat is not very intuitive, you will miss ledges, you will spend a countless amount of time backtracking (note to developers, backtracking incessantly is not cool), you will get pummeled when trying to perform simple attacks and the controls will frustrate you time to time. However, it is not often and it?s quickly set aside as you hear the Majin shout out words of praise as you complete tasks.

My only real complaint regarding Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom is the sound. Such a stellar job was done conveying the ?simple minded? nature of the Majin with the sound. From the broken grammar to the child like wonder coming through in the tone there was clearly a considerable amount of time spent fine tuning this big lunk. However, that?s where the effort stopped. Any of the other characters you encounter are not enjoyable to listen to and the animals Tepeu communicates with (yes, that?s right he talks to birds and rodents, go figure) are downright annoying.

There has clearly been a lot of dedication put into developing this title and I for one encourage the developers to put together a sequel of sorts. Address the minor issues and cut back on the battle elements because the games strength and its core is clearly the puzzle solving. Oh, and don?t forget to put aside room in the budget to bring together a strong sound team. The game is quite enjoyable but the backtracking, sound work, finicky control scheme and unnecessary fight sequences drained much of the enjoyment I experienced.

Now I?m off to meet up with an old friend?.seems without me around he?s forgot to eat (life imitating art comes to mind).

Overall Score: 7.6 / 10 Homefront

Home Sweet Home. Is there any aspect of life that provides greater fulfillment than that of our homes. Our memories, our personal growth and accomplishments, our tears and joy are all contained within the walls. When we leave the house we long to return, to relax, to celebrate the end of the day. We are blessed in North America to have tied so much of our home life to our community involvement and in turn, to national pride. A big part of home involves taking in the world around us; watching with barely contained excitement as the country rally's behind the Olympics or flinching with abject horror as we hear of another senseless injustice. While we are able to take comfort amoung family and friends in our homes, it is our national unity that reminds us of why we call it home.

There are many out there that once stated that our petroleum resources were secure and we'd never see $1 a litre for fuel. Very few ever foresaw the recent housing collapse and subsequent economic meltdown. There are some that have regularly dismissed the idea of the United States maintaining its status as a world wide superpower. Have any of us questioned the military dominance of North America? Could the events in the middle east be slowly eating away at how the world views our peace loving nation? Is it possible that North Korea could be systematically preparing for a global takeover?

As early as a few months ago the story line of THQ Studios and KAOS Studios newest videogame was dismissed as 'near science fiction', but much of what they have envisioned is quietly coming to pass: rising resource prices, economic and military uncertainty, skewed worldwide perceptions, the promotion of North Korea's Kim Jong Il's son to general and most recently the announcement that North Korea is developing an Electro-Pulse Weapon that has been used to jam South Korean GPS and communications equipment. Now as much as I would love to hail the development teams abilities to see into the future, I can tell you, I won't be contacting them to give me a heads up on upcoming lottery numbers just yet.

What the team at THQ and KAOS have done is to utilize the combined knowledge of the US national intelligence agencies along with the writing prowess of John Milius. Together they have created an experience that delivers genre defining storytelling. This is not simply putting a weapon in your hand and giving you targets; we are given a reason to fight, a reason to move forward....this is not a mystery to solve but rather freedom to strive for. And therein lies the heart of this unforgettable game.

We are first introduced to the 2027 vision of the Western United States following a calculated and largely decisive strike against this once great nation. Its citizens live in fear, surrounded by decay and death. The outlook is grim and the propaganda is overwhelming. As we are wrenched from the meager hovel we awake from and loaded onto a re-purposed school bus it is abundantly clear that we are under siege. Immediately your senses are invaded with the cries and devastation that is taking over. When the time comes, in all it's cinematic glory, you are eager and willing to take the fight to the enemy.

You are not alone in your fight; as you meet up with fellow resistance fighters you are introduced to the team that will help guide you through the fight ahead. The tough as nails and quick to the fight Connor Morgan, Rianna is the survivalist of the group, struggling to maintain a sense of right while fighting for the masses, Boone Karlson is the ex-policeman that has taken to lead this band and finally Hopper Lee, Lee is a Korean American and a hell of a mechanic, he continues to fight for his country even after his countrymen question his loyalties, simply because of his race. Along the way you will meet up with many other 'characters' that will both advance and hamper your cause, but it's this small group of guerrilla fighters that will form the cross-section of American freedom.

The game starts with you fighting in and through the suburbs of small town America; Montrose, Colorado. The story quickly identifies an opportunity to take the fight to the North Koreans on a grander scale and you find yourself scrambling from streets to rivers, from parking lots to big box stores, from fast food to fields all in an effort to overcome your oppressors. Keeping in line with the survivalist/oppressed narrative, you will find yourself wrestling with the moral decisions taking place around you and your enemies may not just be the invading forces.

The visuals are outstanding, although the character models could have used a bit more polish. There is a real sense of home throughout the game. Whether it be the sunset on the horizon over a group of homes or the way yards are littered with debris, everything is identifiable. The sense of familiarity is further demonstrated with the brands that the developers must have went to great lengths to utilize. You can't help but feel embittered as you take shelter in a White Castle or battle through a Tiger Direct store.

The sound is a shining example of how some attention to detail to the score can create an actual secondary participant in a videogame. I can't think of another FPS that has used sounds to such a degree as to evoke so many emotions, while maintaining pace and dialogue. This is so much more than the rat-tat-tat of a shooter; you are inundated with such an array of auditory input that your pulse will quicken with the beat and your heart will sink with the drone of the orchestra. The score was substantial to the point that the Homefront soundtrack was released on March 8th featuring all of the finer points to be heard in the game.

From a multimedia perspective the soundtrack is really just a taste of what is available to help round out the Homefront universe. Gamers should make an effort to pick up the Homefront Novel, which helps to escalate the core story by detailing some of the happenings behind the scenes, both before and during the game. The book is written through the eyes of 'The Voice of Freedom?, an unwitting pirate radio host that helps to guide resistance members while informing the masses of the secrets behind the Greater Korean Republic's (KPA) propaganda. The 'Voice of Freedom' is an intricate character in the game as well as being the voice narrating the story between levels and encouraging the population to stay strong. Having read the book really helped to push the story deeper. Rather than simply retelling the same story, I could actually connect the two medias together allowing for a richer experience overall.

Every detail in this game delivers immersive, emotional depth; even when you get killed you are treated to 'photographs' and quotes that showcase the humanity of the struggle playing out through the game. Scattered throughout the game world are a series of collectables in the form of news articles. Each article helps to tell the tale of the events leading up to and including, America's eventual occupation. Some can be found amoung piles of garbage, others on tables and others scattered through overgrown yards. Keeping your eyes open for these papers can be tricky as I've found a few while embroiled in the middle of an intense fire fight not just when leisurely exploring side areas.

There are a few nods to John Milius' past work, Red Dawn fans should keep their eyes open for the iconic 'Go Wolverines' banner. On the note of Red Dawn; Homefront plays out as I would imagine a futuristic movie tribute would. I know that there is a newly envisioned movie on the horizon but THQ maintains the position that this is not a tie-in game, in reality it's too bad, because it would have been one of only a few times we've seen a great movie/game crossover.

Just because we are in occupied states is no reason for us not to have access to some extraordinary weaponry. Once again the developers made sure to keep the game grounded in reality by including technology and firepower that is entirely conceivable (the Goliath is stretching a bit, but more on that later). As expected of Americans being overrun, there are a few stashes of some heavy hitting noisemakers but, as with many FPS's much of the expanded weaponry will come directly from the arms of the recently taken down KPA forces.

Of course, not to be outdone, the single player campaign is rife with vehicle interactions.. From the seat of a GAU-19A Humvee mounted 50 caliber machine gun or piloting a rocket/machinegun infused helicopter, you still will not achieve the level of pure mayhem as when you take control of the Goliath. Goliath is a 6 wheeled, all wheel drive 'autonomous' vehicle equipped with a machinegun and a quad mount rocket launcher, that allows the player to bring the battle to the enemy using a hand held 'targeter'. Using the targeter you 'paint' your targets and Goliath rains down destruction. As with other elements in the game, Goliath is introduced and interacted with, in such a way, as to become another character in the game. At first you wonder how we could have been invaded with such technology at our disposal but you soon realize that what can be your greatest strength can also be a weakness.

As with many FPS's in the market, the multiplayer is meant to expand your game time and your overall enjoyment. Homefront scores on both counts by not just creating depth but by offering new and innovative elements to the multiplayer arena. I can say unequivocally that the multiplayer in Homefront is, by far, my multiplayer of choice in the FPS genre. There are so many equalizers to ensure that even the most casual gamer will be ranking up quickly, while at the same time creating specialized prestige moments, like 'Battle Commander' to reward the hardcore gamer. Some of the multiplayer aspects have been covered in numerous previews out there and there will surely be no lack of multiplayer insights from the many media outlets. I am going to outline some of the key multiplayer elements;

Game modes include Ground Control ? dominate and secure key objectives while engaging the enemy. Keep your eye on the scoring limits because objectives will shift to advance your line.
Team Deathmatch ? the classic predator vs. prey across varying maps.
Battle Commander ? delivered in both Ground Control and Team Deathmatch modes, Battle Commander will set up specialized missions within the multiplayer arena and place bounties on high priority targets.

The key aspect of Homefront's multiplayer is the Battle Points (BP) system. Points are acquired through various aspects; taking objectives, kills and focused achievements will advance your points. These points can then be used to secure weaponry, drones and air-strikes. Points can also be saved to be utilized at spawn screens to put yourself directly into the seat of some advanced vehicles like humvees, tanks and helicopters.

All of the familiar tools such as load-outs, armory and records are here, allowing every player type to be fully represented and custom load-outs will assist every level of gamer. The introduction of various drones including anti-personnel, anti-vehicle ground based drones, patrol drones and attack heli-drones will get you in the action regardless if you are a camper or run&gun gamer. The various environments, explosive combat and increasingly mechanized conflicts will have every gamer staying up way too late and missing way to many days of work (not myself of course, I really am sick today....or rather, my aunt is sick....or my dog died.....really, I'm not playing Homefront).

Suggestions: THQ has already set personal records for preorders and I have no doubt that Homefront will be their hit this year. Combining so many elements into such a cohesive story, THQ has reminded me why I love gaming. The only fault I could find other than the character models was the relatively short single player campaign; on the hard level I finished the game in less than 7 hours. As a casual gamer I found the hard setting just difficult enough to be engaging while allowing steady progression. I didn't find all the collectibles and there are plenty of achievements I'll be going back to hunt for but I was disappointed that there wasn?t' more. As much as this is a fault I think it speaks volumes to the quality of the story itself, you see, I wasn't disappointed that the game was short....I was disappointed that I couldn't spend more time in the Homefront universe. With that being said, I offer an open invitation and request to THQ and KAOS....get on some DLC...NOW!!! You've created a detailed and emotionally charged game you need to expand the experience by giving us more. It seems that your greatest strength may become a developers've set the bar and like you have stated time and again; Home is where the heart WAR is!

Overall Score: 9.3 / 10 De Blob 2

One of the most valuable aspects of our society is that which makes us each different. If all that we were to experience were even remotely close to past experiences, then much of what we see...or hear...or smell...or taste...or even touch would lose all of its mystery and wonder. I believe it is one of the many reasons why the sense of deja vu is so unsettling; the entire core of our being shudders at the very thought of reliving past events.

This may seem like a very strange introduction to, what should be, a child like escape gaming title. I will say, my kids enjoyed the look and feel of this game but it is the more subtle nuances that touch a cord while I played. Throughout, I was able to sense undertones of inspiration from everything from 'V for Vendetta' to Star Wars (episodes I, II and III), complete with a dramatic reveal of 'the pseudo good guy is really the bad guy' sort of vibe. It's almost a classic case of the industrialized bad guys against the free loving colorful good guys, with the INKT Corporation reinvented as a tax free religion. While I was initially tempted to downplay these aspects I think its important for gamers to understand the value that the developer put in creating an outstanding story, while creating an incredible game.

DeBlob2 is the sequel to the Wii exclusive DeBlob. Because of the critical reception received for the original game, the games developers saw the opportunity to expand their reach across consoles. Now Blue Tongue Entertainment takes a second break from their many movie/TV titles to introduce the world to the paint filled hero. Once again, THQ Studios is at the helm of the DeBlob title and they have even gone so far as to include the title as one of its core games for spring of 2011.

Like myself, many did not take the opportunity to enjoy the original DeBlob, so when the game started out with a short synopsis of the original title, I couldn't help but worry that I would feel disconnected from the events about to take place. Lucky for me, the development team was prepared and they even went so far as to use this to help drive the new story. Rather than trying to concoct a back story for everything, we are simply treated to gentle reminders, throughout the game, of what has happened before our current adventure. And while I now have a minor understanding of what went on before DeBlob2 I'm intrigued about the original game, so much so that I am going to pick it up right away.

DeBlob2 revisits our hero, after a couple years of relative harmony, as he finds the city of Prisma embroiled in a political uprising of sorts. It seems the charismatic Papa Blanc is leading his followers to create a cult of brainwashed and bleached denizens. Not surprisingly, none can doubt this pseudo religious leader that has chosen to run his election campaign on a platform of ?Put Your Faith In Beige!?. Along with these empty promises comes the draining of the color from the landscape and the residents while Blob and his faithful sidekick Pinky struggle against mindless minions to restore flair and individuality. Blob must use all his tricks to sabotage infrastructure and even go 'underground' to infiltrate enemy strongholds in order to expose Papa Blanc and return Prisma City to its former glory.

The gameplay is similar to a couple famous titles (thanks Nintendo) and the game will have you literally painting the town in no time. The developers took it upon themselves to make your pal Pinky so 'all-knowing' that its surprising that you are needed at all. I get that I may not be the target market but the hand holding really goes a little too far when progressing through the missions. The 'open world' portion of the gaming mostly involves soaking up vast amounts of paint and transporting it to portals. While all along you will be using said paint to smash minions or color specific areas. The 2D underground side-scrolling missions seem pretty straightforward but its the simplicity that creates many of the challenges ? by utilizing switches and tunnels that are fraught with dangers including minions, water, ink and lasers to name a few.

DeBlob is not alone in his quest and, while its not immediately clear, most are returning pals from the original game. Each of these pals, Pinky (Pinky is a playable character for a second player...that player can assist DeBlob by shooting at enemies), Arty, Bif, Zip and Prof, offer unique tactics so that there appearance adds something new to the game.

Of course, for every good is a bad and the Inkys come in all forms; Spikey, the Elite, the Heavy Inky and Shepherds that utilize remote control hypno-disks to pick you up to drag you to your doom. They truly are the Stormtroopers of this colorful world, intimidating but not too bright. And when it comes to the various missions this could almost be seen as a travel game; you will travel from Paradise Island to Blanc Town visiting everything from the Inktron collidor to the Prism Zoom and even a epic visit to the Rocket Range.

Various in game power ups that are level specific but really amp up the enjoyment level to avoid any kind of monotony. Keeping in line with this unique game you will find power ups like Magnetism, Rainbow power, wrecking ball and even a special bomb power up! There are several types of 'collectables' within the game like the '2D' light-bulb images that are used as a type of currency. This currency can be redeemed at the menu screen under upgrades or in game at special locations (usually at the end of a mission). This currency can be used to add extra lives, increase size (allowing you to carry more paint), add armor, lower charge costs or to expand the amount of ammo the second player can carry. You can also stick around at the end of a level to complete certain tasks. This clean up can be revitalizing of the vegetation, painting any remaining buildings or freeing cult members from their bleached exteriors.

The controls are easy enough for youngsters and intuitive enough so even the most seasoned gamer can get lost in the story. The left trigger is used to target different aspects while the A button is used to slam and the right trigger is used to charge your targets. The Y button is used to bring up in game info and the gps type guide. The left thumbstick is used to move around while the right thumbstick controls the camera (the left button will bring the camera behind blob). The camera is sometimes annoying but it is by far an improvement over many of the games I've played.

Loading screens between the major levels are good for grabbing a snack and include a 3-5 panel comic style graphic to help outline some story items. There are minimal load times within the major levels, in fact they only happen when transitioning underground so they are not at all noticeable when you are in game.

For all of the emphasis we put on graphics it's truly refreshing to recognize a game for outstanding sound. DeBlob2 injects the kind of rhythm and background music that allows the sounds to become characters themselves. To become energized by the music playing or to build anticipation through sound as you apply another layer of paint is truly inspired. I'm not much of a completest but I couldn't help but feel elated as the tempo increased in time to the color I was applying on screen.

Besides having a second player jump in as your sidekick there is a 'Blob Party' game mode allowing you to cooperatively paint an entire section of town. Personally, I wasn't able to immerse myself into this game mode. As fun and stylized the actual painting is, its the challenges and tasks that had me drawn back to the single player game mode.

My favorite part of playing this game has been that I know I am not the target demographic. The developers clearly understand that to reach a broader audience games must be relate-able for youngsters while maintaining pop culture references, that only us 'grown ups' are likely to identify. It helps to have such a well rounded story with likeable characters but this is just the kind of game I can put on even when my kids are in the room.

Suggestions: DeBlob2 is sure to have a strong following and I'm certain DeBlob3 is on the horizon (there have been announcements of multimedia entries like a TV series: ala Sonic or Pac Man). A comprehensive multiplayer component and more challenging game modes (just lock Pinky in a trunk for a while) would be welcome additions to the franchise.

Overall Score: 8.6 / 10 Tron: Evolution

Before I begin, let me ask you a couple of quick questions; have you ever waited 30 years for something, and was it worth the wait? Many of the individuals reading this are likely not to have been around for the past 30 years, let alone having to quantify the value of waiting. So allow me to put this into perspective. Here is a list of just a few things that were unheard of 30 years ago?ATMs, LEDs, LCDs, digital photography, microprocessors, mobile phones, laptop computers, GPS, flash memory, fiber optics, internet and e-mail. Imagine 30 years ago we actually had to know the people we considered friends among our ?social network?. The most telling trend in the past 3 decades is the explosion of information technology and its integration into our day to day lives.

What many don?t realize is that a single movie, arguably, helped to shape our expectations and vision of today?s technological standards. Obviously, I am referring to the classic TRON, released in 1982 to much fanfare and renowned for introducing us to the world of computer graphics (interestingly, TRON was refused an academy nomination for a special effects award because using computers for imagery was considered cheating??).

So, here we are, almost 30 years on and anticipating the sequel to the original. Most of us have witnessed the media hype over the release and of course, every genre is being affected. We are seeing, toys, action figures and obviously, video games. However, while TRON; Legacy picks up 28 years after the events at ENCOM, TRON; Evolution is meant to bridge the gap and introduce new and seasoned fans alike, to the updated digitized universe.

Published by Disney Interactive, TRON: Evolution is only the 2nd title released by developer Propaganda Studios. It should be noted that Propaganda Studios is a subsidiary of Disney Interactive and was created by former EA Canada staffers. The studios 3rd title based on the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has been shelved as of this writing. It is well known in the gaming industry that movie based games are extremely lackluster; there are exceptions to the rule but the exceptions are often more creative than simple ?movie based? games (Scott Pilgrim is a shining example). It is this level of creativity that Evolution both succeeds and fails.

You play in the digital universe as Anon, a systems monitor created by Kevin Flynn to maintain security throughout the system. Your core programming is quickly adapted when you witness events that will thrust your world into a digital uprising. Many of the films core characters are introduced including Flynn, Tron, CLU 2.0, Quorra, Gibson, and the ISO?s. ISO?s are self evolving programs that are new to the grid and are the subject of apprehension and suspicion, combine their introduction with newly identified viruses and you have the makings of a great set of plot twists. The issue is that the story is thrust forward far too quickly and any possible twists are seen long before they are introduced. Combined with the linear gameplay the story falls flat (unless you?re a big fan of the TRON universe).

The gameplay itself is hampered on numerous fronts. The aforementioned linear style has you performing parkour inspired acrobatics to move from one are to the next which often left me to wonder how anyone was supposed to get around in the grid. Some areas justified the leaps and wall running, such as damaged or destroyed areas. Whereas others had you travel a straightforward approach that just happened to require stellar athleticism to achieve. The story works hard to introduce new and dynamic enemies for you to encounter and you have the ability to access and upgrade increasingly more powerful attacks. But the lack of cohesive storytelling has you wondering why you would bother to dive headlong into another senseless melee. Lucky for you, the setup and use of your arsenal is dynamic enough to make the battles only somewhat repetitive (unless you?re a big fan of the TRON universe).

The Battle Tanks and Light Cycles make their triumphant return to video gaming and while controlling them is relatively nostalgic, some of the core mechanics are lost in Evolution. The battle tanks are clumsy and underwhelming but the real disappointment is with the Light Cycles. Everyone, regardless of age or experience, knows of the trademark light streams behind the cycles and how these streams are used to ?cut off? and block our enemies?the 90 degree turns of anarchy are virtually gone in Evolution. Instead we have segments of gameplay where you race along dangerous paths on a souped up motorcycle avoiding walls, barriers and the occasional disintegrating sections. Don?t get me wrong it?s nice to be behind the wheel of these iconic machines but they lack the basis of what made them icons (unless you?re a big fan of the TRON universe).

The controls are the biggest issue that Evolution presents to any gamer. The game has you jumping over minor obstacles to gain energy or running along light strips to restore health or wall running and combining different actions in several directions ? all of this takes some precise movements ... unfortunately precise movements are lacking in the control scheme. When running every tap of the control stick sends you character bolting with wild abandon, sure you can choose not to press the right trigger, which does allow for finer control, but you have to press the right trigger to perform any of the dynamic movements mentioned above. The controls are further hampered by a third person camera that is quick to choose a perspective for you, and while this has been done successfully in other games, Tron; Evolution is not one of them (unless you?re a big fan of the TRON universe).

The visuals are full of the eye candy that has made TRON famous including the glowing suits and light streams. The enemies are varied enough that making choices, regarding what attacks to use, will only present an issue when there are 10 or more confronting you. You have the feeling that you are truly part of the grid and the multilayer approach to the cityscape gives a great sense of depth. Watching the identity discs fly about during combat is almost surreal and I was often caught off guard while catching glimpses of the characters or surroundings. The only issue I had with the game, visually, is the main character models. Whenever the main characters were showcased the facial features had more of cartoon look rather than a computerized representation. While a minor issue it really tends to remove you from the overall enjoyment (unless you?re a big fan of the TRON universe).

There is a rather simplistic multiplayer mode included within TRON; Evolution. However, accessing the multiplayer is introduced in a unique and innovative way. You can access the multiplayer from the main menu but it is much more rewarding to access it through the single player campaign. Throughout the single player game you will come across data ports. These ports allow you to upgrade and access various aspects of your character but they also allow you to instantly enter the multiplayer battles. As an added incentive, all of your experience points in the multiplayer and single player modes are carried over to each mode. So the experience you gain in single player will give you additional options in multiplayer and vice versa. This is very handy when wanting to level up to access different abilities. The only issue I had with the multiplayer is the lack of inventiveness. Yes you have melee and vehicle battles but they all follow the traditional modes of play we?ve had before. Rather than enjoying the multiplayer on its own you really only want to multiplayer to help level your character (unless you?re a big fan of the TRON universe).

There was a great opportunity, when developing this game, to introduce some new and innovative game play mechanics, but being true to the mantra, this movie based offering is just marginally above average. The game gains points because of its visuals and sound but the lack of any new innovations will keep this title from gaining any momentum beyond the TRON fan base. Which brings up an interesting note; fans of the TRON mythology have been waiting almost 30 years to return to the grid and while gamers have had lackluster attempts to revisit our favorite digital realm over the years, TRON; Evolution is the first in almost 30 years to be a part of the official cannon. I am scoring this game as a fan of the TRON universe, for individuals not yet a fan you can take off at least 5 points from the score.

I recently watched the original TRON with my young daughters (as a precursor to the game and movie). What stood out is not the achievements in cinematography but rather the bewildered expression on this generations face as they tried to understand why the characters look the way they did and why I talked so proudly of the film. I guess when you experience as much as kids do today; the wins of yesteryear are easily dismissed. BTW, my kids did enjoy the ?Pac man? and ?hidden Mickey? Easter eggs ? if you haven?t spotted them, look it up.

Overall Score: 8.3 / 10 Pinball FX 2

One of the most interesting aspects to my personal gaming life is the fact that I can remember when an ?arcade? was a big room with pool tables, table hockey, darts, the occasional pong (table top model) and rows of pinball tables. I can vividly remember when the big, stand up, arcade units started to roll in with titles like defender and space invaders. There was a massive shift when this started; first went the darts and table hockey (yes even in Canada, we can get too much hockey). Next went the pool tables, as proprietors noticed that arcade units can be put back to back. Finally, even pinball was pushed to the back corner. My favorite hang out in Toronto, went from a relatively simple game room to a loud, quarter hungry, flashy and crowded pit full of people from every age group and lifestyle. Oh, don?t get me wrong; I was right there with them, ?borrowing? quarters from anyone I could.

What I found as my gaming days progressed is that I would easily return to my old favorites?.pool and pinball. I wasn?t always proud of this pastime but there is a lot to be said about the skills necessary to rack up a substantial score on your favorite tables.

Fast forward 30 years to 2010 and we have Zen Studios releasing Pinball FX 2 as a sequel to their 2007 offering simply titled Pinball FX. Zen Studios, with barely 10 titles under their belt, made the unique choice of making FX2 free to download over Xbox Live Arcade. The download allows the individual pinball tables to be available for trial. So you can experience the tables before choosing to purchase anything. From a pinball fan perspective this is a nice twist as I?m not likely going to enjoy every table but from a casual gamer perspective, the couple of minutes you get are not long enough to get a good feeling for the tables.

At launch there are 12 tables available. There are 2 packs to be purchased as sets of 4 tables and 4 individual tables. There is the core pack including Biolab, Pasha, Rome and Secrets of the Deep; the classic pack includes Speed Machine, Extreme, Agents and Buccaneer and the individual tables are titled Excalibur, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Nightmare Mansion and Street Fighter II. Each of the tables cost only 200 MS Points but keep in mind that each of the packs will set you back 800 MS Points (the Classic pack is free if you already own the original Pinball FX).

All of the tables are well thought out and each has their own individual nuances befitting of the theme. What is most intriguing is the fact that all of the tables flow incredibly well. Too often, in a video game offering of a pinball machine, you get impossible tasks and shots that remove you from the pinball experience. FX 2 takes the time to engage the player and makes all point opportunities achievable. Most of the tables feature interactive elements, activated when a specific shot is made, such as the ?video game? activities that are a common part of real pinball tables today; some will have you shooting a target to level up or selecting your bonus type. Once again this really brings home the pinball experience.

Simply stated, all of the visuals, sounds and interactions feature prominently in Pinball FX 2 but there are 2 key elements that have been seriously lacking in previous pinball video game offerings. There are tremendous drawbacks in trying to portray a visual that represents a 7 degree inclined plane onto a virtually flat modern video display (LCD or Plasma for the vast majority).

In past offerings we have seen one of 2 styles; we view the table from a First Person point of view, which limits the amount of detail (and accuracy) that can be afforded to targets at the end of the machine or we have seen a top down view, littered with so many visual elements that the game play is lost very quickly. FX 2 addresses this issue by tricking us into viewing the ball as it travels the table?.the entire table is shown but you tend to focus on the balls location and the only way this can possibly work is by providing detailed and precise physics to the balls trajectory. That is where much of the magic is presented in FX 2?. The ball reacts exactly as you would expect it to in real world scenarios and the interactions are stable to avoid clipping and invisible objects. You can zoom out for a more complete view and the table switches to a top down look during multiball scenarios but for the most part the game is best enjoyed in the default mode.

There is online multiplayer and turn based, local multiplayer to add to the enjoyment of the title but the most interesting aspect is the competitive leaderboard. The game reviews your friends list and compares your scores to theirs, both on individual tables and overall via the Wizard score. It is very creative to have a message popping up to remind me that I?m only 400,000 points from beating a friend?s top score. Another twist to this is the fact that it displays what tables they have and your Wizard score is largely based on how many tables you own. So the more you play and own, the bigger your score (way to go marketing team).

The game is priced higher than many XBLA titles if you choose to buy any tables (remember, it?s free to try) coming in at 2400 points (to purchase all tables) but it is the equivalent of getting 12 unique tables with endless hours of competitive play. My suggestion is to start with a couple of individual tables and I think you?ll find yourself rounding out the selection in no time.

Now if you?ll excuse me, I?ve got The Who tuned in and the volume cranked to 9?. Time to reclaim my title.

Overall Score: 8.8 / 10 MySims SkyHeroes

Flib, shubba nard. Lorned putta im saba wicheb slumm? Catiplat, shim nubbem leb. Before you ask; no I have not been drinking before settling in to put together this latest review. I am simply trying to put to paper some of the nonsensical jabbering, that the characters of the Sims universe use as they go about their day. If you are any kind of experience gamer you have likely spent a number of hours (enjoyable or otherwise) immersed within the Sim world. And like any rational Human being you have also spent a number of restless evenings attempting to translate the ramblings of our Sim counterparts (of course, I also spend restless nights translating the ramblings of many of my this could be just afflicting me).

Way back in 1989, game designer Will Wright developed Maxis studios and introduced the world to the the Sim universe with the release of SimCity. What began as a city planners nightmare quickly became one of the biggest selling series in gaming and it helped to solidify a new genre of video games. The Sim universe came to include hotels, farms, and even ants. But it wasn't until early 2000 that we had the opportunity to interact directly with the residents of these Sim worlds. The Sims immediately became the biggest selling PC game in history and several million gamers spend endless hours in one of any number of the series sequels or spinoff offerings. The Sims made their console debut in 2003 and while titles haven't been as well received as the PC iterations, the developers at Maxis continue to seek out a firm footing in the console marketplace.

Thus, Maxis has created focused Sim based games that utilize many of the unique iteration and control aspects of the console market. Which brings us to the introduction of 'MySims: Sky Heroes'. MySims: Sky Heroes (MS:SH) is the first of 5 MySims titles to be released on a console other than Nintendo and it is the first to create MySims based characters from other gaming titles, including Mass Effect, Army of Two and Medal of Honor.

The story driving MS:SH is very straightforward. You find yourself among the wreckage of a fighter plane, with more than a touch of amnesia. Lucky for you, there are friendlies around, that somehow have no idea who you are or where you came from. These friendlies turn out to be fighting to rid the world of MorcuCorp and company founder, Morcubus, out of the skies to eliminate fear from the world. This is the first indication that the game is 'meant' for younger gamers....there are no underlying plots or depth to the story. The visuals of the characters should have been the first clue, but the price tag had me thinking otherwise (more on that later).

The story missions take place throughout the world allowing you to 'pick' where to go next....the story is linear and the mission types are limited. All missions will be either a race, a dogfight or a 'destroy the objective' (really just dogfight with stationary enemies) style. All of the missions can be frustrating at both ends of the spectrum. Races are of typical offering: if you're in first place someone will be able to fire off some sort of weapon to slow you down, whereas is you are behind you will (sometimes) be able to take out the person in front of you. All of the rubber-banding, psychic AI, and wildly ineffective weapons are in play that we've come to expect from these types of games. And really that's where the race aspect falls apart....not only have we seen this before but we've seen it much better. The dogfights and objective based modes are more challenging and somewhat more satisfying, however; it can really irritate even the most seasoned gamer to have your teammates acting as anything but on your team. Once again there seems to be programming in place to delay you slightly but then to allow you to come out on top every time.

The visuals are of typical Nintendo quality, seemingly catering to a younger audience. The problem of course is that we are playing on the Xbox 360...we've seen other titles simplify the graphics but this one doesn't even try to improve upon its predecessors. That isn't to say they're bad....just disappointing. The game features some interesting weapons that react well on the Xbox but they are all lacking on the 'game' level. I get it, the developers want to stay true to the genre...weapons that work with airplanes, but if our characters can be 1/3rd the size of our planes then we should be able to expect more than just missiles, shields and mines (there is the Tornado and Supernova but there should be more like this).

The game has some minor customization that is quite favorable. You are able to choose from wings, tails, engines and more; as the game progresses you can unlock even more choices. Painting each of your pieces and adding a 'logo' is nice but again you are locked into a template style that isn't always flattering. There are options to 'tune' your airplane but once again it is limited and doesn't have a great amount of effect on the actual can finish out the entire game without ever needing to upgrade. Customizing your character is akin to the customizing in many other 'bargain bin' titles and the developers could have easily increased the options here.

There is an added gameplay component included with up to 8 player online and 2 player split screen local multiplayer. However, the matches are equally lackluster and competent players will become bored quickly, whereas casual gamers will often be over matched. This being said it is refreshing to be able to play a split screen game with my kids where 'letting them win' takes very little effort.

MySims: Sky Heroes followed a formula that worked very well on a more kid friendly console. The title could have been ported well, but at a $50 price tag the game comes off as poorly developed and begs for a child audience. The problem seems to be that the games challenges are too hard to grasp for children. My children are ages 6 and 9 and both had difficulty grasping the core gameplay. It would seem the title is geared toward a 12-15 age group with age 6-10 graphics and an aged 25-35 price tag. Needless to say I don't think there are many individuals that fit this necessary demographic.

Overall Score: 6.8 / 10 Fist of the North Star: Kens Rage

Okay, so stop me if you?ve heard this one?The entire world has grown to a point that nuclear annihilation is a foregone conclusion. Following said annihilation; the human race is not eradicated but merely recast as marauders and scavengers, surviving off the weaknesses of others. As the world continues to crumble, self-serving gangs rise up to lead through fear and decimation. Then out of the desert, begging for water walks our savior. The savior has long been herald as the one to bring order to the chaos, light to the dark, peace to the unjust. But peace comes at a price, and many are not predisposed to hearing the error of their ways. So, when words alone will not atone, then the fortitude of the savior will eliminate all who will not be awakened to justice in this new world.

The concept is not a new one, but the myriad of offerings we?ve had over the years is vast. From movies to music, books to video games, the post apocalyptic hero is a common figure across all genres, for better or worse (cough, Waterworld, ahem).

Now, what if I told you your next experience in this type of realm could be rounded out with a hero that can produce a flurry of punches unrivaled in many video games; that you would be surrounded by 20, 30, 50 bad guys and easily come out on top; that you would repeatedly accost the same bunch of overmatched enemies (even though you witnessed their bodily explosion resulting in a bloody mess)? And what if, after all is said and done you still would have no understanding of the overall story? If this all seems like something you might be interested in then you are either A) a fan of the Dynasty Warrior mythos or B) completely lacking in the ability to differentiate an engaging video game and the mindless button masher that is Fist of the North Star: Ken?s Rage.

From Japanese game publisher Koei and developed by Omega Force, Fist of the North Star: Ken?s Rage (FNS:KR) is presented as a stylized, brawler spin-off of the Dynasty Warriors franchise. Fans of the series will be pleased to hear that Koei and Omega Force have joined forces, once again, to expand upon the unique series of games. Throughout the game it is abundantly clear that the developers understand the source material but, just as being too close to an issue can cloud the solution, such is the case of FNS:KR?the developers never take that time to draw in new followers, relying instead on the following of its fan base.

Visually the game is faithful to its Manga/Anime roots and the designers clearly have a gaming background. Much of the brushstroke coloring can be a little disorienting considering most of the set pieces are designed with an ancient city aesthetic but this is a minor point really. The graphics of the character interactions are the star of the game. All of the visuals as they relate to fighting are fantastic. Whether it be unleashing a volley of powerful strikes, letting loose one of the powered strikes or performing any of the signature moves, you can tell that a great deal of time went into making these scenes stand out.

Unfortunately, that is where the wow factor ends. This isn?t to say that it?s a bad game, on a scale of time wasters this title stood its ground but without being a fan of the series the game is forgettable.

The sound harkens back to many of the genre?s roots, English speaking voiceovers done on parts that clearly make more sense in the language it was designed for; endless guitar riffs that are meant to heighten the anticipation but instead become noise; even the initially satisfying kakakakakakakakakakakakaka of Kushiro?s attack is quickly reduced to nails on chalkboard. The first few minutes into this game I was actually enjoying some of the sounds?; they?re certainly something new for me and being out of place seemed almost kitschy. However, the repetition quickly drew me out of any initial enjoyment.

Building on the repetition aspect, let?s review the controls and gameplay. The gameplay is very straight forward as you advance into a relatively small area, defeat the droves of baddies be thrown at you and this will open up another small area?. Then you repeat until finally, and seemingly out of nowhere, you come upon the boss battle. The boss battle is a welcome relief as, by now you realize, you?ve been taking out the same 6-8 AI characters over and over. The saving grace is that you don?t care enough to look at them while you beat them to a pulp. The boss battles at least have you taking on a proper match up. While not particularly challenging you will have to seek out the Achilles heel of the characters and playing out some of the games more refined combat visuals are showcased during these boss battles.

For me the controls were the biggest disappointment I experienced. I am not a button masher and while I did grow to enjoy the unique combat visuals there were way too many control issues to make it a worthy trade off. The frustration began with the combos themselves, way too often I would start a combo only to miss the enemy for the satisfying end move or I would be sidelined by a different enemy while my character performed yet another ?finishing move?(see: lame pose). Some enemies I could hit once and they would grotesquely expand before exploding in a wash of blood but when I meet up with them again (limited character models) they would take a number of hits before striking back in the middle of a combo. When you take out a bad guy you would collect karma/skill points?these points can be used to level up different moves and unlock specific strikes?.but it just meant more button mashing and more frustration.

The game does feature different modes of play and will allow you to experience some of these modes with new characters but overall, even after more than 5 hours of play, I had no desire to see the game through to the end, there?s only so many times I?m willing to watch a leather clad, Mohawk styling, motorbike riding, bat wielding punk get reduced to a puddle of mush?(1802 times actually, then I?m calling it a day).

To the fans of the series I wish you well and appreciate your support of this niche market, but without a more refined story I?m still not convinced that the Dynasty Warrior franchise is ever destined for mainstream markets.

Overall Score: 5.4 / 10 Super Meat Boy

Does anyone recall the number of hours they?ve spent playing the old school SNES platform games? I know that I could likely figure it out, but I would require a degree in quantum mechanics and an understanding of advanced engineering, to truly gauge the time these games have spent in my head. That is where a truly successful 2D platform gains its reputation?.how long do you spend obsessing over individual levels. If you?ve ever had an ?ah ha? moment, figuring out how to beat a level when you?re nowhere near the console then you know exactly what I?m referring to.

Lucky for us, games like this are few and far between, and with our modern focus on fps?s and motion gaming we all felt we would not need to obsess as we used to. Well, with no thanks to the developers over at, it seems that our personal time is about to be invaded once more.

2 years ago, released a 2D platform to little fanfare. The interest grew to a point that it drew the watchful eye of the console marketplace. Of course the consoles have always identified winners (yeah right, dynasty warriors, anyone?) and quickly engaged creators Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes to port the web based title to various media, thus resulting in the creation of TeamMeat (is there a don?t ask, don?t tell policy to studio naming?). And here we are, faced with the challenge of experiencing a few levels of Super Meat Boy.

Super Meat Boy?s premise is simple; you play as our hero, Meat Boy (a piece of fresh, moist, meat) leaping through a number of areas to save your love, Bandage Girl (a pink bandage with a pretty daisy) from the evil clutches of Dr. Fetus (yes, it is what you think, a fetus in a jar?but the jar has arms and legs and is a very snappy dresser). There is a little more background but let?s face it, all you need to know is that you have to save Bandage Girl by running and jumping through increasingly dangerous areas.

All of the levels are full of ?platforming? goodness and dexterity numbing madness. You propel Meat Boy by jumping at walls, which allow you to momentarily stick (you are moist meat after all) and jump again and again. You do all this while avoiding classic obstacles, that of spinning blades of death, fire and all manner of meat grinding mayhem. Key to the enjoyment is that each level only takes about 10-30 seconds to complete and, yes, in the beginning this is entirely possible. But as the levels progress, so does the level of difficulty. So when you get it right it only takes a few seconds but it?s the endless number of tries to get to the completion that make the pay off so rewarding.

Controls are the most important aspect to consider in a game like this, so it is worth noting that the developers have created the most responsive controls I?ve seen of any video game. Often, when I started a level I worried about the precise movements I would need but the controls never let me down (even when my eyesight and coordination did).

This title is indicative of the movement we?ve seen recently in the casual gaming market. Gamers are often looking for quick moments of levity and escape; this is the same mentality behind many of the touch based, mobile gaming applications. Although, all of the levels take only 10-30 seconds to complete correctly, there are more than 300 levels to be had. Keeping in mind that each level will take a number of attempts, you have many hours of gameplay available. There are warp levels that will feature different characters and gameplay, there are bandages to collect that will open additional gameplay opportunities and the cutscenes will have you eager to experience even more of the game. Add the amount of time you?ll spend watching your attempts (when you complete a level you are treated to an instant montage of all your attempts playing simultaneously on screen) and the time you?ll spend thinking about this game, and you're pulling out that degree in quantum mechanics to calculate your ultimate level of enjoyment.

This is a finely tuned gaming experience that should be experienced by every modern gamer. Many will reminisce of simpler times, many will cry from shear frustration, many will recognize the natural progression of platform gaming but all who play, and I do mean all, will marvel at the pure entertainment value of Super Meat Boy.

Overall Score: 9.2 / 10 F1 2010

Consider for a moment; what if every aspect of your life could be fine tuned? What if saving just half of a second, on the time it takes you to prepare your morning coffee, is all that is keeping you from getting that big promotion at the office? What if a lifetime of accolades or a lifetime of struggle came down to what time you choose to take an afternoon break? It is conceivable that the universe does work this way ? maybe fate is an insurmountable jack*#$ ? or maybe - randomness is simply a human frailty (I?ve really got to stop playing these games before 4am).

Last year, having picked up the official F1 license (after Sony), Codemasters released its initial venture into the Formula 1 game series, (see: underwhelming). Released only to the WII and PSP the offering was critically panned and fell away quietly. After that fateful offering, Codemasters knew that they needed to up the ante and position themselves with stronger visuals and a more realistic experience? this is Formula 1 after all. In shifting gears (racing pun) and always willing to learn from gamers, Codemasters is focused on the higher end console markets with the release of F1 2010 and utilizes the acclaimed Dirt 2 (EGO) engine to deliver crisp visuals and a truly immersive experience.

Faithful to the Formula 1 series, F1 2010 features all 19 circuits in the 2010 season. The developers even went to great lengths to ensure that all 12 teams and all 24 drivers are represented. In maintaining the 'true to life' aspect, there are some of the best weather 'affects' in any game I've played. I use affects rather than effects to emphasize the affect that the different weather systems have on each race, but more on that later.

When first starting in you are presented as the focus of a press interview ? being asked the Golden Questions - you are enlisting as Formula 1's newest driver. The game uses this interview format to set up your player, including who you're planning to race with, the difficulty level and the length of your career. Unfortunately, regardless of any initial decisions you will start at the bottom of the heap; your abilities along with those of your team begin in last place. This initial process is more of Codemasters attempts to fully emerge you into the world of Formula 1.

From the interview you head off to your trailer to meet your agent and review a few of the many options available from your 'base of operations'. Your agent can help you identify opportunities to move among teams and will list all of the driver line ups. Next Session does exactly what the name implies but you will be able to modify different settings such as race difficulty and lengths. Helmet Selection showcases a number of unique helmets for you to choose from, however, this choice is not carried over to the all game aspects as your player will assume the team helmet in multiplayer games.

Just outside of the trailer are the adoring press and your garage entrance. The Press will stay woefully quiet for the first number of races until you are able to rise in the ranks slightly. Eventually you will have your name (chosen in the initial interview) called out by the clamoring press; if you choose to speak with them you will enter into an interview like setting. Be careful as your responses will determine how your team reacts to you but it can also set up opportunities with new (higher ranked) teams. The Garage link will take you, appropriately, to your garage and will allow you to: modify your vehicles specific load out with the assistance of your engineer or allow you to review what tires you have for your race weekend (its here that you can determine when and what type of tires your pit crew will change). The Team Mate selection compares your standings throughout the season with that of your team mate. Keeping a close eye on your accumulated points will help you determine when you're poised to become the team leader.

While there are virtually numerous different ways to set up your vehicle, your team and even your opportunities to improve...the core of the game is actually the driving. This is where much of the polish begins to shine. The tracks are beautiful, all are true to their real life locations including many of the minor dips and packed grandstands. It's important to have someone else play the game (even momentarily) just so you can truly appreciate all of the effort that went into recreating these world renowned locations, as you won't be able to take your eyes away from the track immediately in front of you while you're behind the wheel. While driving, the feeling of speed and tight corners is, likely, the best I've experienced in any racing title. There are moments of sheer frenzy as you approach a grouping at speed, searching for the best line out of a corner.

As I mentioned earlier, the highlight of the game is the weather. The differences the weather makes to the track, to the other drivers, to your tires and even to the AI drivers is significant. Because the weather can change through a single race you need to plan ahead and have your pit crew ready for whatever mother nature might throw at you. For this reason (and so many others) your tires will be a topic of great consternation (note that in game 'tire' is spelled 'tyre'...for that true F1 feel) and you will need to spend a lot of time getting to know the options available to you.

Custom match multiplayer will allow you to set your own preferences or jump into others sessions based on your own gameplay requirements. Along with custom matches there are quick mode multiparty matches. There are 4 modes that offer distinctly different styles and criteria to complete. Pole position takes you through a 20 minute qualifier to determine your place....of course the faster your time the better your position. Endurance has you run through a race with dynamic will have to pit in this one so plan accordingly. Sprint is a quick 3 lap race in dry conditions. Finally, Online Grand Prix has a 15 minute qualifying race to determine your starting position before launching you into a 7 lap race (you have to pit at least once) with dynamic weather conditions.

New gamers to the Formula 1 series will be surprised to see 10 second penalties for 'causing a collision' (its his fault for being so jittery) or for cutting a corner to close....luckily you can set these 'rules' to realistic or reduced mode. And of course there are specialized systems to assist even the biggest arcade racing fan such as automatic drive-trains, driving line indicators and other options to keep my lead foot in check. Don't be fooled though, even the reduced mode will keep you well within the F1 mode of racing. Those that are fans of these open wheeled speed machines will enjoy being behind the wheel and are apt to choose the manual shifting style and it is for this specific individual that this genre will truly shine.

However, I do not fit into that category, and while there were options to have time trials and quick races, in order to play through and improve my standings in a season I had to endure countless hours of practice and qualifying laps all to be penalized for being too aggressive (taking the inside corner and forcing the other driver away from his line). It took a long time before I even advanced to the front of my own team. While I am discouraged at spending so much time for so little reward, there is a real sense of accomplishment in finally reaching these milestones.

In order to release a true Formula 1 experience Codemasters has included numerous tools to fine tune your own individual racing style, and true to the sport, saving half of a second can mean the difference between simply finishing or finishing at the top of your game and being the envy of all your peers. I applaud the developer for putting in the effort needed to create this great game and I also applaud anyone that reaches the top tier of F1 2010.

Overall Score: 7.8 / 10 Plants vs. Zombies

The male species is not exactly well documented for their gardening prowess. While there are a few out there that have a bit of a green thumb, I am completely certain that when given the choice of facing pylon-wearing and dolphin-riding Zombies or smiling sunflowers and pea-shooting plants, we would react just as our female counterparts would; with abject confusion and a desire to get the plants working for our side.

Popcap games was created in 2000 and is most recognizable for its flagship release Bejeweled and most recently Peggle, along with a myriad of various time management strategy titles. While originally targeting the PC, Mac and online marketplace, the team has experienced outstanding success with their expansion to the console and handheld markets. Plants vs. Zombies has, by far, garnered the most attention by being their fastest selling title (selling over 300,000 copies in its first 9 days as an iphone/ipod app) and picking up numerous awards (across all platforms) since its development in May 2009.

Finally, Plants vs. Zombies (PvZ) makes its debut on the Xbox Live Arcade Marketplace, and while the numbers are not yet in; since having the time to review this title I have no doubt that PopCap will need to make a little more room on the mantle for upcoming accolades.

As a tower defense game the idea is not new, what is new is the incredible delivery. Instead of the usual twisting path or line of enemies your battlefield is your backyard, front yard, roof?essentially your home is the last vestige of civilization. The Zombies will attack along a series of horizontal paths and this is where you partner with the plants to hold back the onslaught. For the intellectuals out there asking ?why are Zombies attacking your house? I have this to say: ?they?re Zombies darn?it, they don?t need a reason?. Like any good game, PvZ promises to be an escape from reality and making it enjoyable only extends the many hours you?ll spend with this title.

Any engaging game offers variation and PvZ certainly addresses this opportunity with almost 50 different plants, to use as both your offensive attacks and your defensive strategies. Add man-made defenses (lawnmower and a pool skimmer) and you've got just what you need to survive an attack from more than 25 different Zombies. The game starts with a limited number of different 'seed packs', completing levels awards you with new 'seed packs' that feature new plants to add to your arsenal, or the occasional note from your neighbour or a note from the Zombies themselves (da, da, dummmm!). Of course, the Zombie attacks start off with the expected slow moving, dim witted minions but as the levels progress you will be faced with everything from pole vaulting Zombies to Football player Zombies to a Zombie bobsled team. Needless to say, the games intensity builds in later levels as you seek to match you arsenal against ever evolving attacks.

The game uses 'sunlight' as a currency; sunlight falls from the sky but can also be created by sunflowers. You must manage the collection and spending of these 'points'. The nighttime levels are more challenging because of the decided lack of sunshine falling from the sky, instead you must rely solely on your sunflowers...don't plant enough and you won't have any 'points' to spend to ensure your ongoing safety. To help you along your journey is your aptly named neighbour 'Crazy Dave'. Crazy Dave will offer some insights and occasionally you will be able to purchase upgrades from the back of Dave's van (money is awarded at the end of levels and randomly dropped throughout levels specifically, for these perks).

As a value add to the Xbox community, this iteration of PvZ sees the introduction of cooperative and competitive local multiplayer. While the lack of online play is a knock against the game, there is a tremendous amount of enjoyment to be had playing against or with your friends (and playing as the attacking zombies to wipe out your friends plants is especially satisfying). There is also an innovative visual presented with the usual leaderboard offering; when you see you friends 'scores' you actually see their houses littered with the remains of Zombies and ornaments representing your achievements.

My biggest concern going into this game was the controls. Having played this title as a touchscreen offering I was apprehensive about how the Xbox controller would fare. To my utter surprise the developers seem to have really spent a lot of time fine tuning every aspect of the control scheme. Seed packets are chosen, on the fly, utilizing the right and left bumpers while the sunlight is drawn to your target reticule using the left and right triggers. Moving around the screen using the left stick is seamless and you quickly adapt to this layout.

Chasing achievements aside, the need to see the newest plant or get through just one more finally wipe out the attacking zombies on level 34....the delightful, if brief, mini-games.....the varied attack styles and animations....all keep you glued to your controller like a pea in a pod.

If you are one of the few individuals that have not experienced this title within one of its many incarnations then you are truly in for a treat. If, as expected you?ve experienced Zamboni driving Zombies in the past, then get ready to revisit a familiar addiction (or you live on the West Coast and this is referred to as the afternoon ZdZ). At only 1200 points this is a great addition to any collection; besides where else can you see a Zombie vault over a walnut seed only to be taken out by shrubbery armed with watermelon?

Overall Score: 9.1 / 10 Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game

Charles Caleb Colton was the first to note that ?imitation is the sincerest form of flattery? but, it is my opinion that, if you showcase unique delivery across various media coupled with ?flattery? and fill it with Canadian content, then you can create a franchise that is sure to influence popular culture well into the future.

Such is the case with the Scott Pilgrim series; this critically received series of 6 graphic digests, created by Bryan Lee O?Malley, has developed its own cult following, ever since the release of the first volume back in 2004. The story developed such a following that, along with the video game, the Scott Pilgrim inspired movie is currently being delivered across North America.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: the Game is a loose adaptation of the graphic digests. Featuring many of the sub-culture references that have made the comic series so successful and adding in many game specific references this title has finally hit the Xbox Live Marketplace. Developed by Ubisoft Montreal (Canadian), the game is presented as a side scrolling, beat ?em up as a nod to the games of yore, similar to Double Dragon and River City Ransom.

The story is straight forward; you are required to travel through a map of Toronto to battle the seven, evil, ex-boyfriends of Ramona Flowers. These evil, ex?s all seek to control Ramona?s love life by crushing the flourishing romance between Scott Pilgrim and Ramona. Your job is simple; choose from 4 playable characters (Scott Pilgrim, Ramona Flowers, Kim Pine and Stephen Stills) beat the various minions and destroy the evil, ex-boyfriends. For those new to the Pilgrim universe there is tremendous value in seeing the movie, or better yet, picking up the comics, as the game glosses over several plot points that may distract from the overall enjoyment of the game.

The visuals are instantly recognizable as a nod to the 8 and 16 bit gaming of yesteryear. The blocky, pixel infused graphics are a bit unsettling at first, until you realize that it is all part of the throwback aspect that the game is trying to achieve. Along with the nostalgia you will find yourself collecting coins (all Canadian?Loonies, Toonies, Elk head quarters and more) as you defeat the various enemies. This money is then used in different areas to upgrade your player or purchase food (health) items (or pay off Scott and Wallace?s debt at the video store). There are so many gaming references in this offering that you will constantly go back to different areas just to see them again (I loved seeing Mario?s plumber tube in the map of Toronto (Canadian). The final fight sequences are so reminiscent of other boss battles (both in style and visually) that the developers have even thrown in an unlockable Boss Rush mode.

In keeping with the theme, the controls are overly simply: fast hit, hard hit, block, jump and special attack. I have personally downgraded other games that follow the simplistic throwback control setup, but those other titles were trying to offer a new experience whereas, this game is trying to take us back to the glory days of gaming. Another nod to the 80?s control scheme are the cheat code inputs?there are various ways (supposedly) of unlocking different aspects of the game using up, down, left, right and the button inputs (this really takes me back, even though I?ve only unlocked one bonus).

In order to ensure the theme is maintained across all parts of the game, the developers have brought on Anamanaguchi to create the soundtrack for the game. Anyone unaware of the ?Chiptune? created music scene (myself included) will be blown away by how the group, Anamanaguchi utilize a hacked, 1985 NES, to create such stellar music. Not only are you instantly drawn into memories of past games but you will quickly find yourself humming the tunes long after the controllers are put down.

This title is not without fault; although many of the minor ?glitches? feel as if they may be specifically created to emulate the glitches of older games. There are collision detection issues, where you are sure you are set up to make a hit but you are just a bit too far away?this is not a huge issue and again it feels more like this is a planned/?panned? issue. An obvious oversight comes two-fold and involves the multiplayer aspect of the game. First, the developer included 4 player co-op in the game unfortunately this is available locally only, so I won?t be teaming up with Variation in Vancouver for some pixel bashing?secondly the 4 player multiplayer becomes crowded very quickly and it can be easy to lose sight of where you are or even who is attacking you. Swarms of enemies appear on screen to challenge 4 players and a sort of pandemonium begins to take place (reviving your friends is a challenge when sorting through 20+ other characters on screen).

This is by far my favorite XBLA title. Coming in at 800 Microsoft Points ($10 Canadian), this seems like a worthwhile 3-4 hour adventure, but you need to consider the value added extras that lurk just below the surface. There are unlockable characters to play, unlockable game modes to experience, all while trying to increase your ranking on the online leaderboard. On top of the regular play through, on the Average Joe setting, you will want to go back to various levels (if only to increase your strength) and playing through in the harder settings will add an hour or more to gameplay while still making the challenges manageable. There are a lot of Easter Eggs in this game and more than once I had to pause to explain to my wife yet another in-game reference.

As a proud Canadian it is my duty to support almost every aspect of this franchise but, as a fan of the original graphic series it is my pleasure to immerse myself into the Scott Pilgrim universe. Do yourself a favour (Canadian spelling) and pick up this great XBLA title and do the world a favour by supporting (thereby, showcasing) a truly outstanding Canadian production.

Overall Score: 8.8 / 10 Clash of The Titans

Quick show of hands?who remembers seeing the original Clash of the Titans movie? Regardless of your enjoyment (or lack thereof) for the original epic, it still holds as a place marker for entertainment. As one of the classic, new-generation, movies it showcased the full potential of stop motion animation and introduced us all to a mish mash of mythical creatures (and an annoying mechanical owl). The 80's, of course, opened up a wealth of entertainment possibilities and the introduction of home console gaming is still in its infancy. There are many that long for these simpler times or, at the very least, long for a time when our expectations weren?t as lofty as they tend to be today.

For these ?throwback connoisseurs?, I am happy to introduce Clash of the Titans; the Video Game. Based on the successful (yet disappointing) 2010 re-imagining of the classic movie, this release hopes to further envelope gamers into the world of Greek mythology. Namco Bandai has been at the forefront of the gaming media evolution? the same team that has offered numerous hits, and some misses?now brings us this movie based, third person action-adventure title. The reasoning for the throwback comment is not meant as notice of reference to the original (1981) movie, but rather as reference to the fact that the games developers seem to ignore the expectations of today?s gamers.

The story is as old as time itself: Perseus, comes to realize that he is the bastard son of Zeus just as his mortal family is killed. It is a time of upheaval against the Gods and Zeus agrees to work with his brothers Poseidon and Hades to bring wrath to the mortals; as Hades moves toward the destruction of the mortals and the Gods, Perseus is drawn into the fight as he seeks the destruction of Hades and his demons, culminating in the epic battle against the Kraken.

The game cannot be faulted for its lack of enemies. Drawing on the Greek mythos the game introduces numerous epic creatures including:

The Centaur; part man, part beast this stealthy warrior will forever remain untamed.

Chimera; 3 beasts, one nightmare??thing of immortal make, not human?snorting out breath of the terrible flame of the bright fire??Homer (no, the other Homer)

Harpy; the thieves of ancient mythology swoop in for deadly strikes.

Medusa; this serpentine beauty will solidify any mortals love but only her power can defeat the Kraken.

Cyclops; a club wielding, one eyed monstrosity with a severe temper.

The list goes on and on with even more creatures from legend and myth and include the additional fodder such as Hellhounds, Fallen Warriors, Lost Spirits, Python, Basilisk, Cerberus, Skull Demon, and even Death Frogs. In all, the game features more than 100 potential enemies.

Of course, Perseus has no hope of survival without mythological weapons and again the game over-compensates with the inclusion of 80 plus weapons. Perseus utilizes a sword as his primary weapon but it is the secondary market where the numbers ramp up. Secondary weapons run the gambit from bows and arrows to oversized hammers, wings, tails and elemental powers, largely acquired by ?seizing? the weapons of your attackers. These secondary weapons are all tied to the B button and require an amount of ?soul? to utilize. Seizing weapons is accomplished when your targeted enemy flashes a specific color?you can then hit the left bumper to set off a series of timed attacks. If successful you will be treated to an animated sequence specific to each character as you acquire their weapon of choice?of course, fail the timed attacks and you will be sent flailing. ?Soul? is acquired when your targeted enemy flashes a different color and you hit the right bumper causing Perseus to draw the very soul out of your attackers.

For a title with so many enemies and an equally impressive number of weapons it seems a glaring oversight to include only 12 locations. This is most evident when you are a number of hours into the game having to travel the exact same areas over and over to complete increasingly farfetched tasks. For some reason the developers thought it would be interesting to constantly return to a ?base camp?, talk to a character and head off on a new quest in the exact same area we just returned from. While in theory, this doesn?t seem like a terrible idea; only being able to take on one task at a time means you will be travelling over the exact same terrain while inexplicably seeking out a special item that you somehow walked right past in your last quest. Adding insult to injury, the developers wanted to extend the gameplay in these areas by sending you out on quests that have no bearing on the story and certainly have no place in moving the game forward.

The visuals on this title are very crude?of course I don?t mean that they are not there but rather that they are underwhelming and unrealized. All of the cutscenes feature stoic (fitting word considering its Greek heritage) character models and having to button press through the dialogue is not only tedious but outdated. The location and in game models also lack any sort of character?having to revisit flat, boring landscapes populated by poorly realized enemies over and over becomes frustrating very quickly. More than once I was reminded of numerous old games that utilized the same landscape and characters over and over just to extend gameplay.

Although there is an oversight in the multiplayer component the developer did throw in a Co-op mode. The problem however is that Co-op is not cooperative. Sure you can have someone waiting in the wings to join in but only certain quests are cooperative and the other player is only filling in for the role of an otherwise, console controlled character. When you are playing Co-op the camera seems to randomly pick and choose who to follow and who to support for the weapon seize option. All of this makes the Co-op mode more of a hindrance than an added value.

The controls are contrite relying solely on traditional gameplay models. While not exactly a button masher, the effectiveness of including a number of weapons becomes lost when you can only carry 4 at any one time and it can become mind numbing when trying to figure out what weapon works against the latest enemy you?ve encountered. It?s not like there aren?t other options available but the developer seems to have wanted to create a new twist on an old favorite but at the end of the day, it still requires drawn out button combinations. The camera also seems to want to include itself as another of the 100 enemy encounters, as it swings viciously around, placing you behind rocks or hidden behind canopies. The lock on characteristics should improve the cameras perspective, but instead it further hinders the gameplay as your enemies rotate around you.

The sound is yet another throwback?reminding me of when I got my first Soundblaster card in my old PC?games back then tried to layer 2 or 3 sounds, which often resulted in a new ?noise? altogether. This game seems to want to include every possible atmospheric sound available. While in camp trying to listen to a guard drone on about your next quest you are assaulted by the sounds of: the fire, the ocean, the bugs, the wind and more. Adding background noise does not create an atmosphere. Like many other aspects of this game, it?s trying too hard to be everything.

Which brings me to my biggest gripe regarding Clash of the Titans: the Video Game; it could have been so much better. Not that it needed to be fine tuned, not tweaked?there are enough excellent, modern, action-adventure titles out there to draw from, that it is inconceivable that an epic story such as this is treated to such a second tier game offering. By no stretch did Namco Bandai need to copy an existing game, but why reinvent the wheel when there are so many options available.

Although this game suffers from the usual Movie based gaming casualties, there are several other issues that detract from the few enjoyable aspects of the finished product. The developers built this game around the movie, decided it needed to be longer and threw in unnecessary garbage quests to overcomplicate the story, unfortunately they didn't add any improvements, the game seems to come off as a overly confident offering that misses the mark on too many aspects.

The games end result is the same as the reimagined movie: today's technology offers incredible opportunities and a proven premise but we are never given the opportunity to care about the characters. After the first hour or so of playing I wished I were playing a classic rather than putting up with a new game dressed up like a classic.

Overall Score: 6.0 / 10 DarkStar One:Broken Alliance

I?ve never really been able to dedicate the time necessary to be a true RPG fan. Sure, I?ve spent time in the KOTOR universe and I?ve tried to engage myself in other titles but traditionally, I?ve never felt the connection that is required to properly enjoy most RPG?s. KOTOR is the exception; I did play through the titles on the PC and found myself planning game time?being a Star Wars based Role Playing Game presented its own merits for me.

All things considered when I heard about Darkstar One: Broken Alliance I was intrigued at the possibility of a Space Sim RPG. I envisioned it as a sort of Tie Fighter vs. X-Wing meets Knights of the Old Republic and I even began to think of when I could set time aside to play (2:00 ? 2:15 am). As the release date approached I became aware of the initial PC offering back in 2006; while the original title lacked strong visuals, its compelling story seemed to entice a few reviewers. In the few weeks leading up to the release of Darkstar One: Broken Alliance I found myself further intrigued as previews and visuals started to hit many gaming sites.

Darkstar One: Broken Alliance is developed by Kalypso Media out of Germany and joins other notable titles such as Tropico 3 on the Xbox 360 from this as yet, low key team. Since their inception in 2006 they have grown to offices in the UK and the US and are well poised to continue expanding as they further develop titles across various platforms. Taking the helm from the original titles developer is a bold move even for experienced studios but while not a perfect title, Kalypso does manage to deliver a simplified RPG experience.

In the game?s opening we are given a very nice cinematic that suggests that a new alien race is ?invading the known galaxies causing all sorts of rifts and havoc along the way. We then switch to a very lackluster cinematic that introduces us to our hero Kayron Jarvis, while a new starship docks into the space station. The story continues to outline the relevance of the new ship (the Darkstar One) in that it is the creation of Kayron?s murdered father and that Kayron is to use the ship to its full potential while utilizing its many unique capabilities. While it quickly becomes evident that the ship is the star of the show and that solving the murder of Kayron?s father is the primary objective, the side mission of confronting of the invading alien species is introduced through ?news? snippets that should be intriguing but instead are presented through brief and intruding captions that are removed from much of the current gameplay. So instead of feeling propelled to pursue this new threat I was often dreading some cutscenes as they offered seemingly irrelevant information.

The RPG elements are relatively straight forward; you buy stuff, you sell it for more?.you kill pirates, you gain credits?you complete tasks, you gain more credits. All of these elements are provided to both move the game forward and to provide upgrades to your ships equipment, which in turn allows you to take on greater tasks where you earn more credits; you get the picture here I?m sure. What is unique about this sequence is that from time to time you will come into star systems that have unique elements hidden in various areas or carried by nefarious pirates. The Darkstar ship will allow you to identify these precious gems and by destroying the pirates or flying near the element you will acquire the artifacts. These in turn will allow you to upgrade the ?organics? of your ship?it seems that your ship will utilize these elements to increase its shields and weapon systems while allowing you to increase the capabilities of the purchased equipment.

As far as the story goes?initially, that?s it?.there is really nothing else compelling you to delve deeper into the game. Each of the missions fall into a few categories: escort, attack, information or delivery. Unfortunately, all of the missions are incredibly repetitive and while I enjoy taking down wave after wave of space pirates I feel no connection to the character or the game. Spending time on the different space/trade stations is dumbed down to the point of being nothing more than a virtual PDA. Sure you can take a look at the outside universe but it a static point of view with no real merit. I would have liked to have been able to move around the interior of the stations or even interact with different characters, but the focus seems to have been the somewhat linear story. The gameplay does have side stories but most are irrelevant with no bearing on the character or story.

The controls are what I expected, left thumbstick for movement, right for propulsion, right trigger to fire etc. Having the directional pad as a sort of hotkey interface is useful but I would have liked some more customization. The game reacts well to the control input and there is a ton of enjoyment to be had on the space combat front, however there needs to be more involvement and interaction in and RPG beyond an arcade style combat system.

Sound is often said to be absent in space and I can honestly say that there are numerous times I would have liked to have shoved this title out an airlock. Once again, we can?t really fault the space combat aspect, as each of the sounds, from the blasters to the warnings, are of average ?what we expect? level. The voice acting however, varies from acceptable to pitiful. Again there seems to be no real ?character? development in that the voices are often disengaged from the atmosphere of the moment. Others are simply repeated through every situation that is even remotely similar (you could have had someone else voice the roll of various communications officers). And while I did like the few alien voices that were included some were far too modulated to really make sense of.

Now to the most glaring aspect of this title; the visuals. I like having my games presented in high definition. There is clarity with 1080 resolution that is incredibly pleasing when properly utilized. Unfortunately for this title, the visuals often seem rushed and come off as being lazy. The combat is still good but frame rate issues are common. The rest of the visuals are indeed presented in 1080p but the entire game has a distinct, old school, rough edged, PC quality to them and having them offered at high definition does not take away from the pixelized goodness we all remember for the old ?Wing Commander? days. The cutscenes feel unpolished and there is a glaring lack of space on board the massive space stations.

Darkstar One: Broken Alliance is a good game. It will find a dedicated following in the RPG/Space Sim/Combat gamers and most will enjoy the 20 or so hours of gameplay provided. However, this is due in part, to the lack of good genre games being created instead of being because of the outstanding playability. If the developers had focused more on the combat and less on the RPG and if they had not touted the HD aspect I believe there would have been a wider appeal.

Overall Score: 6.9 / 10 LIMBO

As you may or may not know, I like to start off my reviews with some sort of anecdotal offering that (somehow) relates to the title I?m reviewing. More than anything else it?s a way of presenting my life?s story, a memoir if you will. Unfortunately it?s presented in small pieces and over 30000 volumes. Today however, I have no anecdote to share; I am virtually at a loss for words?so let?s just jump right in.

Danish independent developer, PlayDead Studios has emerged into the gaming spotlight with the release of Limbo. Limbo is presented as a sort of physics based puzzle/platform title exclusive to the Xbox 360, downloadable through the Xbox Live Arcade. While the gameplay isn?t new, the presentation is something that has ramped up the industry expectations for what PlayDead come up with next.

I really need to get this out of the way up front; I was blown away by this game. Since playing Limbo I have been questioning all of my core beliefs in relation to what I look for in a hit game. Let?s see if I can break this statement down into some form of coherent, contextually relevant, review. Limbo opens with a vague shadow of a person lying among more shadows and silhouettes. Slowly we see eyes open and the figure rises showing it to be a young boy obviously disoriented and out of place. You are in the middle of a forest setting with no clear sense of direction. There is no narrative; no tutorial to walk you through the games story; no flashbacks to explain ?who, why or how? but there is a strong inclination to ?find your way?.

The game progresses through simple surroundings ranging from forests to towns to industrialized complexes, all the while you are tasked with solving various environmental puzzles for no other reason than to get to the next puzzle; of course you try to figure out what the game is about but nothing is presented to provide that structural guidance. The game remains in a ?shades of gray? with shifting backgrounds full of shadows and fog. There are no musical tracks to create dramatic moments instead we are treated to an endless amount of ambient noises. Upon careful consideration, as the player, you are able to identify different scenarios and opportunities through the subtle visuals and sounds presented.

The controls are of the most basic/instinctual in nature, following the minimalist form of the game itself. You can move up, down, left or right; you have a button for jumping and a button for manipulating different objects (pushing/pulling/activating switches). The controls work well with the use of ladders, ledges, traps and other in game objects that make you forget you are only using 2 buttons.

The puzzles and traps spread throughout the game are presented for only one reason; to kill our hero. There is no downplaying this aspect of the game as the only way forward is through trial and error. What?s refreshing is that all of the puzzles are different enough that you don?t feel you are simply repeating the same actions over and over. In fact, no 2 puzzles are alike and because of this you won?t know what to expect and your character will die at almost every trap.

While the puzzles are unique, they fit very well into the game and the surroundings so there is a real drive to identify what to do next in order to move on. So instead of hindering, every death presents itself as an opportunity to learn the ?trick? of the puzzles themselves. But the animations when our hero is killed are often shocking?you really feel that you are guiding a young boy in the game so when death is presented without warning in various, grisly fashion you cannot help be taken aback. Of course this simply helps to propel the need to successful complete each challenge and placing checkpoints near these puzzles helps as you are immediately presented with the task you just failed.

So here we are, playing a side scrolling game that is absolutely devoid of color, has no musical soundtrack, no explosions, no real story to speak of, no clear antagonist, where the deaths come brutally and often, where you use only 2 buttons to complete puzzle challenges... if I were to present this pitch to most modern gamers?there would be a resounding defiance to even contemplate bringing this title to market. However, it is for these exact reasons that the game succeeds. There are no loading screens; none, notta, zilch. The sense of impending doom is heightened by the ambient noises and the lack of color draws you into a cataclysmic sense of urgency. You will spend your time away from the console thinking and analyzing what you?ve played?and I don?t just mean how to solve a puzzles but also creating your own story line, trying to work out the meaning behind the images?

There are issues with Limbo, the first of which being that it is a puzzle game and while enjoyable there really is no reason (other than achievements) to go back to previous challenges. The second problem is that the game is very short; 3-5 hours at best, while this is not unheard of for an XBLA title, the fact that the game ends in such an unanticipated and abrupt manner makes the whole game seem shorter.

I can say for certainty that I have truly enjoyed my time playing Limbo, so much so that I have played it through 3 times and I?m looking forward to a 4th. I am encouraging everyone to get out there and get this game, not only will you be entertained but you?ll never look at XBLA titles the same again. Besides, my wife is enjoying this ?loss for words? stage I?m going through and hopefully, PlayDead will see the need to offer a ?Limbo 2?.

Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 Naughty Bear

Growing up I was always fascinated with the more mischievous opportunities presented to us on a day to day basis. I found simple pleasure in minor pranks and provocations; being the oldest of four siblings I was regularly reminded of my duty to accommodate. Through my teen years I began to see the effects that poignant remarks and biting commentary had on groups and individuals (it is these comments that perhaps saved me from creating any real chaos). But now here I am in my late (late, late, late) teens and I've been able to witness how someone can be driven to take harmless antics too far or rather, how someone can completely lose track of that little voice inside their heads telling them to take a more honorable path.

Obviously, the gang at 505 Games and Artificial Mind and Movement identified a vast and virtually unexplored little niche of our own psyche ripe for console gaming manipulation. The idea, it would seem, was to tap into their subconscious and deliver for the masses, a unique and enjoyable game. While it's clear they were able to find the twisted parts of their imaginations, it?s only clear because of the shear frustration experienced when trying to play this title.

As a publisher, 505 Games has seen some minor success since its inception in 2006 and has even released a few Xbox 360 titles. But it seems that the games developer Artificial Mind and Movement was hoping to make its move into the console market and away from the realm of handheld game development. Much of the games more ill conceived issues made a lot more sense when I found out that the studio was a handheld developer; as this is what the game feels like?a poorly executed handheld offering.

The opening story offers an enticing morsel of what could be a great gaming experience; ?Naughty Bear? (we assume he?s always been a bit of a bad seed) has once again been left out of sharing in some of the fun taking place in the unassuming land of Perfection Island. This time, however, being left off the guest list of 'Daddles' birthday party inspires Naughty to try to 'make nice' by offering a gift for a fellow bears special day. As fate would have it, Naughty runs into Chubby and Giggles on the way to Daddles party and their laughter and taunting drive Naughty beyond his typical prankster antics. Unfortunately I believe the games pitch to the publisher concluded the above opening with ?and then all @#&* breaks loose??.at which point the teams scramble about creating a game without ever reviewing the actual implementation or gameplay dynamics.

I really wanted this to be a good game. The last couple of months have seen an almost endless amount of marketing that, over and over, told the tale of a cuddly bear out for revenge. Like any male adult I?ve imagined my mute yet reliable, childhood stuffed toys creating havoc among its group of ?Caring? Bears (hope that was enough to avoid any lawsuits, lol). Well perhaps not everyone has had the idea but I?m certain anyone can see the entertainment in creating a mischievous adaptation of childhood classics.

Naughty Bear was to present endless hours of opportunity to slice and dice the residents of Perfection Island using any number of implements including knives, axes, guts, fire, traps, big clubs of meat and sabotaged machinery. The marketing led me to believe I would be exploring a unique area creating a real sense of havoc?.kind of Manhunt meets Saturday morning cartoons. The actual game however is a real lesson in modern marketing (especially those who actually ran out to buy this game), simply stated??buyer beware?.

The mechanics are straight forward?naughty points are the scoring method of choice and points can be acquired by any number of various means. Causing random destruction = points?trapping, abusing, frightening bears = points, using your surroundings to set up unsettling scenes = points, sabotaging various equipment = points, killing the bears through unsettling means = points, driving the bears beyond the edge of sanity = are likely getting the idea here, but the real challenge is combining these different tasks to gain point multipliers thus increasing your overall score. Your score is then showcased among your friends (with the game, of course) giving some real bragging rights to a high scoring round.

Doesn?t everything I?ve described in the paragraphs above present an intriguing picture? It sounds enjoyable (in a twisted sense)?unfortunately the game is plagued with issues?enough issues to drive any gamer beyond the point of sanity themselves.

To begin with, all of the action takes place over 30 levels but in seven (tiny) areas?there is no variety in the areas beyond the first seven?you are sent back again and again to the same surroundings to try to learn something new (it was high school classes all over again). Continuing with the repetitive issues; the actual means of creating havoc or actually killing the bears initially is mildly rewarding (seeing a teddy bear hold his breath until he explodes is a little funny) but seeing the exact same animation hundreds of times seems to lose much of its entertainment value. Finally, each of the levels are unlockable which means you cannot proceed until you complete the requirements laid out in the past mission?this wouldn?t be a big deal except that you are forced to endure this repetitive play with no hope of exploring any more challenging levels.

The controls are frighteningly muddled throughout and are only hindered further with clumsy camera angles. You must be in the right location relevant to a bear, for example, to be able to actually implement the ?scare? function and it is virtually impossible to gauge how ?damaged? a bear is, so that you can prepare for an 'ultra-kill'. The graphics themselves, while less than stellar are not that bad but I did expect a lot more for a title of this price range.

By far the most unforgivable issue the game presents are the random game crashes?in my first hour of gameplay the title crashed 3 times?each of the crashes happened while trying to transition to the next level?so not only did I have to play repetitive levels but I had to replay them multiple times! Needless to say, I believe there is a lot more at work here than simply a naughty bear?there are also, less than diligent, game studios. Many gamers moved away from PC gaming a number of years ago to address the ?crash? issues and to have a $50 title locking up an Xbox 360 is unfathomable.

There are gamers out there that will justify the purchase of this title by pointing out the inclusion of the multiplayer options or the unique sound offering (the narrator is rather funny) or the one of a kind twisted nature of the game (it must be 2010 if twisted gameplay is a selling point)?and to be truthful it is these few points that save the game from a 1 out of 10 rating (every game gets 1 point just for being packaged properly). Did I hate the game?.no, do I recommend the game?no. Would I like the developers to get there combined @#*& together and give us the game that all of us know could be created?.you bet your naughty points I do!

Overall Score: 4.5 / 10 Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11

The game of golf is not for everyone. Many individuals downplay the athleticism, strategy and talent required to fully appreciate such a noble sport. Truth be told, the challenge in golf is not to beat your rivals but rather to compete against the very essence of nature itself. This is the classic competition of Man vs. Himself and Man vs. Nature; where the slightest change in the moisture on a course, or the degree of pivot in your knee, creates dire consequences in a game?s outcome. Where I come from we have a clear sense of what the game of golf is ??.the perfect way to ruin a beautiful walk!?.

EA Sports has been working diligently, to recreate the sense of wonder and awe that is synonymous with the game of golf, since the early 90?s. Now, as anyone that played golf on the old 386?s can tell you, it hasn?t always been a favorable experience?sure some of the vistas were stunning but waiting through the 3-5 minutes it took for the layers to load (for every shot) were beyond frustrating. Sometime in the mid 90?s, the game of golf experienced a ?coming of age? with the introduction of a young Tiger Woods and, as with all sports genres; EA Sports was quick to pair up this iconic player with its floundering title. Along with the creation of console gaming?Tiger Woods, the PGA and EA Sports ventured into an ongoing epic to find new ways, each and every year, to add to the nuances and create an immersive golf experience in the comfort of your living room.

So here we are, 2010 and into our 13th ?annual? Tiger Woods golf title appropriately called ?Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11(???...I get it?it?s to signify the year its released?no that?s not it?. Maybe they?re superstitious?maybe it?s named after the season the game is to represent?couldn?t be that easy could it?).

I have never really understood the rationale for the annual release of popular sports titles. It has always been my opinion that, especially with today?s console speeds, that the upgrades could simply be downloadable content or add-on disks (as you can tell I?m not a big sports title gamer). In playing Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 however, there are numerous reasons to release this as an independent title?in fact I think EA Sports could have completely re-branded the title because there are so many new and exciting revelations to the console golf genre. The only real similarity between this one and previous years are Tiger Woods, some of the course names and the common game play modes to placate traditionalists. Don?t get me wrong, I?m not saying they?ve done everything right but they?ve come a long way in creating an enjoyable golf simulator instead of trying to recreate the game of golf in your home?which, unless you?re in College and renting with no security deposit, is impossible.

The graphics this time around are certainly up to par (pun intended) with the standards we've come to expect. You are given the opportunity to customize your player through various physical and image adjustments and you are once again given the chance to put yourself in the game through the Photo Game Face option...interesting concept with, lets say, humorous results. All of the player animations are clean and precise although the minor clipping becomes glaringly obvious when set against some incredible backgrounds. I've never played at one of the courses shown in the game but the comparison to some of the televised games is spectacular. I will say this regarding the graphics...I don't think any of the buildings in the game have seen a major upgrade since the release of Tiger Woods 99 and why are there 60 people in the gallery all clapping, cheering and ducking in unison....time for a major upgrade here EA.

The controls have the standard 3-click swing we all know and love; as well as the analog stick swing that most gamers have come to utilize. But new to the '11 version is the True Aim controls....actually its not so much the controls as it is the way you play the course. With True Aim you view the course and your shot as though you were on the actual fairways....this requires much more time spent reviewing the course layouts and the different lies off the tee blocks and, as in the real game, you are not given the traditional ball tracking view but rather you watch the shot from the perspective of you in game player. This could be endlessly entertaining for realists but I found it quite frustrating having the monotony of 'oooohhhhh's' as my ball once again lies deep in the tall stuff.

On the control front we see the new 'Focus' innovation. These options did take some time to get used to but thanks to the tutorial and the new 'Skills Challenge' I was having my shots dancing with the flag pole. The Focus feature allows you to perform more advanced shots by boosting your shots, adding spin or showing a clear shot line for putts. The focus feature bar fills up as you create clean shots and depletes as you use it (a tough lesson to learn when your trying for a 40 foot putt). The Skills Challenge is sort of what it sounds; a series of challenges designed to increase both your understanding of the controls and your ability on the course. Its here that the best new innovation is showcased...the ability to level up your player by gaining experience points. These XP points are earned through the skills challenges and through your play on the links. On the links there are points for hitting greens and fairways in regulation, placing your ball close to the pin and any other way that showcases how well you're doing. When I started my first tournament I was lucky to hit 210 yards off the blocks but through more play and completing challenges I'm now able to dust off at almost the 300 mark. Although initially frustrating, having an award system set up like this encourages more repetitive play whereas in the past I would have sailed through early matches and past up opportunities to advance.

There are several different mini games and various game other words there is a lot of interesting things for even the most casual of gamers. The PGA Tour Season has you playing through a full season with your goal of making the cut for the FedEx Cup. To qualify for the Cup you must accumulate points throughout the season and only the top 125 golfers will earn a spot on the playoffs. The biggest and, in my opinion best addition to the game this year is the inclusion of the Ryder Cup. You can enter the Ryder Cup as part of the career mode or from the main menu (I suggest cutting your teeth on the tour to ramp up your skill settings or you will be woefully outmatched); and then choose your sides...the long standing US vs. Europe rivalry is paramount in creating your 12 person roster. The Ryder Cup is a welcome addition to the Tiger Woods series and really works to draw you in, personally, to the matches and events taking feel as though you have a real investment in place every time you step up to the ball.

There is the included online play but ramping up the interest is the new Online Team Play. Team play consists of up to 24 players splitting into 2 groups and working together to achieve victory. Usually online modes like this (especially for golf) are boring and repetitive but this time out we get to see the arcs of the shots as each player hits allowing you to more closely gauge your competition. Not only are there achievements to be earned (naturally) but the addition of increased stats and notoriety online is a great motivator for online play. Add the EA Sports Gamernet and you finally have a truly playable online sports franchise.

In all, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 has lots to offer gamers whether new to the series or even a jaded traditionalists like myself. This may not be the most revolutionary release in the title but its nice to see some little extras. Moving forward my concern would be that EA Sports continues to try to become that 'real life golf replacement' they seem to herald themselves as. Instead I would like to see them embrace the escapism that console gaming represents....I can curse and scream at a little round golf ball any time I like....what I really want is the chance to play like the pros in 3 easy steps (if you saw me play the links you'd know it's never going to happen in real life). Throw in the occasional explosion and a beverage cart and I will sign on for life.

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Crackdown 2

Life is full of little, unexpected surprises. Who would have thought that the longest running television series would be a cartoon. Who would've imagined that the province of British Columbia would welcome the likes of Variation (see: Xboxaddict forums). Imagine the shock in realizing that Symmetric sounds good on a podcast. I am amazed that a guy like me has such an incredible Wife and Daughters. And I'm sure I wasn't the only one surprised by the quality of a 2007 Xbox game that, we all believed, was used only to introduce gamers to Halo 3.

That underrated, overachieving title was, of course, Crackdown; developed by Realtime Worlds and distributed by Microsoft Game Studios. While the original developers had discussed the sequel option it became evident by the 3rd quarter of 2007 that Realtime Worlds and Microsoft had some 'communication issues'. Then at E3 2009 the announcement was made that Ruffian Games would take over the development of the sequel (Microsoft held onto the intellectual rights). Interestingly and as a side note, the Scottish team at Ruffian are comprised primarily of former Realtime Worlds team members. I guess the communication issues between Realtime and Microsoft continue.

With the sequel firmly in the confident hands of the Ruffian Games studio there were several issues to be addressed. How is the story going to advance; should the game take place in the Pacific City that everyone knows; how can they improve on the unique offerings featured in the original and how can they push the limits of the Renderware engine?

One of the most pleasing aspects of this second offering is the story. While some might dismiss the twists and turns, most gamers who are paying attention, will appreciate the depth to which the developers have created a worthwhile tale. It's 10 years since the Agency has cleansed Pacific City of its sinful path and while the 'gangs' have dispersed, it would seem that, a new 'freak' virus has enslaved the populace and that renegade 'Cell' factions are at war with the Agency to bring real justice to our beloved metropolis. The story is told through several different venues, each as rewarding as the next. The first of which are the audio logs...throughout the city there are various logs to be found.... as well as a series of radio broadcast logs there are Agency and Cell logs that share different points of view. Our good friend the, the verbal to our visual, the 'Agency Director' (confidently voiced once again by Michael McConnohie) guides us through the different holes in the plot while adding to much of the intrigue. Anyone that plays the game will think they have the answers to many of the mysteries presented in the game but I'm certain that almost everyone will be pleasantly surprised by the unexpected.

Your mission throughout the game is to reactivate a series of unique generators that work in unison to power specialized 'Sunburst' bombs...these bombs of direct sunlight are implanted into underground freak catacombs before being activated. As the Agent you will have to activate the generators, then infiltrate the catacombs before guarding the bombs while they charge. Because the bombs are essentially concentrated ultraviolet energy they are harmless to humans but devastating to the freak populace. The freaks themselves seem to only populate during sundown and it's in these dark hours that the streets come alive with a seemingly endless number of these freaks. The freaks are presented as mindless and varied savages; some will attack you straight on, while others will throw poisonous fluids, jump to great heights to attack or run at you to tackle you down. In later levels some freaks are presented as gigantic beasts hell bent on destroying you and the Sunburst bombs.

The day/night cycling is a welcome touch and while the freaks are your focus at night the game introduces the 'Cell' to fill in much of your daytime needs for wanton destruction. The Cell gathers in strategic locations within the city and their main actions are to undermine the Agency and, as such, your efforts to rid the city of the freaks. The Cell are presented as a rag tag rebellion group which really brings to mind the Star Wars mythos. Their weapons, clothing and vehicles are a cross section of cobbled together pieces that work surprisingly well against you and the Agency. Taking over the Cell strongholds will allow the Agency to insert their own tactical locations so that vehicle and weapon drops are at your convenient disposal. While the first encounters make these foes seem to be pushovers, you will find yourself in way over your head in no time at all.

Along with the core story line are some interesting augments. When you have cleared an area using a Sunburst bomb nearby Freak breaches become active. These secondary targets are a kind of escape route for trapped Freaks and your job is to control the breach until the Agency can send air support to permanently seal the break. While taking over Cell strongholds offer all the daylight thrashing you can handle it's important to not let up. Strongholds will rise up to take over previous Agency controlled locations unless you eliminate any nearby threats.

The game-play truly expands on what we've come to expect from the Crackdown franchise. Pacific City is bigger and better while still maintaining its familiarity. Almost all of the aspects of the original game are here but modified in ways as to not feel foreign and there are several new additions to add to the entertainment. And for the die-hards, don't worry, the orbs are back! Crackdown 2 takes orb collecting to the next level; there are Agility Orbs, Driving Orbs and Hidden Orbs but now we find Renegade Orbs. Renegade Orbs will challenge your abilities by 'running away' from you...that's right, you'll have to chase them down to absorb them.

The orbs work in the same way as in the original game...working to level up your players abilities. With increased agility and driving skills you'll also need increased strength (take out opponents with melee attacks), increased firepower (let the bullets fly, head shots garner larger increases), increased explosive skills (big booms equals bigger booms). With these increased abilities come additional ways to introduce your enemies to a new kind of hurt. The most satisfying attacks are, by far, the melee attacks. Sure its nice to snipe someone over a large distance, take out groups with top notch automotive skills or even pin them to vehicles using specialized weaponry, but to be able to toss a car into a crowd of freaks, watching as they dissipate to ash, is almost inspiring. For the hardcore escapists try attaching a vehicle to a post using the mag grenade then pick up the post and swing for the fences...then watch as the carnage ensues.

The games controls are immediately familiar to anyone that enjoyed the original Crackdown, even if its been a while since you've picked it up and, as always, the opening tutorial will have even new gamers up and jumping in no time. The difficulty levels are very reasonable, offering you your choice of Fragile, Tough, Ruthless, Psychotic and Sadistic. When starting the game you are given the option of picking your players features by choosing one of four available looks, as well as choosing one of four uniform colors. All of the over the top controls are back; the fast running, the insane jumping even the vehicles return with the likes of the Cruiser, the Buggy, the Supercar, the SUV and the Tank. As an bonus feature players will be able to add to their selection of weapons and vehicles by simply aquiring enemy items and bringing them to your strategic locations (as with any option some items will remain locked until you have the required ability level). You can quickly get to where you want to be (after the tutorial) by utilizing specific drop points; this can allow you to get back into the game when you re-spawn or when continuing the following day. Your new abilities will help you with various 'races' placed in different areas of Pacific City. The game extending moments will tax even the strongest of players....there are Rooftop Races, Road Races, Vehicle Stunt Rings and new to the series, Wingsuit Stunt Rings. That's right, when you get to a certain level with your agility you are granted the Wingsuit but don't fool's a lot less flying and a lot more falling with style.

Online play is a stellar part of the game...being able to jump into and out of other players games proves extremely satisfying especially if you have increased abilities that can help out another gamer. Being able to bring in 4 players to a cooperative round should be something introduced to all new Xbox games. Beyond that, the multiplayer matches were limited as of this review but while interesting in the offering they don't seem to offer anything exceptionally new....hopefully my mind will be changed as the game is released to a wider audience.

The sound and visuals are beyond the offerings featured in the first installment. On their own they are more than satisfactory. For the unitiated, the original game offered almost revolutionary visuals with the heavy black borders and detailed surroundings however, I did expect a little more with this new game because of the stellar job done 3 years ago. The draw distances are up to par and the sound reacts like you expect...really the only negative is that it feels like its been done before.

Which brings us to a few of the games issues....while the newly designed Pacific City is immediately familiar, there are many areas that are completely ignored in this title. Also at the start of the game you are able, by foot, to get to any area on the map but it is extremely frustrating to be able to use window ledges to scale buildings in some areas and not others. I know the game wants to control the accessibility of the player while maintaining the sandbox feel but why not just remove the accessibility of the ledges to a height that matches our abilities. And while being able to jump into others games to help out is gratifying I often found myself wishing someone would jump into my game to help me out on some of the harder the point that I was inviting other gamers to quickly get by certain areas. This new option could easily be abused by someone looking to breeze through the game and would really lower the gamers enjoyability overall (only the most advance players can use the helicopters and watching someone else mow down the masses with missiles can really frustrate you as you chase yet another Orb. And finally why in multiplayer, can I use a wider variety of uniform colors (I should be able to wear yellow in my single-player game).

All in all, Crackdown 2 delivers more of what we loved in the original game while adding enough nuances to drive a very compelling story. For Ruffian to bring the game to its current level is outstanding and anyone that picks this up is in for at least 12 hours of intense single-player action (20 hours plus for the completest and an endless amount of opportunities for gamers that wish to show off their abilities. Is the game perfect? Not yet. Could it be? Well I for one am eager to see where the 'Soap Opera' that is the Crackdown intellectual property takes us next. Just please Microsoft, don't create another 3 year hiatus....but don't rush one to print either....just do it right. If only it were that easy (all of us reviewers would have nothing to do).

Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 Split Second

In my professional life (you wouldn't believe me if I told you), I often reference the saying that 'everything we do, every decision we make, every time we venture into the uncertain we are but a split second away from absolute failure'. This reference is used to encourage clients to take the next steps but also, to ensure that they look forward in their planning.

Now in my gaming life I have the pleasure of stepping into the frantic, yet highly entertaining, new arcade racing title from Black Rock Studio and Disney Interactive Studios called Split Second. While this aptly named title is not a new genre for Black Rock (other titles include Pure, MotoGP and a couple ATV titles) I was surprised to see the Disney Interactive Studios logo. Disney, to me, brings images of cartoon dogs, talking mice and a century worth of animated magic for kids. So when I saw that Disney was involved I immediately lowered my expectations on the title and I was preparing myself for a rather short lived and bland experience. Perhaps the recent acquisition of Marvel Studios or even the reestablished relationship with Pixar Studios, it would seem as though, that little Disney logo seems to be cropping up into more and more mainstream entertainment medias.

Let me assure you readers, this is not Mickey's Speedway....instead this is the wonderful result of what happens when game developers play a couple rounds of Burnout Revenge after watching Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Running Man. While the interpretation is new, it's actually the finished product that sets it apart from what we've all seen from other offerings.

I admit that I have wasted, in the past, a few hours playing 'simulation' style racing games like Nascar, Forza and the like, I have always been a gamer looking for a little escape. When I want realism I spend a few hours on the 401 or the expert track; the Don Valley Parkway from 4-9 on a Tuesday (not always fast, but it's really important to judge your distances). For me the pinnacle of racing titles has always been the aforementioned Burnout Revenge; I don't enjoy being behind the wheel of a race car going 120 MPH always turning left but experiencing the thrill of twisted metal while flying through unimaginable explosions (mmmmm....explosions) is where Split Second has me by the proverbial short hair.

The story for Split Second is relatively straight forward. You drive as part of a 'reality television show' against a ruthless group of drivers determined to make it to the finish while creating as much carnage as possible. The game is split into 12 episodes comprised of 6 events per episode; the events themselves are made up of races, timed events and tracks in which you frantically try to elude the many paths of destruction thrown at you. It is within this format that I first found myself in absolute awe. Most racing games are pretty straight forward, whereas Split Second goes to great lengths to insert you into this television drama, complete with the idea that each of the tracks are simply set pieces available for your manipulation.

Split second encourages you to draft opponents, take jumps, drift through corners and endure near miss catastrophes by rewarding you with Power Play Points; these points in turn fill up a 3 level bar. By using a single bar, at the right time, you can cause minor events in the game including: explosions, dropping various items onto the track (and hopefully the other players), activating various machinery to disrupt the race field and generally create possible hazards for all racers. But by saving up and using all 3 bars you can create truly catastrophic events like, oh I don't know, how about.....bringing an aircraft out of the sky to wipe your opponents out or if your up to it...completely demolishing 6 lane bridges!

Whether using the minor or major events you can either create opportunities or wrap yourself up with the carnage you are not immune to your own devastation. While you are hard at work making the world around you erupt, it's important to remember that your opponents are doing everything they can to put you in harms way....while you're focused on having explosives drop from a helicopter keep your eyes out; as your opponents are trying to launch a bus into your driving lane. Initially I thought this concept would be a great one-off...something that is neat to see but quickly boring. However, the ease of use and the intuitive setup really works to heighten the intensity during game play. And don't worry this is not another cart racer with Mario-esque power up tendencies; you truly have to work to establish your dominance in Split Second. Activating Power Plays may seem like the ticket to a win but you will need to be just as diligent in establishing a strong race time to finish within the top 3.

The game offers along with the season mode (including quick play) a fully realized Multiplayer mode. Multiplayer pits you (you guessed it) against other players through Xbox Live. What's interesting and somewhat disappointing is that you keep your stats that you accumulated in the single player campaign; in other words your best car in multiplayer is also your best car in the multiplayer mode. In theory this sounds like a great idea; it gets you playing through the single player in order to get better in multiplayer. The downfall of course is that you will almost always be playing against gamers that are better than you (yes, even you Variation). What really hurts is even trying the multiplayer before you've gotten past the first 6-7 episodes in the single are simply left watching tail lights as higher end vehicles race toward the sunset. It would have been nice to have the option to be in matches with similarly ranked racers rather than tossed into the next available match.

The visuals are outstanding; there is a tremendous amount of polish on this title and you are immediately drawn into the television series format. The explosions, while substantial, do not feel over the top (yeah, because I've seen so many real life explosions)...the lighting in all instances just feel right and you are put to the edge of your seat in very short order.

The sound is also an amazing game seems that many game studios have seen what TV series have done; making the sound as much a critical element as the visuals themselves. This is the 4th title I've played this year that makes the effort of wearing headphones more advantageous than just turning the volume up...the closer you are to the sounds the more immersed you will be in the game as a whole....instead of just playing, you feel as though you are part of the moment.

The game does have a few faults, not the least of which being your AI opponents. I can see the merit in making sure that players feel as though other racers are hot on their heels but with Split Second you are never more than a Split Second away from second place. Even during a flawless race and have dodged every obstacle the AI players are still right behind you...even when you've sent all of them into the wall on every lap. Another issue I have is with some of the Survival races...many have you dodging various incendiary devices like missiles and explosive barrels....the missile dodging races however seem to feature a range of track environments with tight corners and sloping hills both of which severely hinder your ability to accurately identify the missiles impact zones.....I found that these missions specifically relied as much on luck as they did any real skill on my part.

In all, I think Black Rock has really established itself as a powerhouse in the arcade/action racing genre and Split Second is on the top of my racing pile. It's refreshing to see developers exploring new options rather than just adding another year onto the title. I'm encouraged that there is already DLC available and time will only tell as to what improvements we may exess of what's on the horizon, here's hoping another studio doesn't sit down to play this title after watching Arnold's Jingle All the Way or we may just experience the end of gaming as we know it.....

Overall Score: 8.8 / 10 Shrek Forever After

Well folks it would seem that we are almost half way into another spring season (although if you know where I live then you also realize that we are never more than a couple days away from the harsh realities of winter snow). For a gamer such as myself, the spring season brings many things; cozy evenings with the A/C working overtime in front of my collection of favorite Xbox 360 games, exciting new titles and an almost endless supply of sequel titles, ....but spring also brings opportunities to be dragged away (during the precious few gaming hours I have) into the great outdoors to experience, sports, beaches, family gatherings and household chores. I really want to tell you that I hold a grudge against the 'other' activities ('other' of course being anything that doesn't involve gaming....I'm talking to you 'workplace') but I have, in recent years, actually found an abundance of inspiration from 'other' activities that have increased my enjoyment of my gaming hours.

Take for example youth soccer (no I don't play youth soccer, haha, no opening left for a punch line is there Symmetric). I have 2 children that enjoy soccer and as a (damn near perfect) Dad, I endeavor to be a part of what makes them happy. So every week we journey to the local fields and watch as hundreds of kids soak in the graces of the world's most popular game. The yelling, the kicking, the cheers, the cuts and bruises, even the many tears (from the parents of course) cannot take away from the core of the evenings events: ?Teamwork?. I witness, on a regular basis, some of the most outstanding teamwork within those white lines from the most unlikely of characters.

Yet again, you're reading one of my reviews and asking ?what could this possibly have to do with my review?. Well, this time, ladies and gentlemen I am reviewing ?Shrek; Forever After?the Game?. Shrek; Forever After?the Movie AKA Shrek; the Final Chapter AKA Shrek; 4-D has hit theatres with all of the typical response expected from a once iconic character and while the release is not without its issues (do a search for movie reviews?.this is a game review) Dreamworks Animation seems to have created a fitting conclusion for our heroes?although there are rumors of a 5th installment. With seemingly every new Dreamworks picture comes a new video game. This edition has been developed by XPEC and Gameloft along with Activision and (as expected) is being released across all platforms.

Shrek; Forever After..the game is one of those thrilling sequels to hit us this spring and offers up some great teamwork style gameplay. Most surprisingly, this under anticipated title is an enjoyable game to play. Like any gamer over the age of 14, I?ve experienced some of the other sequel games based on Digital/CGI movies and most have been less than stellar. It would seem that the developers have taken note of what has made the movies so popular and have made a title that seems targeted to youth but actually takes the time to engage a more mature audience.

The story is a pleasant twist on the actual movies tale; yes, Rumpelstiltskin has tricked Shrek into giving up his comfy lifestyle in favour of living out past glories as a fearsome Ogre. However, along with the loss of the ?creature comforts? Shrek has also lost all that he holds dear; his best friends, his children, Fiona and even his life. Shrek is tasked with reinstating his ?True Love?s Kiss? within 24 hours or everything in Far, Far Away (and beyond) will be in shambles forever. Shouldn't be too hard right? Present Fiona with a few flowers, a ?scented? candle and some swamp dipped slugs and the games over?. wrong. Fiona is now an independent freedom fighter that has accepted her lot in life and has given up on ever finding her prince. This is going to take more than a smooth talking Ogre with bad breath and anger issues to win her over.

The game starts off with the usual tutorial level taking you through the pacing and controls of the game. It is within this early level that the first really pleasant surprise kind of slaps you in the face; this is not a button masher/lifeless character title. You can seamlessly switch between any of the four playable characters using different methods (to suit individual play styles) and each of the characters have their own unique abilities and powers.

Donkey?has head butting attacks and the ability to sing off key (wow, I have a secret ability). He also has powerful kicks to help in solving puzzles.

Puss In Boots?is still our swashbuckling hero (if somewhat overweight) and has the cuteness ability (wow Variation has a secret ability). He uses his claws to climb and his unique jumping ability to access out of the way areas.

Fiona?has powerful sword attacks and she uses a bullhorn as a rallying cry. The ability to light explosives with her lantern (see Kamshaft you do have special powers) opens secret areas.

Shrek?has sheer brute force and a roar to frighten any adversary he encounters (just the sound of your voice is a special power Symmetric). Shrek uses his power to move objects.

Each of the character abilities fit very nicely with the individuals and are varied enough to keep you switching between our heroes as they work through the levels. In order to cater to a wider market, we see the introduction of the 3 Blind Mice; these helpful fellows show up during some of the harder puzzle elements offer guidance to players (at a cost of course). This allowed my children to work through the puzzles while still making the tasks hard enough for my superior intelligence to get a workout (yes I had to use the mice a few times?so what?s your point).

Another of the myriad of pleasant surprises, in this title, is the sound. Although the actual actors from the big screen are not used the stand-ins are more than reasonable in their voiceovers. The music plays more as a soundtrack including a number of licensed tracks. I found myself hoping for another epic fight sequence just to see what new number I would be presented with. These titles are generally rife with filler sounds?you know the same few lines repeated over and over add nausea?while there was some repetition it was not to the point of being at all overwhelming (some of the sounds were quite interesting).

The visuals, while far from revolutionary, were beyond my expectations (taking into account past offerings). Even when getting into the coop play each of the character movements were seamless and interacted well with the surrounding environment. The camera angle, while static, was clearly used in the game development as there are not any foreground items placed where the camera angles would hinder the gameplay. Many of the in game cutscenes are of the usual quality but the games cinematics really amped up the visual style. While still not comparable to the actual movie the cinematics were very enjoyable which really helped to drive the story forward and engage the player. Even the implementation of the 2 worlds story development is another notch toward increasing the games enjoyment.

As for replayability; while the games pace does play you through the key plot elements there is an opportunity to go through each of the games previous levels to use new found abilities and access previously inaccessible areas. The game also offers the ?family? style of play through its coop mode; simply activate another controller, pick your character and you are dropped into the middle of play. This drop in/drop out play was mostly used by my daughters as they enjoyed the fighting and puzzle solving but would opt out of the exploring sections.

It?s abundantly clear that the game developers wanted to create an enjoyable title that engaged a range of age group and gameplay styles. What?s really nice is that while they haven?t perfected the formula, they have taken a big step forward. I encourage you to check this one out and to get your family and friends involved. Visit the characters of Far, Far Away and enjoy this fairytale for all ages?

Overall Score: 8.4 / 10 Alan Wake

I am a reader...let me rephrase that....I am a voracious reader. There are few things I enjoy more than an engaging story that has me awake at 2am frantically taking in each new revelation as though it were visual oxygen. My preferences are vast but my distastes are as equally varied. I enjoy sci-fi, non-fiction and a hodgepodge of magazine genres; but by far my guilty pleasure (at least where reading is concerned) has always been psychological horror fiction. The likes of Dean Koontz, James Patterson, Douglas Clegg and (of course) Stephen King litter the treatise of my personal escape.

There has always been a sense of escapism to the literature I choose. The same can also be said of the games I play. As much as I seek to be entertained I am also looking to displace my day to day moments with the whim and disposition of some other individual. This can be said of most gamers; I believe we are all seeking to throw ourselves into moments or situations that are removed from our comfort a sense we are seeking the experience that lay just outside our own moral imperative.

With this, I introduce Alan Wake. To many this is a familiar title whereas to some this seems to have come out of virtually nowhere. For the uninitiated Alan Wake was first announced at E3 way back in 2005; expectations for the title have run the gambit between disillusionment and frustration. Early teasers had gamers eager for the release which, according to developers, was never far off (hah). Well here we are 5 years later and Remedy has finally given a firm release date and as expected, gamers have ramped up pre-order numbers to epic py Entertainment is a game developer based in Finland that has seen outstanding success with its Max Payne series (before the sale of the title to Take-Two Interactive). The two Max Payne titles from Remedy introduced (cohesively) the bullet time game play style and intense story driven action. The story was so instrumental to the game that the movie adaptation quickly followed featuring big name stars but, unfortunately, much of the atmosphere was lost to fancy cgi effects.

Alan Wake, at first glance, seems to be the pinnacle of the Max Payne gameplay but in reality, it is more the culmination of years of development teamed with a truly dedicated gaming studio. It is clear that Remedy is approaching the title with the kind of confidence that only 5 years of development can deliver.....but is it truly worth it for today's gamer?

Alan Wake (the character) is a novelist at the top of his game but, as happens to many a writer (hmmm?), he has been struck by the dreaded writers block....2 years of writers block! In order to get the juices of creativity working his adoring wife, Alice, thinks a trip to out of the way and historic Bright Falls is in order. Unfortunately for Alan, his wife is quickly abducted and his life seems to spin into a deep dark spiral of despair and sorting out who or what is twisting his life beyond recognition becomes his only ambition. The game opens with the sweeping vistas and wide shots that are on par with any production featured on the tube today. You are introduced to our hero and get a sense of why he and his wife are here during a brief ferry ride to the town of Bright Falls. During these initial moments it is almost impossible to 'play the game' as you will want to really soak in your surroundings (something you'll want to do time and again throughout your visit to Bright Falls).

I want to be very careful throughout this review to ensure that I don't give away any of the surprises; therefor the review may seem short (and perhaps I'll add to it after a time) but I believe I will address many of your concerns.

By far the first thing that strikes you as you begin your journey in this game is the absolute epic scale of the production value. The story is presented as episodes in a series, you get a true sense that you are involved in the development of a big budget television series. At the end of the first episode and moving into the second I literally stood, mouth agape and replayed the sequence over and over at least 5 times. I was that struck by the framing of the episodes. You are inundated with information throughout your game time; and it is this information that will hold the key to everything. I've often heard about the light vs. darkness aspect of the game (truth be told I thought it might end up being a Star Wars title) and it is this aspect that is the core gameplay. In light you are safe but in darkness you're faced with some of the most creative atmospheres I've ever encountered in a game. More than once I was startled beyond what any 'horror' movie has ever done (this is done without gore or even a drop of blood); there was even a moment that I had paused the game and my oldest daughter noticed what was on screen and her simply stated 'wow Dad... that's creepy' speaks volumes to what gamers can expect.

The controls are at first vaguely familiar but within moments I couldn't believe how fluidly the character reacted to my directions. I was put off at first when I heard that this will not be an sandbox world environment; however I quickly changed my mind when I realized how vast Bright Falls is even without the open world roaming. When looking around you are not faced with the usual jolting of a video game character instead you are treated to the gentle swaying that we experience in real life which just further draws you into the depth of the game. Many of the game elements allow you to focus in on specific events and having this tied to a click of the left thumb controller really adds to the feeling that you are directing the involvement. All of the controls and movement come really naturally and having the ability to switch from left to right of the 3rd person action is a big plus.

The sound is very understated in this title. I don't mean that it is low or that it doesn't work I mean that it doesn't try to take center stage; instead it becomes an instrument to further compel the story itself. Yes there are intense moments and there is spectacular voice acting but the sound itself becomes a character in the story rather than just some background noise. This title also carries a stellar list of songs from numerous artists (titles unlock as the game progresses) that are sure to find their way into all of our collective conscience as the game takes off.

Although I had touched briefly on visuals, I'd like to get into some of the detail regarding the different characters and some of the encounters you'll experience; however this would give away a significant amount of the game design, and that can take away from your individual experience. So let me say will not want this game to end, you will not want to take the straight path, you will want to seek out every corner of the game. You will be amazed at the scenery, the scope of the visuals and the details featured throughout (keeping true to the television formula, you will even get a kick out of some of the more clever product placements...a

Now, you can chalk it up to the absolute rush of endorphins I've had simply by having this title in hand after a 5 year wait, but I found it very difficult to find fault in this title. That being said there are a few issues. Some of the character models (during cut-scenes and, sporadically, throughout the game) have some series lip syncing issues....I would have liked to have seen more time fine tuning this aspect of the game because it does tend to (briefly) pull you out of the moment. Re-playability and the decided lack of any sort of multiplayer is a concern in today's gamer market; however I can easily see myself returning to many of the earlier stages to identify some of the minor clues I had missed (and to round out achievement points. Multiplayer would be very difficult for this type of game and Remedy has vaguely hinted at addressing this issue by stating that additional episodes will be available and that 'Alan Wake' is simply the initial groundwork for an ongoing series (syndication anyone? Lol).

There are so many things I want to go over in this review....the lake.....the sheriff.....the doctor.....the ending.....and Alice, poor sweet Alice.....but I don't want to ruin it for anyone out there. My advice is to get this game, invest in the minimum 11 hours of game-play (on normal....go for nightmare to really extend your time) and be a part of the next generation in story based game-play. I can now add Sam Lake (the games lead writer) as one of my top fiction writers.

You have to imagine, Finnish actor Ilkka Villi portrayed, and became the model of, Alan Wake....but he finished working on the project in 2007. So what could have possibly been the delay in bringing this game to the masses? It is my belief that we as gamers and the industry in general simply have not been ready until now; Alan Wake is the foundation from which we will expect all character driven stories to follow from now on.

Now why would the developer allow reviewers to post their comments almost 2 weeks before the North American release.....because the developers know they have a hit and they want to reassure anyone that might be fence sitting.

Its a good time to be a gamer!

Overall Score: 9.3 / 10 How to Train Your Dragon

Out of all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the mythology (see: abject confusion) of video gaming there is one variable that irks me beyond measure. Anyone reading this has already had moments or situations that have instantly come to mind. While there are a myriad of opinions (including: video glitching?nothing like being trapped behind an invisible wall while sitting at 99% completion -- achievement points?.needing an act of God and a shoehorn for the last 10 points ? no save point, no story, lack of relevance moments?..the list goes on and on). For me, the one issue I simply cannot accept?the foolishness that I, to date, refuse to acknowledge? the very concept that threatens to tear a hole in the fabric of time itself is?.wait for it?.movie tie-in games that aren?t complete garbage!

Let?s face it, from time immortal, movies and their video game tie-ins have had a special place with all of us?the bargain bin at the department store. We have always known that when a great movie came out there would be the inevitable crappy movie tie-in title and we could pick up, cheap, as a gag gift to our buddies. But lo and behold, our reality has, of late, been torn asunder; our very belief system is being brought into question and I for one will not idly stand by as the rug is pulled from beneath our very feet. Most recently we have seen the likes of Batman (it?s a tie-in, don?t kid yourself), Ghostbusters, Chronicles of Riddick, Scarface become, not just enjoyable, but out and out crossover smash hits. One thing is clear, someone has figured out that video game tie-ins should not be a direct retelling of the movies they represent but should be an extension of the wonder and awe experienced on the big screen.

Not only has someone figured it out but word is spreading? ladies and gentlemen of the jury I present to you: ?How to Train Your Dragon; The Video Game?. It seems that Dreamworks Animation has enlisted its friends over at Activision to create the movie tie-in (they?re also working together on the next Shrek movie/video game tie-in?I sense a conspiracy here folks). While it?s not unusual for a computer animation studio developer to bring in a video game studio for the console offering, what is unusual is that Activision seems to have created a solid tie-in title.

?Why does all this present an issue with me?? you ask. Well you see, if all of these studios continue to offer entertaining video game tie-ins then video game reviewers will have to give these titles a fair and unbiased review (now we?ll actually have to play the games before we score them), whereas, in the not so distant past we could immediately knock off 30 points just by being a movie tie-in title.

How to Train Your Dragon (the video game) story follows on the heels of the movie. In fact it picks up immediately following the movie?s end credits. You play as either Hiccup (the movie?s hero) or Astrid (the movie?s ?love interest?) as you endeavor to acquire (and train, duh) more dragons and interact with many of the movie?s quirky characters. I don?t want to give away too many of the plot points (movie or game) so I will try to simply stick to some of the unique game play options.

While I must say that I have enjoyed this title, it is abundantly clear that this game is targeted more toward the, task oriented/card battle playing/character collecting/video game playing 10 to 16 year old age group. The game does play very easily for me and I found some of the repetition somewhat annoying (usually annoying in video game speak is code for skip this section); however, I can easily see where the repetition, especially in the training sequences, can prove very beneficial to younger gamers as they seek to master extensive combination moves. Even my Darling Daughters have enjoyed playing this title from time to time, but being younger than the focus group they enjoyed the collection of various items (I have to admit I still laugh out loud as my character does a face plant when trying to catch chickens or sheep) and the customizing of the dragon?s (there may be only six different dragon?s to acquire but there are many different ways to make them unique) over following the actual story.

All of the game play takes place on (a condensed version from the movie) the Viking island of Berk. You have different areas to explore including the village, the training area, the docks, the wild zone and the dragon fighting arena. SPOILER ALERT!!! The story of the game has you utilizing the newly formed friendship among the dragon species? to battle other Vikings to become the Dragon Tournament Champion. I know, I was also surprised that the Vikings would use their new friends in such a way?but hey they?re Vikings?so who am I to question their methods. END OF SPOILER ALERT!!!

Found among the single player campaign are a series of mini games that will help you to further gain experience points to upgrade your dragons. You should try to strengthen your dragon as much as possible as the game does offer a ?family? style of multiplayer; you will be doing head to head battle with dragons as the game features an ?Arcade? mode allowing another gamer to plug in a controller for battle. (I was disappointed with the lack of online multiplayer but, in relation to the target audience, I can see the justification).

The controls are straight forward and the repetition will have you up to speed in no time. There were a couple of instances where the camera retreats but this is more an issue with where you are at the time and the game does correct the issue, seamlessly, in very quick fashion. The controller response is slick but keep in mind that the button combos are meant to be utilized with correct timing not just used for button mashing.

Among the games strong points is the outstanding visuals. For a movie title, the developer has gone to great lengths to ensure a cohesive respect for the source material. Many of the movies more iconic characters are included and the surroundings are rich with simple distractions such as islands and, in my opinion, some of the best water graphics I?ve encountered. The movements are clean and even the dragon battles have clear collision detection areas within the visuals.

The sound is great. I cannot honestly tell whether or not the actual actors were used for the game as in the movie but the simple fact that Hiccups father Stoick sounds like Gerard Butler says a lot for the sound team. I would have liked to have heard more variations in the sounds when finishing either a training match or a tournament match but this minor issue does not take a lot away from the game.

For me honestly, what I found most interesting is that I wasn?t interested in taking my kids to see this movie in theatres. I figured I would pick it up some day on DVD, just before taking the kids on a long roadtrip, and use the movie as a brief distraction (hey I?m a father, what can I say). But after playing this game for a few hours, and my kids having tried it out a number of times over a couple of days, we made the trip to the local theatre. Imagine my surprise as, two days later, my princesses are still talking about the movie and are asking to watch as I play the game (in preparation for the review of course).

Although this is an enjoyable game I am unable to give it a great score. I am not its target audience, nor will I be the game?s greatest herald?this is a ?family? title. The faulting I can give the title is that its reach is too narrow thereby eliminating and alienating many gaming fans. What I do suggest is that gamers pick this title up and tell everyone it?s for their kids/nieces and nephews/extended family or whatever works for you because this title is sure to become a gaming guilty pleasure.

It would seem that Dreamworks and Activision have found themselves with a multimedia hit on their hands. If this is any indication of what?s to come then we (reviewers) are going to have to change our scheduling to include the time needed to actually play these titles. The saving grace of course, is that when the games are engaging you don?t mind spending countless hours playing movie tie-in titles or spending the time watching entertaining movies

Overall Score: 8.1 / 10 Metro 2033

There?s a traditional saying that states ?what a difference a day makes?. The exact origins and the original sentiment have likely long since been forgotten. The term still resonates throughout many of our regular activities and each of us has had this phrase pass through our collective consciousness on a somewhat sporadic basis. Surely, (don?t call me Shirley?wow that just doesn?t work at all in print does it?!) there are moments, individuals and circumstances that utter the phrase with such regularity that the term begins to lose all sense of tangible reality. If you have experienced a repetitive desire to point out the inherent issues associated with difference over time then you are likely very closely associated with THQ?s latest offering ?Metro 2033?.

Of course THQ is not going this alone. The game has been developed by 4A Games Studio; established in 2005 and based in Kiev, Ukraine. This is the developer?s first foray (get it foray ---?4A??.nicely played 4A Games, nicely played) into the gaming market and it?s clear that the group has tried to deliver a top notch experience. They?ve even gone so far as to create their own gaming engine: the 4A Engine. As evident throughout the game, this studio has a clear goal in mind, with a strong team behind them but they do have some hurdles to address.

While the story is not entirely new, the delivery of the story is completely unique. Based on a Russian Novel by Dmitry Glukhovsky, Metro 2033 takes you through the twisted underground Metro (Subway system for us Westerners) a full 20 years after the complete destruction of the planet in 2013. Although, early on, it?s not laid out in front of you exactly what happened or how, you will find yourself creating scenarios to justify the devastation you encounter throughout the game.

You play as Artyom, an individual that has never experienced life before the devastation and has grown on tales of better days, lost glories and the hopelessness of civilization. What is left of mankind has taken refuge in the Russian Metro system (which is, in fact, set up to act as a massive nuclear bunker in the event of just such a scenario). The underground has become the cities of the future and much like today, no two areas are alike. In most areas you will find save havens complete with families, trade and even development; while other cities are virtually lawless, reckless and overridden with the mutated remnants of surface dwelling animals. Very few venture outside of their own ?cities? and fewer still dare to imagine travelling among what remains of the surface.

Of course, you quickly find yourself abruptly thrown into a task that will take you from city to city and onto the post apocalyptic surface (which you find wondrous and inspiring as you seek to simply stay alive). Traveling between cities is as harrowing as any surface dangers you will face as the tunnels and even the ventilation systems are populated with various mutant animals and a new emerging species referred to as the ?Dark Ones?.

Artyom is not completely helpless; although times have changed, mankind has adapted to ensure plenty of firepower is available. In keeping with the original story, the weapons are not what we are used to; there are 4 basic weapon classes: Pistol, Automatic, Heavy and Thrown. There are several unique twists put on the weapons and how they?re utilized but it?s the ammunition that takes center stage in this title. The weapons themselves are true to the setting?most are reworked prewar offerings that are nowhere near as effective as you would expect while others are pneumatic postwar creations that are both surprisingly powerful and satisfying to use( how can you fault a weapon that allows you to charge your shots, stealthily fire a lethal harpoon and retrieve your ammunition).

Ammunition is king here in the gloom of destruction; it?s needed to deal with all of the inherent dangers, so much so that it has become a sort of currency. No one is printing money or raising your credit limits (could be that 2009 is a harbinger of things to come) but the manufacturing of ?Dirty? ammo is brisk business and acquiring traditional ?Military Grade? ammo is the stuff dreams are made of. Life goes on in these ?cities?, there are people bartering for food and basic necessities; you will need to utilize the same trade system to acquire better weapons, armor and supplies while maintaining a hardy stock to protect yourself. Should you trade your more powerful, traditional ammo because it?s worth more or trade vast amounts of less lethal ammo. Although conservation and smart trades are beneficial you will find that there are enough corpses and stashes to keep you well stocked.

Which segues nicely into the gameplay?this title is immense. You will not find two areas alike, tunnels are vast and each ?city? has its own unique quirks. Everywhere you go there are quiet corners; it?s in these out of the way corners, boxes and hovels (and the many dead bodies) that you will find what you need to succeed and more. For some reason there are stashes of ammo, weapons, air filters, gas masks and more just sitting around waiting to be pilfered. The ammo which the game goes to great lengths to showcase as a hot commodity is often found within feet of the AI characters?.I understand that this is necessary to ensure that the player has the means to move through the story but for a game that leaves no stone unturned, in the sense of in game atmosphere, why is the player virtually handed the keys to salvation. Don?t get me wrong, you do have to look for this stuff and it can be frustrating at times but with such a wonderful story it is disappointing to be removed after settling in the immersive surroundings.

The AI is great?.most of the time. In true survival horror fashion you will be inching forward, sitting on the edge of your seat completely lost in the moment?..most of the time. You will marvel as the denizens of the underground go about their day, you?ll listen in on whispered conversations about the concerns of these hearty folks?.most of the time. You?ll feel tremendous satisfaction taking down your enemies and mutants?.most of the time. However, having mutants come racing after you when you?ve just traveled a closed tunnel or watching as AI character make 90 degree turns when walking or watching as your AI partners ignore the fact they are getting shot at or shooting rounds of shotgun blasts while enemies move right through you (with no reaction) is completely unfortunate.

The visuals are not what one would expect from a new studio. These are among the best graphics I?ve seen. Each area, character and nuance is well formed and executed (if sometimes ?glitchy??see 90 degree turn). The implementation of the 4A engine provides excellent quality and believability which is important to the delivery of a story driven game. Having more explanations behind the what, where, when and why would be beneficial (mostly to us Westerners) to help understand some of the more involved storytelling. The controls are typical but it would have been nice to have an explanation on utilizing some of the finer controls?I only had one shotgun, plenty of ammo, but I didn?t realize the gun wouldn?t switch over to using the Military Grade ammo when I had ?spent? all of my ?Dirty? Ammo.

While this easily could have been a forgettable title based around an already tired fps style in an overdone genre; I am pleased to admit that I am intrigued by the game. I genuinely want to find all of the ?hidden? resources and I look forward to watching my gas mask fog up as the air filter becomes clogged (don?t worry reader, I have more filters?I hope) and I am enthralled by the many features above and below ground (you haven?t lived ?til you?ve taken down a winged mutant beast). The title offers so much and is so immersive; the story is very involved and detailed I am almost disappointed that it doesn?t have a more general aspect that I could more readily associate myself with. While the story is fantastic the gameplay leaves me frustrated at the best of times. If THQ had given the developers an advance and allowed them to do a couple more months of fine tuning and beta testing I?m certain we would have seen a different score.

So?what a difference a day makes?.whether it?s needing a few additional months of testing (as 4A studios could have used) or 20 years of growing up never knowing the joy of an Xbox 360 (as Artyom has in the game?perhaps that?s why he?s so brooding) or simply remembering not to sell all of your gas mask filters before heading out to a new area (damn autosave feature)?.try to remember this if you can -- it?s not the days that make it different?it?s the differences that make the day.

Overall Score: 7.7 / 10 Toy Soldiers

At my age, being married, two daughters, a dog and a cat (both female) I find myself surrounded by frilly items, dolls and cutesy dress up toys. I endeavour daily to both encourage and rationalize the fact that when shopping for toys I must seek out Barbie, Polly or LPS (Littlest Pet Shop for the uninitiated). I look to my loving family and thank all that is good for the happiness that fills my heart and soul. But every now and then I stray to the 'real' toys. Guys, you know what I'm talking about; the action figures, miniature cars, toy guns and trucks that seem to become more advanced every single year. I have tried to mix in these items at birthdays and Christmas and, being that it's not 1950, no one really seems to mind, however; girls will be girls and the frill and tea cups always make it to the top of the pile.

?Thanks?, you say, ?but why the useless, yet incredibly interesting, information?? I wanted to ensure that everyone reading this understands why I was so eager to get my hands on this title. For me this is exactly what my entire household needs, traditional toys presented in the easy to clean video console format.

Signal Studios, a brand new developer, has managed to do something most in the industry recognize as the 'brass ring' of start ups. Not only have they brought together a unique and enjoyable title but they've done it using their own proprietary gaming engine; the Sig Engine. How many times have we heard of a new studio that fails to deliver or, more commonly, experienced a title from a new studio that is simply new paint on an old cover? Congratulations, Signal Studios, you're off to a running start; so much so that Microsoft is using their premier title to launch the 'countdown' to the Xbox 360's new 'Gameroom' experience.

Toy Soldiers, undeniably, has its foundation in the 'tower defense' gaming format. But its the 'action/strategy' format that sets this one apart from the many forgettable offerings out there. The idea is surprisingly simple; take the traditional toy soldier toys and make them more interactive. However, its the twists that create the enjoyment. First; these toy soldiers are not formatted around the old, plastic, one color (easy to melt, hehe), toys that so readily come to mind but are rather based around the classic metal diorama styled toys that were most prominent in the 50's and 60's (if your family could afford them). Anyone who has seen these pieces has envisioned the epic battles that could be waged and won; having them come to life is as satisfying as anything my mind could have put together. Secondly, the game is as straight forward as any top of the line game can be; protect your 'toy box' and beat the bad guys. Finally; being able to jump into any of your many weapons emplacements, tanks and planes allows you to become the master of your own destiny (no more cursing at the AI for not picking off the one soldier that magically meanders past your defenses).

The gameplay area is setup as a WW1, miniature, diorama in a playroom or child's bedroom. Surrounding the play area are lamps, dressers and plenty of novelty items to make you feel as though you have taken control of a little toy battlefield. Some of my favorite moments are when waiting for the next wave you happen to notice another detail that isn't needed but truly adds to the overall enjoyment.

Controls are virtually seamless, you are directed with specific tasks and you try to complete them by placing different units within the play field. You can upgrade, sell, repair or take control of any of your placed units. When in control you take a third-person perspective of the surrounding area and influence the outcome with your actions; do you take out the soldiers or the planes first? There are 4 difficulty settings to ensure that even the most novice gamer can progress through the game. The more you play the more you become engrossed with the different tasks and milestones to be found throughout; from trying to score the 'General' rank to filling out the nostalgic rations box.

The sound has great moments and frustrating moments. The in game sounds of the battlefield are excellent; you are compelled to work harder, aim straighter and even celebrate when completing basic tasks but some of the games musical soundtracks are hard to take for an extended period. The music is traditional early 1900's songs that are thankfully only most prominent during the loading and menu screens.

As a pleasant addition to this title, the multiplayer offering is very enthralling. I was apprehensive at first because I really enjoyed the single player campaign and found it difficult to rationalize how playing one on one with another gamer could work. But the multiplayer adds an extra bit of strategy to you arsenal; rather than simply defending your 'toy box' now you are on the offensive against your opponents 'toy box'. Multiplayer is only 2 player, online or split screen, and only offers 5 unique maps but going up against, and trying to outwit, a live player does take all of the cunning and luck of any other title I've played.

The breadth and depth of this title is outstanding. To have it offered as a 1200 point Xbox Live Arcade title is stellar. To finally have a real male gender based toy around the house is everything I could have wished for. There is a demo of this title available for download and while it does outline the basics, it does not even begin to showcase why this title is sure to be the most downloaded Arcade title ever.

Thanks Signal Studios, you've set the bar very you truly have a challenge ahead of you.

Overall Score: 8.4 / 10 Major League Baseball 2K10

You would never guess it when meeting me in person, that I was not a jock in High School and College. I didn?t spend my evenings and weekends playing sports and winning acclaim for my physical prowess (on and off the field). While I did take part in unorganized rugby matches and I tossed the football around with the kids in the hall? (not the real ?Kids In the Hall? but wasn?t that a great show, death comes to town doesn?t begin to measure up)?anyway, I digress. Baseball, in all its stats-filled glory, didn?t really appeal to me until a few years ago when I had the opportunity to join the company team. If you ever get the chance to see my 5?5, 170lb, 40 year old frame running the bases or fielding a long ball hit then you will be treated to a truly awe inspiring site.

Here we are, a mere 3 years later and I find myself stepping up to the plate in an effort to become one of professional baseballs all stars. No longer will I vie for the glory days of old; filled with the regrets of youth and the will of maturity. Finally I can showcase the skills and complexity necessary to become a star; finally I will hear the roar of the crowd as I round the bases.

Now?get that image out of your mind?and get back to reality for a moment. For all the reasons listed above and for so many other reasons, 2k Sports has , thankfully, released its 8th offering into its baseball lineup in the form of Major League Baseball 2k10. 2K Sports is a subsidiary of Take-Two interactive along with the 2K Games and Rockstar Games. Obviously, 2K Sports specializes in the sport genre and features an extensive lineup of licensed properties including the National Basketball Association, the National Football League and of course, Major League Baseball.

Truth be told I am a gamer to the core, and when I say gamer I mean geek, not athlete. I did do a little rugby but after having my %@# handed to me on several occasions I gave it up for the pixelized goodness of professional sports console licensing. My favorites have always been the hockey franchises (I am Canadian after offense to our neighbours to the south...yes this is being written less than 24 hours after the Olympic Hockey win). I have many friends that swear by the numerous and varied, football, basketball and baseball offerings and I have played matches for most of the titles. However, my last try at baseball was 2K's MLB 2K8. Anyone who has played 2K8 knows where I'm going here; the game was flawed on numerous levels and didn't work to draw in the non-sports oriented, casual gamers.

Thankfully, 2K Sports may have taken a couple of years but they seem to have addressed many of the issues of the past. Keep in mind that I won't be drawing on comparisons to past offerings in this review; I plan to simply showcase MLB 2K10...2K's the Bigs and the Bigs 2 are pretty good if arcade-ish and go a long way in entertaining the masses...okay, from now on, I'll only discuss 2K10.

Graphically the game is absolutely stunning; from a distance of 10 feet the gameplay cutscenes are as good as (if not better than) many of the sport networks telecasts. From the lighting to the players and even crowd in the stands (groups will scramble for balls that are hit into the bleachers and the spectator that comes up with the ball celebrates while the others cheer and jeer). Although I did notice a couple of very minor clipping issues; there are plenty of times that I would put the controller down to take in the visuals. While I can't say it's as good as being there, I can say it's the next best thing. It's obvious the care and detail that 2K has put into this game; each of the players have unique movements, stances and nuances; it is rare that you notice any movement on field that isn't entirely new.

The sound was great, even the intro immersed you into the baseball culture. The typical stadium sounds were spot on and the sound of the ball as it flies past for a strike and hits the catchers mitt is exactly what you want it to be; succinct and leaving you with a desire to really hit one out of the park. Add to the ambiance and excitement with the in game commentary from Steve Phillips, John Kruk, and Gary Thorne and you can't help but look around for overpriced beverages.

There is a ton of gameplay in this title. This is the classic 'Pitchers vs. Hitters' title with improved controls that essentially put the gamer onto the mound and into the batter's box. Most of the gameplay options are new but not surprising; from the Home Run Derby, practice drills, play online (not available as of writing this review but 2K promises to have fixed the issues surrounding MLB 2K9), manage a team and even follow a team through the Postseason. At the core of this release is the new 'My Player' gameplay mode. My Player allows you to create a unique player, customized to your specifications (favorite team, looks, left or right handed, etc.)and then immerse him into the Minor Leagues. From the minors you will earn points completing specific drills and in game plays. As you complete these tasks successfully your player will become better, faster, stronger; hopefully he'll become a six million dollar man and move up to the pros. Develop you player through the pros to reach the Hall of Fame. In my time playing I am still in the minors but I am enjoying the game more and more as I work to increase My Player's stats.

Ahhh Stats, what can we possibly say about stats? Some find them an absolute utter nuisance while others live and breath stats (I knew a group that would bet large sums on obscure stats...$1000 on who would break or replace a lace). This game is stuffed full of stats; from the commentators to the best place to throw the ball you are inundated with tons of seemingly useless knowledge. At first I chose to ignore the many numbers and facts presented but when I began to understand how to utilize these tidbits of information, well that's when the game really started to come alive. Knowing where and what a pitcher is most likely to throw increases the chances of hitting the ball; not just successfully but with accuracy. The game also presents real time stats on all of the players that updates on a regular basis.

During the actual Major League Baseball season the game adds additional features. First is the ability to play the same game that is being featured in the Major Leagues; if the Yankees are playing the Mets then you can step in along with the same lineup and starters (the commentators will even pipe up with updated stats). Also as an added feature for any baseball fan: MLB Today offers a scrolling display of actual, day to day, moment to moment, baseball news and information.

The franchise play is what you would expect...take your team through a season of play; different opponents, different fields,plenty of 7th inning stretches. This is still a baseball game; a good one but there is simply no way to amp up the intensity of facing another round of strike outs and fly balls. If you're not at all a baseball fan then this title simply won't be on your radar but if you are a fan then you have to consider how 'real' you like your console baseball title to be. If you like the strategy of going up against a winded pitcher in the 8th with 2 on and you're seeing an outside curve ball to your 3/2 count then this title is for you. But if you're like me and enjoy the occasional televised broadcast over beverages then I encourage you to try this one out. The learning curve is steep, often frustrating and the controls are almost revolutionary but it says a lot when after more than 5 hours of play I'm still in the minors and I've barely touched many of the other gameplay features. This title will keep you coming back and will try at every turn, to make you a stats fan.

Now I'm off to see if I can get 'Ken Laffrenier' above a .115 hit average (I wonder if I can bean the pitcher this time up).

Overall Score: 8.3 / 10 Blood Bowl

As anyone that has ever read my reviews can tell you; I am extremely generous in my review rating (and I really like explosions in my games). That being said; consider that I am being generous in my rating for this game as well (not just because it has a clear lack of explosions).

The Blood Bowl franchise goes back to the days when we men were the true hunter/gatherers. We would scour for days seeking out adventure. We would stop at almost nothing to escape the omnipresent hordes or demons while rolling the dice to determine the outcome of our perilous situations. Anyone that has fond memories of d12's, d20?s, dodecahedron and Dungeon Masters (no Variation it's not what you think) will know exactly what I'm talking about.

Now, I was never a huge tabletop RPG player, however I kept a passing interest. While I was aware of the tabletop edition of Blood Bowl, most of the game play involved simply too much time and, with the groups I knew, too much money; as most groups required you to have at least a few of the hand painted and detailed miniature metal figures. The few games I did play back in the late 80?s were quite entertaining. The concept is simple; you are playing football with various ?races? that reveled in mutilating the opposing team as much as they did in scoring touchdowns. The rules were somewhat convoluted but once you grasped the concept and the rule structure the game was limited only by your imagination. This is a key point in the Blood Bowl saga; imagination is the foundation of the games vision. It was up to individual players to visualize the dismembering and disemboweling of the opposition?and to play out, verbally, the cheers and jeers of the crowd as various body parts were thrown to the masses (almost sounds like a family Thanksgiving dinner).

Fast forward 20 years, Games Workshop is allowing Cyanide Studios to develop Blood Bowl for various platforms. That?s right, ?allowing to develop??it would seem, according to Wikipedia, that Cyanide Studios had released a ?fantasy football game?, for release on the PC in 2004, so similar in structure to Blood Bowl that a lawsuit was filed against the studio. In an out of court settlement, Cyanide Studios was given a license to create a new game using the ?Blood Bowl property?. In June of 2009 a PC version was released but the Xbox version would not been seen until 7 months later.

The idea of bringing Blood Bowl to the consoles is long overdue. The visual powerhouse that is the 360 would serve as ideal grounds to bring to life all of the mayhem that has been stewing in our collective imaginations. However, it seems that Cyanide Studios used a grouping of old 386 PC?s in developing this title because the list of items that failed to hit the mark is substantial.

The game offers both turn based and ?real-time? gameplay in varying states including championships, campaigns and multiplayer, unfortunately it?s all based around the flawed assumption that everyone has an innate understanding of all things relating to Blood Bowl. In turn based mode you have the opportunity to arrange and manipulate your team on field to set up passes, catches, attacks and runs among various other abilities, but one misstep (see: incomprehensibly biased dice roll) will stop you in your tracks and move the play to the opposing team. The game, even in its easiest setting seems to favour the opposition and will rarely allow for a couple of movements before initiating a fumble or other ?unfortunate? incident on the part of your team. Real-time mode, by name alone, brings to mind Madden-esk gameplay with a violent twist. Not to be outdone by the turn based model, real-time requires you to enter in to ?concentration mode? every few seconds in order to micromanage your team; realistically this is just a flimsy form of turn based play.

?Ahhh?, you say, ?I must have avoided the included tutorial, hence the limited ability to adapt to the unique method of play?. While I would like nothing better to go back and learn how to make this game work in my favour at least once in a while, the tutorial did nothing but increase my frustration with the title. The tutorial is offered in a play to learn format but it is done onscreen with the instructions displayed on an opaque overlay that hinders the ability to see what you are supposed to manipulate on screen. Add to this the fact that the A button is used to advance the instructions as well as complete the steps in the tutorial and you have the recipe for utter foolishness. I did go through the tutorial several times to ensure that I was giving the game a fair shake but the game does not explain many of the rules or roll sequences so you are still left feeling as though you are playing as an outsider to an exclusive club. It is tempting to lay the faults at the feet of gameplay alone, but let?s move on.

The visuals are lackluster at best, the stadiums are original and the surroundings do have some unique visuals but they all seem to have been developed on a template. There are no dynamic offerings and even simple items like the cheerleaders show no variation in movements. The clipping in the cutscenes really seemed to bother me more than I expected?this is the same console that showcases top notch visuals on a regular basis but Blood Bowl developers can?t be bothered with creating seamless cutscenes. The in game graphics are disappointing, while you have the option of zooming in to see the action on the field up close and personal, there really is a lack of action of see. Where is the mayhem that we all expect, why do ?destroyed? players simply fade out to leave a light red circle on the ground, why do players of different races dodge and jump in exactly the same form, why o? why can I not toss various limbs to the stands? I can think of only two reasons for the visuals in this game?either they were developed for the original Xbox as an arcade title or there was a complete lack of interest in creating this game visually.

The sound isn?t entirely bad, in fact the banter between the announcers has some truly funny moments but the complete lack of sound atmosphere is confusing. Surely the developers could have included some in game music to offset the innately repetitive sounds of whistles and grunts. All in all the sound could have been worse and while the announcers do start repeating their lines after a short time they do have a redeeming quality to them (unlike the game, they?re entertair promises to be a more personal affair, playing against real people with the dice against us both should level the playing field; however in almost 4 hours of waiting for matchups, I could not find a single player online. No, my connection was fine, as in between wait times I would throw on Diner Dash for a little multiplayer( yes, Diner Dash had more people playing than Blood Bowl).

The Blood Bowl saga is not likely to end here. The RPG game has a tremendous following and to be honest I look forward to a ?re-envisioning?. It is unfortunate that this installment is overshadowed by so many faults because the nature of the original game lends itself well to the Xbox visual capabilities. This title is likely to be picked up by many people (most paying the full $50), and there may even be a few that enjoy it?to those individuals I salute you?you are far more patient (and tactically minded) than I. I will say that I am looking to get together some buddies to have an old fashioned tabletop game of Blood Bowl since playing this release. Perhaps this is the true genius of the Xbox release?drive up demand for the old, reliable offering (I wonder what a painted Skaven is going for on EBay these days).

Overall Score: 6.0 / 10 KrissX

If there's one thing I enjoy in my video games, it has to be gratuitous amounts of explosions. Whether a top notch shooter ala Modern Warfare 2 or an over the top racer like the classic Burnout Revenge, I can't resist flashy graphics and loud noises.

Which really makes me question why I find myself caught up with Blitz Arcade's (Blitz Game Studio's dedicated 'arcade' development team) latest offering to the Xbox Live Arcade. While this release is being produced with the assistance of gaming giant Konami, Blitz Arcade is most notable for their 'King Games'; the hit series of Burger King Adventure Games (the King series were originally meant for Xbox Live Arcade but instead sold in the chain stores because of the perceived quality).

KrissX (pronounced Chris Cross), is not my typical gaming experience. It was released to Xbox Live Arcade with virtually no fanfare and had most gamers feeling disconnected. Here we have a cartoon owl promoting a 'word style' game on arguably the most powerful gaming console available and during a revolution of gaming fueled by the likes of Mass Effect 2, Call of Duty and Assassin's Creed. Just what did Blitz, Konami and Microsoft expect us to make of this quirky title. After spending more than 2 hours straight on this one (and several hours overall), I think the parties involved wanted to remind us that gaming, after all the layers are peeled back, is still an intellectuals playground, populated by mind bending brain teasers.

At the core of this game is a sort of Scrabble meets the Sunday Crosswords. You are tasked with assisting Wordsworth the Owl to solve a series of puzzles. Game play modes include 'Quest', 'Time Attack' and 'Timeless', with the latter 2 modes being unlocked as Quest mode progresses.

Quest mode is simply a series of 150 levels(there are more than 3500 puzzles)showcasing the different puzzle modes. Most are designed like a crossword puzzle except that the letters are shown, all you have to do is swap letters to make the correct words. There are 'hint' balloons that pop up as you hover over individual word groups but they do tend to actually block some puzzles (further indicating the patient, thought provoking manner of the game). Other puzzle styles have a series of word rows and you must swap letters from words to create the proper series. Another style will have you solving an individual word scramble with the added challenge of completing it in a predetermined number of swaps. And yet another level will have you arranging letters in alphabetical and reverse-alphabetical order, again with the challenge of a predetermined number of swaps(this is much harder than is sounds). The Time Attack and Timeless modes are exactly as they sound; you play through a series of levels with or without a countdown timer.

Adding to the gameplay is the 'capture' aspect; as you complete puzzles special icons waft down and you are to tap the corresponding button. Correct sequences will add to your time and score. This tends to ramp up your attention as you find yourself wanting to get all of the icons. As you progress you are awarded with a seemingly endless supply of badges and achievements. Under many circumstances the novelty would seem underwhelming but the rewards are handed out in such a way as to keep you wondering what you can achieve next. The early levels are not very challenging but as the game moves along the challenges, and the modes become increasingly difficult; it wasn't long before both my wife and I were working on puzzles together (which as a gamer was a pleasant surprise).

With KrissX being offered for 800 gaming points, the 'price point' does seem a bit high on the surface, but those who give it a chance will be surprised by the addictive nature. While I have no doubt that anyone that picks up this title will find themselves many levels into it and contemplating the ever popular 'one more level' mantra I, personally, have to question the future of my gaming experiences. If I am so drawn to this game will I ever be truly happy again with the mind numbing pace of past gaming titles....Well of course I will be, but it's great to see developers mining all of the Xbox 360 capabilities not just trying to push the limits.

Overall Score: 7.8 / 10 Army of Two: The 40th Day

Who among us has not had the opportunity to visit a new place, to soak in the culture of an exotic land, to meditate on the vast opportunities given to our foreign neighbors? And as with any ?vacation?; it?s not long before you dream of escaping the traffic, the noise, the distractions, of simply returning home, to just feel safe in familiar surroundings. If any of this embodies personal experience then you know what Army of Two: The 40th Day is all about. Of course in this situation Shanghai is being blown to bits?if this still resembles life experiences, then you have more serious issues to contemplate than the enjoyment of this game.

Army of Two: The 40th Day has been published by Electronic Arts. Electronic Arts is most notable for a couple of distinctions; the first being the production of a massive slew of games (with ratings from good, to mediocre, to abysmal), for virtually every medium. And since their inception in 1982 EA is also famous for their propensity for acquiring game development studios. Because of these issues, the second installment to 2008?s Army of Two could have been another in a line of forgettable sequels. However, Electronic Art?s latest offering comes to us courtesy of EA Montreal which is one of only a handful of ?created? rather than ?acquired? studios. And EA Montreal clearly wanted to follow up 2008?s 'Army of Two' release with a focus on a gamer feedback title; they seemed to have heard many of the concerns surrounding Army of Two and have tweaked the entire experience to showcase Canada?s ability to create outstanding titles and, for the most part, they have delivered.

Army of Two: The 40th Day tries to present a suitable story and while the story seems to have been created after the game design, it?s the games nuances that drive the gameplay. Our rock/paper/scissors champs Elliot Salem and Tyson Rios are back, along with operations chief Alice Murray, to offer the unique justice that only Trans World Organization(T.W.O.) can; mercs for hire, willing to do almost anything to make a few green backs. We are not privy to much of the back story of the characters, so unless you have played the first installment, you won?t have any reason to feel a connection to our heroes. The game throws you into the action and you quickly go through a ?Cole?s Notes? version of a control tutorial while wrapping up a mission in Shanghai, China. Suddenly, if conveniently, the city goes to hell as fire rains from the sky (okay, its tactical missile strikes but ?fire rains from the sky? sounds cool). As the city crumbles around you, the task is simple, get out of Shanghai alive?that?s it?initially you start off interested in just getting the team?s proverbial butts to safety. As the game progresses it becomes clear as to the who, what, why and you eventually find yourself willing to save the day but, the key ambition in the game is the promotion and propagation of our ?anti heroes?. Honestly, I didn?t find myself terribly interested in the story as a whole, it comes off as an afterthought and you are far too compelled to live in the moment to worry about anything else (the firefights and the fire come at you almost nonstop).

The gameplay is where this title begins to shine. The nuances, as mentioned earlier, are offered in ?Morality Moments?; unique choices that, depending on your decision, have varying scenarios and consequences. The game stumbles, only slightly, in this regard. Many of the choices you make have no real bearing on you or the game (other than achievement points). While there are a couple of minor consequences (you take the weapons rather than obey the security guard), the true genius in these moments play out in comic panels which showcase the ramifications of your actions. Additionally there are morality moments in the handling of hostage situations, these are affected by your own personal gamer style; are you a shoot first, ask questions later hothead or a more precise, subdue the lead officer type of gamer. Regardless of your style this offers a tremendous amount of replayability to the title (although I?m usually a contentious gamer it?s nice to see how the other half lives; hahaha, devil be damned).

Another of the nuances comes courtesy of the return of the customization tools. Throughout the game, players accumulate vast amounts of money (scavenging from enemies, completing specific tasks, even stealing from enemy supply crates). This money can be used to add to, or augment, the player?s arsenal. There is a great variety of weapons that, as they are unlocked, make you feel as though all you?ve been using is a pea shooter in comparison. The add-ons?the glorious, over the top, garish and seemingly endless add-ons; customizing your Scar-L to include a soda can silencer, an extended barrel and topping it off by coating it in solid gold (although I prefer the Vegas paint job) goes a long way in drawing extra attention to you and in laying waste to the enemy. Hint: as soon as you get the chance, attach the screwdriver as a bayonet to any weapon; nothing says tough like the rifle/screwdriver melee attack. The weapon customization is for more than just aesthetics; how you customize will assist (or hinder) the accuracy, damage and the aggro attributed to your weapon. The replayability factor is once again raised through customization as you find ever more creative ways to approach and irritate your foes. The aggro enhancements further develop gameplay by allowing for you to sway the focus of the enemy between you and your partner.

Further customization is featured through the use of the Army of Two: The 40th Day website. Players can create custom designed ballistic masks that can be used both in solo and multiplayer rounds. Having the link between the website and your gamer profile is a great addition and, with luck, EA will add other elements to customize. The masks all work as electronic GPS units, showing directional and environmental guides and allowing you to 'tag' enemies for your partner.

The aggro system in the game allows players to use the ?buddy system? to eliminate threats. If you?re busy doing all the shooting (and generally being a pain) then your aggro will increase and the enemies are going to focus on you. This will allow your partner to move around and flank your targets, catching them off guard.

The enemy is relatively similar to what we?ve all seen before; a few generic soldiers (snipers, grunts, etc) with the occasional super soldier (armor wearing, shotgun using, turret firing, etc) and virtually every level features a super, duper soldier (big, mean mother#%*ers). Many of the soldiers, even among similar classes, can be tricky to take down but once you find their soft spot it becomes about, simply, lining up the shot (but seriously, wearing your extra grenades in satchels around your waist, now that?s a big target). Take advantage of some of the later heavies but picking up their weapons after you kill them; the flamethrower is immensely satisfying.

The look of the game is outstanding at the very least. A lot of work has been put into creating a brooding, devastated and downright frightening environment for the player to work through. The cutscene animations of buildings being decimated are impressive but having buildings and towers crumble and slam into one another in the background as you?re fighting off the enemy is truly impressive. I would have liked to have seen more variety in the look of the bad guys, but you really don?t have much time to consider it as you?re playing the game. The customization works very well in game and you can?t help but chuckle as you fire off rounds from your Zebra striped Shotgun.

The game isn?t all sunshine and roses (now that would be a neat paint scheme for a shotgun). The game does have its issues. While the buddy style gameplay is a great idea, the actual implementation is a whole other elephant (subtle game reference there folks). While in solo mode your partners AI is not what you hope for; while you instruct him to advance he may be quite happy to shoot from where he is regardless of whether or not he?s attracting any attention. I?ll admit that in this reference, part of it is my fault; the game insists you keep a close eye on your team mate at all times. Assuming that he?ll always do what you ask him to, when you ask him to, will only lead to disappointment.

The controls are detailed and varied but I found that some of your movements were left to assumptions. For example, you use the ?A? button to run, roll, slide and vault; so when you are running at a low obstacle you may slide to crouch in front of it (giving a clear shot for your pursuers) rather than vault over it and make your escape. You?ll find taking cover is not the straight forward ?push toward cover? as promised in the short tutorial, but taking the time to maneuver into position is well worth working out. The games controls offer a new twist for the 3rd person shooter genre; by pressing down on the right directional stick the point of view snaps between being over the left or right shoulder. At first this was a cumbersome and weighty task to bear; as gamers we are used to the POV adjusting to accommodate the flow of play, this quickly was adapted to become barely noticeable. In many situations, having this option became as useful as looking left or right.

I didn?t spend much time with the game in multiplayer although I do look forward to the experience. The time I was online was sluggish and a bit glitchy (I?m sure this will be addressed in a future update). Playing co-op through the campaign with a friend and having a choice of multiplayer modes online will certainly help to extend the in tray life of the game.

This is a truly stunning sequel to a very unique game. While most of the issues from the first offering have been addressed, it?s the additions in this game that really drives it over the top. There are a lot of options, twists and turns?you?ll find great ways to showcase your individuality and the game opens itself to downloadable content more than any I?ve played in quite some time. 2010 is already shaping up to offer a record number of 360 titles to gamers and everyone should start the year off right with Army of Two: The 40th Day on your shelf.

Overall Score: 8.9 / 10 Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond

Saturday Night Live has been entertaining us since its debut in 1975. It has the unique title of being the show that virtually everyone has seen, at one time or another. Many have tried to replicate this ?formula for success?, but there is only one reason SNL has remained popular (hit and miss popularity still counts)?we in North America like to make fun of ourselves (and we really get a kick out of making fun of others).

So begins the tale of Matt Hazard. The group at Vicious Cycle Software are not new to the gaming scene, they?ve had success with titles from Dora the Explorer and Curious George, but they are also the group that brought us, the forgettable, Robotech: Invasion. For the Matt Hazard series, Vicious Cycle Software has gone to great lengths to create an entire back story for our tough as nails hero. Our heroes back story, and the latest Xbox Live Arcade offering, goes to extremes in lampooning as many popular culture references as it possibly can. Even the title: Matt Hazard: Blood, Bath and Beyond is a play on the Bed, Bath and Beyond chain (although the Simpson?s did it first with a Gun store named Bloodbath and Beyond way back in season 9).

The story continues the back story references and makes fun of itself at every turn. I actually found the story itself entertaining although not very compelling (I don?t think anyone needs to save an 8 bit version of themselves, regardless of the consequences) but the way the games story jabs holes in its own premise is quite funny. The level designs poke fun at popular games like BioShock, Mario Brothers and Mirror?s Edge and I especially enjoyed the Canadian themed level.

Game play is very much a hit and miss process. The Contra style play is overshadowed by subtle issues. The, tried and true, left to right shooter does add some unique qualities like shooting enemies in the background The enemies come at you at a fast and furious pace (which makes the ragdoll deaths and copious amount of blood even more satisfying). There is a tremendous amount of variety in the minions and bosses (a Lighthouse as a boss battle baddie?it?s like Christmas all over). The, between level, bonus rounds and the in game collectables certainly add more fodder to the ?back story? of the Matt Hazard games (all over the top, all fictional but very funny). I wish I could go on about the great things about this game; unfortunately this is where the interest ends.

The game is short, a couple of hours on ?Damn this is hard? difficulty, a little less on ?Wussy? and a little more on ?F#%* this Sh*t? difficulty levels (essentially the difficulties just determine the number of continues you have available to you and how many shots it takes to kill our hero). The game play does not offer enough to the genre to make the already short game unique, it?s the same formula?run left and right, keep shooting until you reach the boss, beat him and move to the next level. The game does include co-op but only local co-op there is no online offering which would have extended the playability.

To those new to this style of game or to those who have played all of the other 2D shooters perhaps you could enjoy the antics in this game; however as an entry point, the 1200 Microsoft points? fee will discourage most from giving the title an opportunity. If you see this title being offered around the 400 Microsoft point range, give it a try; if only to battle the exploding penguins and evil Lighthouse.

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 Alien Breed Evolution

In 1987, I got my first introduction to the ?Personal Computer' market; the Amiga. It was my brothers, and while we had heard of the Commodore and Atari, we had only experienced the joys of Pong (a massive TV hookup unit, I'm not kidding this thing was 3 feet across with dials on each end). We had friends that would showcase (see: tease us) with their gaming units but this was our venture into the world of pixel entertainment. Remember this was pre-286 days the computing prowess was not substantial but we still stood in awe as we stumbled through our favorite titles; The Kings Quest series, the Hero's Quest series, the Police Quest Series and more ?quest' type games. The entire quest series of games were quickly overshadowed by one game; Gauntlet (you thought I was going to say Alien Breed didn't you).

Now in 1991, a little known company named 17-bit software changed their name to Team17 and released a top down shooter named Alien Breed. By 1991 I was busy with other things (see: work and girls) so while I was aware of Alien Breed, most of my gaming time was at the arcades showing off my skills at pool or pinball (yes pinball had a resurgence in '91). As much as I wanted to play video games there simply wasn't enough time in the day.

Fast forward to 2009, Team17, now famous for their Worms series of games, has released their newest offering in the Alien Breed series of games. That's right Alien Breed Series, it seems the original was such a hit that it spawned a few sequels across different platforms; but there hasn't been an Alien Breed offering since 1996 (the 2005 Windows offering was simply a reprogram of the original game).

Alien Breed Evolution offers the new visual, that we've all come to expect, in that it is a 3D top down shooter made most infamous in the Marvel; Ultimate Alliance games. The control system is similar to the old Gauntlet style where the left controller is used for movement and the right controller is used to direct the fire and the right trigger is used to actually fire your weapons (setting up the right controller to fire automatically as in Robotron 2084 would have added some game play value). Overall I found the controls easy to adapt to and relatively intuitive. The weapons and pickups become more advanced as the game progresses to deal with the increased volume and abilities of the many Aliens in the harder levels. Using the left and right bumper controls to rotate the screen display became almost second nature very quickly.

While the game doesn't offer much in the way of a unique play, it does pull enough 'tried and true' aspects from so many different medias as to be compelling and engaging. The actual game play presented a bit of conundrum of sorts; the Gauntlet style control was very enjoyable but the ?treasure hunting' (you search lockers, hunt for keycards and search human corpses) gets very repetitive...remember this game is based on the classic gameplay style so there is a lot of backtracking to complete missions. The game has no auto save feature so you will need to find system terminals to save your progress; being that the each of the 5 levels can take up to an hour to complete, I suggest you save often. As with many of the latest console offerings this title shines brightest in its multiplayer option; although having to stay on screen with your partner can sometimes be frustrating and the POV remains stationary during co-op (the game features 2 player co-op, either in home or online). The sound is typical of what you would expect, daunting and not overly dramatic (ongoing explosions add to the drama), but the voice acting during the ?motion comic style' cutscenes delivers just the right touch of nostalgia to make this a true reimagining of a classic.

Alien Breed Evolution is classic gameplay fun, brought up to date with great graphics and by the outstanding group at Team17. At only 800 Microsoft Points this game is a steal. Support a top notch developer and add to your library, another source of escapist gaming.

Overall Score: 8.2 / 10 Guitar Hero: Van Halen

So let me set the scene?I?m a young teenager, reveling in the midst of the ?me? generation. My thoughts are scattered, my dreams are vast and my opportunities are endless. To the mix we add a healthy portion of, what is by far, some of the most influential music of any generation. Wrap it up with the realization that I don?t have enough musical talent to sing myself to sleep, let alone entertain the masses. Whip this mixture into a frenzy of 20+ years of social and commercial acceptance, the joys of being a family man (wife, 2 1/2 kids, mortgage, 2 car garage,white picket fence, the whole nine yards) and the comfort of being valued and successful in my career aspirations. Now what you should see before you is a middle-aged man, lounging in his living room, playing out the glory days of his youth as he ?rocks out? to the latest Guitar Hero ? However, I ended up with ?Guitar Hero: Van Halen.?

The third 'band' offering (and the 13th in the Guitar Hero series, including hand-held versions) from the group at Activision should be a gem. Surely, by now they've identified what gamers want. This being a band specific offering, the hits should be epic and the play-list immense, we should even see improvements in the graphic department. Instead what we get is a game that, while enjoyable, falls short on almost every front.

Most gamers have been exposed to the Guitar Hero franchise for quite some time and it can be difficult for them to offer an unbiased approach to GH:VH. Lucky for you, this is not the case where I'm concerned; I am one of the minority that have avoided the series because of the popular perception that 'you're just button pushing, not actually participating in the game'. I will say this, the addiction level in these games are incredible, not because you think you're actually playing the guitar but because of the sheer anticipation can't help but want to do a little better or try a track on a harder level...I will definitely be pursuing some of the other titles in the franchise.

But let's focus on Guitar Hero: Van Halen. I am a child of the 80's, I had various color and lengths of hair, I went to every party that I possibly could, my entire life is a medley of 80's hits and Van Halen is featured prominently in my soundtrack. So for me GH:VH featured many of the hits I relate to but (you'll find this review is full of 'but') there is nothing beyond 1985 (I don't care what purests shout, Sammy Hagar was a vital and integral part of Van Halen ). I don't mean that there aren't any hits after '85, nor do I mean the tracks are limited after '85, I mean there are literally no songs after 1985. The limited selection isn't necessarily a huge issue, especially for me, but to add insult to injury there just aren't very many Van Halen tracks at all. Again, I don't mean not many #1 hits or that there are no B sides (older gamers know what I mean), I mean there are only 25 Van Halen tracks on the entire game. Being that the game is named featuring a group, I was shocked to see such shortsighted offerings from a great franchise.

There are 19 other tracks to round out the game. You read it right, there are only 44 tracks on a full price Guitar Hero game. This could be a good thing right? There must be a lot of hits (not by Van Halen) to round out the game but, First date by Blink 182, Safe European Home by The Clash and the Takedown by Yellowcard do not exactly shout big hits (even by '80's standards). The game does give some favorites like Master Exploder by Tenacious D, Space Truckin' by Deep Purple and the romantic ballad; Stacy's Mom by Fountains of Wayne. Unfortunately the more popular tunes seem to come in as desperate attempts to save the game, it almost feels like, at any moment, Rick Astley will pop in crooning to sooth the masses (not that it would have hurt this title).

There are a few things the game does well. The tutorial section is well fleshed out and including the option to play as a band (Guitar, Bass, Drums, Singing) is a nice appeal. Showcasing the Van Halen Guitar's as unlockables kept me looking forward, and the player customization adds an additional layer to the game (but really, an achievement for getting a tattoo, come on!). The on screen antics by David Lee Roth and the finger dancing by Eddie Van Halen take me back to simpler times but, by now, we should see better representations of the performers (Activision chose to showcase the current look of the performers, the true '80s look only makes an appearance after you complete the 'career') and there are only 3 guitar solos by Eddie included in the 25 Van Halen songs.

It should be most telling that GH:VH was offered as a freebie to those who pre-ordered Guitar Hero 5 (in the States only, Canadians and Europeans have been, once again, forgotten in the numbers game). This offering could have easily been kept to the 25 songs, named 'Guitar Hero: Van Halen, David Lee Roth edition' and offered as downloadable content with Guitar Hero 5. The 19 other tracks could have been offered as individual downloads (I believe some have already been featured in other GH offerings).

In reference to my opening paragraph, I did lounge comfortably and I did finally experience what the appeal of Guitar Hero is all about and the 'Rocking Out' was entertaining albeit incredibly limited. The game was vaguely enjoyable and the flashbacks to the glory days were lacking. If you got this as a freebie ,good for you, if you find it in the (heavily) discounted bin then try it out (it should be there by Friday).

Overall Score: 7.3 / 10 Saboteur, The

Ahhh, Paris in the spring. The sites, the sounds, the street vendors displaying their wares, the wine flowing for the enjoyment of visitor and countrymen alike, and let us not forget the beautiful women fluttering their lashes for the inquisitive mind. Yes this is what Paris is to all who bask in its laid back approach to prosperity.

But this is definitely not the Paris we experience in The Saboteur; instead we get the, sometimes cliché, WW2 film noir epic based on the ?true story? of William Grover-Williams along with the, oft inspiring, game play we?ve come to expect from Pandemic Studios.

Pandemic Studios has delivered some of the most exciting games since their inception in 1998 (Star Wars Battlefront anyone) and The Saboteur would have been of similar scope except that Pandemic Studios was completely ?absorbed? in 2009 (EA held onto a handful of employees to wrap up the development of this title and, hopefully the future Mercs Inc. game). Although this title seems to have had the foundation to be one of this years big hits the aforementioned absorption and its effects are, unfortunately, evident in the minor (though glaring) issues in the game.

The story is new in that our hero Sean Delvin, an Irish grand prix motor racer finds himself in Paris at the start of World War 2?s German occupation. Sean becomes a part of the French resistance to avenge a friends execution (the details of which are played out in a great, playable, flashback sequence). As Sean progresses through the rank and file of the French underground, making many unique and often helpful friends, we find ourselves offering the kind of justice commonly found in a Michael Bay Transformers movie, or as I like to say; big *#@!%ing explosions.

The game play really echoes the GTA IV feel (which is both a blessing and a curse) but with an over the top mature theme that would make even Niko Bellic blush. The opening shot of the game takes place in a ?gentlemen?s? club (make sure the kids are deep in slumber land before settling in) and quickly shows its clichés; this game doesn?t even try to hide it, in fact it often revels in its own campiness. The voice acting is reminiscent of that of Daniel Day Lewis in Gangs of New York with just a hint of Russell Crowe thrown in for balance. From the Priest that has become disenchanted with his calling to the sadistic Nazi soldiers, you are never at a loss to identify stereotypes. The game is rife with suggestive undertones; the half dressed ladies at the club are one thing but Sean?s relationship with Skylar and the willingness of Paris women to assist you in hiding when pursued by the Germans is a whole different matter.

By far the biggest achievement that can be attributed to the development of this game is the introduction of the foreboding atmospheric look to the game. When the Germans take over, the city of Paris is literally cast to the shadows, even during the day the buildings, people, vehicles, virtually everything is portrayed in a gloomy black and white; everything that is except for items belonging to the Germans, be it banners, lookout posts or soldiers, they all stand out in a deep, foreboding red. The color does return to areas but only with your help; as you complete missions, collect contraband or thwart the deeds of the Nazi regime you bring color back to the streets of Paris. As you complete missions and destroy enemy emplacements the color returns and you will inspire the locals to form resistance groups that will slow any pursuing Germans and periodically join you as you endeavor to bring light to the hearts and souls of the restless French.

The Mission based system isn?t new but the implementation is interesting. Throughout you can utilize disguises by 'borrowing' the clothes off of a recently deceased German soldier (tip: bullet holes in uniforms will give you away, use stealth or melee to dispose of someone before taking their uniform). There are assassinations, jail breaks and just a general sense of reeking havoc for the fascist regime. The ability to scale the buildings and utilize rooftops in the game is a nice twist but somewhat cumbersome at times, although, being able to scout a mission does make the actual implementation much more satisfying. The mission based game play will take an average gamer up to 14 hours to complete on normal difficulty, add to that the side missions and you will spend more than 20 hours on this open-world action/adventure title.

There are a lot of side missions; blowing up reserves, blowing up various propaganda, blowing up lookouts, blowing up German vehicles, (you?d better enjoy the sites of pyrotechnics to truly appreciate the scope in which you pursue the many side missions; virtually everything is destructible). The sound really ramps up the value on the title. The voice acting, while stereotypical, is clear and befitting the genre, the music features songs from the time period and the effects are among the best I?ve heard; the sounds of the explosions are enough to create a sense of anarchy (why do I get the feeling explosions were the earliest and most worked on development in the game?). Throw in the great use of an arsenal of weapons and vehicles, as well as, the theft of vehicles (made famous by the GTA games) from both the Germans and the Parisians and you have the a great 'last dance' from Pandemic Studios.

But this is where the 'absorption' issues come to play. Clearly, the developers where in a frenzy to deliver this title for a holiday release which creates a rushed offering that just barely missed its full potential. The story although somewhat interesting fades towards the end and wraps up far to quickly and you will encounter some of the most questionable AI ever (and this is coming from the person who watched, for 5 minutes, a zombie try to eat a piece of wall as my player stood right beside it). Snapping a German soldiers neck is easier than any form of limb distortion I?ve seen in a video game and short of jumping to your death from the Eiffel Tower you will feel virtually bulletproof. The driving missions have an arcade feel that, in games like this, I actually enjoy but will leave many wanting more.

In all, The Saboteur is a very enjoyable game; for me. Some may be disappointed but given the chance you'll find the game play features (of which I've only touched on in this review) are comfortable, if not revolutionary. So grab a glass of your favorite Merlot, relax and enjoy a veritable joyride of boobs, bullets, rooftops and explosions.

Overall Score: 8.4 / 10 Left 4 Dead 2

There is truly something to be said about spending time with new friends, sharing anecdotes and mindlessly mowing down wave after wave of ever increasing numbers of infected hoards. There's something to be said alright; WTF!

Left 4 Dead 2, Valve's latest offering comes 365 days after its predecessor Left 4 Dead; and what a difference a year makes. Valve is probably best known for it's Half-Life and Team Fortress series of games, both of which have enjoyed a sort of cult following since their initial offering in 1998.

With the release of Left 4 Dead in 2008, I personally, didn't give the game the time it deserved to form a 'positive' opinion of the game play and let's face it, I knew Valve would be out with a refined version within a couple of years. It would seem the developers had the same thoughts in mind because the 2009 offering addresses many of the perceived shortfalls of the first release, in fact, this could be called Left 4 Dead 1.1. There hasn't been the expected gap between releases, nor is there a great amount of new story telling, but there is a real sense that the programmers listened to the gamers and moved beyond just the genre of 'Zombie shooter' to 'action/adventure title'. While the story on its own is intriguing there aren't any new or engaging surprises to enhance the tale.

There is a lot of content in L4D2, let's face it, as one of four players you are in the midst of a new wave judgment day and you have to survive ever increasing onslaughts from the newly infected attackers; there had better be a lot of content or you are simply a human shaped serving dish.

The 'infected' are not the mindless zombies your daddy told you about, yes there are the typical fodder that attack en mass but even these have unique individuals that were infected (apparently there were many individuals working in fire proof suits the day the infection took hold). These attackers are just tenderizer for the more specialized infected:

~Boomer, an overweight fellow with a penchant for projectile vomiting that brings swarms of other infected.
~Charger, this guy has attachment issues and openly charges our heroes causing a lot of panic.
~Hunter, this guy is sneaky, in a past life his skills would have found him spending many days dreaming of a plot line for Deer Hunter 2.
~Jockey, this is the one character that is especially close to gamers hearts, he takes control of our heroes and drives them toward trouble.
~Smoker, this orally fixated infected uses his 'tongue snare' to draw players closer and ensnare them for attack.
~Spitter, this little sweetheart is trouble alive or dead, alive she spits toxic vomit, dead she creates a pool of toxic vomit
~Tank, as gamers, we all knew this guy in high school, he's a brute...his aggressive tendencies make him even more satisfying to take down.
~Witch, I'm relatively certain I dated this one way back when, if you hear her crying, get away as quickly and quietly as possible or incur her wrath.

With the exception of the general infected and the witch, the above 'baddies' are playable characters in the Versus or Scavenge online modes. I strongly encourage experiencing the game through their eyes before taking them on as one of the heroes. Not only to identify weaknesses but also because it is intensely gratifying to experience the unique game play associated with the infected horde.

There are 6 modes of play featuring 4 match types. There is literally something for everyone and every mood. But the soul of the game is in its online modes, and it's here that the game shines. I'm not certain why single player is an option (other than for those 10 360 owners, without online, that just enjoy having a big white paper weight). Each of the game play modes offer its own take on the multiplayer style (including the single player campaign, complete with AI bots), and each of the modes are worthy of being considered.

~Co-op Campaign, play through the story mode; the finale of each of the 5 campaigns will leave your pulse racing
~Survival, your team against seemingly endless waves of infected, keep going till the last man is standing
~Versus, your one of the heroes or one of the unique infected, this is where dynamics really play out; you'll spend most of your replay time here
~Scavenge, again play as heroes or infected but now there is a method to the madness, and a time limit
~Realism, essentially many of the games 'hints' are off, you need to make it through with a heightened reliance on your team
~Single player, this is the same as the co-op but using AI bots, not nearly as satisfying.

Our heroes seem to stumble from one bad situation to the next and propelling them is the desire to see each other succeed which, of itself, is quite humorous. Having to listen to Ellis' Southeastern anecdotes makes you want to send a few bullets to his calves. The characters are a mishmash of the first game installment but the interaction has been improved, you find yourself wanting to give your only health pack to an ailing team mate (of course this is even more evident when the other players are your real friends)

Now for the bad news. There are game play issues but they aren't really deal breakers.

This is a very repetitive game, although initially, you're enthralled watching your ninja sword hack away at bits and parts of the infected, this losses its intrigue after you realize you've sliced your 50 baddies and you've only moved 20 feet. Luckily this feeling passes as you find two-fisted pistols and start laying waste to the horde

While the waves of enemies are continuous, having to restart an entire mission at the beginning is beyond frustrating; there are a serious lack of checkpoints in this game and to lose a level after having so much come at you is disheartening.

There are numerous collision detection issues. Again, not a deal breaker, and at times it is funny as s*** to watch the arms, heads and torso of the horde you've just slaughtered lay twitching through the door in front of you. But having bullets miss or have no effect on the infected can be infuriating and to have your team mates step in front of you while you're firing is the biggest kick in the #@ that can be experienced by this game.

Finally, the load times....sure its nice to have time to make a sandwich between levels but this is a gore fest of a game and not really conducive to eating while playing.

My suggestion to avoid all of these nasty issues is to stick with the multiplayer; load times are better and your buddy is less likely to want to be pasted in the back of the head by a shotgun blast. (and hopefully, you have some more able bodied friends to get you through the rough patches).

Whether or not you will enjoy this game really comes down to whether or not you picked up Modern Warfare, which came out only 7 days prior to the November 17 release of L4D2. Hardcore COD players will find the visuals unrealistic and the game play far too highly paced, as well the checkpoint issue will find many players abandoning the controller for extended periods of time.

But if you enjoyed the first Left 4 Dead, then you've been eagerly anticipating this installment and you won't be let down. This is a finely tuned re-installment of the game and one that includes the trademark visuals, sound, game play and tradition that Valve has steeped within it's most favored franchises.

Overall Score: 8.7 / 10 Diner Dash

Who among us has never wasted 'productive' hours dreaming of discarding our stressful 'careers' to live out the adventure and excitement that can only be offered by operating our very own restaurant? Can there be a more rewarding life experience than to see the expansion of your life's work in terms of 'two tops' and 'four tops'? Our story begins with office worker Flo dealing with stress by doing what most of us only dream of; running a 2 star restaurant.

The porting of this "time management" style game comes to us courtesy of Hudson Soft. Created by Gamelab studios and published by PlayFirst, Diner Dash first entered the scene in 2004, wowing most casual players with it's ability to bring out the completest in any who attempted to turn the game off after 3 hours play. The series has spawned several sequels and many new variations of play.

The Xbox 360 Live Arcade version has carried over the frenzied activities and also offers new and exciting rewards; yes, even online multiplayer. Those new to the series will find there is a lot to see and do; from dealing with unruly customers to catering to some unique clientele such as the restaurant critic.

The Career and Endless play options have come through very well with the addition of achievement points for successful completion. The career and endless play have been the staple of the Dash series but the producers have included a very stimulating multiplayer online addition to the game. Online there are co-op and competitive modes for going one on one with friends and team battle mode for up to 8 players which ran very well with only the rare lag in play.

I will say this, both of my daughters have enjoyed the challenges in learning to control the on screen character but they have also become frustrated to the point that they have returned to playing the PC version rather than continue the Xbox offering (which frees up the console for me, hehe).

The visuals are better than expected. The layout has moved beyond to become more immersive but it can be easy to miss some of the more subtle details because of the amount to take in. There are minor issues (see: table dodging) but these become an issue as the game progresses.

The biggest disappointment in the game is the sound. The sound has the usual fare but certainly adding more variety could have been an option. Much of the gameplay consists of the digital dings and pings (outside of the occasional 'hrumph' and a few others) but the opportunity to offer more and even a few real voices was overlooked in this offering.

The sound is a sour point for me but it doesn't take away much from the enjoyment and playability. The controls are tricky and are not at all designed for kids, but as you adapt to the controller scheme you quickly see your overall control increase.

Overall this is a typical XBLA porting of a great game; easily identifiable, playable and most of all enjoyable. At 800 Microsoft points this is can be a great game to crowd (62mb) some of your hard drive space but I encourage you to try the demo first; if you enjoy the demo at all then you'll love the game.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10

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